Staying Hooked on Points
by Jon Mohatt
Hello and welcome to my first blog post of 2014, Happy New Year! I wish each and every one of you all the best in 2014!
If you recall in my last post, How I Got Hooked on the “Points Game”, I mentioned that I would give two examples of experiences that were made possible through the use of loyalty points. In this second example I will be sharing our family trip to Orlando for Spring Break (March ’13). Once again, these posts represent just a few examples of opportunities that can be available to you and your family/friends as well through the world of reward/loyalty programs. They also show a taste of what is possible at a fraction of the normal price. I hope they get you excited about acquiring and using points to help make your travel dreams come true. They are certainly not an attempt to say “Hey, look what I did”. If anything, they show that if I can do it then anyone can. There will always be those that can just walk in and “buy” these experiences, but I’m not one of them, maybe someday, but not today, and not on my military salary J
Our Spring Break ’13 trip to Orlando wasn’t planned a year in advance or even six months in advance so we missed out on our opportunity to get into Shades of Green which is a wonderful military affiliated resort right on Disney property (near the Disney Polynesian Resort and Disney golf courses). Then again, we were concentrating on Universal resorts for several of our days so we wanted to stay somewhere in between Universal and Disney. I had been saving my Marriott points for some time and adding to them through obtaining the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Signature credit card and using it for our everyday spend as each dollar spent earned Marriott points. By doing this, and transferring some Ultimate Rewards points (got to love UR) I was able to reach my goal of 140,000 Marriott points, the amount required for a Category 7 Marriott hotel for four nights. The Marriott Rewards program has a 5th night free option so 140K points were actually getting us five nights at the hotel of our choice which was the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. My girl’s only request was that we have a hotel with a nice pool area and a Lazy River if possible. Those that are familiar with Orlando know that there are only a few resorts in the whole area that have a Lazy River so this may have been difficult to obtain at a reasonable price without Marriott points.
In Feb. ’13, less than two months from our planned stay, I reached our 140K point goal and was able to book our reward stay at the JW. I have to take my hat off to Marriott for their award availability at such a late date considering this was “Spring Break” week and I knew they would be full. I think getting a nice place to stay anywhere in Orlando just two months before Spring Break season would have been out of our price range without points. Can you see why I’m even more hooked on points after this experience? Seeing Kenny in concert from an owner’s suite was enough to get hooked, but this really sealed the deal. But, as always, there is more to the story!
When we arrived at the JW Marriott it was on a Sunday so the hotel was still full and we were placed in a standard room. Since I have Marriott Rewards Gold status (middle of the road) I don’t always expect an upgrade but do always ask as I get lucky quite often as the terms of the loyalty program state that if an upgrade is available it should be offered. The front desk clerk said they were full but I wasn’t done with my efforts. I asked if any opened up after the weekend. He looked and, lo and behold, he said there was a 1 Bedroom Grande Suite (14th floor Lake View, facing Disney) open for the remainder of our stay if we were willing to switch rooms. It didn’t take us long to decide this was OK and I grabbed the suite for the remainder (4 nights) of our stay.
To put this into perspective from a value point of view let’s look at our savings for this particular trip by being a member of Marriott Rewards and taking advantage of my loyalty status and points. A standard view “Deluxe” room normally runs $349 without military ($111) or AAA ($279) discounts. Military rate is not available for most (I happen to be military) and is not normally available two months out from Spring Break season. But if we assume I could have gotten the AAA rate that would have meant five nights at $279 plus tax ($63) and would have cost $1,710.00. I don’t know about you, but this is a bit out of my price range when you combine it with the price of transportation to FL, food and park tickets. Bottom line, we would have been forced to stay elsewhere without the nice JW accommodations and Lazy River if was forced to pay this cash price. Points allowed us to stay for $0 since tax is not charged when using reward points. Being upgraded to a 1-Bedroom Grande Suite with a Lake/Disney view meant an even greater savings. This room would ran $609 plus tax ($137) during Spring break equating to $749/night or $2984 for the four nights plus another $342 for the first night (before the transfer) making the five nights cost a grand total of $3326. I think the time and effort it took to acquire and redeem my Marriott points was more than worth it for this $3326 “JW Experience”.
The best part of staying in this hotel was the ability to lay in my King bed and watch the Disney World fireworks show out my 14th floor window with all the kids lined in the window of their room doing the same.
How does one really put a price on that experience? It is something that my kids will always remember. Of course we stayed late in Disney World one night and enjoyed the fireworks up close and from our favorite vantage spots but after doing that one night it’s a parents dream to be able to do it the remainder of the trip from the comfort of their room. This way the kids could enjoy teh park all day and then return to the JW to play in the pool, float in the Lazy River, warm up in the hot tub, eat Smores by the fire pit and drink hot coco then run to the room and view the fireworks and hit the sack to prepare for another day at the parks. Having been to Disneyland and Disney World multiple times I would have to rate this experience near the top and definitely our favorite trip to Orlando.
Thank you points for making the entire trip for a family of five possible for only $2.4K (Gas, Food, Souvenirs and Tickets) instead of the $5.7K it would have cost without points. That $3300 in savings funded the rest of our 2013 travel. Did I already mention that I’m hooked on points?
As always, happy brainstorming and safe travels! Be sure to sign up to be notified of future blogs posts (top of right sidebar) and let your friends know about this blog and it companion Facebook page.