For those travelers who are truly loyal to just one airline or hotel chain, and those whose booking decisions are made by a corporate travel department, there's not much that can be done to squeeze out the maximum value from paid travel: register for promotions, always give your membership number with your bookings, and if possible, use a co-branded credit card or one which bonuses travel purchases.
For the broad swathe of leisure and business travelers, however, who do have the ability to control or influence which travel providers they use, maximizing the rebate value of the points earned during paid stays is an essential part of the travel hacking lifestyle. And if you don't know your hotel promotions, you will miss out on opportunities for big savings.
Here's an example I ran into just yesterday. Taking advantage of my new Level 3 status with Pointshound , I was searching for an upcoming one-night stay in Pittsburgh.
The cheapest room on Pointshound was a $64.11 Travelodge. I naturally scrolled down to the first "Double Up" eligible room, which was a $92.75 Four Points by Sheraton, which would earn 158 Starwood Preferred Guest points (2 points per dollar on the $79 base rate, since I don't have elite status with Starwood) and 250 United MileagePlus miles through Pointshound. It's unclear to me whether I'd also earn 79 Delta Skymiles through their "Crossover Rewards" benefit with Starwood, but I wouldn't count on it, since I find that benefit rarely posts correctly.
The point is, this isn't a very tough call: 158 Starwood points are worth maybe $3, 250 United miles are worth maybe $5. But I would be paying $28.64 more in order to earn them! If I were on my honeymoon, I'd splurge for the nicer hotel, but I'm just staying the night in Pittsburgh on a road trip west.
However, before I made the booking, I checked out my Hotel Promotions page to see if there were any Starwood promotions that would change the value proposition. And sure enough, I found that I had written:
Earn double Starpoints on all eligible stays from May 1 through July 31, 2013, at more than 1,000 participating Starwood hotels and resorts worldwide.
Plus, get 500 additional bonus Starpoints for each eligible booking made through our spg.com mobile site, the SPG App for iPhone, or the SPG App for Android — and that's at all our more than 1,100 hotels and resorts in the SPG program.
So instead of earning 158 Starpoints on my base rate, I'd earn 316, plus a 500 Starpoint booking bonus. Suddenly I'm looking at about $16 worth of Starpoint earning, plus the Delta Skymiles I'll earn by booking through Starwood. And I was even able to reserve a AAA rate through Starwood that saved me a couple bucks on the reservation (sometimes these rates are also available through Pointshound). If I were on the hunt for elite status with Starwood, I'd also value the elite night and stay credits I'll earn.
In short: hotel promotions can radically shift the value proposition when comparing hotel prices.
I'll give just one more example. Marriott is currently running one of their regular promotions whereby you can earn a free night after 2 paid stays, and another free night after another 2 paid stays. Those free nights can be redeemed at any Category 1-5 property (details may vary slightly depending on which version of the promotion you are targeted for). That means that for your first 4 paid stays with Marriott, you have to consider any "premium" you're paying over a non-chain hotel the cost of 50% of a free night. If a stay with Marriott were $40 more expensive than my next hotel choice, I would book that Marriott stay in a heartbeat: $80 all-in for a night at a Category 5 Marriott is an absolute steal (unfortunately the cheapest Marriott in Pittsburgh was $126: only $39 more than the Starwood property I booked, but I'd be forgoing 816 Starpoints and a handful of Skymiles – too high a price for 50% of a Marriott free night certificate.
Know your hotel promotions: it might just save your money.