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Points versus miles: Should you change your loyalty?

SmarterTravel

If you’re reading our Frequent Flyer website, most likely you are a fan of earning miles in the hopes of acquiring a free ticket. But some travelers argue that given the rise of low-cost airlines and the fall of airline prices in general, you will save more money for your travels if you concentrate on earning hotel points for free accommodations, rather than airline miles. While we’d counter that this decision is personal, based on the type of travel you choose, here are some reasons why you might consider switching from being a frequent flyer miles maven to a hotel points collector.

Hotel stays can cost more than airline tickets

Depending on your ability to find airline deals and your preference for upscale versus standard accommodations, you might find that your hotel bill is higher than your airfare. Take the example of a Paris vacation. At press time, Travelocity listed the lowest price for airfare from New York to Paris at $356 per person, including most taxes. When we checked for dates in September, three-star hotels started at $85 per night (not including taxes), with many locations priced upwards of $150, and four-star hotels started at $282. For two people traveling together and staying in a four-star hotel, it would only take three nights for the accommodations cost to be higher than the airfare. In that case, if you were to choose between getting airfare or accommodations for free, you would save more by choosing the free hotel nights.

Gain instant access to special perks

When you join a frequent flyer program, you’re still treated the same by airline agents and flight attendants when you travel, unless you fly enough to attain elite status. But with many hotel programs, you earn special privileges right off the bat. Join Hyatt Gold Passport, for instance, and you automatically receive access to a private reservations line, expess check-in, late checkout (when available), and a complimentary morning newspaper, plus your choice of coffee or tea. Stay just five times, and you’ll be bumped up to the next tier of elite status. Or, if you’re a Marriott Rewards member and sign up for the affiliated Visa card, you’ll gain instant Silver Level elite membership without meeting any requirements for total number of stays.

Receive free nights faster through promotions

Like the airlines, hotels offer special promotions that will allow you to achieve those precious free nights faster. Currently, Hyatt’s “Faster Free Nights” promotion awards a free night after every two stays through September 30 that’s paid for with a MasterCard. And, Marriott’s “PointSaver” promotion discounts free nights by one category, letting you earn 2,500 to 20,000 fewer points to get the free stay you desire.

Hotel programs have partners, too

If you’re worried that you don’t stay in hotels enough to earn the number of points needed for your vacation, you should know that hotels also partner with other companies to give you additional ways to accrue points. Hilton HHonors, for example, has a variety of car rental, financial, and retail partners, as well an affiliated credit card. In general, hotel-affiliated credit cards have lower annual fees than their airline counterparts, plus they still offer hefty sign-up bonuses. If you combine points from hotel stays with points from credit charges and other daily activities, you will be well on your way to free nights in no time.

Points versus miles

Many travelers may find that earning miles is still preferable to earning hotel points, according to their travel style. If you prefer to stay in lower-priced bed and breakfasts or hostels, or plan your travel around visiting family friends who have spare bedrooms, you probably spend more money on plane tickets than accommodations. Or, you may find that it takes too long to accrue the 2,000 to 35,000 points you need for just one night’s stay. It’s up to you whether you concentrate your earnings in an airline or hotel program, but be sure to compare both options to make sure you’re getting the most freebies for your travel dollar.

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