Hotel VIP bang for little buck
While we talk a lot about airlines, once you hop off that flight, you've got to hang your hat somewhere.
And like the airlines' frequent flyer status ladder, the more times you hang your hat at a particular hotel chain, the quicker you'll see some rewards for your loyalty.
However, unlike the golden handcuffs and diminishing returns of some frequent flyer schemes, the benefits of a good hotel reward programme truly are worth having.
Automatic upgrades mean you can be bumped from the standard shoebox to a more spacious room, or even a suite. Free breakfast and free in-room internet can shave more than $50 a day from your bill.
Access to the executive lounge provides somewhere to work or relax outside your room plus snacks and drinks throughout the day, with happy hour drinks in the evening.
And nobody can argue with a late checkout.
PLAYING THE FIELD
Fortunately, it's easier to play the field with hotels than with airlines and thus hold VIP status across a number of loyalty schemes.
Kiwis can get off to a flying start with Virgin's Velocity frequent flyer scheme, for example.
Velocity Gold members are offered a choice of Gold status with Hilton HHonors or Gold Elite with IHG Rewards Club, while Virgin's top-tier Platinum flyers can choose between Hilton HHonors Diamond or IHG Platinum Elite status.
This is a unique aspect of Virgin's rewards scheme, but you can choose only one hotel status deal: so which is the best?
All things being equal, Hilton HHonors pips IHG Rewards Club at both the Diamond/Platinum and Gold levels for Hilton's inclusion of free breakfast, executive lounge access and even room upgrades for Gold cardholders.
However, it also depends on the presence of hotels from each chain in the cities you most often visit and, if you're a business traveller, any contract or preferred booking rules your company may have.
One caveat is that your free Hilton HHonors Diamond status lasts only for six months, not 12 as with the other three status tiers.
Also note that this free hotel status is only offered the first time you hit Virgin's Velocity Gold or Platinum. From then on, it's up to you to patronise that hotel often enough to retain that shiny status.
Of course, if you drop down a level on the Velocity food chain but then climb back up again, you'll be offered the deal afresh.
WATCH FOR PROMOTIONS
The next step in bulking out your collection of hotel status cards is to watch for promotions that offer instant high-level status. Accor appears quite prone to this, with its Le Club Accorhotels scheme offering welcome treats at hotels from the luxury Sofitel to the mainstream Novotel and budget-minded Ibis.
But you don't need to wait for a free status offer. Use your existing cards to carve your own status match deal with a competing hotel chain.
It's the same principle as status matching into an airline's frequent flyer programme.
If the travel gods are on your side, Gold or Platinum-equivalent status with just one hotel can be parlayed into VIP cards for half a dozen brands.
Sunday Star Times