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How to Use Loyalty Points for Once-in-a-Lifetime Experiences

Everything you need to know to put your points toward VIP access at concerts, sporting events and more.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Use Loyalty Points for Once-in-a-Lifetime Experiences

Learn pro tricks for maximizing points and privileges and getting access to memorable experiences.(Getty Images)

Ever wanted to throw the first pitch at a World Series game, experience the Super Bowl in person or attend the Grammys? These one-of-a-kind experiences are just a few enticing benefits offered through today's hotel loyalty programs. Major hotel brands, including Marriott, Hilton and InterContinental Hotels Group have begun broadening the ways their loyalty members can redeem points, affording unique opportunities like VIP access to exclusive events. And with the Marriott-Starwood merger, loyalists can not only take advantage of exciting exclusive experiences, but also transfer points between programs and redeem stays at more than 30 different hotel brands, among other opportunities. Whether you want to leverage your points for elite-status upgrades or access to premiere sporting events, concerts and other exclusive experiences, here's your guide to getting the best return on your loyalty.

Redeem Points for Amazing Award Options

The types of experiences loyalty members can choose from run the gamut, from sports and concerts to cultural events and travel packages. Many loyalty programs offer access to sporting events of all types, including the U.S. Open and PGA Tours, as well as NBA, NFL and MLB games. "For some of the most talked about and exciting sports moments of the year, we've managed to put our members in the center of that experience," says David Flueck, senior vice president of Starwood Preferred Guest and revenue management at Marriott International. "It's a memory they will remember forever and cherish with their families," he adds.

Starwood Preferred Guest features unique experiences through SPG Moments, and has a variety of partnerships with a variety of companies. The Major League Baseball is an SPG partner, and offers members the chance to enjoy extraordinary experiences, such as singing the national anthem and scoring a prime seat at a Chicago Cubs game. "We had a member who threw out the first pitch for Games 5 and 7 of the World Series," Flueck says. "Cubs fans absolutely loved access to Moments during the World Series," he adds.

Meanwhile, Marriott sent members to the Super Bowl last year and has experiences that include tickets to the Kentucky Derby, the Daytona 500 and the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. And In January, the IHG Rewards Club sent two guests to the International Motor Sports Association's Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, where they got to not only watch the race from a VIP suite, but see the cars up close, and interact with the drivers and teams.

Music is another pillar of many experiential-driven loyalty program perks. SPG Moments lets guests redeem points for concerts at major venues to see stars such as Billy Joel, John Mayer and Bon Jovi and also has tickets to Coachella and the New Orleans Jazz Fest & Heritage Festival. Marriott Experiences is sending members to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and to see Barbra Streisand, while Hilton Honors lets members redeem points to see legendary bands such as U2, Sting and Twenty One Pilots.

There are some game-changing VIP opportunities available as well. The Marriott Rewards Experiences marketplace offers film aficionados an exclusive viewing of the Oscars red carpet. Meanwhile, SPG Moments enables foodies to attend a taping of the Rachael Ray Show.

[Read: 6 Insider Tips for Choosing a Hotel Loyalty Program.]

Collect Points Strategically

Most VIP experiences require a significant number of points, though there are some opportunities available at a lower redemption threshold. For example, attending MLB spring training games require only 5,000 SPG Starpoints. To quickly collect a large number of points, take advantage of promotions that allow loyalists to earn bonus points, use a brand-backed credit card and make online purchases through your preferred program's shopping portal.

Justin and Tracy Uselton, the writers behind the travel blog, attended a symphony performance in Miami, using a 30,000-point bonus they earned by signing up for the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express. The couple enjoys attending symphonies around the world and said they scored excellent seats by redeeming their points for two tickets through SPG Moments.

Bid and Redeem Wisely

Most loyalty programs offer several ways to gain access to their exclusive experiences, which usually includes either bidding or purchasing them for a set amount of points. For the more coveted experiences, such as attending the Super Bowl or throwing the first World Series pitch, expect experiences to be auctioned off. Members may bid on the experience until the time and date of close at which point the highest bidder wins.

Other experiences may be redeemed for a set amount of points. This is an easier way to secure an experience. However, there is typically a fixed number of experiences available for each service or experience, so redeem points as early as possible before the experience sells out if there's an event you're particularly interested in.

Anthony Ingham, global brand leader for W Hotels Worldwide recalls a couple in their 50s who bid and won a chance to attend a seven-day boot camp for DJs in Ibiza. He said they have stayed in contact with him four years later. "That has such a strong impact on these two guests being part of that experience. They became raving brand fans forever,” he says.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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