Friday, December 30, 2011

Just rewards

If you've stopped by here once or twice, you know that I travel extensively for my job.  And while that might not mean that I'm traveling across the ocean to Europe or Japan, I'm on the road a LOT.

About the only thing that makes it bearable is that I have the opportunity to collect, keep and redeem my frequent flier and hotel patron miles or points.  I suppose that's the saving grace for most road warriors, though I seldom want to travel very far for leisure.

That said, I've had some interesting experiences in redeeming some of the points I've accumulated over time with various hotel chains and airlines.  Here's a quick sampling of what I've experienced.

DELTA SKYMILES

This is probably my favorite, as I fly Delta just about exclusively (where I start in Lexington, Kentucky, Delta is my best option for booking travel to nearly anywhere).  And I have a Delta Skymiles American Express credit card which I use for all of my business-related travel expenses.  Thanks to Delta and American Express I've been able to "buy" six round-trip tickets over the past year, and have paid the princely sum of a $5 service charge each time.  Friends and relatives have complained about the difficulties of using miles for reward tickets, but I've seldom, if ever, had problems with Delta in this regard.

MARRIOTT REWARDS

Another program to which I am very loyal, choosing to stay in Marriott-branded hotels whenever and wherever possible.  We also have a Marriott Rewards Visa card on which we charge some monthly expenses, like gasoline purchases.  And we generally enjoy four to eight free nights in Marriott hotels annually, though this year we stayed fewer free nights.

This program also offers merchandise purchases by using only points, no added costs or shipping charges.  Recently I acquired a set of Bose earbuds for travel and just today redeemed a few more points for a music-only Apple iPod.  And I still have enough points for another hotel stay!

U.S. AIRWAYS DIVIDEND MILES

The least useful of my accounts, I seldom, if ever, fly U.S. Air, even though their primary hub city of Charlotte is a frequent destination of mine.  Their prices are so much higher than other airlines that I can never justify the added expense associated with the convenience of a direct flight.  And their miles program offers no merchandise rewards that I've detected, save some periodic offers of magazine subscriptions in which I have no interest.  And there's no discernable way to profitably trade these miles for something more useful, at least none that I've determined.

UNITED MILEAGE PLUS

This program just combined with Continental's OnePass program, as the two airlines are now a single entity and are beginning to operate as a single business.  I had miles on both programs, but, unfortunately, not enough for a ticket.  So I reviewed their online merchandise offerings (United is another airline I seldom fly, as they don't serve a lot of the destinations I visit) and found a K-cup coffee maker that might be a nice addition to our kitchen arsenal.  And like the Marriott program above, no surcharges, fees or shipping charges....nice!

HILTON HONORS

Hilton's my first alternate hotel chain; generally, if there's not a Marriott property, there's probably a Hilton hotel where I'm going.  They offer reward hotel nights, but I've never redeemed for one of those.  And recently I explored the merchandise offerings and found they were requiring two to three times what the comparable Marriott program does for the same items.  So I'm still sitting on some HiltonHonors points, and will likely use them for free rooms.

There are others...for instance, Starwood's program encompasses the Westin properties, and I joined their program when I stayed at a Westin a year or so ago for a company function.  But strangely, they don't ever seem to have any record of my stays, so no points ever accumulate.  Odd.

Many restaurants are jumping on this rewards bandwagon, too, and I'm in favor of anything that does not require the member/user to pay a fee to join.  A local restaurant chain operates a pretty good program and my wife and I enjoyed prime rib for next to nothing there a while back!

Very, very, very rewarding!

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