So you booked your first flight using points, that is awesome! You then realize that hotel you want to book at your destination is extremely expensive. Boo!
This does not have to be you, there are some great opportunities to use hotel points for free nights. When using your hotel points you typically don’t pay any taxes, you just pay the fees like resort fees or WiFi. (if applicable)
Just like earning airline points, the best hotel points are the ones you can get good use out of. Before you start earning hotel points it is worth making sure that particular hotel chain has properties at your desired destinations. To view a map of properties for each hotel portfolio, check out Award Mapper. In addition to viewing the hotels on a map, you can also see how many points are required per night at each property.
Here are the major hotel chains that are great for points earning:
— Marriott (Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Renaissance)
— Hilton (DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn)
— Starwood SPG (Sheraton, Four Points, W hotels)
— Hyatt (Hyatt Place, Hyatt Regency, Andaz)
— IHG (Holiday Inn, Staybridge, Crowne Plaza)
The biggest thing to keep in the front of your mind, and this applies to airline points also, is that NOT ALL POINTS are created equal. Hilton points are well-known for being the LEAST valuable while Starwood SPG points are the MOST valuable. The cheapest Hilton properties, category one, require 5,000 points per night. For category one Starwood properties you’ll need just 2,000 points for a free night.
, Hilton ingreen
As you see on the map, there are very few Hilton category one properties compared to Starwood category one and two properties. Because there are so few Hilton category one properties, you will likely have to jump to category two Hilton hotels which start at 10,000 per night just to find somewhere to lay your head. If you stay at a category two Starwood hotel for three nights it will require as few as 9,000 points for the stay. Compare that to three nights at a Hilton category two property which will run you 30,000 points!
By now I have probably convinced you that Hilton points are weak and Starwood points are strong, but what about the others?
Marriott, IHG, and Hilton are the largest hotel chains in the world. That said, one of these three options would be a good choice if you always want somewhere you can use your points. IHG is the largest hotel chain with almost 5,000 properties! If you are flexible on your destination, and don’t mind using AirBNB for niche stays, Hyatt and Starwood will give you MUCH better value for your points.
Hyatt is my second choice for hotel reward points after Starwood. Hyatt has just 600 properties worldwide compared to Starwood’s 1,300. The biggest benefit with Hyatt is the 1:1 transfer from Chase Ultimate Reward Points. Free nights at Hyatt start at just 5,000 points and there are some broad category one options across the USA.
Here are the highest recent credit card bonuses for each hotel chain:
Hilton 100,000 (expect 3-4 free nights) – American Express and Citi
Marriott 80,000 (expect free 3-4 nights) – Chase
IHG 80,000 (expect 3-4 free nights) – Chase
Hyatt two free nights at ANY property (I used my free nights at the Park Hyatt Milan, Italy) – Chase
Starwood 35,000 (expect 4-5 free nights) – American Express
Starwood points also transfer to over 100 airlines at a 1:1 ratio and if you transfer 20,000 Starwood points to an airline you will receive 5,000 bonus points (1:1.25). Most other hotel points transfer to airlines at a MAJOR loss, like a 5:1 ratio.
Also consider: After your sign-up bonus points are spent, think about how many points you will earn with your credit card for everyday spending like groceries, gas, bills etc. If your credit card earns just one point per dollar spent, how long will it take for you to earn a free night? With your Starwood SPG card, you will need to spend just $2,000 on your credit card for a free hotel night. If you spend $1,000 per month on your SPG credit card, you could earn six free Starwood category 1 nights per year! (that is after you spend the credit card sign-up bonus points)