Amex Business Platinum 150000 points offer, Chase Freedom 17,500 points offer, and Sapphire Preferred Update1.  Amex Business Platinum 150000 points offer

A friend of mine received a 150K Amex Business Platinum offer.  That is probably one of the biggest offers I have seen.  I have never received an offer like that, but I would have loved to.  Lucky for me, he did not want the offer because he has had the business platinum card in the past 12 months.

Although I am not sure, I do think this offer is transferable, meaning I could use the targeted RSVP code.

According to the offer, you get 100,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after $10,000 spend within 3 months and additional 50,000 points with another $10,000 spend within the same timeframe. 20k spend in 3 months is not difficult, but it certainly takes away from spend on other cards.

The card has a $450 annual fee, most of which you can recover with the $200 airline fee reimbursement, $100 Global Entry credit OR $85 TSA Precheck application fee credit.

It recently lost benefits for American Airlines or US Airways lounge access, but you still get lounge access for Delta or the Amex Centurion lounges.

The current public offer is for 40,000 points after $5k spend in 3 months, so this offer is quite noteworthy.  Keep a lookout for one in your mail.

2.  Chase Freedom 17,500 signup bonus

The normal offer for the Chase Freedom is 10,000 points.  There was recently a 20,000 point offer as well.

However, the most current offer is 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $500 within 3 months.  If you add an authorized user and make a purchase, you will get an additional 2,500 points.  Everyone should have this in their wallet.

As always, it’s good for getting 5x on quarterly rotating bonus categories, this quarter being Kohl’s and gas stations.

3.  Chase Sapphire Preferred dropping the 7% annual bonus but adding…..

Yup, Chase is dropping the 7% annual bonus.  If you are a new applicant, you will not get this annual bonus.  If you already have the card, this benefit will continue till the end of 2015.  Depending on how many Ultimate Rewards points you earn a year, this could be quite significant.

To soften the blow, the Sapphire Preferred will come with Primary Collision Damage Waiver Insurance on rental cars.  Collison Damage Waiver only covers the rental car in the event of damage or theft.  Previously, this coverage was secondary meaning you would have to file a claim with your personal insurance company first.

With this new benefit, the Sapphire Preferred will be my go to card for rental cars.  I had been using the United Explorer card as that has primary coverage as well.  You can now think of it like this:  you paying for primary collision coverage with your 7% annual bonus icon smile Amex Business Platinum 150000 points offer, Chase Freedom 17,500 points offer, and Sapphire Preferred Update

I would rather have had the 7% annual bonus.

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Find out easily where your Avios can take you

We all know how great Avios are.  We have all seen the distance based chart below:  avios distance chart Find out easily where your Avios can take you

Usually, you have a destination in mind and check to see how many Avios it takes to get you there.  For example, let’s say you live in Chicago and want to go to Toronto.  That’s a distance of 436 miles according to gcmap.com, so according to the award chart above, it would cost only 4,500 Avios to take that one-way flight (on American Airlines), as opposed to say 12,500 United miles on United Airlines, a savings of 8,000 miles.

However, what if I wanted to know all the destinations from Chicago where I could go for 4,500 Avios.  Put another way, what are all the destinations from Chicago that are within a 650 mile radius.  The reason why someone may want to know this if their travel plans are fairly open, or they want to strategically use their miles in planning a trip.

The British Airways website doesn’t have this option and I can’t think of any other website that provides this information.

However, you can do this yourself with the help of GCmap.com.  I think it’s a pretty cool website that calculates flight paths, distances, and draws awesome maps that you can use on your website.

For example, the image below is ORD with a 650 mile radius with Toronto well within it.

gcmap ord yyz Find out easily where your Avios can take you

As you notice, cities and states are not listed. If you know your geography well, you can get an idea of where you can travel.  If you don’t know your geography, just pull up google maps in a side window to do some comparison.

How to do this:

  1. Go to gcmap.com
  2. Click on the “map” button
  3. Next at the bottom of the page, in the box titled “Map Ranges,” type in the distance and the airport as follows: “650miles@ORD” and then click “Draw map”
  4. The default for entering this data is “9380nm@LHR.”  Notice the “nm” which stands for nautical miles which is not what you want.  You want to enter “miles” which is statute miles as in the Chicago example in step 3.  You can find the difference between nautical and statute miles here.  The distance traveled and the frequent flyer miles that you get awarded by an airline are based on statute miles.
  5. Once you have an idea that your destination airport is in the zone you are looking for, just verify by typing that in the “Path” box.  Example (ORD-YYZ)

This will be most beneficial for OneWorld Alliance hubs. Here’s a map of London Heathrow with a 650 mile radius, 1151 mile radius, 2000 mile radius (corresponding to zones 1 through 3 on the Avios award chart).

gcmap lhr Find out easily where your Avios can take you

This makes it easier to see where you can travel for 4,500 Avios, 7,500 Avios, or 10,000 Avios.   It certainly beats looking up each destination individually.

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Since the Hilton devaluation, it’s difficult to justify using Hilton points for aspirational properties because the amount of points required is outrageous, and it might take a while to accumulate that many points.

Examples of some properties and points required

Hilton categories and points required Using Points and Money Option to Get Decent Value Out of Hilton Points

I didn’t cash out on my Hilton points before the devaluation and was looking now to burn them while still getting decent value out of them.  I have an upcoming trip to Vienna, and after doing some research, I came across the Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront, a #35 ranked hotel on Tripadvisor.  It is a category 5 hotel.

It was going for $164 Euros ~ $213 per night.  For a four night stay, that’s an $852 bill.

With regards to the rank on tripadvisor, the price compared to other hotels, this seemed like a fair value for what someone (not me) might pay for the hotel.

hilton danube Using Points and Money Option to Get Decent Value Out of Hilton Points

As you can see above, I could have also used 120,000 Hilton points for a 4 night stay.

The final option was a points and money option at 38 Euros (~ $50) plus 12,000 points per night.  Thus, a 4 day stay would be $200 and 48,000 Hilton points.

If I used 120,000 points for the stay, the calculated redeemed value for $852 bill is 0.7 cents / points.

If I use the points and money option, the calculated redeemed value for the 48,000 points is 1.358 cents / point. ($852-$200)/48000 points

To me, the 1.358 cents/point redemption is a pretty good value as experts value Hilton points at 0.4 cents/point.

Although I had known about points and money options before, I had never really looked into it.  I am able to get decent value out of my Hilton points and stretch them further using this option.

There’s a few things one should know about Hilton cash and points redemptions:

  • Not every property participates in them
  • You will seem them randomly when you try to book with Hilton points.
  • Different properties set their own rules.  They may not offer cash and points when the daily rate is higher compared to other dates
  • Some hotels charge higher copay than others, even though they are in the same category.

The Hilton points and money option is worth evaluating if the property you are looking at offers them.  You can even find these on  higher end properties and still get great value on your Hilton points.  Loyalty Traveler has a table of points and copay you should expect on different Hilton category hotels.

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I’ve written about Ebay in the past.  I think it’s a great venue for buying discounted gift cards.  Of course, there is some risk involved.  At the same time, I am hesitant of selling gift cards on Ebay for the same reason… risk and fraud.

Time and time again, I have seen something on Ebay that boggles my mind.  I see gift cards being sold for more than face value.  See example below of completed transactions for Shell gift cards on Ebay:

ebay completed gift cards When Gift Cards Sold on Ebay Dont Make Sense

A $100 Shell gift card sold for $116.49 and a $50 gift card sold for $57.  After accounting for Ebay fees and possibly even shipping, my guess is that the seller likely collected roughly the same amount of money as the value of the gift card.  There are numerous other examples.

If this doesn’t present an opportunity for manufactured spend, I don’t know what does.  I mean it seems easy right.  Just go out and buy a $100 gift card using a credit card that gives 5x category bonus (Chase Freedom last quarter at Lowes), then sell the gift card on Ebay for $116.  If Ebay fees and shipping come out to $16 or less, you get an easy 500 points and maybe even a small profit.

It sounds too good to be true.  I know there is some key piece of information I am missing, but I am not sure of what it is.

Can anyone enlighten me on why some gift cards sell for more than face value on Ebay?  I would love to know.

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Nowadays, you can pretty much do anything with your smartphone.  The idea of “pay with your phone” seems to be up and coming.  You can pay for Starbucks drinks with your Starbucks app on your phone.  Convenience is the goal.

ISIS wallet Pay with your phone   ISIS, a smart technology concept

The ISIS wallet is essentially a phone app where you store certain allowed credit cards to your ISIS account, and then you can use any of those credit cards when making a “contactless purchase” at a merchant.  There’s a few videos from the ISIS site which I thought I would include in this post which explain all this.  They are very short.

The idea is cool because that’s fewer plastic cards that you have to carry in your wallet.  When you make a purchase, you just choose the card you want from your screen and pay.

There are certainly limitations to this.

Limited cards:

  • All Amex personal and OPEN business cards are eligible
  • Amex Serve is supported (see below why this is good)
  • Chase Freedom, Sapphire, Slate, and JP Morgan Palladium are supported
  • Wells Fargo Visa credit card is supported

Limited Merchants:

The issue with the idea is payments have to be contactless.  I think people are still used to the idea of swiping cards.  Not every merchant has contactless technology yet.

Limited Phone Carriers:

Isis currently only works with Verizon, AT&T, and T-mobile.  I have Sprint, so I can’t get ISIS.

So, far the only good thing I see about ISIS is that Amex Serve is compatible with it.  In addition, having ISIS increases your online Amex Serve monthly load limit with credit cards to $1500 as opposed to only $1000 without ISIS.  As a result, you would be able to do an additional $6000 in manufactured spending.

Although the idea is great, I still think ISIS Wallet has a long way to go.  It would be nice to see the ability to add any credit card from any bank, as well as more compatibility with phone carriers.  If they supported Sprint, I would get it just for having an increased limit for Amex Serve.

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The 50000 points Southwest cards bonus offers were supposed to end yesterday.  If you look on the Southwest website, the links redirect you to the 25,000 point bonus.  However, I found “Airtran” referral links that still point to the 50,000 points bonus.

southwest 50000 points 50000 Points Southwest Cards still available online and via referral

50000 point Southwest offer links:

It looks like Chase has also extended the refer-a-friend bonus to the Southwest cards (HT: Travelwithgrant).  If you have a Southwest card, you can refer a friend and receive 5000 Rapid Rewards points for a successful referral.

It looks like you can only refer the card that you have.  Just enter your info on that page to see if you qualify.   It seems like a targeted offer.  If you don’t qualify, you will get the following message:

This Promotion is currently being tested and only eligible customers will be able to get through the authentication screen to refer a friend. Make sure you entered your information exactly as it appears on your account. If you feel you’ve received this message in error please call the number on the back of your card for assistance.

If you do get the offer, you can refer up to 10 people for a total of 50,000 Rapid Rewards points.

The 50000 point bonus is worth a little over $700 when used for “Wanna getaway” fares.  If you have the companion pass, you can double that value.

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Options for redeeming award tickets to Hawaii

It can sometimes be tough to book award tickets to Hawaii.  It’s a popular and fun destination.  The beaches, the volcanoes, the warm weather, you just can’t go wrong.  Booking early is key.

kauai Options for redeeming award tickets to Hawaii

There are a lot ways to use miles to get to Hawaii, and you can save a few miles if you know what you are doing.  Below are the majority and best ways to get to Hawaii on miles.

Singapore Airlines

You can use Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles to book tickets on United Airlines.  There are no fuel surcharges when redeemed for flights on United.  This is the cheapest star alliance option.  You can find availability on United and then call Singapore Airlines to book the ticket.  Since Singapore is a new Ultimate Rewards partner, those points seem to be a little more valuable.

United Airlines

United is your best bet, at least in the Star Alliance.  However, as you can see, it’s better to use partner miles to book on United than it is to use United miles to book on United.

Lufthansa Airlines

Again, you would be using Lufthansa miles to book flights on United.  There are no fuel surcharges.  One ways are allowed.  Lufthansa, along with Singapore Airlines are the lowest mileage options in the Star Alliance.

Air Canada 

The cost is very similar to United Airlines.  One ways are allowed.  No fuel surcharges when redeemed on United airlines

American Airlines

Offpeak Economy is one of the most economical awards available.  You can fly on partner airlines Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines.  If you have a Citi AAdvantage credit card, you can get a 10% redemption discount.  So, that 35,000 mile off peak award, could really be just 31,500 miles.  This maybe one of the best options available.

British Airway Avios

From the west coast (California, Oregon, Washington)

  • Economy: 12,500 miles one-way or 25,000 miles round trip
  • Business: 25,000 miles one-way or 50,000 miles round trip
  • First: 37,500 miles one-way or 75,000 miles round trip.

The distance based British Airway Avios is the cheapest options in the One-World alliance if you live on the west coast.  If you live elsewhere, prices will be higher.  You can use Avios to fly on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines.  One of the nice things about Avios is that you can cancel a ticket without any penalties.  See why I love Avios.

US Airways

You can use US Airways miles to fly on US Airways or partner American Airlines.  One-ways are not allowed.  Keep in mind that there is an additional $50 award processing fee unlike most other airlines.  That in itself makes the redemption value of those miles less than other airlines.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska has good availability from the West Coast.  One-ways are allowed.  The mileage levels listed are for redemption on Alaska Airlines only.  You will have pay more miles if you fly on American, and the roundtrip price for redemption on Delta is the same

Hawaiian Airlines

This redemption level appears to be on par with other airlines.  If you have a Hawaiian Airlines mastercard, you can get 5000 mile discount on roundtrip award redemptions.  You will pay a little more (45,000 miles roundtrip) for redemption on partner American Airlines.

Delta Airlines

It’s always pretty challenging to find a low level award ticket on Delta.  One-ways are not allowed (yet).  It’s one of my least favorite airlines for award redemptions.  However, since Alaska Airlines is a partner, you maybe able to find an award to fly Alaska Airlines to Hawaii.

Korean Airlines

Korean Airlines redemptions to Hawaii are a great deal, if you can book them.  You can fly on partners Alaska or Hawaiian Airlines.  One way redemptions are allowed on Alaska, but not on Hawaiian.  Korean Airlines awards take time to book.  You have to fax in requests and there is some lead time.

So, there you have it.  I believe those are the majority of redemption options if you are trying to get to Hawaii using miles.  Singapore Airlines miles, Avios, and Korean Airlines are pretty economical compared to other.  American airlines off peak are great as well.

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There is always talk of the Club Carlson Visa with the $75 annual fee which is not waived the first year.  However, there is also a no annual fee Club Carlson Visa which is rarely talked about.  In some instances, it can make sense to get this version of the card.  Here are a few of them:

No annual fee

I guess I can’t make that any more obvious.  There is no annual fee… ever!  This is great because you can use this to build a long relationship with US Bank, the issuer of the card.

Last night free on award stays

One of the main reasons for having a Club Carlson Visa is because the last night is free for award stays.  The no annual fee version gives this “last night free” benefit as well.  So, if you seek the 2 for 1 benefit, you don’t need the $75 fee Visa.

radisson blu berlin Why You Should Consider the No Annual Fee Club Carlson Visa

Photo courtesy of RadissonBlu.com

The funny thing is that I have this no annual fee Visa and after meeting the minimum spend, I put it away in a drawer and haven’t used it since.  However, every time I book a Radisson on points, my 2nd night is free.

30000 Bonus Points

You get 30,000 bonus points after spending $1000 in the first 3 months.  This is in contrast to the annual fee version where you get 50,000 points after 1st purchase and an additional 35,000 after $2500 spend in 3 months.

You can buy Club Carlson points

Normally, Club Carlson sells points (up to 40,000 points per year), for 0.7 cents each.  Thus, the full 40,000 points would cost $280.  However, recently, they have been selling points with a 75% bonus in their flash sale, which translates into 70,000 points for $280.  Of course, you can use those points as you please and use them for 2 for 1 nights.  This is a pretty good deal in my opinion.

Also, Club Carlson sold points for 0.45 cents each on Daily Getaways recently, which was much tougher to get in on.

But it doesn’t come with any status

Unlike the annual fee version which comes with gold status, this one doesn’t give any status.  Not to worry, Gold Status with Club Carlson is easy to get.

The disadvantages

The no annual fee version only gives 3 points per dollar at Club Carlson hotels, and only 1 point per dollar on everything else.  This makes it a terrible card for everyday spend, but hey, you’re not paying an annual fee, so it shouldn’t matter.  Just pick another card for everyday spend.

There is no annual bonus, whereas the $75 fee version gives 40,000 points on every anniversary.

How I leverage this card

I have the no annual fee version, while my wife has the $75 annual fee version.  We alternate our reservations to always get 2 for 1 as that is the best benefit.  For example, on a four night stay, I book the first 2 nights under my name and book the other 2 nights under her name.  As a result, we get 4 nights for the price of 2.  My wife has status because of her annual fee card.  I have status from status matching.

Don’t forget that Club Carlson allows you to transfer points between accounts.  Thus, I transfer points between accounts when one account is short on points.

Summary

The no annual fee Club Carlson Visa is a bare bones card that also gives you the free night benefit of the other Club Carlson cards.  It certainly is not the best card for manufacturing spend, but it may be good enough if you can buy Club Carlson points at a discount.

Related:  Comparing the Club Carlson Credit Cards

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I live in Houston.  A nice thing about living in Houston is the fact that it is a United hub and has hundreds of nonstop flights.  I took a trip recently to El Salvador.  While looking for award tickets, I knew that United charges 17,500 miles one way or 35,000 miles roundtrip to Central America.

I had known about ANA, but didn’t really know about its advantages until recently.  What I learned is that if I book the same simple roundtrip using All Nippon Airways (ANA) miles, a star alliance partner, the price to El Salvador would be only 22,000 miles.  That’s a savings of 13,000 hard earned miles.

ANA award chart is distance based, very similar to the Avios program.

ANA chart Why ANA Miles are Pretty Valuable if you Live in Houston

A simple roundtrip from Houston

My flight to El Salvador roundtrip would be 2414 miles according to gcmap.  As a result, it would take 22,000 ANA miles to book this simple roundtrip.  The same trip would cost 35,000 United miles.

IAH SAL Why ANA Miles are Pretty Valuable if you Live in Houston

How about a shorter roundtrip

A roundtrip from Houston to Cancun is only 1622 miles.  As a result, it would only cost 20,000 ANA miles as opposed to 35,000 United miles.

IAH CUN Why ANA Miles are Pretty Valuable if you Live in Houston

Possible destinations from Houston

If you look at the map below, you can see that all of Central America and Caribbean is fair game for 22,000 ANA miles or less.  Even Canada is fair game, even though the savings there are only 3,000 miles since United charges 25,000 miles for a Canada trip.  The inner circle represents roundtrips shorter than 2,000 miles and the outer circle represents roundtrips less than 4,000 miles

destinations from Houston Why ANA Miles are Pretty Valuable if you Live in Houston

ANA allows 4 stopovers

United allows 1 stopover on an international destination.  ANA allows 4 stopovers.  Again, the ANA miles needed to book an award ticket depends on the distance traveled.  That distance includes stopovers.  So, flying from Houston, I could stop in Belize, then El Salvador, then Costa Rica, then Cancun, then back home to Houston.  Distance traveled = 3247 miles.  Cost to book award = 22,000 ANA miles.

ANA 4 stopovers Why ANA Miles are Pretty Valuable if you Live in Houston

Domestic options using stopovers?

From what I have read, I do believe you can use the stopovers domestically.  For example, I can do Houston to Austin to Chicago to  Miami then back to Houston.  Cost = 22,000 ANA miles.  Clearly, this doesn’t just apply to flights from Houston.  You can do with from your home airport.

Domestic stopovers Why ANA Miles are Pretty Valuable if you Live in Houston

Why this works for me?

There are a few reasons why this works for me.

  1. I live in Houston
  2. Houston is a United hub
  3. There’s a ton of United nonstops
  4. Most Central American, Caribbean, or Canada roundtrips are under 4000 miles
  5. ANA does not charge fuel surcharges on United or Avianca or TACA.

There are a couple of posts which helped me discover this, which I think are very well written and deserve a thorough read:

If you live in Houston or surrounding cities, then you should be using ANA miles to fly nonstop on United Airlines to see the Caribbean and Central America.   You should not use United miles to book those awards as it’s a lot more expensive to do so.

Membership Rewards points transfer to ANA as do Starwood Points.  I personally would transfer Membership Rewards as I pretty much use my Starwood points for hotel stays.

This is just my personal example.  You can probably get creative and see what works for you.  In addition, don’t discount the business class options.   For example, 43,000 ANA miles for business class in all those segments mentioned above is pretty good in my opinion.

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The Best Hotel Discounts You Should be Using

There are a times when hotel rooms are not available on points or are very expensive on a popular holiday like Memorial Day or July 4th.  If you are going to pay for a hotel, there are a lot of discounts that are available that you should consider.  Listed below are what I believe to be the best hotel discounts.

AAA Membership

The AAA membership not only gives you peace of mind while you are on the road, but can get you substantial savings when booking a hotel.  Pretty much all big hotel chains have AAA rates.  The nice thing about AAA rates is that you can cancel your reservation without penalty.  Although I have a AAA membership, I’ve never been asked to show my card at a hotel so far.

Are you a government employee?

Hotels offer federal and state employee discounts.  If you are a federal employee, you can use the discount nationwide.  If you are a state government employee such as a teacher or public university professor, you can get the discount.  With the state discount, you are limited to hotels in your employment state only.  Just look for the government rate while booking.

Hyatt Hotels

One of the popular discounts for Hyatt hotels is the COSTCO discount, which gives you 10% off.  Theoretically, you don’t have to be a costco member to use the code.  Just type in COSTCO on the special rates section on the Hyatt website and search.  Alternatively, you can book through the Hyatt Costco discount page.

hyatt costco discount The Best Hotel Discounts You Should be Using

Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG)

There has been a longstanding Friends and Family discount rate for IHG hotels.  The funny thing is you don’t really have to be a friend or family as these are public links you will find on google.  Below are a couple of them.

Things you must know about this discount:

  • It is prepaid and nonrefundable
  • It gives you 15% off the Advance purchase rate
  • You will NOT earn points for your stay
  • You must fill out the rate voucher with your “friend’s name” and other details and present it upon checkin

Starwood Preferred Guest

The best discount with SPG is the pay your birth year rate.  Basically, you pay the full rate for the first night.  Then, the second and third nights are equivalent to the last 2 digits of the year you were born.  Born in 1970? Pay $70 for the 2nd night and $70 for the 3rd.  I’ve used this in the past without any problems.

spg pay birth year The Best Hotel Discounts You Should be Using

Things you must know about this discount:

  • The rate is based on availability.
  • Maximum of 3 nights
  • Some hotels charge an additional $100 on top of your birth year.  You will see this before booking
  • The rate will be adjusted at hotel check-in.  Thus, you won’t see it while booking
  • You will earn points on this rate since it’s booked directly with SPG

Club Carlson / Radisson

One of the lesser known discounts is the friends and family discount with the code CARLSONF.  Enter it into the promotional code box and you can get hotels in the US for $80, and hotels in Europe for 80 Euros.  Unlike the IHG friends and family discount, this is probably a little more strict.  According to this flyertalk thread, a hotel may or may not ask about the details of your Club Carlson “friend.” I would recommend you make a real friend at a Radisson property.  You won’t earn any points using this discount.

Another Club Carlson discount is 2 for 1 nights or 4 for 2 nights in Europe, Middle East, or Africa.  This is strictly for Gold members.  If you don’t have Gold status, it’s pretty easy to status match.

Hilton 

Although there is an old MVP program discount, it still works and anyone can use it.  I have used it in the past without any problems.  It will save you about 20% off the best available rate.  Enter the codes below in the Corporate Rate box.

  • For Hampton, Doubletree, and Embassy Suites, the code is 0560041604
  • For Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn and at select U.S. Hilton Grand Vacations Club  locations, the code is N0041604

I’m sure there are discounts for other hotel chains, but the ones listed above are hassle free and shouldn’t cause any problems.  If I have missed any discounts that you are aware of, please comment below.

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