Big Guava: big festival, big savings

You may not have heard of it (yet), but that’s good.  It means that you can see quality acts for cheap.  Well, cheap for a festival. Big Guava is a new festival in Tampa, Florida that is sporting a lot of the big acts you’ll see around the concert circuit this year. A three-day pass for the inaugural year includes parking, free rides and general admission, and is still under $200 per person all in.  But you know what’s really cool?  Hotels are nearby and they are cheap! No ridiculous $500/night hotels like other festivals sporting many of the same bands.

What about the lineup?  Awesome!  Headlining are Outkast, Vampire Weekend, and Foster the People.  Other festival favorites include Cake, Grouplove, Haim, Violent Femmes, Tegan and Sara, Walk the Moon, Band of Skulls and many, many other fun bands.

Vampire Weekend draws a good crowd!

Vampire Weekend draws a good crowd!

The venue is the State Fairgrounds in Tampa, which has many inexpensive hotels nearby.  How inexpensive?  Well, if you want to pay up front, some are as cheap as $75/night plus taxes.  Many hotels are available on award nights as well, although if you snag a cheap rate, this would be a great time to earn points that you can burn on more expensive festivals later.

Violent Femmes still put on an awesome show!

Violent Femmes still put on an awesome show!

In fact, I’d recommend the two IHG (Holiday Inn and Staybridge) hotels, which have stackable promotions, in order to really get the points earning machine running.  Trust me, the IHG promotions will add up fast.  For the best info on how to sign up for IHG’s promotions, read the first post in this FlyerTalk thread, and then sign up for all of the codes at the bottom of the first post under ‘2014 codes in numerical order’.

Here are some of the great hotel deals:

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites : Tampa-Fairgrounds-Casino (8610 Elm Fair Boulevard) – $127/night or 15,000 points

Staybridge Suites : Tampa East- Brandon (3624 North Falkenburg Road) – $155/night or 20,000 points

Comfort Suites at Fairground-Casino (4506 Oak Fair Blvd.) – $105/night or 16,000 points

Sheraton Tampa East Hotel (10221 Princess Palm Ave.) – $111/night or 7,000 points

With deals like these, hopefully many people will get to enjoy the super-talented acts coming to Tampa.  If you make it to Big Guava, please comment and let the rest of us know how it rates!


My points collecting philosophy

I like to think of points collecting as ‘travel futures’.  Like investing in the stock market or in commodities, I try to make small investments (through credit card spend, flights or hotel stays) that will lead to big travel payoffs later.  So just like the ‘buy low, sell high’ mantra of stockbrokers, points collecting is a game of ‘spend small, experience big’.

I live in Canada, where the gains from credit card opportunities are pretty few and far between.  And I’m not sure how much I can get behind the credit card churning (signing up for credit cards and then cancelling after receiving the sign up bonuses) that occurs more commonly in the States.  So you won’t hear me changing out my credit cards all that frequently.

So what’s my strategy?  I have two main credit cards: the SPG American Express card and the MBNA Alaska Airlines card.  We put everything we can on these cards for the points, and pay them off as quickly as possible (though admittedly we don’t pay them off completely each month like many in this hobby).  The SPG Amex is one of the most flexible cards out there, with transfers to most airlines at a 1:1 ratio (and a bonus of 5,000 points with any 20,000 point transfer).  It’s all about flexibility with SPG.

The Alaska Airlines card, however, I mainly have as a back up (not everyone accepts Amex).  But it’s also great because it gives you a companion ticket for approximately $110 on an annual basis.  When you live in a market like Edmonton, where it takes over $450 just to get out of the province, that $110 ticket comes in super-handy.  We tend to use the ticket for high price travel times, like visiting my parents in California over the holidays.  This year, we paid $110 for what was $1,000 in flights over Christmas.

When it comes to hotel loyalty, we typically look for clean, centrally located hotels.  We don’t need really fancy places, but occasionally like a little luxury.  We only stay in hotels perhaps a total of 20 to 30 days a year, which by frequent traveler standards is pretty paltry.  So to me, it’s all about trying to get the most points for the best value.  I that puts  IHG brand hotels at the top of my list.  Most people associate IHG with Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, but they also have some lovely boutique hotels (Hotel Indigo) and luxury options (InterContinental). They also have stackable promotions (you can earn multiple points promotions on one stay), which makes staying with IHG pretty lucrative.  And in the past year IHG have had some really fun earning games, which really hook me (such as Crack the Case and the Big Win promos).  But mostly, I find the hotels clean, affordable, and well-located.  Other than IHG, we do also stay at the occasional Starwood and Club Carlson brands, especially during games or promotions.

My last statement: free is good! Duh, right?  But there are so many ways to earn free points, why wouldn’t someone want to?  There are survey companies like e-miles and e-rewards, which do take a bit of time.  But then there are also really fun games, like La Quinta’s Stay and Play.  Free is a no-brainer.  In Canada you can earn Aeroplan points for groceries, gas, pharmacy purchases, etc.  And all these little things add up.

There are a ton of blogs out there that tout the high-end hotel brands (in fact most of them).  But I find the more expensive the hotel, the further I get from the ‘real people’ and places I’m trying to experience.  I’d rather spend my money in a open-air market or on a unique experience than in a luxury hotel when in a foreign country.

So that’s my philosophy.  I’m not a points guru, as I don’t look at every program and every opportunity.  But I do spend enough time on points collection to make my own travel go further, and I will tend to focus on those opportunities in this blog.

It never hurts to ask

When I get the time, I’m going to write an entry detailing all the reasons I use Alaska Airlines as my primary airline, as well as my catch-all frequent flyer collection account (although I did mention some of the reasons in my AA/US Airways post).  But for this post I just wanted to put it out there that if you are unsatisfied with an experience, it never hurts to tell the company or ask for some kind of compensation.

On December 23rd, I had a less than stellar experience with Alaska Airlines (or more specifically, Horizon Air).  First off, they knew they had an issue with the cargo doors when they were unloading baggage from the previous flight, (which came straight from the Captain’s mouth), but proceeded to board the plane (without a mechanic even on-site).  This resulted in more than an hour on the tarmac on a Bombardier Q400 (think narrow plane, uncomfortable  seats).  This is Edmonton.  In the winter.  And that’s just cruel.  But things really went downhill when we arrive in Seattle.

Let me jump in here and explain that Alaska Air has a progressive Baggage Service Guarantee, stating that if your bags are not at the carousel by 20 minutes after arrival to your gate, you are entitled to either a $25 discount code or 2,500 Mileage Plan Bonus Miles.  But here’s what happened: technically our bags got to the carousel within 20 minutes, but Alaska put the wrong carousel number up on the screen.  So that means that a bunch of people from our flight were standing around a completely different carousel filled with bags from Delta flights for about 45 minutes.  We all did the two-step of annoyance while looking at each other in confusion, until suddenly our flight dropped off the baggage claim screens altogether.

It was Christmas, I was trying to be patient.  But when the flight dropped from the screen, I lost it and walked over to the baggage customer service area.  I immediately saw my bag being taken off a different carousel by a porter and thrown onto a cart.  I asked the porter what was going on, and when he explained all the bags had been circling for a half-hour, I let him know that the screens were displaying the wrong carousel number.  Within seconds an announcement went out about the carousel change and other passengers migrated over.

After the delay in Edmonton and the delay in Seattle, I was pretty cranky.  This was a short hop of a flight that had now taken over twice as long as usual. I really didn’t want to get into the huge customer service line-up to collect my 2,500 points.  I sent out an admittedly snarky tweet to @AlaskaAir, not really expecting much of it.  I left the airport and also put a comment on the Alaska Airlines page.  While I have yet to receive a response from the website, Alaska’s twitter crew were great and ended up giving both my husband and me 2,000 Mileage Plan Bonus Miles as a goodwill gesture.  This is less than the 2,500 in the policy, but my husband didn’t have a checked bag, so we’re ahead.  Plus, with the snarky tweet, I felt a little bad anyway.

2,000 Bonus Miles for inconvenience... I'll take it!

2,000 Bonus Miles for inconvenience… I’ll take it!

So I learned two things: 1) be polite, but do contact customer service if you are not satisfied with a product and 2) Twitter is now the best way to reach almost any company when you have issues.  It never hurts to ask or comment, as hopefully the company will learn from its mistakes.

Have you had customer service issues when traveling that were resolved in a positive way?  I’d love to hear how it went.

LaQuinta ups the points addiction ante

As if collecting airline and hotel points wasn’t already addictive enough, La Quinta has added a slot machine game that just kicks the addiction up a notch.  Someone at La Quinta is a smart cookie, because the Stay and Play game has become thoroughly engrossing.  I mean, I’m a fan of just about any way to get free points.  But by faux-gambling?  Someone at La Quinta knows me too well.

You need to sign up with your Facebook account, and you get bonuses for sharing your winnings on your Facebook page or Twitter account.  There is a work around if you don’t want to clog up your timeline though: when you go to share your winnings choose ‘Only Me’ in the visibility drop down.  Voila!

The game goes until the end of January, and you can rack up quite a few points.  If you aren’t a La Quinta fan, you can also exchange La Quinta Returns points into airlines miles with a few partners, at a ratio of 6,000 Returns points to 1,000 miles.  6,000 points also happens to be the minimum number of points for a free stay.   While it seems like a lot of time spent for the payoff, the game is so freakin’ fun that you won’t mind.  It’s a hell of a lot better than surveys, and for more points.

Note: I do not get any kick back from the link above.  I’m just spreading the fun.