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One of the keys to a good award travel strategy is avoiding errors that can cost you time, money, and points. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen explains how.
As the saying goes, “Everyone makes mistakes.” This pervades many aspects of life, but it’s especially applicable to using your hotel points. Even the most seasoned award traveler can slip up, resulting in a less comfortable room, extra fees, or even an inability to travel. Fortunately, the most common mistakes when booking hotel award stays are easy to avoid, so today I’ll take you through these errors and explain how to make sure your future points redemptions go as planned.
Mistake 1. Missing out on “bonus nights”
This first mistake is common for inexperienced travelers. Hopefully, many of you know that some hotel chains give you “bonus” nights for stays of a certain length. In essence, this allows you to obtain discounted redemption rates. Here’s a quick run-down of the policies for major chains:
- Club Carlson – All members who hold one of the chain’s co-branded credit cards get the last night free on all award stays of two nights or longer.
- Hilton HHonors – Silver, Gold, and Diamond members get every fifth night free on award stays at all properties (up to a maximum of four free nights on a single redemption of 20+ nights). In addition, if you hold a Hilton HHonors American Express card, you can book a four-night AXON stay that may be a discount over a standard four-night redemption.
- Marriott Rewards – All members get the fifth night free on award stays at all properties.
- Starwood Preferred Guest – All members get the fifth night free on award stays at Category 3-7 properties.
The nice thing is that these discounts all show up automatically when you redeem your points online. The mistake comes in planning a four-night stay, not knowing that the next night would be completely free!
Mistake 2. Ignoring cash + points options
Another common refrain I hear is something like “I don’t have enough points, so I can’t book an award stay!” This is simply not true, as most chains give you the option to use a combination of money and points to pay for hotel stays. Again, here’s a quick rundown:
- Club Carlson – Points + Cash awards allow you to redeem 5,000 – 20,000 points plus a cash copay, though the exact amount depends on the property. These are bookable online. See tips on maximizing this benefit for more information.
- Hilton HHonors – Points & Money awards allow you to redeem fewer than half of the points usually required plus a cash copay for a free night. Availability varies from property to property, but these too are bookable online.
- Hyatt Gold Passport – Points + Cash awards were added in early 2014, allowing you to redeem half of the usual points plus a standard cash copay. However, you must call Hyatt reservations at 1-800-228-3360 to book these awards.
- IHG Rewards – Points & Cash awards offer you 5,000 or 10,000 points off standard award rates with cash copays of $40 or $70 (respectively). These are bookable online.
- Marriott Rewards – Cash + Points isn’t a separate redemption option, but rather allows you to book a single reservation for consecutive nights and pay for some with points and some with cash. This is great when some nights have very cheap revenue rates.
- Starwood Preferred Guest – Cash & Points is a standard combination of money and SPG points, but is capacity controlled and varies by property. However, you can use the benefit for standard rooms, upgraded rooms, or even suites. TPG used the SPG Cash & Points option to book his recent stay at the St. Regis Princeville on Kauai.
Always check to see if these options are available wherever you’re staying, as they might turn out to be the best deal!
Mistake 3. Not checking revenue rates
If you’re like me, you want to maximize the value you get out of your points. That’s why it pains me to hear when friends or family members use their points for sub-optimal redemptions. TPG’s latest monthly valuations give you an idea of what to aim for when redeeming your points and miles, but you probably have your own way of determining the value you get from a particular stay.
A great example is the St. Regis Deer Valley. TPG pegs Starpoints at 2.4 cents apiece, and you can get even more value by redeeming those points during ski season. However, paid rates drop as low as $304 in May. Burning 35,000 Starpoints for a room at that price is a terrible value proposition, getting you just 0.87 cents per point. Be sure to check revenue rates before you book an award stay.
Mistake 4. Transferring to an airline
For the most part, transferring your hotel points to an airline partner is another terrible value proposition, as most chains give you very poor transfer ratios. Here are some examples using TPG’s most recent valuations:
- 50,000 Club Carlson points ($300) to 5,000 United or Singapore miles ($75)
- 10,000 Hilton HHonors points ($50) to 1,500 AAdvantage miles ($25.50)
- 50,000 Hyatt points ($900) to 25,000 British Airways Avios ($425)
You typically lose close to half (or much more) value through the conversion process.
There are a couple of exceptions. Converting SPG points to miles can be a solid value, especially since you can turn 20,000 Starpoints into 25,000 airline miles. Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages, which give you a seven-night hotel stay plus a pot of miles, can also be a good value. In fact, TPG used this strategy to earn a Southwest Companion Pass last year. However, most conversions should be avoided.
Mistake 5. Not searching night-by-night
Another common error occurs when searching for longer stays. I’ve seen many times when hotels don’t have award rooms available for every night of a stay, or they don’t have the same type of room for the entire stay. In that case, it may appear that no award rooms are available, but you may still be able to use points (or a combination of cash and points) by searching one night at a time.
For example, let’s say you wanted to stay at the Rome Cavalieri (a Waldorf Astoria property) later in the month. Standard rooms are 80,000 points/night, but when you search for a three-night stay from April 23-26, you’re quoted a price of 93,410 points per night. That’s because the cheapest room type available across those three nights is the King Deluxe Rome View. However, the second and third nights have a standard King Deluxe Room for 80,000 points/night:
If you book the first night separately from the second and third nights, you’ll save 26,820 Hilton HHonors points ($134.10 based on TPG’s valuations). Plus, if you call Hilton HHonors and ask them to link the reservations, the property may just keep you in the upgraded room for all three nights!
Mistake 6. Ignoring resort fees
When you redeem points for an award stay, most chains will list resort fees (where applicable) at some point during the booking process. I wrote about these fees last year, and you’d be smart to pay attention to them. While most reports indicate that Hilton and Hyatt automatically waive resort fees on award stays, no chain has a published policy to this effect, and at some resorts this can set you back as much as $60 per night! While you aren’t on the hook for regular room taxes on award stays, you may still be hit with a resort fee.
Mistake 7. Not knowing the rules
Knowledge gives you an incredible amount of power in the points and miles game, and this is especially true when it comes to hotel award stays. Earlier this year I wrote about the blackout date policies for major hotel chains, but few have any teeth. One that does, however, is that of Hyatt Gold Passport. I actually “forced” the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome to open up standard award inventory in February, mainly because I knew exactly what the program’s terms and conditions said in relation to blackout dates.
Mistake 8. Forgetting to cancel
Another mistake that can be very costly is forgetting to cancel an award stay within the hotel’s published cancellation window. You might think this isn’t a huge deal; after all, you’d just lose out on the points. Unfortunately, that’s not how most hotel chains operate. When you don’t cancel an award reservation, most properties will charge you one night plus tax at the Best Available Rate for that date, which could easily be hundreds of dollars. That’s why you should pay very close attention to the stated cancellation policy when booking an award stay using points.
Mistake 9. Ignoring credit cards
The final mistake isn’t specific to using your hotel points, but it’ll nevertheless impact your hotel award stays. Many credit cards come with automatic elite status just for holding the card and (in some cases) paying an annual fee. This can give you valuable benefits like room upgrades, premium internet, bonus points, and more. It sometimes even opens up a redemption option that wouldn’t be possible otherwise (Hilton’s fifth night free policy, for example, is restricted to elite members only).
Here’s a quick rundown of each chain and the co-branded cards that will help your points go even further:
- Club Carlson – The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature comes with automatic Gold status. Just holding the card gives you access to the program’s Bonus Award Night benefit; when you redeem Gold Points for two or more consecutive Award Nights, your last night is free.
- Hilton HHonors – The Hilton HHonors American Express card and Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature both give you immediate Silver status, while the Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card come with Gold status. Any of these cards automatically opens up the fifth night free benefit.
- Hyatt Gold Passport – The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase comes with automatic Platinum status.
- IHG Rewards – The IHG Rewards Club Select credit card gives you automatic (top-tier) Platinum status.
- Marriott Rewards – The Marriott Rewards Premier credit card gives you 15 elite night credits each year, which equals automatic Silver status.
- Starwood Preferred Guest – The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express (and business version, the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express) only give you 2 stays and 5 nights toward elite status. However, The Platinum Card from American Express grants automatic Gold status; you’ll just need to call the number on the back of your card to activate it.
Free hotel stays can be a wonderful thing, but there are mistakes that can sap some (or most) of the value out of your points redemptions. Hopefully this list has given you some strategies to avoid those mistakes on your next award booking!
What mistakes have you made when redeeming hotel points?
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||15.49% (Variable)||$95||0%||Excellent Credit|