February 6, 2013
Join me as I travel in style to Bangkok and back.
Usually, the travel hacking game goes like this: 1) Get lots of miles & points as cheaply as possible; and 2) Spend miles & points to travel, often in luxury. And, without question, that was the formula I followed for booking my First Class flights for this trip to Bangkok and back. My hotel, though, was a different story…
The formula I followed for hotel luxury for this trip was as follows: 1) Obtain high level elite status as cheaply as possible and, along the way, earn free night certificates; and 2) Spend the free night certificates at a fantastic hotel, and enjoy great elite status perks. No points were required.
Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel
It’s not often that a hotel exceeds my expectations, but this one did. Here are some of the highlights:
Check In: As a Platinum elite, I was escorted to the club lounge and served tea during the check-in process. This did far more to make me feel special than the obligatory “thank you for being a loyal guest” welcome I’ve become used to at every other Marriott property.
Club Lounge: The lounge was open throughout the weekend. It offered a full hot breakfast buffet as well as the choice of made to order omelets or Eggs Benedict. High Tea, with amazing desserts, was served every afternoon from 3 to 5. Open Bar was 4:30 to 8:30. And, canapés were served from 6 to 8. All food service included a mix of western style foods and Thai specialties. And, all of it was fantastic… except the Eggs Benedict. I’m a big fan of Eggs Benedict, in general, but somehow they dropped the ball on this one. Despite that one quibble, the lounge was awesome.
Complimentary Laundry or Pressing: As an elite guest with access to the lounge, I was entitled to 1 piece per night of complimentary laundry. I could have left a few items at home had I known about this benefit! Examining their laundry price list, I see that the most expensive item to launder is a Safari-suit (300 Baht). If you go, maximize this benefit by wearing your Safari-suit every day and have it laundered every night .
Complimentary Massage: As an elite guest with access to the lounge, I was entitled to a free 15 minute Head and Shoulders massage. No dandruff required.
Platinum Arrival Gift: When given the choice of food & a drink or 500 Marriott points for my arrival gift, I chose the food and drink. The Mango and sticky rice plate I selected was delicious!
Corner Room/Suite: They upgraded me to a room that they called a suite. Normally, I expect a suite to have a separate bedroom and sitting room, but this was just one very big room. That being said, it was an awesome room. The photos below may give you some idea. It had a fantastically big and very nice bathroom. The glass wall between the bathroom and the bedroom had an electric shade that could be raised or lowered with a switch. Beside the bed was a master light switch so that I could turn on and off lights around the room from one spot. And, most importantly, the bed was incredibly comfortable.
While other chains such as Hyatt and Starwood arguably have more exciting elite benefits, Marriott has a lot going for it for those of us who do not travel much for work (at least, not much on paid stays…). Here are some stackable Marriott opportunities that I took advantage of:
- Discount Gift Cards. Over the past year, several opportunities to buy Marriott gift cards at about 20% off face value have come and gone. I bought these at every opportunity.
- Marriott’s Taste of Platinum Challenge. I earned Platinum status simply by calling and requesting the “Taste of Platinum Challenge.” The challenge called for completing 9 stays in just under four months. So, during that time, whenever I traveled, I opted for Marriott properties, and I made some “mattress runs” to complete the challenge. See “Four months Platinum with Marriott” for details. At each stay, I paid with discount gift cards I had bought previously.
- MegaBonus Promotions. Marriott regularly runs one of the best hotel promotions around. Their quarterly MegaBonus promotion usually entails getting a free category 1 through 4 certificate for every two Marriott stays. And, each person can earn up to three certificates during each promotion. My Platinum Challenge straddled two separate MegaBonus promotions, so I was able to earn 5 certificates from 10 stays (I had one more Marriott stay after the Platinum Challenge ended, but while the MegaBonus promotion was still going).
Thanks to these stacked opportunities, I earned Platinum status and 5 free night certificates for very little cost.
The Value of the Stay
The problem with Marriott’s category 1-4 certificates is that Marriott’s most desirable properties tend to be category 5 or higher. Category 4 properties are more likely to be mid-tier brands such as Fairfield Inns or Courtyards, rather than more upscale brands such as Renaissance or JW Marriott. I was very lucky to have been in a situation where a highly rated category 4 property was available when & where I needed it.
During the time I spent in Bangkok, the best available paid rate at the Renaissance was $145 per night. So, the certificates were arguably worth about that much (OK, a little bit less since I didn’t earn points for the stay, and I could have used discount gift cards for a paid stay, but let’s not split hairs…). In the past, I’ve gotten better value from these certs. For example, I used a cert last year to stay at a property that would have cost $179. But, unlike points, these Marriott free night certs expire 12 months after they are issued. So, I decided it was much better to get a definite $145 per night value from the certs than to hope a situation arises in which I’d get even more value. You know, a bird in the hand…
Overall, even though I didn’t save a fortune through the use of my certs, my stay was free. And, thanks to the wonderful perks they provided to me as a Platinum elite member, I got incredible value from my stay.