60 Seconds with Ric Garrido

60 Seconds with Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido writes Loyalty Traveler, a featured blog at BoardingArea.com. He is also a new columnist for InsideFlyer.

InsideFlyer
How did you become an expert in hotel loyalty programs?
Ric Garrido
Reading posts from hundreds of hotel program experts on FlyerTalk and staying in hotels frequently over the past decade helps. I think of myself as more a teacher than an expert. I learn something new nearly every week. Hotel loyalty programs are multifaceted.

IF
Your favorite hotel programs?
Garrido
Hyatt Gold Passport and Starwood Preferred Guest were my main hotel programs in 2008 with about 50 total hotel nights. I earned top elite with both programs for 2009. These are two good entry-level programs for leisure travelers seeking upscale hotels in major cities and resorts globally. I was Hilton Diamond for several years and I maintain points in Marriott, Hilton, and IHG accounts for those PointSavers, Point Stretchers and PointBreaks awards. These are better programs for many frequent guests due to the sheer number of hotels in each chain. Courtyard, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express hotels are everywhere.

IF
And bonus offers, any available now that you think are especially worthwhile?
Garrido
I am going for Hyatt at 20,000 points since it requires only eight nights and with the right planning a Gold Passport guest can earn 30,000 to 40,000 points when combined with Gold Passport Bonus Offers. The potential for 1,500 bonus points per night after SPG added an extra 500 points per night at nearly 300 hotels for Starwood’s Night after Night promo has my attention. Hilton has a spending-based promotion which limits leverage opportunities. Some members are getting lucrative targeted offers for a certain number of stays, but I haven’t seen one in my email.

IF
Some favorite hotel properties?
Garrido
Vancouver Sheraton Wall Centre–my best experience in west coast urban skyscraper living. Amsterdam Hilton–New Year’s Eve fireworks in a canal-side room is visual eye candy. Hilton Budapest (Castle District)–most romantic hotel stay ever in the King Duna suite over a July weekend on a Hilton Point Stretcher award stay. My wife awakened to the value of hotel loyalty programs.

IF
Your blog is full of carefully structured comparisons of the different hotel programs. We can’t help but wonder, what was your favorite subject in school?
Garrido
No real favorite subject. My learning style is to read, organize key points and summarize in writing. I apply that structure to hotel loyalty programs. Elementary statistics and basic algebra are used for my comparisons.

IF
Describe your travel lifestyle.
Garrido
I wander in wonder at the world around me. Aside from a nice hotel, I live like I do at home with long walks and few restaurant meals. City parks and museums are my favorite destinations. Four million miles I accrued between 1999 and 2003 went quickly flying the globe on first and business class awards. These days I fly mostly in coach class, unless I find a good business class mistake fare.

IF
Do you think hotel programs are more or less valuable than FFPs?
Garrido
For me, hotel programs are more valuable than FFPs because I truly believe that 10 hours in coach is a better experience than five days in a lousy hotel room. Balancing your spending to achieve a good return on both your airline and hotel purchases is the best way to leverage your travel cash.

IF
What do you want the followers of your blog to gain from reading it?
Garrido
The more time you have to plan travel, the less money you need. Loyalty Traveler is for those guests who have the time to pay less. My approach shows mathematically how promotions make hotel loyalty programs valuable to the consumer and why hotel loyalty programs have even more value when you stay as an elite frequent guest.

IF
We noticed that you’re another “Pudding Guy”–can you tell us a little about your experience with the Healthy Choice promotion?
Garrido
I regularly shopped a discount grocery outlet in Eureka, Calif. I saw the 25 cent Healthy Choice chocolate pudding cases displayed in the store on Friday morning May 28, 1999. Each case held 144 pudding cups for $36. I purchased the four cases remaining in the store. The check-out clerk asked me if I had the Healthy Choice double miles coupon. I looked at him blankly. He said, “I’ll photocopy it for you.”

Suddenly my $144 purchase meant 57,600 miles. Two free tickets to the beaches of Barbados were in reach. My wife and I were flying to Seattle over the Memorial Day weekend for our first vacation in nearly a year and I couldn’t wait to tell her I had scored two tickets anywhere in North America for under $150 in pudding! My wife walked in the house after a day with first graders, primed for a three-day vacation, and she saw the kitchen sticky with chocolate pudding on every surface. She went ballistic.

In my defense I just kept repeating, “We’re getting double miles.”

Cleanliness wasn’t my primary objective. The double miles coupon was only valid through May 31, which fell on a Monday in 1999, the Memorial Day holiday. The post office would be closed May 31. To earn double miles I needed to mail the coupons that Friday afternoon, before flying to Seattle.

I ended up buying another seven cases of pudding in June from the same store. I provided my summer school class every day with free pudding. Even adolescent kids were sick of Healthy Choice chocolate pudding by the end of July.

We earned about 115,000 miles from the Healthy Choice promotion. My wife calls me “Pudding Boy”.

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