I’ve been getting questions quite frequently from readers on how to best maximize their reward points for free hotel stays. So I decided to put together a comprehensive guide with insight into the many hotel reward programs and discuss some of the ways to maximize points and get points for these programs. Many travel credit cards have major hotel chains as their transfer partners and many of the major hotel chains have their own branded credit cards. This gives us a lot of options and opportunities to stay at pricey hotels for free or even at a fraction of the cost. I’m going to outline some of the best credit cards for staying at hotels as well as ways to stretch your points for extended stays and leverage them for some serious savings at your favorite hotel chains.
Starwood Preferred Guest
The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express is one of the best credit cards in the market not only because of their fantastic airline transfer partners (including a free 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer), but also because of their amazing portfolio of over 1,000 hotel properties around the world at really great rates. The best part about the SPG program is that except for a select few hotels, the most you’ll pay for one night at an SPG property is 30-35k points at a Category 7 hotel. Some other hotel chains charge over double that for one night!
- Low Rates: I regularly redeem hotel stays at SPG properties for 10-12k points per night at hotels that regularly cost upwards of $300 per night.
- Book 4 nights at an SPG hotel property and receive the 5th night free! (excluding Category 1 & 2 properties)
- Cash + Points – Use points and money to stretch the value of your points and stay at a hotel for multiple nights with a fraction of the points needed. Combine this with the “4 night 5th night free” offer and it’s a great way to turn 20,000 points + $300 into 5 free nights at a Category 4 hotel! That’s a potential savings of $2,000 or more!
The Chase Hyatt Credit Card has, by far, my favorite credit card sign up bonus of any card currently in the market. The card comes with 2 free nights at any Hyatt hotel property in the world. I used mine to stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo (a Category 7 hotel) that can run up to $1,000 per night! You can use your free nights at some of the ritziest hotels in the world, including the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris, the Park Hyatt Sydney, or the Park Hyatt New York.
- Transfer points from the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program with your Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Business Cards to the Hyatt Rewards Program. Hotel stays start as low as 5,000 points per night. The Chase Hyatt Card also comes with free Platinum Status that can be used to leverage free room upgrades and late checkout. I used my Platinum status and transferred 20,000 points to stay at the Andaz West Hollywood and got upgraded to an awesome suite!
- Cash + Points – Hyatt has also implemented a Cash + Points program but it’s not as lucrative as the SPG program’s, especially with the ability to combine it with the “4 nights, 5th night free” offer.
- Hyatt also has really solid redemption rates with their highest Category 7 hotels costing 30,000 points per night. That’s using 30,000 points for hotels like the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome that normally runs for $1,000 per night! That’s a 3.3 cents per point value.
- Upgrading – Hyatt allows you to upgrade your room to a suite for as little as a couple thousand points for your entire stay at the hotel for paid nights. Or, you can book a suite with award points at an increased rate than a regular room as shown in the chart below. Often, you can save thousands of dollars by booking and upgrading to a suite, especially when suites are sometimes double the cost of a regular room or more!
- Mlife – Hyatt has recently partnered with MGM’s Mlife Rewards Program with crossover rewards and status earning. If you have the Chase Hyatt Credit Card, then click here to status match your Hyatt Platinum Status with Gold Status in Mlife’s reward program. Create an Mlife account to book hotels at a 10-20% discount on the lowest rate across all of MGM’s hotel brands throughout Las Vegas, including:
- MGM Grand
- The Signature at MGM Grand
- Mandalay Bay
- THEhotel at Mandalay Bay
- Delano Las Vegas
- The Mirage
- Monte Carlo
- New York-New York
IHG (Priority Club) Hotels
The IHG Rewards Program also includes a chain of hotels and a large portfolio hotels around the world that can be redeemed with points from the IHG Rewards Club Credit Card or with points transferred from your Chase Ultimate Rewards Program. The IHG program has over 4,600 hotels across over 100 countries. Its brands include Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza, Even, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hotel Indigo, Hualuxe, InterContinental and Staybridge Suites.
- One of the best parts about the IHG Program, are the IHG Point Breaks. Every 2 months or so, IHG releases a list of hotels around the world that you can stay at for only 5,000 points per night! A pretty sweet deal.
- The IHG Rewards Club Credit Card gives you Platinum Elite Status and is free for the first year and then only a $49 annual fee. Every time my family has redeemed stays at IHG properties, we’ve gotten upgraded to beautiful suites and much nicer rooms with Platinum Elite Status. This perk alone can make getting the credit card quite worth it if you tend to stay at IHG properties often.
- Use points + cash to stretch your points for free multiple night stays at any IHG hotel.
- Honestly, IHG has lost it’s appeal in my opinion as my hotels require a minimum of 20k-30k points per night for hotels costing $100-$200 per night. Obviously there can be some great value for some hotels if you do research and the IHG Point Breaks can definitely be a steal if you can find one listed in a region you’re traveling to. But overall, I’d stick to most of the other major hotel reward programs outlined in this post.
- If you’re looking for the best Category 9 hotels that can be booked at 50,000 points per night, click here.
Marriott has recently upped their sign up bonus for their Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card to 70,000 bonus points after spending only $1,000 in 3 months, including a free stay at a Category 1-4 hotel, no annual fee for the first year, 15 credits towards elite status (and an additional credit for every $3,000 spent on the card, and a free stay at Category 1-5 hotel on the anniversary of the card opening. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card currently has a 140,000 point offer! The Ritz-Carlton partners with Marriott and points can be used between both programs to leverage many free night stays at some highly touted hotels around the world.
- Marriott also employed the “Stay 4 nights and get the 5th night free.” With the two credit cards mentioned above, those 210,000 points can be put to some great use for your next vacation by booking 4 nights and getting that 5th one for free.
- Marriott Rewards members can use Marriott points to upgrade to premium rooms and suites, similar to Hyatt. The other option is Marriott’s Point Upgrades. Marriott offers upgrade rewards which are available for 5,000 points each.
Hilton has 4 different credit cards that offer points and free nights. It’s worth it to take a look it which cards appeal to you and apply for the ones that you can maximize the most value off of. I personally like the:
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
- Earn 2 Weekend Night Certificates each good for 1 weekend night after $2,500 in eligible purchases within the first 4 months of cardmembership.
- Enjoy HHonors Gold status for as long as you are a cardmember
- $95 annual fee
You can also earn an anniversary bonus of 1 weekend night certificate good for one weekend night at select Hilton Worldwide Hotels & Resorts each cardmembership year- but only if you make $10,000 or more in eligible purchases which is probably not worth keeping the credit card for at a $95 annual fee.
- It’s not as good as Hyatt’s offer (though that’s not saying much as I consider it to be the best sign up bonus of any credit card) but it can be used for some of the top Hilton hotels, excluding the ones listed here. You could use your free nights to stay at the Conrad Tokyo, which normally costs upward of $600-$700 or 95,000 points per night!
- Hilton also employs Points + Money bookings that can help you stretch your points a bit further. Hilton points are no longer as valuable as they used to be due to past devaluations, and for this reason I prefer the Citi Hilton Reserve Card over the other Hilton credit cards that offer you points.
The Club Carlson Group includes more than 1,000 hotels across the globe including: Radisson Blu, Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn by Radisson, and Park Inn and Country Inns and Suites By Carlson. Club Carlson has a couple of credit cards, with the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card offering:
- 10 points per $1 spent in eligible net purchases at participating Carlson Rezidor hotels worldwide
- 5 points per $1 spent in eligible net purchases everywhere else
- 85,000 Bonus Gold Points to start – Receive 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase. Plus 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days
- Bonus Award Night – When you redeem Gold Points for 2 or more consecutive Award Nights, your last night is free. Exclusively for cardmembers!
- Club Carlson Gold Status is yours after you activate and use your card
- The Club Carlson credit card is pretty legit in my opinion and offers a solid sign up bonus with some really great perks and 5x points per dollar spent on all purchases.
- Not to mention free Gold Status and a bonus award night when you book 2 or more consecutive nights. That’s much better than SPG and Marriott’s offer of booking 4 nights and getting the 5th night free.
- Club Carlson has 7 categories with the 7th category costing 70,000 points per night for a standard room and 105,000 per night for a premium room (see chart below).
- A great deal for example, would be to leverage the credit card sign up for 2 free nights at a Category 5 hotel like the Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti and getting a 3rd night free. That’s a $900 value!
Hotel Tonight App
I recently wrote about the Hotel Tonight App, which is an app that posts daily discounted deals at prices slashed for last minute bookers. Hotel Tonight lists deals for hotels in cities all over the world and are for same day bookings. The deals come out every day at 9 AM and are great for travelers who need a last minute great price or want to be spontaneous and still get a great deal. This app doesn’t have a rewards program, but you can refer a friend and earn a $25 free credit for future bookings on the app. Sign up with my code: jbortz1 to receive your first $25 free!