Priority Club Point Breaks Are Out Until May 31st, 2012 (Full List)

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The new Priority Club Point Breaks list is finally out. These were all available for booking several hours ago, but International Hotels Group’s Priority Club took their time to update the list. These are valid until May 31st, 2012. But, some of the more popular properties will drop off the list far sooner.

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This is a great way to save on redemptions. I just made a week along bookings for both the InterContinental  Asiana in Saigon and InterContinental Manila properties. I think that these good represent a very good value using points.

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I really cannot get too excited about most of these Point Break hotels, but I might book the CP in Prague for few days later next month as well as the HIX in Cape Town. The Holiday Inn Ploenchit  is an excellent property, but I find it hard to use points in Bangkok considering how inexpensive the better properties are.

My tips for booking Point Breaks:

1. The popular properties will drop off the list in a day or two. You need to act fast.

2. Book Point Breaks one day at a time. This way you have more flexibility to cancel/shorten your stay if needed. It might also show better availability this way, when some room types are sold out.

Things to consider

Most of the Royal Ambassador benefits do not officially apply when you redeem points for free nights. I would say that it is often fifty-fifty if you get them though. More unlikely if the property is on the Point Breaks list due to rise in free night redemptions.

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa – Review of My Fantastic Stay

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Last August, I was on my way from Marrakesh to Bangkok and decided to use BMI miles for a business class award ticket. Using their award chart it was actually cheaper to have the final destination in Maldives, and to have an extended stopover in Bangkok on my way there. I had been to Maldives before and stayed at the Hilton hotel that has been since converted to the Conrad brand. I didn’t like the treatment that I received there as a Hilton HHonors Diamond member and left after three nights, although my award was for six.

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There was lot of chatter on the various frequent traveler message boards about this property that was being converted from Alila brand to the Park Hyatt one. Some guests were complaining that it wasn’t the Alila that they had booked, and the ones that had booked it as the Park Hyatt one weren’t all satisfied either.

Park Hyatt  Maldives Hadahaa

As I had been to many of the Park Hyatt hotels (Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Johannesburg, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh City, Sydney, Melbourne, Tokyo, Seoul – some of these are no longer under Park Hyatt brand) all over the world, I was quite frankly very interested to have a look at, how the Park Hyatt brand would work in a non-urban environment.

BOOKING

You can use cash, points, or stay certificates to stay here. I used points, but wished that I had remembered to check the stay certificates as well. They are terrific value when used here. You can read the piece I wrote about getting a good deal at the Park Hyatt Maldives.

PREARRIVAL

After booking the hotel, I was contacted several times by the hotel to confirm my arrival details.  Couple of days before my arrival, I had a change in my schedule that had me arriving and departing a day later than originally planned. It was not a problem for the hotel to adjust both my arrival and departure dates.

For sure, the resort can book your overnight accommodation in Male, but in my case this was not needed. I had been to Male before and can take care of a simple hotel reservation and transfer by myself.

Mookai Hotel MaleMaldives View Of The City 2 August 2011

If you haven’t been to the city of Male before, I would suggest spending a a night int he city before or after your Park Hyatt stay. It is a small vibrant city and there is definitely enough to see and do for a day.

TRANSFER EXPERIENCE TO THE RESORT

I stayed at the Mookai hotel in the male proper. It is very close to the pier where all the jettys to the airport island leave every ten to twenty minutes or so. The transfer itself costs maybe a buck in the local currency, and at the same time is quite a scenic journey.

At the airport, I just followed the directions to the domestic check in terminal. I had used the Maldivian Air Taxi before that leaves from the other side of the airport. These “real” airplanes just have a different check in area close to the international terminal.

The check in was very efficient. To my surprise they didn’t want to weight just the bags but the passengers as well.

Maldivian Departure Lounge Male Reception Area

After the check in, I was given an invitation to use the Maldivian lounge. The lounge was outside of security on the domestic terminal. You could get a free wireless code from the ladies working the desk.

Lounge was basic but did what it was supposed to do. They had soft drinks, tea, coffee and some snacks available. Here I met a guy who was a representative of the resort. He just confirmed who I was. The lounge was first rather crowded. After a flight or two it was rather empty.

The flight was announced and it was time to move to the tarmac and further to the aircraft itself. The security check was very cursory.

Maldivian Dash 8 Aircraft MLE KDM

Not sure but there appeared to be a “first” class on the flights south. On my way back there was none. Maldivian offers two kinds of fares. The lowest ones are only sold for local people who travel between islands. It was quite surprising to see that those on the local fares were offered nothing during the flight. Others flying to resorts were offered some beverages.

The KDM airport is small as one can expect. After landing the luggage came out in no time. There were four/five other guests transferring to the hotel. I was bit thirsty and walked to a café next to the airport building and picked up a coke.

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa Transfer Boat

The small harbor, where boats are is few hundred meters from the airport building. The boat from the resort was waiting. We were advised to put on the life vest upon entering. Soon we were on our way. We were then offered water bottles. The sea was calm and the ride to the resort uneventful.

RESORT

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa Resort Map

The resort itself consists of 14 over water villas, 20 pool villas, and 16 garden villas. Handful of the pool villas also have an unobstructed ocean view. For privacy the villas with the garden view are better, as everybody walking around the island on the beach can see the villas that don’t have the vegetation protecting their privacy. The employees all live in the middle of the island on their own quarters.

The resort has two restaurants and one bar. Moroccan themed Battuta’s restaurant is open for the dinner (they are now changing the concept of this restaurant). I probably should have read about the Maldivian history but apparently it was a Moroccan who found the islands in the first place and introduced the Islam there. By the main poo,l they have the all-day dining restaurant Relish/Horizon and the Bell’s bar.

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You can find the island using Google Maps. If you choose the satellite view you can get an idea what it was before anything was built there.  If you use Bing Maps on the other hand, you can see what the island looks from the air (partially) today. You can also interlace it with the resort map to see what pool villas have the ocean view and which ones do not.

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Upon arriving the General Manager was there to meet all the incoming guests. Here I met my island host for the first time as well. She took me to my pre-assigned villa on a buggy and showed the villa around. There was a handwritten welcome note signed by the GM, some biscuits/sweets, a fruit tray, and a properly chilled bottle of Laurent-Perrier champagne waiting.

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The villa itself was very spacious and had an outside shower area.  Loved the Blaise Mautin amenities that you can find at some Park Hyatt hotels. I am not sure I f the brand of the shampoo and the shower gel were the same brand as they were in jars.

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The biggest drawback of this villa I had, that others may prefer, was the ”being in the jungle” feeling, or some might call it privacy. There was lots of vegetation in front of the villa and the beach itself. I am not even sure of there was a way to get through the bushes to the beach.

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The following day, I had a look at couple of other villa; a pool villa and an over water villa. Decided, that I would prefer to move to an over water villa; instead of continue staying at the garden one. I was moved there promptly.

BREAKFAST

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa Main Restaurant

The breakfast menu is extensive consisting of western and Asian dishes.  I typically went to the breakfast after 10:30AM, so it was more like a brunch for me. Every morning they would bring three different bakery items with the tea I ordered. Then, I would just pick two to three items from the menu.

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The breakfast is served at the main restaurant by the pool. You can decide to sit either inside or outside. I always chose the outside option. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

FITNESS CENTER

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Oh well. This was bit of a disappointment. It was rather small and not equipped with the latest equipment. Probably most of the visitors don’t bother using it anyway.

AMENITIES

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Every day during my stay there was bottle of still and sparkling water brought to my villa. These were not foreign ones but bottled at the resort. Fruits were refreshed daily and some evenings they brought some delicacies.

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TECHNOLOGY

The resort has wireless internet on the villas but not everywhere on the public space. Sometimes I was able to get a wireless signal at breakfast or at the nearby bar but not most of the time. There were not any issues when it came to the speed itself inside the villas. I was able to do the usual browsing and couple of Skype calls without issues.

To my surprise they didn’t have BBC or CNN on the television. They did, however, have Russia Today and Deutsche Welle. I was told that they were looking at the issue and trying to get the lineup changed.

DINNER WITH THE GM

One day I had a letter waiting inviting me for a dinner and drinks with the GM. Over the years I have attended quite a few events at hotels where the management have meet and greet type of cocktail party with some of the hotel guests.

I have learned to go to these events always maybe half an hour late. Little did I know that I was actually the only guest invited.  So, I made the GM to wait me for twenty minutes.

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa Bar Bells Bar

We had a cocktail at the Bell’s bar before going to dinner at the Moroccan themed restaurant. Over the dinner we discussed wide range of issues from how the hotel is run in the Maldives to Park Hyatt in Dubai where he was starting up the hotel.

It came obvious that the GM is very hands-on person at this property, that is probably required in a place like remote island somewhere in the Maldives.

TRANSFER FROM THE RESORT

For logistics reasons the property probably tries to schedule the guests to leave on the same flights. I didn’t like the early flight that they have scheduled for me. It wasn’t a problem for the property to switch it for a later one. I was going to the Sheraton resort close to the airport, but didn’t want to go there too early in the morning. I left on an afternoon flight.

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The boat took me to the KDM airport. The check in was breeze and I then had an access to the Maldivian departure lounge that was reserved for resort guests. I was the only on there. The flight that I was on was serving mainly locals on their way to Male.

Conclusion

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I had absolutely fantastic three nights at this property. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed few days longer, but I was going to spend some time and burn SPG free resort nights at the Sheraton Full Moon resort.

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa Over Water Villa Sunset View From The Deck

The over water villa I had was really stunning. The best part of the day was to lie on the sofa on the deck while the sun was going down on the horizon.  It was very relaxing.

New Priority Club Point Breaks List Is Out – Valid Until May 31st, 2012

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InterContinental Hotels Group’s Priority Club is about to launch their second quarter 2012 Points Break list. Point Beaks are great way to use Priority Club points at deep discount as all these hotels are only 5000 Priority Club Points per night. The list is not available yet, but the hotels are bookable at the lower 5000 Priority Club points per night rate.

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I will do another post when I have access to the complete list.

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There are few of jewels on this list. The Holiday Inn Bangkok that is next to the InterContinental hotel is excellent value at 5000 Priority Club points per night. This is one of the better Holiday Inn hotels in the system, and I have stayed there number of times. Of course hotels in Bangkok aren’t really that expensive.

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Another good one, which I will book for few days, is the InterContinental Hotel Asiana in Saigon. When I was in Ho Chi Minh City last time, they were about the open this hotel in few weeks’ time.  This one is a good value as the price of western hotels has really gone up in Vietnam recently.

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Manila is not for everyone. It is one of the most chaotic cities to get around. I thought that I was going to miss the flight just sitting on the traffic jam. Anyway, the InterContinental there is also an excellent value for 5000 points per night. I have not stayed at this property before as I was staying at Mandaring and Hyatt when I visited there few years ago.

Starwood Preferred Guest SPG Ambassador Program – Now Also For 100+ Night Platinum Members

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There were quite a few changes announced to the SPG program back in January. The ability to earn lifetime Gold or Platinum status, continental breakfast for Platinum members in lieu of the 500 point amenity, 10 suite night awards for PLT members with 50+ nights, and an extra Starpoint + flexible 24 check in/out for 75+ night Platinum members.

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What was not “officially” announced or listed under various Starwood Platinum benefits, is the Starwood Ambassador for those with more than 100 nights with Starwood in 2011. I had 130+ nights in 2010 and around 110 in 2011. My nights actually went down, but I was assigned an Ambassador due to this new program wide initiative.

The Starwood’s Ambassador Program is not a new one. It was launched back in 2009 to serve better those high value guests that weren’t necessarily even members of the Preferred Guest program. Previously, there wasn’t any number of night requirement to become a Platinum member that is Ambassador managed, but the qualification was rather based on the dollar amount spent.

You will have the same Platinum status as the guest staying 25 stays or 50 nights yearly. The only difference that the front desk or the hotel can see, if they dig around a bit, is the fact that you are an Ambassador managed Platinum guest.

The Starwood Ambassadors are there to ensure that the hotels are aware of the preferences of the member and treat them to the utmost respect. These Ambassadors are basically spiced up Platinum concierge that are assigned number of guests to deal with. As is the case with Platinum concierge, they are supposed to deal with all kind of travel related requests from the guest even when they are not Starwood related.  I am not entire sure, however, why people would use them for issues that you can easily Google and sort out yourself.

I do understand why Starwood launched this Ambassador program. They are trying to capture a greater share of the travelers’ hotel dollars by providing personalized service that other chains i.e. Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental, & Marriott cannot match.  Once you have used to program to fulfill requests to the level that the Ambassador program does, it is very difficult to switch chains.

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There was recently a puff piece about the Starwood Ambassador program on Bloomberg Businessweek. You should not expect to receive the level of service described on this article from the run of the mill Ambassadors. Based on my own experience, I have needed to coach the Ambassador about the promotions that the program is running. Also, I don’t need the level of service described on this article. I can live without having my favorite champagne chilled and waiting for me in my suite when I arrive, or to have guacamole and chips sitting on the table.

All what I need from the Ambassador, is to sort out things when I am not able to accomplish them by myself i.e. the website is acting up. I have been to about 70 countries and have spent more than 300 nights yearly at hotels every year since 2004. I don’t think that there is a lot value added the Ambassador can bring to table by sitting on Starwood’s call center and contacting the hotels/using Google to fulfill requests. I rather handle my travel by myself. I don’t use Starwood exclusively. The chain gets about third of my hotel nights.

I have to say, however, that couple of friends of mine that have been part of the program longer, are huge advocate for it. It appears to help with upgrades in more popular Starwood hotels that have high number of Platinum members checking in.

Conclusion

Would I go out of my way to hit 100 nights with Starwood to get an Ambassador? I would absolutely not. I have and will always prefer having a top status with number of chains. Although Starwood has quite good global coverage, it is not present everywhere. Having a number of hotel statuses helps with promotions too. I like to participate to a number of exciting free and bonus points promotions over the year. Starwood doesn’t always have the best promotions every quarter. Besides, it would become boring after a while to stay same hotels over and over.

SPG Restaurants & Bars – Up To 30% Discount for SPG Members & Around The World in 5 Meals-Sweepstakes

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Starwood Preferred Guest members have been eligible for earning Starpoints when drinking and dining at SPG properties, even when not staying, for years. You only need to present your SPG member card at the time of settling the bill. The property is supposed to fill out a credit card style slip and the points would show up (or maybe not) in your account few days later.

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Now, Starwood has launched dining discounts at number of SPG hotels for Preferred Guest program members. There are more than 500 participating restaurants & bars. The discount varies from 10% to 30% depending of the venue. Individual properties have often offered dining discounts for in house guests.

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The website interface for locating bars and restaurants, where these offers are valid, appears to be working well. I was able to locate 21 establishments in Abu Dhabi offering discounts. It clearly shows the discount offered by various restaurants.

There are separate regional Starwood Privilege programs that offer even greater dining discounts usually around 50%, but these are restricted for residents of these counties and packages are not sold for visitors.

Around the World in 5 Meals

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This is a competition to promote the SPG Restaurants & Bars program. You need to choose five participating restaurants on the map and fill out your SPG number and email address. If you dine at any participating restaurant before the sweepstakes end, you will get an additional entry.

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Good luck!

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

EVA Air of Taiwan Prepares for Star Alliance Membership in 2013

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EVA and Star Alliance will sign an agreement in Taipei 29th of March for the airline to join the alliance in about 12 months’ time. The carrier is expected to join the alliance in 2013 after meeting all the entry requirements. The bigger Taiwanese carrier China Airlines joined the rival alliance SkyTeam.

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Ethiopian Airlines joined the Star Alliance in 2011 and Avianca/TACA and Copa are both expected to join the alliance shortly.

EVA operates to four destinations in Europe of which three are operated via Bangkok. Only the Paris route is direct.  In the Americas the airline has non-stop service to Vancouver, Seattle, Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, and New York. Obviously the carrier has extensive network to China, North and Southeast Asia. The only destination served in Australia is Brisbane.

Taiwan is a natural connecting point from traffic coming from Americas and continuing to Southeast Asia and China.

Taipei is a very interesting and modern city to visit for a long weekend. I have been there couple of times. My plan is to travel, schedule permitting, to other cities around the island as well to see the more traditional Taiwan.

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American Airlines Double Elite Qualifying Miles for LGA-DFW DFLGA (Targeted?)

American definitely has double elite qualifying promotions running on both coasts at the moment. Yesterday, I wrote about AA’s offer that was extended until the end of June that gives double elite and redeemable miles for flights between SNA/LAX/SFO-ORD-DFW.

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Now, American has launched a targeted promotion for double elite qualifying miles for flights between New York’s LaGuardia airport and Dallas/Fort Worth. Note that this offer won’t earn any extra redeemable miles. This offer is valid from March 26th to June 30th, 2012. It is NOT valid for reservation booked to prior March 26th per the terms and conditions.

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Apparently this offer is targeted. The AA’s system allows everybody to register, but this offer probably won’t work unless you received the offer email.

Note: This offer is valid only for AAdvantage members who receive this email directly from American Airlines.

Terms and Conditions:
Offer only applies to AAdvantage members who receive this email directly from American Airlines. AAdvantage promotion is valid for round-trip travel on purchased, published fare tickets on American Airlines marketed and operated nonstop flights between Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and New York/LaGuardia (LGA) from March 26, 2012, through June 30, 2012. A round trip is defined as two one-way trips booked in a single reservation under one ticket number. Reservations containing open jaws are eligible. A maximum of one round trip is permitted per reservation. Reservation must be booked on or after March 26, 2012, to be eligible. This offer does not increment the member’s elite qualifying points or segments nor does it add to the member’s prize eligible mileage balance. Double elite-qualifying miles will be calculated at 100% of the base miles earned for the flights between DFW and New York/LaGuardia. Promotional miles associated with this offer will be posted to the account of the traveling AAdvantage member within 6-8 weeks after qualifying activity posts to your account. Promotion does not apply to travel on mileage award tickets or fares that are ineligible for AAdvantage mileage accrual. Flights operated by our codeshare partners or oneworld alliance carriers are not eligible for this promotion. This offer can be combined with other AAdvantage promotions. Registration prior to travel is required.

Best Western Rewards Spring Bonus Offer JUMP12 – $50 Travel Card for 3 Stays + Bonus Points & Miles

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Best Western just launched their spring promotion that starts on April 15th and ends on June 3rd. There are several variations of this offer, and these should all  show under your offers when logged in to your Best Western Rewards account.

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The main theme is a $50 Travel Card for three separate stays, and 1000 bonus points for booking online for BW Elite members + 1000 for paying using BW credit card (total for three stays), or 750 bonus AeroPlan miles per stay.

Note that there are some restrictions in these promotions in which country the Best Western Rewards account address is. One of the promotions is valid at all participating countries but fails to list the countries and the link (bestwestern.com/jump) doesn’t work yet (as of March 27th).

Stay 3 separate times between 4/15/12 and 6/3/12 and earn a $50 USD Travel Card – (Apr 15, 2012 – Jun 4, 2012) – Promo Code: JUMP12

Best Western Rewards® members (Member(s)) residing in any participating country? (visit bestwestern.com/jump for complete list of countries) who REGISTER for the Promotion and complete three (3) separate QUALIFIED STAYS* between April 15, 2012 and June 3, 2012 (Promotion Period) at any Best Western branded hotel worldwide may earn a USD $50 Best Western Travel Card®.

PROMOTION REGISTRATION AND BEST WESTERN REWARDS ENROLLMENT/MEMBERSHIP REQUIRED PRIOR TO THE FIRST QUALIFIED STAY.

Limit one (1) USD $50 Best Western Travel Card per Member during the Promotion Period. Promotional USD $50 Best Western Travel Card expires November 1, 2012. No extensions, substitutions or replacements available.

Bonus Offer: Use your Best Western Rewards MasterCard® to pay for each of your three (3) qualified stays and receive 1,000 Best Western Rewards bonus points. Maximum one (1) Bonus reward per Member during the Promotion Period.

Elite Member Bonus Offer: Elite (Gold Elite, Platinum Elite and Diamond Elite) Members who qualify for the Promotion will earn 1,000 bonus points for each qualifying stay completed during the Promotion Period that is booked on bestwestern.com. Maximum online booking bonus is 3,000 bonus points.

*A qualified stay for the purpose of this promotion is defined as one or more consecutive nights at the same Best Western hotel at a rate eligible for earning points or airline/partner rewards through best western rewards. Only one (1) check-in/check-out permitted per qualified stay.

Other restrictions may apply. Offer not valid with any other promotion or discount. Promotion is subject to cancellation or change without notice.

Please allow 4-6 weeks from completion of 3rd qualified stay for mailing of promotional USD $50 Best Western Travel Card, or posting of Bonus or Elite Member Bonus rewards. If a valid email address has been provided in the Member?s account profile, the promotional USD $50 Best Western Travel Card may be sent electronically to the Member?s email address within 2-3 weeks of completed 3rd qualified stay.

All Best Western Rewards program rules apply. See www.bestwesternrewards.com for additional program terms. Each Best Western® branded hotel is independently owned and operated. Best Western and the Best Western marks are service marks or registered service marks of Best Western International, Inc. ©2012 Best Western International, Inc. All rights reserved. This is a limited time offer to Best Western MasterCard credit card holders. To qualify for this offer, cardholders must stay at any eligible Best Western property before June 3, 2012. This promotion is offered solely by Best Western Rewards and may be amended or cancelled at any time. MBNA Canada Bank has no responsibility or liability for any aspect of this promotion.

Discover America Daily Getaways Are Back for 2012

Discover America Daily Getaways is a good time to stock up some points and travel packages. Last year, I bought bunch of Hilton and Wyndham Rewards points. There were few other offers that I was thinking of participating, but procrastinated for too long.

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We should know more next week what is on offer for 2012 edition of this sale. Just like in previous years, the Amex card holders will get 10% discount.

Hyatt March Edition of the 48 Hour Sale – C48MAR

Hyatt is having their monthly 48 hour sale where you can save 15% to 30% off of best available rates (BAR). Sometimes you can save quite a bit of money and sometimes you cannot. These rates are valid at 118 participating US, Canada, and Caribbean Hyatt hotels.

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Sometimes it is actually better to book an AAA rate that might include some extras like a complimentary breakfast. AAA rates are also normally not prepaid and cancelable. Here’s the link for the Hyatt’s web page for this promotions:http://www.hyatt.com/hyatt/specials/corpofferslist.jsp?offerId=39730828.

InterContinental Hotels Group Priority Club 2nd Quarter Stay/Night Bonuses

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Apparently IHG’s Priority Club has two different promotions running for stays/nights that are mutually exclusive. The other one is based on the number of nights stayed and the other one is based on number of stays.

These are the lowest nights/stays to earn the maximum number of points. There are other variations of this offer as well. The best offer is the 10 stays for 15K Priority Club points if most of your stays are no more than a night. Alternatively, you can sign up for the nights based promotion.

You can register for these promotions at priorityclub.com/register. Please note that you can only choose one of these offers and it cannot be changed later. This promotion starts on April 1st and is valid until June 30th, 2012.

Nights Based

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Stay 3 Nights Get 5000 Bonus Points – Code 1385

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Stay 7 Nights Get 10000 Bonus Points – Code 1387

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Stay 15 nights Get 15000 Bonus Points – Code 1391

Stay Based

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Stay 3 Times Get 5000 Bonus Points – Code 1393

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Stay 6 Times Get 10000 Bonus Points – Code 1395

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Stay 10 Times Get 15000 Bonus Points – Code 1397

American Airlines ORD/DFW-SFO/LAX/SNA Offer of Double Elite & Redeemable Miles Extended Until June 30th, 2012

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American Airlines has extended the promotion of double elite and redeemable miles between ORD/DFW-SFO/LAX/SNA cities from March 30th to all the way up June 30th, 2012. This must be the longest double miles promotion in AA’s history.

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Originally Orange County airport (SNA) wasn’t part of the promotion, but from March 9 this offer has also applied to flights between ORD-SNA. On an email received from American they did mention that the offer would be valid for flights between DFW-SNA, but that doesn’t appear on the official promotion page on AA.com.

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Note that your address on file with AAdvantage program needs to be in TX, IL, or CA to be eligible for this offer. If you don’t live in these states, just ask your friend. And,yes, you do need to register as well.

Here are the full Terms and conditions of this offer:

Accor A|Club Becomes Le Club Accorhotels

This coming Wednesday Accor is changing the name of its frequent guest program from A|Club to Le Club Accorhotels. Not sure if it sounds a bit too French, but I am normally happy with my stays at Starwood’s Le Meridien and Le Royal Meridien hotels.

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I hope that they have better integrated the new Le Club Accorhotels to their reservation system. Currently you need to plug in your A|Club number each and every time you make a reservation. Also, the web address for the A|Club has been separate from the Accor’s site for actual bookings. I guess that we need to wait couple of more days to find out. The new site should be up and running this coming Wednesday.

Changes Coming to Delta’s SkyMiles Program – Evolution of SkyMiles (EOS) or the End of SkyMiles?

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There has been lot of chatter this past week on both FlyerTalk and Airliners.net about possible changes coming to Delta’s SkyMiles program. Delta that has sizeable social media presence hasn’t uttered a word.

Change is coming and I believe that we will hear about these coming changes sooner rather than later, possibly even this coming week. I don’t normally write about rumors, but in this case there is plenty of solid evidence based i.e. job postings what is the direction of these changes.

I am vested in Delta’s SkyMiles program as I have close to 800K miles sitting on my account. Whenever I have been using miles it has always been easier to use miles on Oneworld or Star Alliance programs. Maybe I should finally go ahead and ticket couple of RTW trips before Delta has another chance to devalue them?

There are going to be two changes. How the future SkyMiles are awarded and at least partially moving to a fare based awards system i.e. the number of miles required for the award ticket will be essentially linked to the price of such a ticket.

There was a post on FlyertTalk by a member LedgeT that looked like a leaked internal Delta memo:

The Loyalty Program is comprised of two projects that seek to increase revenue and customer loyalty along with decreasing liability related to unused award miles. Coordinated communication to the general public regarding the intentions of these changes is paramount to acceptance.

Revenue Based Mileage Accrual (RBMA) project shifts the basis for awarding miles to a revenue based accrual approach

Release 0: Support the communication/announcement of upcoming SkyMiles program changes (targeted 1Q12).
Will no longer display distance flown miles for departures after new miles accrual effective date (targeted for 3Q12)
Release 0.5: Provide Mileage Calculator to calculate approximate revenue based mileage accrual based on travel  after launch ((targeted 2Q12)
Release 1: Convert SkyMiles System from flown miles to revenue based mileage accrual (3Q12)
Release 2: Reward SkyMiles members with miles for all non-air purchases (i.e. SkyClub, Seats) (currently On Hold)

Fare Based Award Ticket Redemption (FBATR) project

Fast Track Release – Provides limited base functionality to align with the Polaris Chicago release timing

Phase I at Launch introduces Fare Based Award Redemption Model, Single Shopping Experience for Customer, New Award Inventory Controls, Cash + Miles Award Redemption Product, Award Redemption for OA, Modifications to the automated Award Refund, Redeposit, and Reissue and Exchange Process

Phase II – After Launch includes Bid for Price Award Redemption Product, Buy It Now Award Redemption Product, Volume Discount Award Redemption Product, Modifications to SkyMiles Branded Mileage Upgrade Products, and Modifications to SkyMiles System-Wide Upgrade Certificates

1. The Loyalty Program is comprised of two projects that seek to increase revenue and customer loyalty along with decreasing liability related to unused award miles. Coordinated communication to the general public regarding the intentions of these changes is paramount to acceptance.

In reality it is Impossible to achieve both the increase in revenue and customer loyalty while at the same time “decreasing” liability. The latter basically means higher number of miles required for award redemptions, or making redeeming SkyMiles even more cumbersome than it is today, so that more of them would go unused (breakage).

The deferred revenue that Delta assigns to all unused SkyMiles was $4.5 billion as of December 31st, 2011 same as at the end of 2010 fiscal year (according to filed 10K)’s. Now, they want to bring this liability down by changing the future usage parameters.  In 2010 they brought down the frequent flier liability by $345 million.

Communication is essential as Delta found out when they tried to lower the number Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM’s) earned on the lowest fares from 100% to 50%. There was a huge public backslash and people donated money to run print ads on publications like USAToday. The website from the era SaveSkymiles is still up.

Revenue Based Mileage Accrual (RBMA) project shifts the basis for awarding miles to a revenue based accrual approach
Release 0: Support the communication/announcement of upcoming SkyMiles program changes (targeted 1Q12).
Will no longer display distance flown miles for departures after new miles accrual effective date (targeted for 3Q12)
Release 0.5: Provide Mileage Calculator to calculate approximate revenue based mileage accrual based on travel  after launch ((targeted 2Q12)
Release 1: Convert SkyMiles System from flown miles to revenue based mileage accrual (3Q12)
Release 2: Reward SkyMiles members with miles for all non-air purchases (i.e. SkyClub, Seats) (currently On Hold)

Revenue Based Mileage Accrual (RBMA) project shifts the basis for awarding miles to a revenue based accrual approach

There are quite a few different approaches that various airlines use for awarding miles based on the revenue. Delta already does this as well by giving redeemable and MQM bonuses for high economy and business/first class fares.

Here are examples from number of US and foreign airlines:

lufthansa-miles-earned

Lufthansa does this by giving a set number of miles for flights within Europe. There is a clear distinction between the lowest economy fares that only earn 125 miles compared to business class fares that earn up to 2000 miles. Worldwide destinations earn from 50% to 300% of the miles flown depending on the fare class.

air-new-zealand-points-earned

Air New Zealand has a more novel approach by using Airpoints. Difficult to compare the miles earned and how much it would actually cost to get a free ticket.  Apparently, you can use Airpoints Dollars as payment towards any fare on Air New Zealand. You need to pay the taxes/fees separately, however. For partner flights they have a separate partner reward chart.

jetblue

JetBlue has a similar approach. They award 3 TrueBlue points per dollar spend and double it for bookings made on their website. There are some threshold bonuses, but about the maximum you can do is 12 TrueBlue points per dollar. You can buy any fare that is shown on JetBlue’s website using TrueBlue points that are worth around 1.4 cents per point when exchanged for a ticket. You can get around 17% rebate in the form of TrueBlue points if you fly JetBlue a lot.

virgin-america-elevate

Virgin America has a pretty straight dollar based approach for earning their Elevate points. You will earn 5 Elevate points per dollar spent. You can spend them on all Virgin America flights by using your points at around 2.14 cents each.  So, if you fly a lot on Virgin America, you can get around 10% rebate in the form of Elevate points.

southwest

Southwest has a tiered system for awarding points. You get 6 to 12 points per dollar depending of the fare purchased. If someone is doing a serious flying on Southwest, they can also earn up to 100% bonus on the points earned. When you redeem, the number of points needed depends of the fare and is from from 60 to 120 points per dollar. Sounds complicated? The best case scenario would be to buy Business Select fares that earn 12 points per dollar and earn the 100% bonus, and then use them for Wanna Get Away fares at 60 points per dollar. You would get 40% rebate on the fare this way. On the other hand, if you are earning at 6 points and need to buy the “business” fare using points, your rebate is only 5%.

ek-skyward-zones

But maybe they are thinking inline what the Emirates has been doing? Emirates doesn’t show any “real” mileage base distances during their booking process, and the miles earned are dependent of the zones and not the actual flight routes i.e. you won’t earn any more miles if you backtrack via Dubai.

Here’s an example how many Skywards miles one would earn flying Los Angeles to Dubai return.

ek-lax-dxb-y

Economy (low)  7000 & Economy (high) 14000

ek-lax-dxb-c

Business (low) 17500 & Business (high) 24500

ek-lax-dxb-f

First (low) 28000 & First (high) 35000

The actual return distance between Los Angeles and Dubai is around 16700 miles. You need to fly business or higher to earn the actual distance flown in Skyward miles.

ek-sin-akl-rt-f

Here’s one actual example about booking a Singapore to Auckland in First class on Emirates. You will be shown during the booking process number of different options and how many miles each of them would earn. After you choose one of the proposed itineraries, you can choose to have a look at the mileage breakdown. This Singapore to Auckland would earn enough tier qualifying miles to earn a Gold status. The actual distance between Singapore and Auckland is 5200 miles.

Fare Based Award Ticket Redemption (FBATR) project

Fast Track Release – Provides limited base functionality to align with the Polaris Chicago release timing

Phase I at Launch introduces Fare Based Award Redemption Model, Single Shopping Experience for Customer, New Award Inventory Controls, Cash + Miles Award Redemption Product, Award Redemption for OA, Modifications to the automated Award Refund, Redeposit, and Reissue and Exchange Process

Phase II – After Launch includes Bid for Price Award Redemption Product, Buy It Now Award Redemption Product, Volume Discount Award Redemption Product, Modifications to SkyMiles Branded Mileage Upgrade Products, and Modifications to SkyMiles System-Wide Upgrade Certificates

This is staring to get interesting. Legacy US carrier trying to transform from zone based fixed awards to a one based on the price.

Fare Based Award Redemption Model

Using fares to price awards is not a novel concept, although it would be among the legacy network carriers in the United States. Already JetBlue, Virgin America, and Southwest have tied the number of miles/points needed for an award directly to the available fares. Off the examples above Air New Zealand does exactly the same for their own flights, although they have a different fixed Airpoints schedule for partner flights. Also, American Airlines has their dynamic air rewards alongside the usual award chart.

“Launch introduces Fare Based Award Redemption”

The only positive side to this is that they are not using the word replaces.

“Single Shopping Experience for Customer”

Although none of the airlines that I frequently use does this yet, it is very common among the hotels. Starwood, Hilton, and InterContinental Hotels Group all show the price, points price, and price using cash & points (if available).

“New Award Inventory Controls”

This is where Delta has gone completely wrong with their domestic and international award pricing. You have high, medium, and low awards, and all have somehow tied to the underlying inventory controls. But, if all you do is to use SkyMiles as a form of payment then there wouldn’t be need to award inventory control at all. The dynamic feature of fare bucket availability would take care of it.

“Cash + Miles Award Redemption Product”

Delta already partially does this by allowing some members to redeem a set number of SkyMiles for $100 discount certificates. You can then use them for paying any fare.

There is already number of airlines where you can partially pay using points and rest using cash.

“Award Redemption for OA”

This would be truly revolutionary if they would decide to introduce a fare based award pricing for partner airlines as well. Expect to basic international business awards to cost 500K to 1000K miles.

“Modifications to the automated Award Refund, Redeposit, and Reissue and Exchange Process”

Technicalities

Then on the second launch phase in 2013 maybe?

Bid for Price Award Redemption Product, Buy It Now Award Redemption Product, Volume Discount Award Redemption Product, Modifications to SkyMiles Branded Mileage Upgrade Products, and Modifications to SkyMiles System-Wide Upgrade Certificates

“Bid for Price Award Redemption Product”

There are already products available for airlines to handle business/first class upgrade bidding process. Shouldn’t be too difficult to introduce this for regular award flights as well.

“Buy It Now Award Redemption Product”

Not sure if eBay has trademarked Buy It Now and what exactly would it mean on Delta’s case. To sell the number of miles required for award redemption if short?

“Volume Discount Award Redemption Product”

Airlines are already offering targeted discounts for redemptions. Not sure if anyone has done a volume base discount yet.

“Modifications to SkyMiles Branded Mileage Upgrade Products, and Modifications to SkyMiles System-Wide Upgrade Certificates”

Not sure about these.

Conclusion:

I think that it is somewhat inevitable that the US based airlines will eventually give higher multipliers for business and first class fares, and at the same time lower the number of miles earned on the cheapest fares to less than 100% of the flown miles.

Why Delta hasn’t launched a product that would compete with United’s Global Services or American’s Concierge Key? If Delta is truly interested in attracting the high spenders, they need to offer more timely and personal service. There are not set qualifications for either United’s or AA’s invitation only status, but the revenue requirement is in excess of $30K to $50K and is dependent of the market.

Delta has to be really careful in their approach to this issue. Pretending that nothing is happening when a memo has leaked out doesn’t help. They should come out and tell what changes are coming and when. Then the customers could make an informed choice whether to continue patronising Delta or not.

My prediction is that if Delta will move entirely to a fare based award system the rebate that an elite flier will get for dollar spent is going to be 5% to 20% depending of the fares purchased and how the points/miles are used. This will make redeeming for those inspirational international business class awards very difficult.

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