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One area that we have not focused much attention on to this point is that of hotel credit card sign-up bonuses, but they are certainly an essential aspect of a cohesive travel rewards strategy.

How to Use Hotel Rewards

This post will introduce some of the main concepts and programs and the next lesson will show you how to search for award availability at each hotel.

Airline award seats are the true constraint in the travel rewards world because they are so limited at the Saver Level, and that’s why our entire focus thus far has been on planning a strategy for earning and maximizing airline miles.

Lodging is also far more flexible than air travel because in addition to the options of choosing between hotels on the traditional “Star” scale you have alternatives such as couch surfing, hostels, camping, staying with friends, etc.

Because of this, people value hotel nights differently based on what they otherwise would have spent in cash and it’s hard to pin down a true “value” (or opportunity cost) for these award nights. Except for the rare few who would pay cash for business or first class, a flight is a flight, and you would have to spend that money to fly anyway. There’s objective value there.

That all said, you can easily save a whole lot of money on your future travel by earning hotel rewards points and we want to give you an overview of a few of our favorite programs and reasons why hotel award nights are so easy to book.

Why are hotel rooms so easy to book with points?

The major hotel chains have a policy where if they have any “standard” rooms remaining to be booked for a cash stay, you CAN use your points to book that room.

This is a huge benefit, because if you consider a hypothetical 300-room hotel, a significant portion of those rooms are “standard” (essentially anything that doesn’t have a label like “deluxe”, “upgraded”, “suite”, etc.) and the hotel is rarely at full occupancy so nearly every night each year will have availability up until the very day of the stay.

To add further to the flexibility that affords you, the major hotel chains often have multiple hotels in each city, so if the hotel you want happens to be booked, there are usually other options.

Our favorite tool to find hotel rooms to book with points is Award Mapper:

The plentiful hotel award availability benefits you with the timing of your point accumulation strategy for specific trips as well:

In most cases you will book your award flights 6-11 months prior to the trip and at that point you can start your hotel point strategy based on the hotel options in the specific cities you are visiting.

This just-in-time strategy is possible because you can book these hotel award nights often until the last moment and there are no “close in booking fees” like you’ll see on some airline award tickets if you book within 21 days or so.

Alternatively, most hotels booked with points allow you to cancel up to 24 hours before and will give you a full points refund. Thus you can book and then change your reservation if you need to.

Lots of flexibility!

Our Favorite Hotel Rewards Programs:

Our favorite by far:

  • Hyatt: Park Hyatt, Andaz, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Hyatt, Hyatt Place, Hyatt House

The contenders:

  • Radisson: Radisson, Radisson Blu, Country Inn and Suites, Park Inn, Park Plaza
  • Marriott: All Marriott brands plus former Starwood brands: Aloft, Element, Four Points, Le Meridien, Sheraton, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Westin, W Hotels
  • IHG: Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Candlewood Suites, InterContinental, Staybridge Suites and more.
  • Hilton: Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Conrad, Homewood Suites, Waldorf Astoria and more.

Hyatt has the best award chart by far: you can find their Category 1 and 2 hotels for 5,000 and 8,000 points per night respectively (even Cat 3 and 4 only cost 12k and 15k per night respectively!).  And these Cat 1 and 2 hotels are often Hyatt House and Hyatt Place hotels with free breakfast!  The downside is their hotel footprint is significantly smaller than the major chains like Hilton and Marriott, so you won’t find a Hyatt in every city you’re visiting.

The “contenders” all have significant numbers of hotels, so you’ll be able to use your points as you travel across the world.  But their award charts, especially at Marriott and Hilton, leave you spending 30,000+ points per night for an average hotel room.

That said, their currencies are easy to amass significant quantities of, so maybe it all evens out eventually.

But if you’re looking to put your regular spending on a card and have a Hyatt credit card or a Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning card, you can get a nice Category 1 Hyatt for only 5,000 points, which is really great value.

A final introductory point to make on hotel bookings:

You can use your fixed value credit cards to pay for your lodging, so this is yet another way to save money on this aspect of the trip.

These fixed value cards are of particular importance to those who can find great deals on cash bookings, or who might normally book inexpensive lodging options such as Airbnb or hostels. Just pay for the lodging with your fixed value card and you can then wipe out the expense with your ‘miles’ after the fact.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.