Would you rather earn miles and points for an award flight or points for hotel rewards?
Earning miles and points for an award flight is the typical answer, especially for most who are new to travel hacking. It’s understandable, even as airfares become more competitive.
Common thinking is to use miles and points to get to a destination(s) and then choose from an array of accommodation options, like hotels, bed & breakfasts, hostels, or Airbnb, to match your budget and style.
However, hotel rewards offer tremendous value. On a typical 1-2 week trip, using points for award nights at a hotel can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
In this post, let’s take a break from award flights and focus instead on using points to earn hotel rewards.
The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking: Hotel Rewards
Step One- Hotel Rewards 101
Hotel brands, like Hilton, Hyatt, or IHG, include a variety of hotel options that include budget lodging, luxury accommodations, and everything in between. For example, IHG encompasses Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, and Intercontinental Hotels.
It’s important to know which hotels belong to which brand, as well as how to go about earning points for hotel rewards. Many hotel programs have co-branded credit cards or are transfer partners with programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. More on that down below.
Before discussing your hotel rewards strategy, read A Beginners Guide to Hotel Reward Programs. There’s a handy chart that gives a quick look at brands, the hotels they include, and the pros and cons to each of the major hotel reward programs. The post also includes a pinnable hotel infographic, which is also down below to help you get started with hotel rewards.
Step Two- Strategies for Hotel Rewards
As with earning miles and points for award flights, you don’t want your hotel points spread thinly between too many hotel reward programs.
You can decide which approach is right for you or do a bit of both.
- You might choose to earn hotel points with a brand you like.
- Or you can earn points targeted to a specific destination you plan to visit.
Both can be effective strategies, with the caveat, to always know when points expire, as well as to be aware of any upcoming points devaluations and hotel award chart changes.
Successful travel hackers never let their miles and points sit too long unused because their value can change in an instant.
Of course, your travel style factors into your decision and influences which hotel rewards program(s) is better suited to your tastes. Ask yourself questions like:
- Do you prefer upscale or more modest accommodations?
- Do you travel as a family and need more space or extra beds?
Certain hotel brands will fit your needs and preferences better than others. After all, why bother earning points for a hotel brand where you have no interest or need to stay?
The chart below shows a small sampling of loyalty programs and which kind of traveler is the best fit for that brand. The suggestions are based on research generalizations and are meant only to give you an idea as you think about your hotel rewards strategy.
|Budget Hotel Brands||Mid-Range Hotel Brands||
Luxury Hotel Brands
Family Hotel Brands
Candlewood Suites (IHG)
Courtyard by Marriott
Embassy Suites (Hilton)
Hampton Inn (Hilton)
|Doubletree (Hilton)||Park Hyatt||
Residence Inn (Marriott)
Homewood Suites (Hilton)
|Four Points by Sheraton (Marriott)||JW Marriott||
Westin Hotels (Marriott)
If you’d like to check a specific destination and which hotels with award programs are nearby, use Hotel Hustle and AwardMapper. These websites are really helpful when researching what kinds of points you’ll need to earn for an upcoming trip.
One advantage Hotel Hustle has over AwardMapper is it shows hotels with actual award night availability. If rooms are unavailable, you can even set up an alert to be emailed if and when an award night opens up.
Step Three- Earning Hotel Rewards
As with earning miles for airfare, credit card welcome bonuses can be quite lucrative for earning hotel rewards. Co-branded hotel credit cards will allow you to earn points with just that hotel program while transferrable point cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the American Express Gold, will let you transfer your points to a variety of hotel reward programs.
But, you’ll want to be careful about transferring high-value points to lower-value hotel programs. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Hyatt and IHG, among others. Ultimate Rewards points are valued at about 2 cents each. Consider that IHG points are worth .7 cents each and Hyatt points about 1.8 cents each.
Transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to IHG for a .7 cent valuation would be considered a loss. Instead, it’s wiser to save your Chase points and easily earn IHG points in other ways, like with the IHG trick. Hyatt hotels, though, tend to return a solid redemption value on your Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Co-branded hotel credit cards typically have an annual fee. Beginners always wonder whether paying an annual fee is worth it or not. Yet, co-branded hotel credit cards are where the value in paying the annual fee just might be the most obvious.
Consider Club Carlson’s Premier Rewards credit card with its $75 annual fee. Each year you renew your card by paying the annual fee, you’ll earn 40k bonus points. Those points can be used for a night in an upscale Radisson Blu which, in some cities, can be more than $200 a night. Paying the annual fee becomes a no-brainer with this type of return value.
Many co-branded hotel rewards credit cards also offer free nights each year you renew your card. Chase’s IHG Premier card comes with a free night each year you renew your card. The annual fee is less than what you’d likely pay for a hotel night.
Hotel brands like Hilton and IHG offer shopping portals and dining program rewards, too. These provide even more options to earn hotel points from everyday spending.
Lastly, hotel reward programs often run promotions. You can earn bonus points or award stays for completing a challenge or staying some number of nights. These promotions generally happen each season or quarter.
For example, I took advantage of a Club Carlson promotion by staying at an inexpensive Country Inns and Suites outside of Washington, DC. The hotel stay hit many of the promotion’s bonus tiers and earned enough points for a trip to Europe.
Sign-up to receive emails, follow hotel brands on social media, and even check your snail mail for the latest offers.
- Take a look at the hotel brands chart in A Beginners Guide to Hotel Reward Programs.
- Decide whether a particular hotel brand is the right fit for you. If you haven’t already done so, sign up for hotel loyalty programs. Remember to add your member number and password to your travel hacking spreadsheet.
- Go to Hotel Hustle and/or AwardMapper to experiment with these tools. If you have a trip in mind, search hotels in that destination.
- What is your hotel rewards earning strategy? Compare co-branded hotel credit cards and use shopping portals and dining programs to earn more points.
- Pin the Infographic below to your travel hacking board on Pinterest.
What is your strategy for earning hotel rewards?
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