Recently I stayed at a Sheraton hotel for business. Upon checking in, I discovered I’m a Starwood Gold member. I don’t know how that happened, but I was more than happy to take advantage of the perks offered. That got me thinking – how many ways can travel rewards help you save money on a trip?

Free Flights
You can still get free flights with airline miles. The key is to book early or to have a lot of flexibility in your dates/route. I’ve used miles for travel to Ireland, New York, and Central America. When I booked the Ireland trip, the helpful customer service rep spent half an hour hunting down route options around our available dates.

Free Checked Bags
Some of the airlines offer free checked bags for premium frequent flyer members. You have to fly a lot of earn that, but if you do fly often, then free bags can be a significant savings.

Free Hotel Rooms
If you’re a frequent business traveler, be sure to sign up for the hotel rewards card. If you stay often, you can earn free nights or upgrades. I belong to Hilton and Starwood. Although I haven’t yet earned a free night, I have received other perks.

Free Food/Drinks
Last time I stayed at a Hilton, I received two free bottles of water just for being a member. That saved me from having to buy bottled water while out and about the next day. On the recent trip, Starwood was offering free continental breakfast and happy hour. I used both as opportunities to score free snacks and bottles of water. I would have enjoyed the free breakfast, but I can’t eat muffins and breads. I did enjoy the free fruit and juice, however.

If you’re traveling with children or not being reimbursed by your company, a free breakfast will save you at least $5 a person, and probably closer to $10. Granted, it’s not a full breakfast in some places, but muffins and fruit can really fill you up. You can also snag whole fruit to eat later.

Late Check-Out
Starwood also provided a free late checkout. Rather than having to check my bags with the bell captain (and pay for that privilege), I just left my bags in the room until 4 PM, which is when I had to head to the airport.

Transfer to Miles
If you need a few extra miles to get your free trip, see if you can transfer any hotel rewards points to the airline to put you over the edge. Buying miles can be costly, but transferring them from a partner service may be free, or at least cost significantly less.

Obviously, some of these will save you more than others. Whether you’re a frequent traveler or not, see if any hotels are connected to your credit card or airline rewards. Since I’ve never stayed at a Sheraton before, I assume the membership was connected to either my credit card or my airline points. I did sign up for Hilton Honors, but only because it automatically transfers points to my mileage program.

Even if all you save is the cost of breakfast, that could be a savings of $200 for a family of four on a five-day trip. That’s not nothing!

If you received other good rewards from your travel clubs, let me know in the comments.

For more travel tips, see my past post on frugal travel tips.

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