In the points and miles game, blind loyalty can cost you

You are planning your next vacation, surfing the web in search of the perfect place to stay. Three hotels attract you. One is part of a large international chain and the other is part of a large international chain of which you are a member of the loyalty program. The third is a boutique hotel you’ve never heard of, but it looks attractive and gets rave reviews.

The words begin to appear in his head: “elite”, “bonus points”, “late check out”, “lounge access”. Each one prompts you to choose the hotel of which you are a member. But if you pay attention to the loyalty program siren song too easily, you could end up being a loser in the points game.

To understand why hotels, airlines, and other travel providers offer loyalty programs, the name tells you everything you need to know: They want your loyalty. This is because, despite all the free nights, onboard accommodation, and other benefits they send you, these programs ultimately make hotels and airlines more money than they cost.

For Beware of blind loyalty. If your preferred program offers the best results option when booking, stick with it. But if you can find a better deal elsewhere, get it.

Here are four tips to make travel rewards as rewarding as possible.

The more points you accumulate in an airline or hotel loyalty account, the more loyal you will feel. After all, every new airline ticket or hotel room you buy with cash brings you closer to your next trip for free. But if you only have eyes for one travel provider, you could miss out on a much better value elsewhere. It is always smart to check the competition.

Also, don’t overlook booking sites like Travelocity, Trivago, or Sometimes they offer deals that cannot be obtained directly from hotel or airline websites. If you book your preferred provider through one of these sites, you may lose certain loyalty privileges, such as points, late check-out, or upgrades. But the savings could make it worth it.

Many booking sites can bundle a vacation for you, combining a rental car, airfare, and hotel, all in one package price. Big airlines, online travel agencies like Apple Vacations and Pleasant Holidays, and discount stores like Expedia and Orbitz offer special packages. Sometimes these can save you a lot of money, but again, you may not reap the rewards that come with booking directly with travel providers. Calculate the price of your car, flight and accommodation separately and compare that total with the package offer to see if it would be better to book directly through your rewards program.

Imagine you have only two flight options: Option A will earn you 5,000 frequent flyer miles, but Option B costs $ 50 less. These comparisons between apples and oranges make it difficult to choose wisely. Convert this into an apples to apples equation by taking a quick look at the point rating tables, which can help you estimate .

Then think about how you value the benefits. For example, you might have a credit card that gives you free checked luggage on a certain airline, or access to that airline’s fancy lounge. If those are things you value, it may be worth paying a little more to fly with that airline. But if you wouldn’t pay to access a lounge or check a suitcase anyway, then you’d be better off spending your money flying to a cheaper competitor.

Elite status with an airline or hotel group can be beneficial, especially if it gives you a better seat or room upgrade. Other times, the prestige is mostly boastful. If your elite status will give you little more than a few free bottles of water and late check-out privileges that you won’t use anyway, it shouldn’t be a factor in your choice of hotel or airline. Put aside your ego and look for offers from the competition. Then consider where a few bottles of water or free Wi-Fi could tip the balance.

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