Rookie Guide to Award Travel: Maximizing Your Hotel Points

Sep 11, 2015

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For travelers looking to maximize their number of award nights at hotels, TPG Contributor Carly Blatt presents the fourth installment of her Rookie Guide to Award Travel with tips on how to stretch your hotel points. 

Award travelers fall along a spectrum. At one end are those who prefer to redeem a large quantity of points for a handful of high-end experiences, such as a flight in Etihad’s first-class Apartment or a stay at the luxurious Prince de Galles Hotel in Paris. At the other end are those who’d rather redeem fewer points for a greater number of awards, such as economy flights and lower-level hotel stays.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum is perfectly fine — there’s no one right way to play the points and miles game. However, your travel preferences and goals will greatly affect your earning and redeeming strategy. In this post, I’ll focus on tips for travelers who want to get the most value — and as many free nights as possible — out of their hotel points.

Planning a long hotel stay? Focus on low-level properties, like the Le Meridien Angkor, to maximize free nights.
Planning a long hotel stay? Focus on low-level properties, like the Le Meridien Angkor, to maximize free nights.

I’ll dive into strategies and credit card recommendations for different hotel rewards programs below, but keep in mind the following guidelines no matter where you stay:

  • Take advantage of free night bonuses. Keep in mind that several hotel programs will offer you a fifth night for free after you redeem four nights, so consider working your strategy around that particular perk.
  • Research cash and point redemptions. If you’re looking to stay at properties that require more points than you currently have, consider using cash and point redemptions. You’ll be able to pay for your nights with a combination of the two, which can help offset the cost of higher-end hotels.
  • Pool your points for longer stays and higher-level awards. Programs like Hyatt and Carlson make it particularly easy to combine your points with traveling companions for free.
  • Consider staying just outside major cities. If you don’t mind taking public transportation, it’s worth looking into staying in the suburbs or in a less touristy neighborhood. Although it may be more inconvenient on a daily basis to get to your destination, you can double or triple the length of your award stay.
  • Use your points for airport hotels. If you live far from the airport and often have to book nights at airport hotels, consider using points. Many hotel programs have lower-level hotel redemptions near certain airports, and while it’s not a particularly sexy use of points, it can be a great way to stretch them for something you’d normally shell out cash for.
  • Book a series of local weekend trips. Use your preferred hotel chain’s site to search for properties within driving distance, and work backwards to find hotels that are in desirable getaway destinations and require a low number of points. With this strategy, you can often book three separate weekends away for the point cost of a single night in a high-end hotel.
  • Avoid mistakes. Even the most experienced award travelers accidentally make poor decisions. Before planning your hotel points strategy, consult Nick Ewen’s 9 Mistakes to Avoid When Redeeming Hotel Points.
The Holiday Inn Beijing Haidian, an IHG property.
The Holiday Inn Beijing Haidian requires just 10,000 points for a free night.


Currently, the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card offers a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after spending $1,000 within the first three months of account opening. Additionally, the card offers instant Platinum Elite status and a free anniversary night. And with IHG 4,900 properties worldwide, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a place to use your points.

With Category 1 hotels costing 10,000 points per night, the sign-up bonus alone can get you six free nights. If you opt for a Category 2 property at 15,000 points per night, you’ll still net four days’ worth of free hotel rooms.

Best of all, IHG offers PointsBreak reduced award redemptions at just 5,000 points per night. The list of eligible properties changes on a rotating basis, and it includes hotels that typically run 30,000 to 50,000 points a night. Keep in mind that IHG Rewards Club members are only allowed to book two PointBreaks reservations at each hotel offered in a given period.

For additional inspiration, check out 7 Low-Level IHG Properties that Make for Awesome Awards. If you’re planning to book Points & Cash awards, you can receive 5,000 or 10,000 points off standard award rates with cash co-pays of $40 or $70.

The Category 1 Courtyard Guayaquil.
The Category 1 Courtyard Guayaquil


The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card will net you a cool 50,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months — enough for six nights at a Category 1 hotel (7,500 points per night). And since Marriott Rewards gives you a free fifth night on award stays, the bonus can go even further. If you’re able to find PointsSaver Rewards, you can book Category 1 hotels for as little as 6,000 points per night, and Category 9 hotels for 40,000. Plus, on your cardmember anniversary, you’ll receive a free night at a Category 1-5 property

If you want to maximize your hotel points and airline miles, look into Marriott’s Flight and Hotel packages, which allow you to book 7 nights of hotel and get a certain number of airline miles for one fixed price. TPG used this option for a trip to Cannes and found it to be a great value, though it’s important to run the numbers before you commit.

To get started, check out 6 Low-Level Marriott Properties that Make for Awesome Awards, and read about cash and points redemptions.

The DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur, bookable with 10,000 HHonors points.
The DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur, bookable with 10,000 HHonors points


The current sign-up bonus of 75,000 points after $2,000 spent in the first 3 months makes this a perfect time to apply for the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card. The bonus alone is enough points for 15 nights at a Category 1 hotel (5,000 points per night) or seven nights at a Category 2 hotel (10,000 points per night.) The bonus kicks in after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first three months, and there’s no annual fee, to boot. The cardholder receives complimentary Hilton Silver status, and will receive the fifth night free on award redemptions.

To get started on planning your Hilton stays, don’t miss 8 Low-Level Hilton Properties that Make for Awesome Awards.

An outdoor terrace at the Aloft Bangkok, which starts at 3,000 points per night.
An outdoor terrace at the Aloft Bangkok, which starts at 3,000 Starpoints per night


With the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express, you’ll earn 30,000 Starpoints after you spend $3,000 within the first three months — though this limited-time offer ends in a few days. Not only will that net you the equivalent of 15 Category 1 weekend nights, but Starpoints are also the most valuable loyalty currency according to TPG’s valuations.

Keep in mind that Starwood has different award pricing for weekdays and weekends, so Category 1 hotels will cost 3,000 points per night when used during the week. And when you redeem a five-night award for certain categories, the fifth night is free.

Ready to see some great options for using your points? Check out 9 Low-Level Starwood Properties that Make for Awesome Awards, and learn how to get the most out of cash and points redemptions.

Your Hyatt points will go far at lower-level properties like the Grand Hyatt Santiago.
Your Hyatt Gold Passport points will go far at lower-level properties like the Grand Hyatt Santiago.


Hyatt point redemptions start at just 5,000 points for Category 1 awards, and the Cash + Points booking option can be an incredible value. As an added perk, you can earn elite-qualifying nights and stays when you pay using this option.

If you sign up for the Hyatt Credit Card, you’ll receive two free nights at any Hyatt, plus an anniversary night at a Category 1-4 property — and cardholders automatically receive Discoverist status. If your goal is booking a large number of nights, this particular sign-up bonus won’t take you as far as the others, but it’s a huge perk if you’re looking to treat yourself to a short award stay at a higher-end hotel.

Read Richard Kerr’s Award Traveler’s Guide to Hyatt to learn more about the program, and discover how to maximize your points with 9 Low-Level Hyatt Properties that Make for Awesome Awards.


The Category 2 Radisson Summit Hotel & Golf Panama costs 15,000 Club Carlson points per night.
The Category 2 Radisson Summit Hotel & Golf Panama costs 15,000 Gold Points per night.

With the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card, you’ll earn 50,000 Gold Points and be upgraded to Gold Elite Status after your first purchase with the card. Once you spend 2,500 on your card within the first 90 days, you’ll receive an additional 35,000 points. The full bonus alone will cover a nine-night stay at a low-level hotel.

Thinking of exploring? Consult 6 Low-Level Club Carlson Hotels that Make for Awesome Awards for inspiration.


15,000 points gets you a free night at the Mills House Wyndham Grand — or any other Wyndham property.
15,000 points gets you a free night at the Mills House Wyndham Grand — or any other Wyndham property.

Wyndham hotels are particularly unique, since all properties cost a flat rate of 15,000 points per award night. This makes maximizing quality and quantity much easier, and it applies to more than 7,500 hotels worldwide with no blackout dates. Wyndham also has a generous Cash and Points program, with reward nights beginning at just 3,000 points plus cash. And with the Wyndham Rewards Visa Card, you can take advantage of a up to a 30,000-point sign-up bonus, good for two free nights.

Take your Wyndham points further by checking out the great value properties in 9 Wyndham Properties that Make for Awesome Award Redemptions.

What’s your strategy for maximizing your number of free nights with hotel points?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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