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With Some Research, Points Can REALLY Save $$$$

If you’ve followed my latest trek, you’ll know that I spent a day in London recently. I found award space on a Tuesday from Bangkok to Frankfurt (to try out Thai’s First Class product out of their BKK hub) and United award space on a Thursday from London to Los Angeles (to, you know, get home).

The Thursday flight left at 10:30am, and since I haven’t been to London in over 8 years, I thought I’d try to get as much time there. Most airlines allow up to 24 hours on international itineraries to connect without calling that stop a “stopover.” I found a flight from Frankfurt to London arriving on Wednesday at 10:40am, meaning that my “connection” was 23 hours and 50 minutes, just enough to spend a day in the city.

First, I needed to find a hotel in Frankfurt, preferably near the airport, but along the S-Bahn train system would be fine. I had a day in Frankfurt on the outbound, during which I visited Mainz toward the south, so I felt that I could figure out how to get elsewhere.

I saw that Priority Club PointsBreaks included the Holiday Inn Express Frankfurt Messe on the list, and a quick look at the map showed that it would be a quick S-Bahn train to Frankfurt’s Central Station, then another train for one stop, and a short walk. These PointsBreaks are only 5000 Priority Club points, so I booked it! Other hotels near the airport were going for $85 and higher, with this one going for $111.

Not bad considering that I got these points through MyCokeRewards. That’s right … all those texts entering codes from bottle caps and 12-pack cardboard paid off! Last summer, MCR had a promo where 250 MCR points transferred to 2000 PC points, so this redemption was only 625 Coke points, or about 63 12-packs (which is not hard to do when you live in Atlanta and go to Coca-Cola University where nobody drinks Pepsi :D). That’s almost $1.50 per 12-pack, haha!

Heathrow is pretty far west of the city, and taxis are very expensive in London. I looked at train options, which included the Underground and the Heathrow Express/Connect. To maximize my options, hotels near Paddington Station seemed to be the best option, as the Heathrow Express takes only 15 minutes to get from Paddington to Heathrow.

I collect hotel loyalty points here and there, but I don’t go out of my way to stay with a certain chain. In the past few years, I’ve used hotels.com a lot and earned a reward to take about $125 off a hotel night, so I figured I would use it for London to get a free night.

Oh how I was wrong. The lowest price hotel that was semi-convenient was $196 before taxes, which would bring it up to $220. Even with my discount, I’d still pay $100, something I wasn’t willing to do.

Even looking at points, there were no “cash + points” rooms available with SPG, Club Carlson, or Hilton, the programs I mainly have points in. It was a pretty frustrating hour searching for a room.

Until I stumbled upon this post by the Loyalty Traveler (who has now become my “go-to” for anything hotel related). I saw that you could use 8000 Choice Hotel points for a lot of European hotels, even expensive ones in London and Paris. Not only that, but AmEx was running a 25% rebate for transfers to Choice!

Choice doesn’t have blackout dates, but they restrict the window in which you can book a room … as long as a Standard Room is available, you can book within 30 days in the US/Canada or 60 days elsewhere (if you’re a U.S. member). Therefore, I saw that there was availability before transferring any points.

I looked at my Choice account and saw that I had 1000 points, from random promotions and surveys. I transferred 5,250 American Express Membership Rewards points to get the other 7000, then booked the room! Seamless!

To make a comparison:

Image

5,250 AmEx points to save $268! That’s over 5 cents per AmEx point. And this isn’t some “5 cents for a product I never would have bought with cash” valuation like it is for business and first class travel … this is actual money I saved. 5,250 AmEx points is not even enough for a $50 gift card, but points allow you to really maximize their value.

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