8 Easy Ways to Save Money on Accommodations in Europe

Jun 20, 2016

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Card, Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card, The Hyatt Credit Card, Citi Prestige Card, Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard

Madrid-based TPG Contributor Lori Zaino offers her best tips for saving money on accommodations in Europe.

So, you’ve figured out the best way to use some miles to snag an award ticket to Europe — now it’s time to think about where you’re staying. Luckily, there are tons of points hotel options all over Europe, whether you’re in the mood for an historic Starwood hotel or feel like staying in something a little more local. Here are eight easy ways to save on accommodations in Europe, presented below in no particular order.

1. Pay Attention to Points Properties

The W Paris Opera is now a Category 6 property, having gone down a Category.
The W Paris Opera is now a Category 6 property that dropped from a 7 in 2015.

Many European cities have hotels that’ll allow you to redeem points for a few free nights. Check out TPG’s monthly valuation series to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.

It’s always a good idea to be aware of any new hotel category changes so you can take advantage of any European properties where prices have decreased. For example, in 2015, the Hilton Mainz City in Germany dropped from a Category 5 to a Category 4 property starting at just 30,000 Hilton HHonors points per night — the W Paris – Opéra also went from being a Category 7 to a Category 6, saving you 10,000 Starpoints per night. Check out TPG’s lists of Starwood and IHG properties that offer great redemptions, as there are some really nice European properties listed.

IHG offers PointBreaks, reduced award redemptions that cost just 5,000 points per night. The list of eligible hotels changes on a regular basis and includes hotels that typically run 30,000 to 50,000 points per night.

For more tips and a hopefully error-free experience, read this post about nine mistakes to avoid when redeeming hotel points.

2. Take Advantage of Free Nights

The Citi Prestige 4th night free hotel benefit is a great perk.
The Citi Prestige 4th night free hotel benefit is a great perk.

Many hotel programs such as Starwood (for Category 3-7 properties) and Marriott will give you a fifth night free after you redeem points for four nights, so it may be a great idea to spend a longer time in one particular place to utilize this benefit. Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card users also receive a fifth night free benefit on award redemptions.

The Citi Prestige card’s Fourth Night Free perk is also quite nifty, especially the fact that there’s no limit to how many times you can use this benefit for paid bookings and it can be used at any hotel of your choice. It also seems that there’s no limit to how much the card will cover since TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig received a $1,490 rebate for his fourth free night on a recent trip. Note that you need to book your paid hotel stay through Citi’s Travel Concierge service in order to receive this benefit. In addition, when you sign up for the Citi Prestige, you’ll earn 50,000 ThankYou Points after spending $3,000 in the first three months — although the card comes with a hefty $450 annual fee, it also comes with $250 in free airline credit and you’ll be able to get 3x points on air travel and hotels, among other perks.

3. Sign Up For Cards That Give You Enough Points for a Free Night

  • The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card lets you earn 5 points per dollar at all Ritz-Carlton and Marriott partner properties, and offers the following benefits: Three Ritz-Carlton Club Level upgrades on paid stays at Ritz-Carlton properties per year; a 10% annual points premium; a $100 hotel credit on paid stays of two or more nights; a $300 annual travel credit; and no foreign transaction fees. Note that there’s a $395 annual fee. You’ll also get two complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of opening your account.
  • With the Hyatt Credit Card, you’ll receive two free nights at any Hyatt property after making $2,000 in purchases within the first three months. You’ll also score a free anniversary night at a Category 1-4 property each year, plus cardholders automatically receive Discoverist status.
  • The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card gives you 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 within the first three months opening your account, plus a free night at a Category 1-5 property on your account anniversary.
  • Using the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, you can earn two weekend night certificates, good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within the first four months of account opening.

4. Consider Cash + Points Redemptions 

Whereas it might not always be the best value, in some cases using Cash + Points redemptions can make sense if you’re looking to stay at properties that require more points than you currently have. Definitely check TPG’s monthly valuation before you book to make sure you are coming out on top. Cash + Points awards are available at Hyatt, IHG, Starwood, Hilton, Wyndham and Marriott properties.

My last Airbnb rental in Trastevere, Rome. So quaint! Image by Lori Zaino.
My last Airbnb rental in Trastevere, Rome. So quaint! Image by Lori Zaino.

5. Go Local: Opt for Hostels, B&Bs and Apartment Rentals

Contrary to popular belief, hostels can actually be really nice — nowadays, some even call themselves “poshtels.” Some of them still are the typical 10-room bunk bed spots geared toward backpackers, but many hostels — especially in Mediterranean countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy — are much more like boutique hotels featuring double rooms that come with private bathrooms. Don’t discount these properties, as I’ve stayed in charming hostels throughout Europe, sometimes for less than $50 per night.

If you don’t have a stash of hotel points handy, apartment rentals offered through companies like Airbnb and VRBO are typically much cheaper than hotels and often give you a lot more room to play with, as they may include a number of bedrooms plus a kitchen, bathroom and living space. Renting a place in a funky neighborhood is also a great way to experience a city like the locals do. Staying in an ivy-covered flat in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, buying fresh food at local markets to cook in your kitchen and hanging your laundry outside will not only save you money, but also give you a more authentic experience than a chain hotel in the city center.

Note that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard both code Airbnb rentals as “travel agencies and tour operators,” which means your bookings will earn 2x points. However, be aware that other apartment rental agencies, including VRBO and HomeAway, are coded as “real estate agents and managers,” so you won’t earn 2x points. TPG’s post about using merchant category codes to maximize bonuses may be helpful to browse through before you book. For more tips and tricks for making the most of vacation home rentals, check out this post.

6. Use Last-Minute Booking Apps Like Hotel Tonight

Get last-minute hotel deals with Hotel Tonight.
Get last-minute hotel deals with Hotel Tonight.

If you end up planning a last-minute trip, use an app like Hotel Tonight to book lodgings up to seven days in advance or even the day of. This could also be useful if you have a problem with any of your pre-booked accommodations and need to head elsewhere with short notice. Download the app before you leave and use promo code BKELLY99 when booking to receive a special discount.

7. Always Ask for Upgrades

Every single time I check into a hotel I ask for an upgrade and I would say about 30% of the time, I get it! You’d be surprised at how much a front desk clerk appreciates a smile and it never hurts to ask — the worst thing that could happen is they say no, and the best, well, perhaps a suite with a view! Of course, holding hotel elite status is also a great way to get upgrades and perks, too — for more info on hotel elite status and how to get it, check out this post.

8. Transfer Credit Card Points to Hotel Loyalty Programs

Transfer credit card loyalty program points to hotel programs.
Transferring credit card points to hotel loyalty programs can also help you save on accommodations.

If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Points, you can transfer them to certain hotel loyalty programs to redeem award nights. You can also book a variety of hotels directly through each credit card company’s respective travel portals, which may be easier to do if you’re just getting started with points and miles but overall probably won’t give you the best value. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to World of Hyatt, IHG Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Marriott Rewards. Amex Membership Rewards can be transferred to Hilton HHonors, SPG and Club Carlson, while Citi ThankYou points can be transferred to Hilton HHonors.

A Final Tip

When traveling throughout Europe, use credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Citi Prestige that don’t charge foreign transaction fees — both of these cards also offer bonus points for travel and dining categories so they are ideal to use when paying for hotels and meals on the road. For more fee-free credit card options, check out this post.

What are your best tips for saving money on accommodations in Europe? Let us know, below!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.