The IHG PointBreaks list was not updated as expected on Monday. Points and miles bloggers have since speculated about its termination. In light of this unfortunate development, I thought I’d explore some of the remaining ways to get as many stays as possible out of points in the various hotel loyalty programs.
For anyone not familiar with IHG PointBreaks, it was a list of select hotels released a few times a year where you could book a stay for 5000, 10,000 or 15,000 points per night. Before a change in 2018, all of the hotels on the list were only 5000 points. Bookings were limited and popular hotels would drop off the list quickly.
The PointBreaks promo was my gateway drug, so to speak, into the world of points and miles. Prior to discovering it, I erroneously believed that hotel loyalty programs were aimed at business travellers but sort of useless for the average leisure traveller. When I discovered that I could, at the time, convert Air Miles to hotel points and get a free stay for a very low points rate, my interest took off. I started reading Flyertalk forums and watching for good promotions to earn lots of points for a reasonable amount of hotel spending.
When it became apparent this week that its future is uncertain, many commenters railed against PointBreaks as they typically do after a new list is released. People complain about the lack of high-end or popular properties even though the appearance of such should always have been considered more of a bonus than an expectation.
For me, the hotels on the list were often what prompted a trip to happen. I’ve travelled to many wonderful destinations because of PointBreaks.
If it’s truly gone, I should take a closer look at the other options going forward.
Before I get to the other programs, I’ll take a quick look at what’s left of IHG Rewards.
For quite a few years, IHG has offered individualized promos with various achievement bonuses. The most recent ones were dubbed “Accelerate” and they could motivate you to plan stays at certain IHG hotels. IHG has yet to release such a promotion in 2020 which, like the missing PointBreaks, is a bit odd.
The lowest redemption level is 10,000 points per night but these are scarce. There was a time when the Holiday Inn in Sydney, NS was 10,000 points. Now it’s 25,000. If you do find a 10,000 point hotel somewhere, it will probably have very low cash rates.
There are more 15,000 point hotels but they likely won’t be found in the city centres of popular destinations. Still, they are something to watch for and can be a great value in the right circumstances.
If you’re able to take advantage of Alaska Mileage Plan’s Fiji Airways 50% off award flight promotion, you could stay at the Holiday Inn Suva for 15,000 points per night.
The Holiday Inn Berlin – City West is one of the few remaining IHG hotels at the 10,000 point level but it’s well outside the city centre.
Also at 10,000 points is the Holiday Inn Warsaw – Jozefow. Although it’s on the outskirts, it’s one of the nicest Holiday Inns at which I’ve ever stayed. I wish had taken more pictures.
Choice is an appealing program at the moment. That is, if you’re willing to plan around the sweet spots. One downside is the restricted booking window of 100 days. Its seasonal reward rates (outside Scandinavia) can help you or hurt you depending on your travel timeframe. The upsides are the ability in some cases to book larger rooms and a recurring straightforward promotion where you earn 8000 points after 2 stays. The promo is not on currently but it has appeared often over the years.
If Choice hotels interest you, then be at your computer this spring when the US Travel Association Daily Getaways annual sale happens. In the meantime, until February 4th you can buy points at 30% off. Check out more details and sample hotel deals in a previous post. Just remember that Canadian residents must pay HST.
If you foresee using Choice points in the future, I’d say it’s a good move to buy 12,000 points while they’re on sale so you’re able to see the room types available up to that point level. Because Canadians don’t have access to cash+points bookings (Americans can see all room options with only 6000 points in their account), you’ll need to have at least a one night stay’s worth to see them.
One can book an executive room at the Ten Square Hotel (Ascend Collection) in Belfast for 10,000 points per night for stays between April 16 and June 30th.
A two-level suite at the Comfort Suites Rive Gauche Lyon Centre is only 8000 points per night in the same period.
The Econo Lodge City Central in Auckland is a super low 6000 points.
There are some great low category hotels in the Marriott program. Although the peak-off peak thing can be a negative, if you’re able to zero in on the off-peak dates at category 1 or 2 properties, you can score a really great deal on points. And if you book a 5 night stay, the 5th night is free which is terrific.
Since Marriott offers both a business and personal Amex credit card to Canadian residents, that’s a good way to accumulate points.
Marriott has not yet released a system-wide promotion, but I assume one will come out in the relative near future? In the meantime, look closely at rate options when booking a Marriott hotel in case there is a worthwhile bonus points rate under the “Deals and Packages” heading.
As a category 2 hotel, the regular reward rate for the Four Points by Sheraton Siena in Italy is 12,500 but if you can score off-peak dates it drops to 10,000 per night.
The Courtyard Oxford City Centre is another interesting category 2 option if you’re headed to England.
Spain is home to a number of category 1 hotels including the AC Hotel Valencia which you can get for only 5000 points on off-peak dates.
Options are pretty bleak from here on in. Devaluations have meant the good lower category options have largely disappeared in the Radisson program. The current promotion is not too bad for earning points on stays but I sense my focus with Radisson has veered into points+cash territory. Alternatively, I might book a 2-night stay at a 44,000 point hotel and bid Radisson Rewards a fond farewell, barring some future fantastic promotion.
Wyndham’s weird. For a while, all of its hotels were 15,000 points per night which allowed one to get some outsized value. Then they switched it up again by putting hotels in 3 categories – 7500, 15000 and 30,000. On February 11, 2020 the category updates will occur, but they haven’t provided a preview.
Wyndham has a promotion for Canada that ends February 17, 2020. I would probably only stay at a Wyndham hotel during such a promo.
Best Western recently underwent a major change toward dynamic reward rates. The points required now vary from day to day and larger rooms cost more, as they do with cash. Sweet spots are hard to find, due in part to the annoying website where it’s quite difficult to search efficiently.
Best Western is the only other hotel loyalty program with a credit card in Canada. That said, it’s not high on my list. I don’t recall many good points-earning promotions in the past. In 2017 and 2018 there were terrific winter deals to redeem 10,000 points for a free night in North America, but sadly the promo was a shadow of its former self in 2019.
Hilton moved toward a more dynamic pricing model a while ago. I remember further back there was a major devaluation when point rates were dramatically increased. Currently, the low reward rate hotels are few and far between, at least in the places where I tend to travel. Another downside is that unlike with Marriott’s 5th night free, with Hilton you need to have elite status to get the complimentary night on a reward stay.
If a Hilton cash stay fits into my plans, I will surely take advantage of any promos such as the current Points Unlimited or the targeted email promos that come along occasionally. However, it’s not a great contender for stretching points, in my opinion. For me, I think the points may be most useful for the occasional one night stay. In fact, my last Hilton point redemption was at an airport Hampton Inn.
If there were a Hilton Honors credit card in Canada (ideally with gold status included for free breakfast) that might be a game changer.
I still hold a glimmer of hope that the PointBreak list has just gone on a temporary hiatus. The release timing has changed over the years. In the beginning it was not so predictable. Then came a phase when a preview would be available a couple of days in advance. Then it went back to no-preview but the list would usually update around 1 pm on Mondays. I was refreshing the page as hope gradually began to fade.
Anyway, that’s how it goes. The only constant is change and we have to deal with it even in the world of points travel. I still think there are good opportunities to leverage points into cheap trips.