How You Can Transform Frequent Flyer Miles and Hotel Points They Earn Into Dream Trips of a Lifetime

The best free room I ever had? There have been many, but one that comes to mind is the six-night stay my family and I enjoyed at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. Incredibly, there was no check-in desk. As we entered the hotel, we were ushered straight to our room on the 40th floor by elevator, where we walked through the elegant lobby marveling at the spectacular views over Tokyo. Only after we were situated in our room did a staff person visit us. We signed the necessary paperwork in about 2 minutes–all from the luxury and comfort of the desk in our own room.The amenities alone made our stay memorable. The huge bathroom greeted us with marble everywhere, while a giant tub invited us to sit, soak, and relax. Not only were the best shampoos, conditioners, and lotions provided each day, but also a new, top-of-the-line hairbrush and nailbrush. We lounged in complimentary silk kimonos and donned thick bathrobes after using the pool and spa–just a quick elevator ride away on the 52nd floor amid a dazzling 360-degree view of Tokyo.For all of this, we paid absolutely nothing, not even room tax. But, as we all know, there is no such thing as “free.” It actually took 21 paid nights at Hyatt Hotels, using a promotional offer, to earn enough hotel points for that five-night complimentary stay.But here is the key point: When you accrue hotel points or intend to use some promotion toward free nights, make the most of what they offer! Just as you would use those free nights you earn only at hotels which might otherwise be out of your budget, redeem your frequent flyer miles for the most expensive air tickets in business or first class.Research consistently shows that almost two-thirds of all redeemed frequent flyer miles are used for free coach class trips within the US or between the US and Canada. This statistic amazes me. Because these awards usually cost 25,000 frequent flyer miles, travelers who cash them in towards domestic leisure trips–for which airfares are unusually low in today’s competitive travel market–receive a poor return on their investment. The savvy traveler can reach almost any domestic destination today in coach class for under $400 using an advance purchase ticket. With low-cost airlines such as America West now offering first class cabins for travel anywhere in the US priced under $1,000 (and frequently matched by the major competing airlines), even premium class is more affordable than ever before. Why not wait until you have accrued 100,000 to 200,000 miles and splurge on one or two premium class tickets for travel abroad?You may argue that you want to use your frequent flyer miles quickly–before the airlines go out of business. Critics across the board are heralding the demise of all major airlines, and with it the frequent flyer mile programs savvy travelers have come to love–and hate! Countless “travel authorities” wax lyrical in newspapers and journals, and “knowledgeable” pundits on radio and TV continue to warn travelers to use up their miles quickly before they are all worthless. How utterly ridiculous….With the exception of US Airways, which I believe will disappear from the landscape in the next few months, the majors are here to stay for the time being–so continue to accumulate frequent flyer miles and be ready to book your dream trip one day in the not-too-distant future. Will airline miles be devalued in the future? Of course they will–and so will the greenbacks in your pocket and mutual fund account, but that hasn’t stopped you going out and earning dollars each workday, has it? Get real now–the major airlines will need their frequent flyer programs for many years into the future, not only as a way to communicate with their customers, but also as a source of revenue from the thousands of businesses (banks, mutual funds, restaurants, long distance phone companies–how do we count the ways?) that offer frequent flier miles as rewards to their loyal customers. Your hotel points are even more secure, not least since the major hotel chains have not hemorrhaged money in the same manner as the major airlines. So keep earning those Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, and Starwood loyalty points to enjoy the kind of stay I describe in the opening story.It’s really the exotic destinations–from Tahiti to Paris, Antigua to Rio de Janeiro–that should excite you, the sophisticated world traveler who lusts for the unique, the unusual, the spectacular experiences. Start imagining–and planning–the fabulous trips that will take you to a whole new level of exhilaration. Decide which portion of paradise has the highest priority on your wish list–and figure out the amount of miles you’ll need for one or two or more business or first class tickets to transform your dreams into reality. Then begin working on strategies to start racking up the miles as fast as possible to accelerate your quest toward mileage nirvana.And bon voyage!

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