Airfare is normally the biggest value when people get into the world of free travel. There’s no denying that. You can get enormous value when you use points for free flights, especially in business class. However, to ignore the free hotels would be like scraping the icing off of a cake just to eat the cake!
At Travel Freely, we’re all about maximizing rewards. So, we believe in using points primarily for airfare. However, if you don’t travel often, or you already have a good amount of points stored up for flights, you want to be thinking about free hotels.
There are some great hotel programs out there. This article will focus on three of them: Hyatt, Hilton, and SPG/Marriott,
In 2016, Hyatt had a bonus for 2 free nights at any Hyatt in the world. My wife and I both got this card and thus had 4 nights. Hyatt is extra amazing because the free nights normally comp resort fees AND taxes. (Note: there is a new card called Chase World of Hyatt card)
When we stayed at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands in Carmel, CA, our bill should have been $1,426.00. But, it was $0.00. No taxes. No valet fees. Nothing. Wow. Carmel is an amazing place in and of itself, but to stay at a 5-star hotel for $0 is a whole lot of icing on the free travel cake.
This also happened at the incredible Royal Palms Resort in Scottsdale, AZ, part of the Unbound Collection by Hyatt. When we checked in, we were upgraded to a Valencia Casita room. There were no resort fees. All tips and parking fees were included. The orange snickerdoodles in the lobby were quite tasty, too. Two free nights and no extra fees or taxes. And in both cases, our room was upgraded, too.
Retail price for 2 nights = $1,426.00 including taxes.
Our Price = $0.00
Retail price for 2 nights = $973.42 including taxes.
Our Price = $0.00
Also, Hyatt has an anniversary night (Category 1-4 hotels) when you pay your annual fee of $95. Some people don’t like annual fees and will cancel or downgrade a card to avoid them. Read Being Strategic About Upcoming Annual Fees for more info. We like paying these fees because we get great value out of these free Hyatt nights, and it forces us to use them. =)
You can’t get the category 5-7 hotels with the anniversary night, but you can get some great value. For example, we stayed 2 nights at the Hyatt Santa Barbara.
Check out more information on the Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card.
SPG / MARRIOTT EXAMPLES
On the same California trip when we stayed at the Hyatt in Santa Barbara, we drove south and spent 2 nights at the SPG hotel The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. This hotel is 35 minutes north of San Diego and a few miles inland. A small town of 3,000 people, Rancho Santa Fe was laid out by a famous architect in 1921. It is also home to the famous Del Mar horse racetrack. The closest beach is gorgeous, in the town of Del Mar, about 15 minutes away. We spent two nights here in casita style villas.
For The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, we used 2 free hotel nights we received as a welcome offer for an Amex SPG Business card. We had to pay a $25/day resort fee, but everything else was covered.
The second SPG / Marriott example is from our recent stay in Kauai, Hawaii. We highlighted our whole Hawaii trip in How We Did It: 6 Days and 5 Nights in Hawaii. On that trip, we got 5 free nights at the Kauai Sheraton at Poipu Beach. It was an incredible stay. We did have to pay resort fees and taxes, but the savings on the room was substantial. SPG runs various promotions, and we were able to get the 5th night free when we booked 4 nights.
We combined our SPG points and used a total of 48,000 points to stay for 5 nights. It came out to 9,600 points per night. Does that seem low? That’s why people value SPG points so highly. We still had to pay state taxes ($1.25/night) and a resort fee ($30/night), which came out to $156.25 for the whole stay.
SPG / MARRIOTT Recap:
Retail price for 2 nights = $908.00
Our cost = $50.00 (resort fees)
Retail price for 5 nights = $1,656.25 with taxes and fees.
Our cost = $156.25
Hilton is normally valued at the lower end for redemption value compared to Hyatt and SPG. However, they usually offer high welcome bonuses so you can still get some good value in free hotel stays. Two examples are from our trip to Arizona, and 24-hour trip to San Francisco for a Coldplay concert.
Sedona is pretty pricey in high season for hotels. You could do day trips from Scottsdale or Phoenix, but that’s quite a drive. So, we were glad to have Hilton points to stay for 2 nights at the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock. The scenery of Sedona and the surrounding hikes were far more beautiful than the grounds at the hotel, but we thoroughly enjoyed our free 2-night stay.
When you can travel for free, epic moments can present themselves. My friend Reid and I are huge Coldplay fans. Since we both had Southwest miles, I threw out the idea of meeting up in San Francisco for Coldplay’s final show of their A Head Full of Dreams U.S. tour.
I was excited when I saw that Hilton had a hotel (Hilton Santa Clara by Levi’s Stadium) within walking distance of the concert. The retail price was something crazy like $450 + taxes for the night. But we were able to use points to get the room completely free. So we soaked it up, went to the VIP lounge for some treats before the show, and didn’t have to worry about driving or parking. It was awesome.
Retail price for 2 nights = $691.36
Our price = $85.44 (Resort fees and taxes)
Retail price for 1 night = $522.00
Our price = $31.00 in taxes.
How we earned the points:
For all of these stays, we used points or free night awards from spending bonuses that we received from credit cards. Each bonus took roughly 60-90 days of normal spending to earn. We didn’t over-extend our spending to earn these rewards. We were smart about the cards we wanted and made sure to put all of our regular spending on the cards. Over the span of three years, we received the following bonuses for these stays:
Chase Hyatt Visa: 2 free nights at any Hyatt (2 cards = 4 nights)
American Express SPG: 35,000 SPG points (2 cards = 70,000 points)
American Express SPG Business: 2 free night awards
American Express Hilton Honors Card: 100,000 points for welcome bonus
Taking 4-star and 5-star vacations can be as simple as getting a few extra welcome bonuses on hotel cards. While you can normally get some great deals at hotels.com or priceline.com for hotels, free rooms allow your budget to go even further. You can eat out more or extend your vacation.
Total: 16 nights in Hyatt, SPG/Marriott, or Hilton Hotels
Retail Cost of Hotels = $6,527.03
Actual Cost = $322.69
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