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Your hotel experience can vary widely, not only across brands and categories, but also between rooms in the same property. Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen looks at upgrade awards to help you make the most of your stay, and discusses which of these options offer the best value.
Whether you’re new to The Points Guy or a long-time reader, you’ve probably noticed that we discuss upgrades quite a bit. This is a key benefit of hotel elite status, and one I’ve attempted to quantify in past posts on Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt. However, even if you have no elite status with a given program, you can upgrade to a better room by using points. In this post, I’ll look at the upgrade options for each of the major hotel chains to help you plan for your next stay.
When you redeem your points at one of the 1,000+ Club Carlson hotels around the world, you may be able to use additional points for an upgraded room during an award stay. This page has full details for each category (1-7); you’ll notice that these “Premium Rooms” require 50% more points than a “Standard Room.” However, not all properties give you this option, and I’ve found that the upgrade often isn’t worth the premium.
For example, my wife and I are planning a trip to Iceland this May, and we hope to stay at the Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel in Reykjavik. A standard room would set us back 44,000 points per night, but we could spend an additional 22,000 points for “business class” accommodations:
This is a larger room that also includes upgraded amenities and services like complimentary movies, a coffee maker, and buffet breakfast. The standard guest room retails for 280 Euros per night, while the upgraded room goes for 362 Euros, a difference of 82 Euros (approximately $100). As a result, the extra points are getting you less than 0.5 cents apiece in value (TPG values Club Carlson points at 0.6 cents each).
This also may not be worth it for travelers with Club Carlson Rewards Gold status (which is automatically given to Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa cardholders). One of the Gold benefits is an upgrade at check-in, so you may wind up in one of those better rooms free of charge. And if breakfast is an important benefit for you, this property has a “Bed & Breakfast” rate for a much lower premium of 18 Euros per night.
However, keep in mind that Club Carlson Visa cardholders can also utilize the Bonus Award Night benefit on these premium rooms, which gives you the last night free when you book an award stay lasting two or more nights. So, in my Iceland example, as a cardholder you would pay the upgrade cost for just one night, but receive the benefits for two nights. Still, at such a high premium (50%) for rooms that are generally a single category above the standard room, these upgrades typically aren’t worth it.
One of my first posts for The Points Guy covered Hilton HHonors’ Premium Room Rewards and Room Upgrade Rewards, and not a whole lot has changed since then. The first option allows you to use additional points to book directly into upgraded accommodations. In theory, this allows you to redeem Hilton HHonors points for just about any room in any property around the world. In practice, it’s a relatively poor value proposition, generally giving you at best 0.5 cents per point.
Let’s look at one of my favorite Hilton properties as an example. The Hilton Moorea typically charges 70,000 – 80,000 points per night for a standard room (depending on the month). Award availability is decent this coming April, with standard room rates starting at $398 per night:
This redemption gives you a value of 0.57 cents per point.
You could also redeem points for an upgraded bungalow with a private pool, though the value for this (and even more luxurious room options) drops to 0.36 cents per point:
Two other things to keep in mind with Hilton’s Premium Room Rewards program:
- Unlike Club Carlson’s bonus award nights, these rewards do not apply to the “Fifth Night Free” benefit given to elite members. When you log in as a Silver, Gold, or Diamond Hilton HHonors member, the daily redemption rate for a standard room for five nights or longer will reflect this discount. Premium rooms are not discounted.
- Depending on revenue rates, some hotels may actually have Premium Room Rewards that require fewer points per night than a standard room. Just look for the blue “HHonors Special” icon when searching for rooms. These awards still only give you at most 0.5 cents of value per point, but it’s a nice way to confirm right into an upgraded room. Here’s an example from the Conrad Bali, where the Deluxe Resort King is $20 more per night than the standard Garden King but costs 5,000 points less:
Hilton also lets you use points to upgrade when you book a paid stay. This is typically a better way to use points for premium rooms, though you won’t know the specifics until you actually book.
For example, a standard room at the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik in April costs 40,000 points, with revenue rates starting at 197 Euros (approximately $240) per night. However, after booking a King Hilton Guestroom, I’m given the following options:
The sea view rooms carry a premium of 60 Euros (~$73) a night, while the executive room (with access to the fantastic lounge that made my list of the best hotel lounges last month) is 70 Euros (~$85) more. Both of these redemptions offer a value slightly above 0.5 cents per point.
Finally, remember that the Citi Hilton Reserve and Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express cards both come with automatic Gold status in the Hilton HHonors program, which includes space-available upgrades as a benefit. It would be a shame to shell out a ton of points for a room you might have received at check-in anyway!
Hyatt Gold Passport
Hyatt is another chain that allows you to redeem points for upgraded rooms, and they make the process very transparent. You can book directly into a Club room for 30-50% more points (depending on the category) or directly into a suite for right around 60% more points (again, depending on the category). See the Hyatt redemption page for more details. Unfortunately, the latter must be booked over the phone (1-800-228-3360), but you can find club rooms online.
Here are the two different room types at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, a Category 6 property:
Club rooms on this particular date carry a 600 HKD (~$77) premium over standard rooms, so you’d be redeeming the extra 8,000 points at just under 1 cent apiece in value. That’s pretty low for Hyatt points, but could be a good option if you don’t have status and want to stay on the club floor.
The suite redemptions are a bit trickier, as each property tends to define their “standard suite” a bit differently. Keep in mind the following restrictions as well:
- Suite awards at full-service properties require a minimum 3-night stay.
- Certain properties are excluded, like the Park Hyatt Sydney and Andaz Tokyo.
Finally, Hyatt also allows you to use points to upgrade paid stays to either the club level (3,000 points per night) or a suite (6,000 points per night). This can be a nice option if you don’t have a plethora of Gold Passport points, and it’s especially valuable at high-end properties, since the cost to upgrade is standard across all hotel categories. Like the suite awards, these must be booked over the phone.
Marriott is similar to Club Carlson, in that they allow you to redeem points directly into upgraded accommodations, but it’s hardly consistent. This page includes some general information, but basically there are two ways to upgrade:
- Book a standard room with points and pay cash to upgrade, typically $50-200 per night.
- Pay the standard redemption rate along with one (or more) 5,000 point upgrade certificates.
This sounds relatively straightforward, but the devil is in the details. These upgrades are not available at all hotels, and the rates vary by property and/or season. The only way to know if your desired property participates in one (or both) of these upgrade programs is to search for rooms online.
For an example of the first option, here are available rooms at the Carlton Hotel in New York, part of the Autograph Collection:
The cash upgrade price is basically the difference in revenue rates between the standard room and the upgraded room. As a result, this a great option when standard room rates are very high, as you can use points to cover the bulk of the room and keep your out-of-pocket expenditures to a minimum.
The second option is also limited to specific properties and/or dates, like the JW Marriott in Miami:
You’ll see that the standard room is 35,000 points, while a room on the Concierge level requires an additional 10,000 points, and a one-bedroom suite requires an additional 20,000 points over the standard redemption rate. On the date I checked, the Concierge room and suite carried a $50 and $100 premium, respectively, over the standard rate, meaning that the upgrade certificates only get you 0.5 cents in value.
One interesting feature is how these latter redemptions treat the 5th night free policy of Marriott Rewards. For example, a five night stay on the Concierge level doesn’t cost 225,000 points (45,000 x 5 nights), nor is it 180,000 points (45,000 x 4 nights). Instead, you pay 35,000 points for the standard room with the fifth night free (140,000 points) plus 10,000 additional points per night (50,000 points) for a grand total of 190,000 points.
Starwood Preferred Guest
Like many of the others on this list, SPG allows you to redeem Starpoints for upgraded rooms. However, this option isn’t available at all properties, and the specific room types to which you can upgrade vary significantly. This Starwood upgrade page has some general information, as does the Starwood upgrade award chart. As you can see, there are two different upgrade levels:
- Use 1,000 – 2,750 points (depending on the category) to upgrade to a larger room, one with a view, or a club room.
- Use 3,000 – 35,000 points (again, depending on the category) to upgrade to a suite.
The nice thing is that these options are valid on both paid and award stays, though you’ll need to pay a flexible rate in order to be eligible. However, a big drawback is that they must be booked over the phone (1-888-625-4988), and if you’re upgrading paid stays, you can only be confirmed within 5 days of your arrival.
TPG wrote a detailed overview of these options back in 2012, and essentially nothing has changed, so check that post for a more thorough explanation. You’ll find that these upgrade options typically don’t have the same value as regular redemptions, especially suites. Since suite upgrade rates are identical to standard redemption rates, you’re either paying full cash and points prices for an upgraded room or using double the Starpoints required for a standard room. However, if you’re swimming in SPG points, this can be a nice option to have.
As you can see, the availability and usefulness of these upgrade policies vary significantly, but at the end of the day, I’d rather have the options! You may be celebrating a special occasion or need a larger room to accommodate friends or family members; in those cases, being able to book directly into an upgraded room not only might make sense, but also might make you the most popular person around.
What are your experiences with using points to upgrade your room?
Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||16.24% - 23.24% Variable||$85||0%||Excellent Credit|