Hotels

Starwood Preferred Guest Program Review

Starwood Preferred Guest Program review

With the negative press Air Miles has received the past few months and now Aeroplan set to undergo major changes in 2020…

Many consumers are starting to rethink their travel rewards program.

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is an incredibly flexible travel rewards program that allows consumers to earn “Starpoints” to use on either their next hotel stay or a plethora of other attractive rewards.

In fact, it’s my all time favourite travel rewards program that I once used to fly Maria and I to Paris for 10 days with most of the airfare and hotel expenses paid just with Starpoints.

Read on to find out why it’s so good:

SPG Membership Tiers

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How To Score Cheap Hotels On Priceline (The Ultimate Guide + Video)

howtoscorecheaphotelsonpricelinetheultimateguidevideo4.jpgI’m going to show you exactly how to get the best possible hotel deal on Priceline resulting in savings of up to 70% off a hotel’s published rate. No joke, if you want proof you can check out my list of previous cheap hotel scores.

I’m going to walk you through it step by step giving you tons of extra information most guides don’t cover and to top it off I’m going to show you a video of me doing it myself so you can be 100% confident when you do it.

Sound good?

But first, I want you to know exactly what you’re getting into by giving you the pros and cons of bidding on hotels. Also, if you aren’t familiar with Priceline and what hotel bidding is, read the above link for a good primer and then come back here to learn exactly how to do it.

Start A New Priceline Bid

The Ups And Downs Of Hotel Bidding

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Travel In Heaven Instead Of Hell

Travel In Heaven Instead Of HellThe act of traveling abroad, particularly by air, can be a grating experience. Long lines, delayed flights, customs forms, expensive food, small uncomfortable seats, endless waiting at airports, getting almost naked to clear security, lack of affordable cell phone coverage, overpriced hotels … the list goes on. Fortunately, there are lots of little hacks to make it MUCH more seamless and enjoyable.

Although I'm not a business road warrior by any means, I've had my fair share of experience traveling to far-off destinations thanks mostly to airline miles, reward points, and cheap hotel tricks. I am currently at the airport on my way back from FinCon 2014 which took place in New Orleans, so it's the perfect time to share all the little hacks I've developed over time.

Before You Leave

  • Be sure to pack the following:
    • Noise isolating headphones (i.e. ear buds). These will help you sleep, relax, entertain yourself, and get work done. That way you won't have to pay to buy something cheap and inferiour.
    • Pen and paper. You'll need a real pen to fill out those customs forms and for jotting notes if your cell dies.
    • Portable phone charger. There are usually outlets at airports and sometimes on planes, but do you really want to be stuck in one place charging your phone? Portable chargers are so cheap, just get one.
    • Empty water bottle. You can fill it after you clear security so you can always stay hydrated without buying expensive drinks.
    • Credit card(s). There a many things you just can't do while traveling without one. More than one is preferred in case one gets frozen, which commonly happens while traveling.
    • A good book. Electronic devices often aren't allowed during takeoff and landing on most airlines but books are fine.
  • Figure out a better plan for your cell phone. You actually don't need to pay through the nose for talk, text, or data in foreign countries (see how here).
  • Get your hotel accommodations in order:
    • Check Trip Advisor for traveler tips and photos for your hotel so you can request a newly renovated or well-located room. Not all rooms are created equal.
    • Call and confirm reservation and dates to make sure the hotel has you in their system, especially if you booked through a third party. Mix-ups do happen!
    • Give your rewards program number if they don't have it already, especially if you have some sort of status.
    • Get the right room. Ask for the type of room you want or even an upgrade. This is also the time to provide them with any special requests you may have.
    • Ask for a discount. If you're booking directly with the hotel, you can try calling them and asking for a discount instead of booking online. Tell them you'll just go to Priceline or Hotwire if they can't give you a better rate.
    • Print out your reservation confirmation to take with you.
  • Check-in online 24 hours in advance:
    • Many airlines don't let you choose your seat until the time of check-in unless you pay extra. Checking in online as soon as you can gets you the pick of the best seats.
    • Your goal is to have your seats chosen, your boarding passes in hand (or on your phone), and your baggage tickets ready before you hit the airport.
    • Now you'll be able to skip through the check-in line and get to security much faster.
    • All of this can usually be done via your phone if you want to take the time to set it up.
  • How to pick the best seat on any airplane:
    • You typically want to be near the front of the plane:
      • You can get off the plane much faster, which also helps with lines at security, customs, baggage claim, and getting a taxi.
      • You get food and beverage service first so you can settle in or go to sleep faster.
      • There is less engine noise at the front of the plane.
      • Your window view won't be obstructed by the plane's own wing.
      • You'll probably be closer to bathrooms (at least on larger planes).
    • Type your flight number into Google or sites like SeatGuru to see the exact plane type and layout along with information about each seat:
      • Some seats have more leg room (exit rows or bulkheads).
      • Avoid seats that don't recline (back of plane).
      • Make sure you get an electrical outlet.
      • Avoid seats without a window and more…
    • If you can't find your exact flight on SeatGuru, figuring out the plane model using your flight number through Google and then punching that directly into SeatGuru can help.
  • Dream of this while you sleep...Sleep really well the night before you leave. Pack a few days early and force yourself into bed at a reasonable hour the night before you leave. You'll have a much better time when you arrive if you do.
  • Learn how to put your electronic devices in airplane mode. Do this when you are on the plane and after you land to both conserve battery (it drains really fast when the phone can't get a signal), comply with airline regulations, and avoid costly data charges in foreign countries.
  • Confirm flight departure times. Type your flight number into Google to make sure it is on schedule. Call the airline if you want to be extra sure.
  • Check airport parking rates and options before you leave.
    • You might be able to find a coupon online, especially if you're using Park 'N Fly.
    • Get a friend to drive you or take public transit if that is possible.
  • Research airport transfer options at your destination airport:
    • Options typically include bus, subway, shuttle, taxi, or limousine.
    • For some airports, getting a taxi is totally worth it. For others, public transport is quick, cheap, and easy. Be smart and not excessively frugal here.
    • Look for coupons or discounts if you book in advance.

At The Airport

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Giveaway & Review: Travel Hacking For Canadians

Travel Hacking For CanadiansI've been travel hacking and churning credit cards for big rewards myself since about 2006. As a result, I've taken several very nice trips paid for primarily with miles and points including Paris, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Philippines, Vancouver multiple times, and more.

In 2012, Steve Zussino, the founder of Grocery Alerts approached me about a joint venture related to travel hacking specifically for Canadians. I was intrigued by the idea and initially accepted, but it was soon apparent that I didn't have the necessary time to devote to the project so he had to continue the endeavour alone.

Now, 2 years later, Steve has successfully launched the website Canadian Travel Hacking and his new book Travel Hacking For Canadians has just been published.

5 Copies To Give Away

Just before the book was set to launch, Steve contacted me about doing a review and I readily agreed with the simple condition that he provide me with some free copies to give away to my readers. At the time, I thought he was publishing an eBook and it wouldn't cost him much to give away a few copies. However, when my own copy arrived in the mail shortly thereafter, I discovered that it is a beautiful 200 page soft cover book - thanks for being so generous to my readers Steve!

How To Win Your Copy

For a chance to win one of the five copies, all you have to do is leave a comment below sharing with Steve and I what your dream vacation is that you haven't yet been able to realize or afford. I guarantee you can use the information found in this book to help make it happen for a lot less money than you thought.

When you leave your comment, be sure to use your primary email address, because that is how I will be contacting the winners. I will randomly select 3 winners from the list of comments using Random.org and 2 additional winners that I think shared a really compelling dream vacation or travel story.

The giveaway will close in one week on Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 and I will contact the winners shortly thereafter.

Buy The Book

My Review Of The Book

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The Best Hotel Deals I’ve Ever Had

The best hotel deals I’ve ever hadIfs you were to visit the websites of many upscale hotels you would see that their rooms are almost always listed for well over $200 per night and you have to ask yourself: how do they do it? How can they sell hundreds of these rooms every night of the year for such an insanely high price? The answer is, THEY CAN’T! That’s right, other than during the busiest times of the year or when major events are taking place near the hotel in question, a large number of their rooms would sit vacant if they were to try and sell every single one of them at those high prices.

Thankfully years ago I learned this little secret about the hotel industry: they are desperate to sell their rooms! Why? Because it makes very little business sense as a hotel manager to let a large portion of your rooms sit vacant every night. Some money is better than no money, right? On the other hand, hotels don’t want to damage their brand and the upscale image of their hotel by dropping their rates to bargain basement prices just so they can sell their remaining rooms either. The hotels especially don’t want their high paying customers to know that the room they just purchased for $300, they would actually be willing to sell for $50 if it meant that it wouldn’t remain vacant for the night!

So how do these hotels ensure that their rooms are occupied while at the same time protecting their reputation so that everyone doesn’t know that they are selling their rooms so cheaply? The answer is they sell off their surplus inventory of rooms through 3rd party discount travel providers like Priceline and Hotwire at massive discounts.

Try Priceline Now!

How Does Booking On Priceline And Hotwire Work?

Booking hotels through Priceline and Hotwire works slightly differently, but the basic concept is that they only provide a very rough description of the hotel and the general area where it is located without actually naming the hotel. The true identity of the hotel is only revealed after the person booking the hotel has already paid for their stay in full. They will also not be given the option to change or cancel their reservation meaning that the revenue from that sale becomes guaranteed for the hotel the instant that the room is booked. By doing things this way, the hotel’s brand is protected because their hotel is never publicly listed alongside the rock bottom price on their own website nor on any third party travel provider’s website either.

Related: Complete Guide To Aeroplan

I know, those are some pretty serious restrictions, but what if I told you that you could save up to 70% off the regular nightly rates for 3 and 4 star hotels in most major cities? Would it be worth it then? To me it definitely is and you’ll soon see why!

Here Are Some Actual Hotel Deals I’ve Scored

Based on my own personal experience, I have to tell you that staying in a hotel right in the heart of the city you are visiting with direct access to everything the city has to offer is much more enjoyable than paying more money to stay at a run down motel that is miles away. Here are a few of the cheap hotel deals I’ve managed to score by using Priceline and Hotwire over the past several years. Keep reading » about The Best Hotel Deals I’ve Ever Had