Using Hotel Points to Save on Trips to Alaska
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My biggest take-away from our recent trip to Alaska is that it is a trip not to be put off any longer than necessary as Alaska is a Colorado-on-steroids-minus the hipsters-1950's style-outdoor adventures-utopia. This means that folks were actually using rest stops to picnic and play, camping along the way, packing their lunches, actually talking to each other, putting down electronics, and enjoying the absolutely breath-taking scenery at every turn. For most of us Alaska is pretty far away, just about as far as Europe from the southern, middle, and eastern parts of the country. Alaska can also be pretty expensive, but don't let that be the barrier. I can't help very much with the distance, but I can certainly help give you ideas to use miles and points to bring down the out-of-pocket cost of the trip.
I wrote a post on all the different ways you can use Airline Miles to Get to Alaska, which will obviously bring down the cost of your flights. This post is on how to use hotel points to bring down the cost of your hotel rooms in Alaska. Before I go any further I want to point out that chain hotels are not super common in Alaska outside of Anchorage. This means that your points using opportunities will be somewhat limited, but that doesn't mean you can't make use of the hotels that are available on your way. It just means you need to look harder and book in advance since you don't have too many choices outside Anchorage and a few other select cities. For example, the Holiday Inn Express Seward gets booked up in the summers, so if you see the dates you want available on points then grab them!
I used a mix of SPG and IHG Rewards points on our recent trip, and then used good old cash to stay at a log cabin on a horse ranch as well. I recommend a similar strategy of hotel points in the larger cities and then use cash or fixed value points like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to stay at log cabins or independent properties when you are a bit more off the beaten path, or just want a more "authentic" experience.
Planning Your Route Using Hotel Points:
In this post I have outlined some of the hotels you can stay at on points in Alaska, as well as circled some of the cities on the map where the hotels are located to give you a visual of where the chain hotels are clustered. In my experience, your best point options will be from Anchorage and south down to Seward and the Kenai area. If you find yourself up in Fairbanks you will also have a decent selection of points hotels, but there isn't too much between Anchorage and Fairbanks in the way of chain hotels.
I recommend using points as you start your trip in Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Juneau, and then supplement along the way with stays in non-points hotels, motels, and cabins. As I mentioned earlier you also really want to book as far in advance as possible with some of the chain hotels as they do book up during peak season.
The final thing you will likely notice pretty quickly is that the points using opportunities in Alaska are very different from the type of points you may be used to using for different types of vacations. Your Hyatt, SPG, and Club Carlson points won't do too much good in Alaska. Instead you have the most options with Best Western Rewards, Wyndham Rewards, and Choice Hotels. You will also not likely be taking advantage of the discounts you get with some reward programs for longer stays (such as 5th night free with SPG) as Alaska is just too spread out to headquarter out of one hotel for long periods of time.
Earning Tip: Check out this thread for the best offer I know of for the IHG Rewards credit card
Starwood Preferred Guest:
Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa - 10,000 points per night (cash + points seems virtually non-existent here)
We stayed at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel and Spa on points and overall had a good experience
Note that the price of HHonors hotels varies based on the peak season - these rates were taken from a random summer 2014 date.
Embassy Suites Anchorage - 70,000 HHonors points
Hilton Anchorage - 50,000 HHonors Points
Hampton Inn Anchorage - 50,000 HHonors Points
Hilton Garden Inn Anchorage - 60,000 HHonors points
Homewood Suites by Hilton Anchorage - 60,000 HHonors Points
Hampton Inn & Suites Fairbanks - 50,000 HHonors points
Earning Tip: Since the per night rates are relatively high in Alaska, at some properties you may be better off using the two weekend awards nights from the Citi® Hilton HHonorsTM Reserve Card sign-up bonus rather than getting a HHonors cards that awards points as a sign-up bonus (assuming your stay will be on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night).
SpringHill Suites Marriott Fairbanks - 25,000 points
Anchorage Marriott Downtown - 35,000 points
Residence Inn Anchorage Midtown - 35,000 points
SpringHill Suites Anchorage Midtown - 35,000 points
SpringHill Suites Anchorage University Lake - 30,000 points
Fairfield Inn & Suites Anchorage Midtown - 35,000 points
Courtyard Anchorage Airport - 35,000 points
TownPlace Suites Anchorage Midtown - 35,000 points (opening September 2014)
Best Western Rewards:
Best Western Golden Lion Hotel Anchorage - 24,000 points
Best Western Plus Edgewater Seward - 36,000 points
Best Western Lake Lucille Inn - 28,000 points
Best Western King Salmon Motel in Soldotna - 20,000 points
Best Western Grandma's Feather Bed in Juneau - 36,000 points (availability at this unique looking property was very limited here)
Best Western Bidarka Inn in Homer - 28,000 points
Best Western Country Lane Inn in Juneau - 28,000 points
Best Western Kodiak Inn and Convention Center in Kodiak - 28,000 points
Best Western Valdez Harbor - 28,000 points
Best Western Plus Chena River Lodge in Fairbanks - 28,000 points
Best Western Plus Pioneer Park Inn Fairbanks - 28,000 points
Best Western Gold Rush Inn Yukon - 28,000 points
Best Western Plus Landing Hotel Ketchikan - 32,000 points
Earning Tip: There is a Best Western credit card, but it only awards 16,000 points as a sign-up bonus. You can also transfer American Express Membership Reward points to Best Western at a 1:1 ratio, but that often isn't a good strategy unless you just need a few more points for an award. Also keep an eye out for Best Western points via the annual Daily Getaways sales.
Comfort Suites Anchorage Airport - 20,000 - 30,000 points per night
Comfort Inn Downtown Anchorage Ship Creek - 16,000 - 30,000 points per night
Clarion Suites Downtown Anchorage - 20,000 - 30,000 points per night
Quality Suites Anchorage Convention Center - 16,000 - 20,000 points per night
Quality Inn Kenai - 16,000 - 25,000 points per night
Comfort Inn Kodiak - 25,000 points per night
Earning Tip: There is a Choice Hotels credit card that awards up to 32,000 points as a sign-up bonus. You can also transfer American Express Membership Reward points to Choice Hotels at a 1:1 ratio, but that likely is only a good value to potentially "top off" to an award threshold. You can also transfer 1,250 Club Rewards points from Diners Club for 2,400 Choice Privileges points. Also keep an eye out for Choice points via the annual Daily Getaways sales. Choice stays can also only be booked 30 days in advance for members without any elite status.
Travelodge Fairbanks - 16,000 points
Super 8 Fairbanks - 16,0000 points
Super 8 Ketchikan - 16,000 points
Super 8 Juneau - 16,000 points
Travelodge Hotel Juneau - 20,000 points
Super 8 Sitka - 20,000 points
Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Eagle River/Anchorage Are - 14,000 points
Ramada Anchorage - 16,000 points
Super 8 Anchorage - 16,000 points
Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Anchorage Airport - 16,000 points
Earning Tip: I have seen a Wyndham Rewards card that pays out 30,000 points after the first purchase. That would alsmot be enough for two nights at some of the Alaska Wyndham properties. Also keep an eye out for Wyndham points via the annual Daily Getaways sales.
Sadly, there are no Club Carlson or Hyatt options in Alaska. As you can see Alaska, is a little bit different than some other destinations when it comes to the type of hotel points that are the most useful. You probably won't pay for all of your lodging in Alaska with hotel points, but that doesn't mean it can't factor into the equation at some points along your journey to keep some money in your pockets. I was very happy with our mix of chain properties on points and non-chain cabins for our trip, and I would try to do it in a similar fashion next time.
I know some of you have already used points in Alaska, so I would love to hear your tips and suggestions, too! Thanks for following along on this series to Alaska and I very much hope that you are able to visit one of our favorite states in the not-too-distant future. I can just about promise you a memorable family vacation.
Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links. The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, or commissioned by any company, bank, or card issuer.