How do you decide which hotel to choose in the city you are visiting if you want to redeem your points for a free night? I had to make that decision this month, and unlike in many similar situations, it wasn’t even a close call.
I usually start with the chains where I have top elite status — Hilton HHonors and Starwood. Hilton’s Diamond benefits are inferior to Starwood’s Platinum perks — Hilton doesn’t give you suite upgrades and free Internet. The only advantage with Hilton is that award stays count toward elite status, which is rather significant in my book.
However, in January, Hilton devalued its points by raising both the categories of many hotels and the number of points needed for a free night in some categories. Even though the affected properties weren’t as many as the unaffected ones, the average traveler wouldn’t know that, because those that remained unchanged are in places few people visit. I have the full list, but have yet to come across a hotel that stayed the same while making reservations.
Even before the devaluation, I thought all Hilton properties in Anchorage, AK, were a bit overrated, but I had stayed at three of them on points nevertheless. When I looked at the new categories last month, I was horrified — not only was the Hilton now Category 6 (previously the highest until a seventh tier was created this year), but the Hampton Inn, the lowest-end brand in the chain, was Category 5, requiring 35,000 points for one night.
By contrast, the only Starwood property in Anchorage, the Sheraton, is Category 3, which means only 7,000 points per night. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the popular cash-and-points option.
So let’s compare the two full-service hotels — the Hilton and the Sheraton. At the first — Category 6 out of seven — I need 40,000 points out of a maximum of 50,000 for the highest category. At the second — Category 3 out of seven — I need 7,000 points out of maximum 35,000. Naturally, I chose the Sheraton.
There was another factor in my decision. I needed a conference room for my “On the Fly” Seminar, so I called and left messages for the sales managers at the Sheraton and four of the Hilton properties — the Embassy Suites, the Hilton Garden Inn, the Homewood Suites and the Hampton Inn. Of the last four, only the Embassy Suites — one of the newest and nicest hotels in town — bothered to call me back, but their price was too high. The Sheraton offered me a much better rate.
So I was happy with the Sheraton. Although it’s not a very attractive building from outside, it underwent a major renovation recently and is quite decent inside. I got a suite, lounge access, free Internet and free breakfast. My only cash expense was on the conference room.
What would you have done?
- Nicholas Kralev is an author and expert on diplomacy, world affairs and global travel. He hosts the weekly program "Conversations with Nicholas Kralev." A former Financial Times and Washington Times correspondent, he has traveled around the world with four U.S. secretaries of state — Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright. He has flown over 2 million miles and visited 84 countries.
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