Platinum AMEX, Hotel Loyalty Programs and The Road

Today was busy with searching for the perfect hotel in Havana for when V. and I travel there at the end of August. I have some leads, but due to the American problem it is quite difficult to arrange accommodations online. I find the whole endeavour rather hilarious, especially when I realized that American Express was not going to be of any use there whatsoever. My day’s activities made me think that it might be useful to share some of how I plan for travel and why that works for me. It will be a photo-free blog, as I cannot really photograph credit cards and loyalty cards.

Firstly, I do love the AMEX Platinum Aeroplan Card. Yes, it costs $499 a year. Yes, it is not accepted everywhere. But…the travel benefits are exceptional and IF I am traveling a lot during a year, then it makes the annual fee negligible.  For instance, during my first year of membership I was able to access Air Canada Lounges in Toronto and Paris multiple times while heading to South Africa, Egypt, Charlottetown, Atlanta, Vancouver, and Paris. The wine and cookies alone made each adventure start with a sense of relaxation. Next, it gave me a complimentary passenger ticket for V. to Boston when I redeemed 15000 Aeroplan points for my own flight [you do pay the taxes, however]. I also received 15000 point for joining, which gave me that flight for free. When you use the card you do receive some varying travel insurance for luggage and hotels, but I have not had to redeem any of those features. I used Front of the Line to snag me some great seats at NIN, Fleetwood Mac and Leonard Cohen. There was also a connection to Fairmount Hotels which now sends me a monthly offer on hotel rates at various resorts, which was quite useful in both Boston and Montreal. I will mention that I cancelled the card last September, as I knew that I would not be traveling again until this week which made the fee unreasonable.

Given the possible travel this year, I renewed. I received the renewed card yesterday and much to my surprise I found some new benefits that mean quite a bit to me. One, I regain my Gold Status at Starwood Preferred Guest. My Visa gave me access to SPG as a gold member just before my divorce, and it proved to be a godsend over the year and a half that I retained it. I was able to book a London hotel at the last second when I realized there was a 24 hour layover in an Egypt flight. I was given a suite at the King Edward Hotel for the same cost as a tiny room as an upgrade on the day I moved out of my former house. I was given a suite upgrade for my mother and I when my father had taken two heart attacks and was rushed to Halifax. Finally, it allowed me to book a beautiful, upgraded hotel room in Oman, Jordan for V. and I just before she headed to South Africa..never to see me again [which is not exactly how that turned out]. Given the hellhole GAP had booked us in, it was a mirage in the desert.

Two, I receive Gold Status with Hertz and receive a Priority Pass membership for free upon request. Those two features add up to $160 in fees without the AMEX, and I feel like the Priority Pass might be very useful in countries like India or China or Russia next year [hint, hint], because the ends of the earth may not have an Air Canada Lounge, but they all have somewhere that people can hide from the real airport. Yes, it may not make sense to people who travel from here to New York, but on a 24 hour flight to Cambodia with layovers in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Vancouver, the heaven of a lounge is undeniable and priceless.

Finally, I think I will receive 25000 points through a hidden promotion for Aeroplan members…that will take my points up to a level for a trip to Asia, which means more possibilities for V. and me to travel when she has time off from school. The best part is that the fee may now be a tax write-off as I will only use the card for travel and business expenses; my travel photography is a key part to my business plan.

At the end of the day, none of this helps me find a hotel in Havana. It will mean that I can visit lounges in Paris and Toronto tomorrow, and if a hotel in Rome or Munich cannot accommodate Manning and me, then we have options. Just for interest, I did not book any of this trip using the AMEX, but rather a wonderful service that VISA provided Infinite Card holders through Tablet Plus. Tablet provide boutique hotel services, and the Plus means that guests receive upgrades or treats upon check-in. I used this service for Tokyo, Toronto and now Germany, and I found my Florence hotel through them but booked online for a much cheaper price. VISA no longer provides this perk, which is a shame, as their new service is useless.

Successful travel does not require rigid plans, but rather a myriad of options. Taking the time to check with credit card providers and hotel chains for loyalty programs have made a huge difference in the stressful sections in my experiences. It may sound petty or bourgeois to hardcore travellers who abhor elite privileges, but if I could have found a lounge during the six hours V. and I sat on the floor of the Cape Town airport then I would have paid for that privilege indeed.

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