While my friends, family, and I enjoyed some Fourth of July festivities Thursday (and rode out an earthquake!) the subject of travel inevitably came up.
The topics of “independence” and “travel,” got my mind going a bit. I thought about “free agents”: people who shop around for the best deal and don’t stick to just one airline or hotel loyalty program.
Many Rene’s Points readers are very loyal — or at least rather partial — to Delta Air Lines. Because I’m a Delta Medallion and fly the mothership during 90% of my travels, really I’m not an airline free agent per se.
Hotel-wise, that’s a different story. That’s where I am a free agent and I must say — I kind of like it.
Like most things in life, it has its pros and cons.
Advantages to Being a Free Agent
I admit it: this one is laughable.
One of my clients books flights and hotels through a corporate travel agency owned by Expedia (ugh, yes.). They book the best deal presented to them — and frequently pay champagne prices for beer motels.
Other times, we’re in four- and five-star properties. Go figure.
So a 14-day span might find me in an Omni, then a Westin, then an M Life resort, and we’ll end with an independent hotel. That’s four different loyalty programs — assuming the independent property even has a program.
Other than earning points on room charges, rarely can I take advantage of my elite perks during client hotel stays. So going with their flow saves me from being disappointed, hoping to be booked into a Hyatt (or Hilton or…) only to end up in a Best Western or Days Inn (which can be nice hotels…).
Chase doesn’t have a monopoly on major hotel transfers partners, but they seem close. World of Hyatt, IHG Rewards Club, and Marriott Bonvoy (which, remember, now encapsulates Starwood/SPG) are all Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer partners. That gives Chase cardholders a nice selection of hotel brands where we can stay for free using points (or at significantly discounted cash rates).
My wife and I love the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card for this reason alone. Its annual fee is affordable, the points earnings are decent, and we can always transfer points to a number of hotels.
(Business owners: take a gander at the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card)
Freedom to Shop Around
I usually go out of my way to fly Delta. I like my Platinum status and can never have too many MQM. Sometimes that means flying from LAX, even though sleepy BUR is closer to my house. I might pay a few more dollars or miles for comfort and service.
But being a hotel free agent means no pressure to stay at Marriott only or Hyatt only or wherever only. (Though having a young child and bunch of IHG points has found me at Holiday Inns more and more) If I don’t like a price — cash or points — I have the freedom to shop around. I don’t have to deal with that “But, but, but, I have to stay at Brand X because that’s where all my benefits are!” feeling. (Don’t you hate that?!)
And pretty everyone has elite status now, right? Which leads us to —
Earning hotel elite status isn’t as difficult as it used to be.
In fact, it’s not difficult at all.
The Platinum Card from American Express (learn more): Gold with Hilton; Gold with Marriott
The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN (learn more): Gold with Hilton; Gold with Marriott
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: Platinum status with IHG
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card: (learn about other hotel cards): Gold status with Marriott.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature Credit Card, Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card and Marriot Bonvoy Business Card from American Express (learn more): Silver status with Marriott. (Seriously, though. Go with the Amex Platinum cards and get a host of other benefits.)
Hilton Honors Aspire Credit Card from American Express (learn more about hotel cards): Diamond status with Hilton
Hilton Honors Ascend Credit Card from American Express (learn more): Gold status with Hilton
Hilton Honors American Express Business Card (learn more): Gold status with Hilton
Hilton Honors Credit Card from American Express (learn more): Silver status with Hilton
Many of us have complimentary status with at least one — if not several — hotel chains thanks to travel credit cards. Granted, the complementary status usually doesn’t get you red carpet treatment or suite upgrades all the time. But the little differences (late checkout, a nicer room, bonus points, and FREE WATER! 😉 ) are always nice.
Hardcore road warriors spending more time in hotel rooms than their own bedrooms will naturally direct all or most of their business to a favorite chain so they can earn top tier status (and rightfully so).
Disadvantages To Being a Free Agent
High Tier Status Might Be Difficult
To be honest, I’d probably devote most of my lodging to one specific chain if my client let me book my own travel (#IndependentContractorProblems 🙂 ). Because of that, I don’t have Diamond or Ambassador or Grand Poobah status with any hotel brands.
But there is a fine line between steady employment and hotel status. Right?
Points Spread All ‘round
I have a plethora of points scattered around a half dozen or so hotel loyalty programs. Some — like IHG, Hyatt, and Marriott — have enough for plenty of complimentary nights. But others (Hilton, Wyndham, Omni, Best Western, Choice) wouldn’t combine to get me a free day room to take a nap.
Are You Independent or a Free Agent With Any of Your Travel?
If you’re not a free agent and stick to one program, tell us why — and what benefits you enjoy most. If you’re a free agent, is for airlines, hotels, or both? And why?