Travel hacking blunders: The hotel

Photo courtesy of Amit Patel

 

I’ve talked about how I’ve used travel hacking to allow me to have experiences that I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any other way.

I frequently stay in hotels for free, and have on more than one occasion managed to snag the whirlpool suite. Also, while never having paid for anything other than coach, I have flown business and first class on at least a dozen occasions.

I’ve also made some rather large mistakes in the name of travel hacking. Which I will now detail in a new series which I call “Travel hacking blunders.” Learn from my stumbles!

Buy one, get a bunch

A few years ago, Club Carlson ran a promotion where if you paid for stay at any Radisson hotel, you would get a bonus of 50,000 points.

For those of you who don’t know, Club Carlson is the hotel loyalty brand that includes Radisson, Country Inn and Suites, Park Inn, and a few others. As brands go, it is a pretty good one, small enough to be eager for your business (with deals to match) while large enough to be able to find one easily (unlike, say, Kimpton).

And 50,000 points is a huge number of points, enough to redeem for a free night at one of their high-end properties (such as this property in St Martin) or a few free nights at more mid-range places. And all that was required was to spend money for a single night at a hotel. I can do that.

This is one of those deals that I like the best: a buy-one-get-at-least-one-free deal. And with a buy-in price of under $100. Which I rationalized by thinking:

  • I would be staying in hotels at some point, so I would definitely use the free hotel day(s), saving me money over the long run
  • I happened to have $100 that I could afford to put toward this
  • Adventure! It seemed like a fun thing to try
  • I love staying in hotels

So caution, meet wind; I decided to go for it.

The stay

So I looked around at where to stay. In the Portland area, there are two hotels under the Club Carlson umbrella, both near the airport: a Country Inn and Suites and a Radisson. Looking at potential dates and prices, I noted that Country Inn and Suites was slightly cheaper than Radisson, so I decided to book there. After all, no sense in spending extra money for this if I didn’t have to!

So the day (well, night) came and I checked in. The room was nice, pleasant, totally adequate for my (almost nonexistent) needs. The hotel was in a quiet wooded area, and relatively insulated from the sound of planes taking off and landing.

In the morning, I checked out, and that was that.

Waiting for the reward

Afterward I read online accounts of people receiving their points and I waited keenly for mine.

Weeks passed. Nothing. So I contacted customer service and asked what was up.

Quiz

Q: How did I screw up?

A: Read up at the top: the promotion was for stays made at Radisson hotels, but in my never-failing attention to detail, I read that as any Club Carlson hotel. So my stay at the Country Inn and Suites was completely irrelevant. So I saved maybe $15 by staying there over the Radisson, but in the process I inadvertently lost out on hundreds of dollars worth of free hotel stays. Good job!

Lesson

Unfortunately, the lessons aren’t very instructive. The best one I can think of right now is to read the stupid terms and conditions. And adhere to them. Promotions where you get a good deal are rightfully inflexible, so if you don’t follow the terms to the letter of the law, the company is under no compunction to help you out. And this goes for the fine print as well. The better the deal, the less flexible the terms are likely to be.

So this was a $100 lesson, which hurt. But as with all things that involve a certain amount of risk, one needs to be aware of the risk and weigh it against the potential reward. I was willing to risk $100 on this experiment. I wouldn’t have been willing to risk $1,000.

But at least I got a nice hotel stay out of it, so I didn’t get nothing. And the best consolation for whenever anything unfortunate happens: I got a good story.

Thank you for taking the time to write.

We appreciate your recent message.

Yes, you were registered for the Radisson Big Night Giveaway, but we do
not show a stay in a Radisson hotel during that time frame. If you
stayed in a Radisson Hotel please forward the name of the hotel and the
date of the stay.

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to assist you.

Regards,

[Club Carlson] Corporate Customer Service Specialist

But enough about me. Do you have any travel blunders like this?

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

I offer a free phone consultation to anyone who is interested in changing their financial narrative. Are you ready? Click here for details.
Mike Pumphrey
Posted on June 16, 2014