Updated 24 May 2018
Alright… you’ve clicked this page. Let me tell you the purpose of this aspect of our blog.
As many of you may know, I spent at least the two years prior to this Round-The-World trip working on gaining as many airline points/miles and credit card rewards points as possible. The goal was to try and parlay these perks into free hotel stays and airline flights throughout out trip. This would allow us to save some costs on this year endeveour.
I also wanted to utilize several perks of some of the premium credit cards (credit cards with $400+ annual fees) in order to either save additional money – or for perks that make traveling easier.
I will be discussing dollars and other money issues, so those who don’t want to read about this stuff, just head back to our regularly scheduled blog. But Jeni and I do have several padawans who I’ve tried to teach about this “points game”, and we have some friends who are seriously considering trying to plan a similar gap year in the future. So this page is for those people.
The tips presented here (tips that I learned from my hero such as The Points Guy (TPG) and One Mile at a Time) have helped make this trip possible at the level of luxury and perks the Bepkos are experiencing.
While many would say that the travel is the prize itself… and we both agree on this… it is also nice to be able to enjoy stellar hotel rooms and the occasional business class airline seat during a year of travel!
So let’s dive into this. As this page is being started late into the trip, I plan on adding vignettes and tips in no particular chronological order. Some of these tips might later show up in a “PLANNING TIPS” page, but the ones located here focus on saving money or getting more benefits for the money. My goal is to try and put a savings price tag on all my work in this arena. In this, I am following the approaches taken by my hero above. If this seems a little crass… well, you have been warned.
The citiPrestige MasterCard
So. This credit card has been the work horse for our trip, both in along-the-way daily purchases but also utilized in most of our hotel room purchases. This is a premium credit card and comes with a $450 annual fee. But as I will show you, when used properly this annual fee is worth way more than one pays.
This card is so valuable that Jeni and I both have a separate card in our names which allows us to both receive the perks which will be discussed on this page.
The various perks will be discussed in due time, but the perk which has saved us the most money on this trip is citiPrestige’s “4th Night Free Hotel Night”. As long as you book the hotel through the citiPrestige concierge service AND pay for the hotel with your citiPrestige MasterCard, you will be reimbursed for the cost of the 4th hotel night sans taxes and fees. As you can image, this is a HUGE cost savings when staying at hotels during the trip… especially since in most cases we need to book two separate hotels rooms for a family of 4 “adults”. Kiddo – at 12 years old – counts as an adult in most countries. Of course, it often meant that we planned some of our stays to be at least 4-nights in length in order to utilize this benefit of the credit card.
In addition, we received 3x Thank-You points with all hotel and airfare purchases. These Thank-You points can be transferred to airlines and hotel rewards clubs, or can be used directly as cash. More to come on this benefit later as well.
Money saved with this citiPrestige (cP) card will be marked with a for future page entries.
The American Express SPG Card
This card is basically a venue for helping to max out the number of SPG points we can earn. In addition to a decent sign-on bonus (usually 25,000 SPG points), this card allows us to gain SPG points which is the primary reward currency we’ve used in order to score several hotel stays during our travels. Additionally, there are bonus SPG points earned when used to charge meals and rooms at Starwood branded hotels. And since we have earned Platinum Status at SPG properties, we have been staying at Sheraton and Le Meridien branded hotels predominately. We get more perks and we earn more Starwood points… which in turn allows us more free rooms. While the Platinum status is NOT linked to this card, we’ve used this card from many of our larger purchases over the last two years in order to build up points. All reward hotel stays will be marked with a icon.
The Campbell House: George Town, Malaysia
Although there was an SPG hotel in the vicinity, we really wanted to stay in the heart of the George Town historical area. We chose the boutique hotel Campbell House Penang. We were able to book this hotel through the cP concierge service via email, even requesting the exact rooms we wanted (all suites were a little different). The two rooms together for four nights were $980 in total. cP reimbursed us for $220. This meant a nightly rate of $190 total for both rooms in a stellar botique hotel with daily breakfast. Total Free Hotel Nights: 2
Current cP Savings: $220 Total Hotel Savings: $220
Le Meridien Bangkok, Thailand
Our five nights at the Le Meridien Bangkok were the five nicest hotel stays we’ve experienced on our trips. (This doesn’t include our mega-splurge stay at Little Kalala in Namibia which was on a different level…). Now, some of the perks were due to our platinum status, but the front of the house team was excellent as was service/housekeeping. Ice (for making G&T’s) was literally delivered within 2-3 minutes… and the breakfast buffet was outstanding. We would highly recommend a visit to this hotel is one was looking for a modern International hotel room during their visit to Bangkok.
The 5th night was free as we booked via the cP concierge service. All incidentals were paid with the SPG AmEx ensuring 4x SPG points for every $1 USD. Total Free Hotel Nights: 4
Current cP Savings: $240 Total Hotel Savings: $460
Le Meridien Angkor (Siem Reap), Cambodia
We had another 5-night stay at a wonderful Le Meridien hotel, the Le Meridien Angkor. This place was located about 2.5 miles due south of Angkor Wat, and easy walk although we had a hired car for our trips to the temples. Kiddos had a really nice room with two double+ sized beds, and were adjoined to our suite.
I used 19,000 SPG points for one of the rooms and booked the other room for 5-nights using the cP card. Typically, when using SPG points for 5-nights of a room, one only gets charged for 4-nights. That is an awesome perk we’ve used at some of our resort SPG stays. However, since this Le Mediriden is only a category 2 hotel (SPG hotels have 7-categories to rank hotels), that 5-night bonus doesn’t apply. I didn’t realize that until after we booked our flights in and out of Cambodia.
In addition to staying at this hotel for 10 nights and only paying for 4 nights, the Platinum status basically gets us free breakfast for our entire stay. The “suite room” gives breakfast for 2, and we can choose a “SPG Platinum Welcome Bonus” upon check-in… and we also chose breakfast for 2 and let E & S eat for free as well. This is worth at least $8-10 per person per day! The initial charge for the one room was $695, with $115 rebated by cP. That made a total of $116 per night for the room we actually paid for, and $695 savings for the room in which we used points. Total savings on this hotel stay = $810. Total Free Hotel Nights: 8
Current cP Savings: $115. Total Hotel Savings: $1270
Le Meridien Koh Samui, Thailand
After 235 days of travel, it was time for another RESORT STAY! The Le Meridien Koh Samui is located on the more quiet Lamai Beach on the Thailand resort island of the same name. We didn’t have any plans for this trip other than to catch up on sleep and pool time. We had an awesome upgrade – due to the Platinum status – to a villa with a communal swimming pool in front of the villa.
Once again, free breakfast for 4 persons and a great location for access to the beach. And, as a Platinum member, spa and food purchases are 20% off – so this is a perfect time to see what those Thai massages are all about. This is an SPG Category 5 hotel which costs 12,000 SPG points per night. However, as we stayed for 5 nights, we got the 5th night “free of points”. This mean 48,000 SPG points per room, or 9,800 points per night. However, the room rate for the basic room was $1300 for the entire stay… and that was for the basic room and not the upgraded room. This was a great place to burn some of the SPG points we had been hoarding. Total Free Hotel Nights: 18
Current cP Savings: N/A Total Hotel Savings: $3870
Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers, Vietnam
While we haven’t stayed at too many Sheraton hotels on this trip (this is only our 2nd), the Saigon one continues the trend of awesome Sheraton hotels OUTSIDE of the United States. Our experience has been that stateside Sheraton hotels are on the dated side… but the overseas ones have been really, really nice. And we still have one more Sheraton stay upcoming!
We used one of our SPG Platinum benefits to request a suite at this stay. While not a guarantee, it does put us at the top of the list for an upgrade. We have access to 10-nights a year in which we can request a suite in advance and then roll the dice. Low and behold, we got one. The suite might be the largest room we’ve every stayed in. Check out the video below.
In addition to access to the Sheraton Club (which means free breakfast, free evening drinks, and evening snacks) for Jeni and I, we were able to gain Club access for E & S because Jeni also carries the American Express SPG Business Card. Different from the card I carry, the business version gives access to the Sheraton Club for two additional persons. This is a $59 per night value. I’m not doing a separate entry on this SPG Business card as this perk goes away August 2018 when SPG and Marriott re-shuffle their associated credit card alliances and card benefits.
We stayed for 4-nights and received a free night for each room using Jeni and my CP card. The hotel had a great location in the downtown area and was right next door to the Opera House and within walking distances to many of the main Saigon/HCMC attractions. Total Free Hotel Nights: 20
Current cP Savings: $355 Total Hotel Savings: $4225
Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Well… this was another Le Meridien stay. What can we say, we like the Le Meridien brand. Kuala Lumpur is a great place to stay at a luxury hotel for not a lot of money. We were going to stay at the St. Regis because a sub $200 stay at a top brand hotel is difficult to pass up, but we waited too long to book.
The le Meridien was in a perfect location as far as mass transit was concerned. Located above the KL Sentral transportation hub – so both trains and metro lines were easily accessible. Plus there was a huge mall immediately adjacent to the hotel in case additional supplies for traveling were required.
This hotel was a very nice high-rise hotel with a great gym and pool which was shared with the adjacent Hilton hotel.
Oh, and it contained the nicest Club Lounge of any of the SPG hotels we stayed at! In addition to a superb breakfast every day, we had a great selection of adult beverages in the evening and the kiddos even had a few evening snacks to tide them over. I forgot to take photos so these images below were… borrowed from the interweb!
We stayed for 4-nights and received a free night for each room using Jeni and my CP card. We would highly recommend this place. Although we had to use ride-sharing, taxi service or public transit to hit many of the “required” sight-seeing parts of KL, the fact that this hotel was essentially on top of the KL Sentral transit center makes this an excellent choice for lodging. Total Free Hotel Nights: 22
Current cP Savings: $275 Total Hotel Savings: $4500