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An important part of award travel is learning how and where to find value, and recognizing that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at one such strategy for boosting your rewards with hotel loyalty programs.
Even if you’re new to the points and miles game, you’ve probably heard the term “mileage run” before. In essence, a mileage run is when a traveler takes a flight (or series of flights) for the sole purpose of earning miles. While it’s debatable whether such endeavors are still worthwhile (thanks to revenue requirements), mileage runs can help you earn (or requalify for) airline elite status, especially as the year winds down.
In this post, I want to explore “mattress runs,” which are the hotel equivalent of mileage runs. These hotel stays in pursuit of points or elite status typically receive less airtime, but are still used regularly by award travel enthusiasts. In this post, I’ll explore the mattress run phenomenon to help you decide whether they’re ever worthwhile, and in what circumstances.
What exactly is a mattress run?
Let’s start with a quick overview of a mattress run. In its simplest form, a mattress run is when you book and pay for a hotel room (that you otherwise wouldn’t need) in order to earn rewards or elite status. The idea is that by completing your stay, you receive greater value than what you spent on the stay. Purists would argue that in a true mattress run, you never even visit the room! Instead, you just check in and leave the property, content to let the hotel award you points or elite credits without using any of the amenities.
While it might sound wasteful or outlandish, completing a mattress run can make sense for a number of reasons. Here are a few:
1. To earn (or requalify for) elite status.
Earlier in the year, I wrote a series of posts that analyzed the value of hotel elite status, and even the lower levels of each program carry solid value. If you’re just a few stays or nights short of a given status level, it may make sense to find an inexpensive room (or two) as the end of the year approaches and your window to qualify for elite status closes. Each of my valuations saw a huge jump between tiers, so even if you spend a few hundred dollars to earn higher status, you may get more than that in return as you reap the higher benefits for the entire next year.
TPG faced this dilemma back in 2012, questioning whether mattress running to requalify for Hyatt Diamond was worthwhile. In the end, he decided that it made sense, and was able to enjoy another full year of status (including a variety of benefits like suite upgrades and bonus points on every stay). I personally have loved being Hyatt Diamond for the last two years, and have received some pretty terrific perks at properties like the Andaz Wall Street, so I wholeheartedly support this decision!
Keep in mind that many hotel (and other) credit cards come with automatic elite status (or the ability to earn elite status through spending), so completing a mattress run isn’t the only way to reach a higher tier. For example, the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card offers automatic Gold status, while both the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card and the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express offer automatic Gold status, as well as the opportunity to earn Diamond status by spending $40,000 each year. Here are several others:
- Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card and the Hilton HHonors Card from American Express — automatic Silver status;
- Hyatt Credit Card — automatic Platinum Status;
- IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card — automatic Platinum Elite status;
- Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card — automatic Silver status (through the 15 elite night credits awarded each year);
- Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express — no automatic status, but credits for 2 stays and 5 nights toward elite status every year.
2. To earn points toward a specific redemption.
When you have a specific (and lucrative) award redemption in mind, but you’re just short of the required number points, a mattress run to earn the remaining balance could make sense. For example, if the extra points would unlock an award night that saves you $500, then spending $100 for an unnecessary stay might be a relative bargain. This is especially true if you’re afraid that standard award inventory will disappear before you can earn the extra points through traditional methods. However, keep in mind that you may have better options:
- Marriott Rewards allows you to book an award stay when you’re short on points; you just need to earn the rest prior to check-in. This removes the urgency to earn extra points to cover a specific redemption, since you can lock in the award and then worry about earning the points.
- Many hotel programs are partners with transferable points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards (Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton), American Express Membership Rewards (Best Western Rewards, Choice Privileges, Hilton HHonors and SPG) and Citi ThankYou Rewards (Hilton HHonors). These programs allow you to transfer points directly and with little to no out-of-pocket expense. Naturally, this option doesn’t help if you’re seeking elite status, but if you just need to boost your loyalty account, transferable points can help.
- If you’re thinking about spending $100 on a hotel stay solely to earn points, you may want to consider getting one of the credit cards listed above instead. While it will take some time to earn those points (by meeting the minimum spending requirement for the sign-up bonus), it can be much more lucrative thanks to the added perks offered to cardholders.
3. To take advantage of a bonus.
Another time when a mattress run may make sense is when a program offers a one-time bonus for hotel stays. I did this with Club Carlson earlier in the year thanks to the 30,000 points the program was (and still is) offering for completing a stay and paying with your Club Carlson Visa. This is a “consolation prize” for cardholders who lost the bonus night award benefit in June.
I managed to find a very inexpensive stay in Orlando at the Park Inn by Radisson Resort & Conference Center, a property that made my list of awesome Club Carlson redemptions given its proximity to Disney World. In the end, I spent a total of $74.07 out-of-pocket to earn 35,182 points (worth over $175 at the time, but now worth just $140.73 based on TPG’s most recent valuations).
I’m facing a somewhat similar situation right now with Hyatt’s summer promotion. I was targeted for a bonus of 20,000 points after 10 nights, and just last week I received an email reminder indicating that I’m just four nights away from earning the bonus:
I had two Hyatt nights last week and have another coming up later in the month, but I have no other plans to stay in Hyatt properties before the promotion ends on September 30th. However, 20,000 Gold Passport points are worth $360 based on TPG’s valuations, so I should make an effort to stay at least one more night to earn the bonus. I found AAA rates at the Hyatt Place Orlando Airport for just $89/night, so I’ll likely make my second ever mattress run to ensure that I bank the 20,000 points to my account.
This analysis only captures part of the decision-making process when it comes to mattress runs. There are a few other things that you should consider:
- Additional out-of-pocket costs — You usually have to spend something in addition to the room rate to complete a mattress run. This might be gas and/or wear and tear on your car driving to your local hotel, or it could be an additional meal that you wouldn’t have paid for at home. You also should account for your time; as my freshman year economics professor would say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch!”
- Turning a mattress run into a vacation — My analysis above assumes that the stay is a true mattress run, taken solely for the purpose of earning points or elite status credit. However, things change a bit if you can turn a mattress run into an actual vacation for you, family and/or friends. It’s a lot easier to justify a superfluous hotel stay if you can get some additional value out of it (beyond loyalty program benefits).
- Checking in vs. no-show — Generally speaking, hotel loyalty programs won’t award points or elite status credits to confirmed guests who simply don’t show up. However, at least once I have had a hotel give me credit for a no-show stay. I forgot to notify a Starwood property when a snowstorm cancelled my business trip, but a few days later, the points posted to my account. Just be aware that booking and paying for a reservation likely won’t be enough. You’ll probably need to actually check in to the property (either in person or virtually) to earn points and credit for the stay.
Mattress running isn’t for everyone, but it can be a viable strategy to take advantage of a promotion or earn additional credits toward elite status. A pure mattress run means you don’t even enjoy any of the hotel’s amenities, but if you can convert a mattress run into an actual vacation, all the better!
Have you taken a mattress run? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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