How to Use Points and Miles to Stay in New Zealand for Free
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New Zealand is definitely a bucket-list destination for many a traveler, but it’s notoriously difficult to visit using points and miles. Even after overcoming the challenges of limited award availability on airlines, you’ll face the daunting task of finding points hotels, since there are relatively limited options from the major chains.
While Hyatt will be entering the country for the first time in 2018 with the brand-new Park Hyatt Auckland, neither Club Carlson, Marriott nor Starwood Preferred Guest currently have any properties in the country (though a Four Points By Sheraton will open in Auckland in November 2017). However, with a little creativity and a diverse selection of points currencies, you can still stay in the “Land of the Long White Cloud” without breaking the bank.
Hilton — While Hilton does not have many properties in New Zealand, it is a decent option for finding accommodations in the major cities. However, you’ll likely need to spend a hefty amount of Hilton Honors points for redemptions. For example, you can stay at the Hilton Auckland, but it will cost you about 60,000 Honors points per night. And if you plan on staying in the “adventure capital of the world” of Queenstown on the South Island, you can stay at the Doubletree by Hilton Queenstown for 30,000 Honors points or the Hilton Queenstown Resort and Spa for upwards of 50,000 Honors points per night. However, if you’re visiting the geothermal wonderland of the Tongariro National Park on the North Island, one of the best redemption options is to stay at the five-star Hilton Lake Taupo for under 30,000 Honors points per night.
You can earn Honors points with the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. This card has a $75 annual fee and charges a 2.7% fee on foreign transactions. There’s also the no-fee Hilton Honors Card from American Express, which is offering 50,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. (This latter card also charges a 2.7% fee on foreign transactions.) Hilton is also a transfer partner of the Citi ThankYou Rewards program, with a 1:1.5 ratio when you move over points earned with cards such as the Citi Prestige and the Citi Premier Card.
IHG — Like Hilton, IHG has properties in the major cities of Auckland, Queenstown and Wellington. However, if you want to be in the center of the action in these cities, you will likely need to spend between 35,000 and 40,000 IHG points per night. On the other hand, if you plan on visiting the heart of Maori culture and geothermal phenomena in Rotorua, one of the best redemption options is the Holiday Inn Rotorua, which costs just 20,000 points per night.
You can also use IHG’s Points & Cash option to find affordable options without depleting your points balance. For example, for 20,000 IHG points and $115 per night, you can stay at the beautiful Crowne Plaza Queenstown on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. And if you have the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, you can use the benefit of one free night each account anniversary year at any IHG property to alleviate out-of-pocket costs.
Wyndham — Wyndham offers accommodations in the major cities of Auckland, Christchurch, Queenstown and Rotorua. However, it also offers some unique properties, such as the beautiful Ramada Resort Reia Taipa Beach in the Bay of Islands region of the North Island and the Ramada Resort Wanaka in the picturesque haven of Wanaka on the South Island. The best part about Wyndham properties is that they offer a flat redemption rate for all hotels of 15,000 points per night. However, if you plan on booking one of these hotels, you should aim to reserve early and keep your travel dates flexible, as award availability tends to be fairly scarce.
Choice Hotels — With properties in 19 destinations throughout both the North and South Islands, Choice Hotels has one of the largest hotel footprints in New Zealand and is a great option for budget travelers who want to explore some of the country’s smaller towns and less-populated regions. Plus, with redemption rates between 10,000 and 25,000 points per night, these hotels are relatively affordable award options. Considering American Express Membership Rewards points can be transferred to the Choice Privileges program at a 1:1 ratio, you could use the current welcome bonus for The Platinum Card® from American Express of 60,000 points (after you spend $5,000 in the first three months) for up to six free nights.
Credit Card Programs
Chase Ultimate Rewards — Given that most New Zealand hotels aren’t affiliated with the major hotel chains, Chase points offer some of the most flexible and affordable redemption options via the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can redeem points for 1.25 cents per point at a variety of independent hotels throughout New Zealand, and if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the redemption rate rises to 1.5 cents per point. With these redemptions, you could stay at the Lakestone Lodge overlooking Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook on the South Island, which usually costs $339 per night, for only 22,577 points per night if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Capital One Venture Miles — While Capital One Venture miles don’t always offer the best redemptions, as the program lacks transfer partners and points can only be used toward travel purchases at a rate of 1 cent each, they can be extremely valuable in destinations like New Zealand where there aren’t many hotel options via the major chains or travel portals. Using the purchase eraser tool, you can book a hotel stay at any hotel with your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and then erase the charge using Venture miles. For example, you could book a stay overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the Hahei Oceanfront bed and breakfast, which normally retails for $300 per night, for 30,000 Venture miles.
While New Zealand is not the easiest destination for redeeming points and miles, there are still redemptions to be had if you’re flexible and have a stash of points with a variety of hotel loyalty programs. However, for those looking to travel outside the major population centers, it is best to use travel portals and flexible point currencies to enjoy the hidden gems of New Zealand for free.
What are your favorite loyalty currencies for booking award stays in New Zealand?
Featured image courtesy of Matteo Colombo via Getty Images.