Today I’m reviewing PointsHound, another of the companies featured in the ConcourseZ Shark Tank at the Los Angeles FTU in November/December, but I’m also announcing a new development in their service that could revolutionize the way you book hotels: allowing you to earn airline miles, hotel points, AND hotel elite status at the same time!
PointsHound works like many other online travel agencies (OTAs) for hotels. The difference is that they refund part of their commission by purchasing points in one of several airline loyalty programs and delivering them to your frequent flyer account. While some OTAs have their own loyalty programs, the benefit of earning miles in your existing frequent flyer program is that you can consolidate miles and earn better and more frequent awards.
PointsHound’s founders didn’t see the need to create yet another new loyalty currency with its own complicated rules and tricks. The bonus miles go straight to the airline program, and PointsHound has nothing to do with how you choose to redeem them. I know how to use United’s MileagePlus program to my advantage already, and now I can earn even more miles with them or one of several other programs like Delta’s SkyMiles and Hawaiian’s HawaiianMiles.
Furthermore, some of those OTA programs aren’t always very good. Expedia Rewards only becomes truly valuable at the highest level, when you have around 40,ooo to 50,000 points ($40,000 to $50,000 in hotel reservations). At the lowest level, you need 7,000 points ($7,000 in hotel reservations) to get a $50 gift certificate. Use a cash back portal (Big Crumbs offers 7%) and you’ll also get $490. But… If you achieve the top-tier of the PointsHound elite status program, that same $7,000 will earn you about 63,000 miles — enough for a one-way flight to Europe in business class or two round-trip flights to Hawaii in economy class.
Earning Miles with PointsHound
I book most of my hotel stays with Hyatt and Starwood. I expect to requalify for Diamond this year with Hyatt Gold Passport and move up from Gold to Platinum with Starwood Preferred Guest. I have to book with the hotels directly because that’s usually the only way to get an eligible rate. When hotels pay a commission to an OTA, they no longer have the leftover funds to provide elite stay credit or benefits, or at least that’s the argument they give. I still have a few nights here and there that don’t earn me much or which I book for other people. These are some of the best cases for using PointsHound, but I’ll also give some examples where a frequent traveler like me can work the system.
Scenario 1: Boutique Hotels
There are a few boutique or non-chain properties I like that don’t allow me to earn elite status. The Watertown Hotel in Seattle’s University District was a good choice at a reasonable price when my family visited UW and is where my graduate program would put up prospective students during interviews. No status? No problem! At least I’ll still get 2,618 United miles for a four-night stay.
Scenario 2: Non-Focus Chains
This is very similar to Scenario 1, but I just want to clarify that even when the opportunity to earn elite status with a brand exists, sometimes PointsHound can still make sense. Megan’s mom is coming to visit in the next few weeks and will be staying at a Marriott hotel. I don’t have or want status with Marriott Rewards since I find the qualification requirements too onerous and the benefits too weak. But it’s at a good price with a good location.
Scenario 3: Cheap Status + More Miles
I qualify for Hyatt Gold Passport’s Diamond status with stays instead of nights. That means any stay of more than one night is kind of wasted. I still get a few points for my hotel rate, but I only get one welcome amenity and consecutive nights at the same hotel, even if booked separately, don’t count as multiple stays. Furthermore, Hyatt extends elite benefits even when you aren’t staying on an eligible rate that earns stay or night credit.
So… I could book the first night with Hyatt on an eligible rate and then book the rest of the stay through PointsHound. I’ve never had any problem with Hyatt linking reservations at check-in so I can do it all at once and stay in the same room. You might have difficulty extending a confirmed suite upgrade, but a complimentary upgrade as an elite member shouldn’t be affected. This approach still assumes I value my United miles more than Gold Passport points. Hyatt already provides an option to earn miles instead of Gold Passport points, but that offer is capped at 500 miles per stay. You would only have to spend $125 at the lowest elite level to earn more miles booking through PointsHound.
Double Dip for Hotel Elite Status + Points!
As touched on before, rooms booked through PointsHound are currently ineligible to earn elite status or points with most hotel programs. I’ve been speaking with Pete Van Dorn, co-founder of PointsHound, and he explains that they realize a elite status is a big deal for miles and points addicts like us. After all, their pitch to customers is even more miles in exchange for their business, right? Knowledgeable travelers like you and I are the target audience. But losing some elite status opportunities does cut out a big chunk of potential business. The three scenarios above might only cover 20-30% of my total hotel spend in a year. That’s why they’re trying to catch the remaining share of my hotel spend with something new.
Scenario 4: Double Dip for Fewer Miles + Hotel Points + Elite Status
This program update hasn’t been released yet, but it will be coming as soon as February. PointsHound is working with the major hotel brands including Hyatt, Starwood, Hilton, Marriott, and IHG/Priority Club. PointsHound still gets a finder’s fee, but the commission will be smaller so you’ll get fewer airline miles. On the other hand, this allows the hotel to continue providing your elite stay/night credit plus hotel points. You get the best of all worlds! These rates will be “pay later” meaning you don’t pay until check-out at the hotel rather than paying PointsHound in advance of your stay.
This is phenomenal news! I stay 30-35 nights a year with Hyatt already to get my Diamond status, and I’ll probably book another 30-35 nights this year with Starwood as I seek to get Platinum status. I can choose to Double Dip for these hotels, and from what I’ve seen the miles earnings rate will still be pretty good (perhaps 10-20% less, but the final number is still up in the air).
Scenario 5: Big Earnings
PointsHound is also releasing another program update called “Big Earnings.” It’s no secret that sometimes hotels will boost commissions during slow periods. When this happens, PointsHound is going to pass along even more of its take so that you get more miles than under the standard rate structure. The screenshot below shows an example of hotel results tagged with the Double Dip and Big Earnings icons. PointsHound will also be adding a feature to sort your hotel results so that either of these options are moved to the top of the list.
PointsHound has a best rate guarantee on its normal hotel offers. They tell me that they hope to continue offering the same rate when these Big Earnings offers appear, but they can’t guarantee that. In some cases, you might have to pay slightly more, though you will also be earning 25-50% more miles. You will still have the option to choose the lowest rate with the usual miles or the (sometimes) higher rate with more miles.
PointsHound Elite Status
PointsHound members can qualify for one of three elite tiers. Everyone starts off at Level 1, moving up to Level 2 or 3 as they book additional nights through PointsHound. But because qualification is based on nights and not stays, it is possible to reach the top their with a single booking. The number of miles earned per dollar are summarized below:
The base earning level of ~4 miles per dollar at Level 1 is a recent upgrade from ~3 miles per dollar as recently as last month, according to this InsideFlyer article. However, a regular traveler shouldn’t have much difficulty staying 5 nights to reach Level 2 and earn ~6 miles per dollar. Only the diehards staying at a lot of hotels for 20 nights will reach Level 3, but because of the upcoming changes with the Double Dip program, even people like me can earn elite status with their favorite hotel program as well as with PointsHound. (I say “about” because the number of miles is slightly variable between different airline programs.)
250 Bonus Miles for Using PointsHound
The sign-up process is ridiculously simple. I don’t think I need to tell you much: just go to the homepage and enter an email address and password. Once you log in, you’ll just need to visit one page, “My Accounts,” to click on the “Program Info” tab and add your preferred earning partner. If you read this blog at all, you know I added United. Currently the choices are a bit limiting, but I think having United and Delta on the list as two of the biggest airlines in the world is a good start.
I was going to review PointsHound anyway, and Pete never mentioned the referral program, but since it exists I will disclose that if you join PointsHound using my link, I’ll get 250 bonus miles after you book your first stay. But you’ll get 250 miles, too, as well as your own referral link! Feel free to post your referral link in the comments if you want to start a referral chain.