Thursday, March 29, 2012

[Travel] Planning the Trip: Hotels, part 1

I've decided to break the hotel planning up into posts over the next few weeks. For those of you who have found your way here through posts on Flyertalk, Chowhound or the DIS and are wondering when the "trip" part of trip report will begin - travel starts in a little over a month. I'll make sure to update my threads on those sites in case you don't feel like reading the rest of this. For the friends and family who feel an obligation to humor me, read on...

When I sat down to start booking hotels I put together - what else - a spreadsheet with all of my various hotel points. There were a ton of random things on there. I had 120,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, 70,000 Membership Rewards Points, 33,000 otherwise useless Citi ThankYou Points (ThankYou for sucking, Citi points), and anywhere from 4000 to 80000 points in any number of hotel chain loyalty programs.

Heck, I still have a wayward 4000 points sitting in my Wyndham account from the good old days before Top Guest banned me for abusing their Foursquare Check-in promotion. Hey, just cause I've never been to the Holiday Inn in my town where I am still the Mayor, doesn't prove anything.

Unlike the airfare, which was really fun to play around with, this part just gave me a headache. By the time I considered all the places I could book in Paris with my points I was up to 30 or 40 hotels. And that was just for one stop of seven on the trip.

For this post I want to focus on how I decided when to use points (and/or points + cash) and when to just pay for a stay. The benefit to using points is obviously that the stay is somewhere between completely free and much, much cheaper (when using the points + cash method).

Paying for stay means that I (a) earn points on the stay and (b) will often get a bit more recognition for any hotel loyalty status that I might have with that chain. Some chains ::cough cough IHG cough cough:: promise nothing in terms of recognizing your status if you are staying on an award redemption. Others, like Hyatt, are much better about it.

The main consideration is clearly cost. There was just no way that I could justify using hotel points on a stay in Anaheim near Disneyland because hotels are very cheap. I booked a few nights at a hotel in the Disneyland area that was located close enough to Disney to walk, which will save on a car rental.

I often use Priceline or Hotwire and I've had some fun staying at the Sheraton in Garden Grove but it's about two miles away and at the end of a long day in the park walking two miles is just painful. So instead I found a Hilton MVP rate for one of the Anaheim-area Hilton family hotels. If you have no idea what the Hilton MVP rate is (or if you don't know about the IHG Friends and Family trick), check out Gary's invaluable post here.

The only other part of the trip where it made sense to pay entirely with cash was at Disneyland Paris. The park is located far enough outside of Paris that staying in the city and taking the train out every day seemed inefficient. And the only chain with a property near the parks appears to be Marriott, with whom I have basically no points. So I found a great nonrefundable rate on for one of the Disney partner hotels and have kept my fingers crossed that plans did not change.

In the next few posts I will talk about some of the other destinations and how I settled on places there. I'm aiming for one post a week from now until the trip starts. We shall see how that goes.

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