After traveling for work for ten years and a nine month trip around the world, I’ve collected some strategies for traveling cheaper. I’ll cover them in a ten part series in this order:
A. The flight
– How to Book the Cheapest Flight
– How to Use Free Flight Stopovers
– How to Find Alternatives to Expensive Flights
– Finding the Cheapest Airport Transportation
B. The Hotel / Accommodation
– How to Book Cheapest Hotel Rooms
– How to Find Hotel Alternatives
– How to Use Hotel Points
– How to Get Local Currency for Your Trip
– Avoid International ATM Fees!
– Know How Much Things Cost
How to Use Hotel Points
I love hotel points. During our trip around the world, we used hotel points for 43 nights which saved us between $6,000 – $8,000 USD! This was huge for us as it not only saved money, but it also meant we got to stay at some nicer hotels along the way.
Using hotel points isn’t the hardest thing in the world, but it does take time and some strategy to earn enough points to get free hotel rooms. At last check I had over 570 hotel nights just at Starwood hotels, so I’ll give you some of my tips for using hotel points!
When thinking about using hotel points, the first thing you need to do is learn about the different hotel chains. Here’s a quick look at the major chains:
Starwood: W, Westin, Sheraton, Sheraton Four Points, aloft, Element, Luxury Collection, Le Meridien, St. Regis
Hilton: Hilton, Embassy Suites, Waldorf Astoria, Hilton Garden Inn, Doubletree, Hampton Inn, etc
Marriott: Marriott Courtyard, JW Marriott, Ritz Carlton, Renaissance, Residence Inn, etc
Intercontinental: Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, etc
For ease of this discussion and because it’s the hotel chain we used the most on our trip, let’s talk about Starwood hotel points. I consider the Starwood program the best due to ease of earning hotel points, availability of hotels across the world, and how easy it is to redeem free hotel nights.
The first thing you need to do is sign up for the hotel chain’s loyalty program and receive your membership number. You’ll need this number when making hotel reservations or when signing up for hotel branded credit cards.
Hotel points are the currency for redeeming free hotel nights. The main downfall of hotel points is that the best way to amass them is by using a credit card, which some people are against – and which I’m against for three types of people. There are three primary ways you can earn hotel points:
Using a hotel branded credit card
This is probably the easiest way to collect hotel points because you don’t even have to stay at a hotel. Each of the hotel brands usually have multiple credit card offers through various companies (American Express, Visa, etc). My personal favorite is the Starwood American Express because you can earn one hotel point per dollar for all purchases and two hotel points per dollar spent at Starwood hotels.
Spending money directly at a hotel
As long as the hotel has your membership information, you’ll earn hotel points each time you stay at any hotel within the chain. As noted above, many hotels give you extra points for using their branded credit cards at the hotel as well.
Transferring points from a different credit card
Most credit cards with loyalty programs allow you to transfer points between different programs. For example, American Express Membership Rewards lets you transfer your points to hotel points or airlines miles. Also, many airlines allow you to transfer miles to hotel points as well.
How to Redeem Hotel Points
After you’ve started earning hotel points, it’s now time to see how you can get free nights out of them. For Starwood hotels, if there is a regular room available at the hotel, they’ll let you reserve a room by redeeming your hotel points. Essentially, they don’t have blackout dates like airline programs.
You usually need a decent amount of hotel points before you can start redeeming stays, but the hotels have different redemption categories based on how nice/expensive/well located the hotel is. For Starwood hotels, free night redemptions start at 3,000 points for a night and go all the way up to (and over) 50,000 points per night. If you’re collecting points solely through your credit card spending, you can do the math to see how long you’ll need to earn points before you can get a free night. When you have enough points, you can book the free room online or call the reservation desk.
More Hotel Points, Faster
One more thing, if you’re thinking about signing up for a hotel credit card – wait until they offer a bonus before signing up. For example, the Starwood American Express usually offers 25,000 bonus hotel points for any first time customer. That can mean anywhere between one and eight free hotel nights depending on the property. Not too bad if you can make it work!
Even if you don’t travel all the time, you can still find some value with hotel rewards programs. Let me know if you have any tips on how to best use hotel points!