How Buying Hotel Points Cost Me Extra — Reader Mistake Story

Feb 16, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Brian, who booked a hotel award without checking rates for his entire stay. Here’s what he had to say:

Every year my wife and I take our kids on a week-long trip somewhere in the U.S. One of our favorite destinations is Lincoln, Nebraska, which is where I earned my master’s degree. As I was making preparations for our trip there last year, I noticed Choice Hotels was having a flash sale on points with a discount of as much as 40 percent. I checked for properties in Lincoln and saw that we could get a decent hotel room listed as costing “from 10,000 points a night.” A five-night stay for 50,000 points seemed like a good deal, so I went ahead and purchased points at the discounted rate.

My mistake was that I assumed the room would actually cost 10,000 points per night, and I bought without looking at the price for each night. Unfortunately, the rate went up on some of the nights we were planning to be there, so the total for five nights was actually more than 50,000 points. It would have been a better deal to pay cash (with an AAA discount) for those nights and earn points instead of redeeming them. The lesson, in short, is that you shouldn’t assume booking an award will be your best option just because you get a great deal on points.

Choice
Choice Privileges doesn’t have fixed prices for hotel awards.

Brian made two mistakes here, the first of which was failing to check the revenue rate for his stay. This is a crucial step anytime you book an award, because it’s hard to tell whether you’re getting a good deal unless you know how much your trip would cost otherwise. Paying 10,000 points per night for a hotel room is a steal if that room normally goes for $500, but it’s a different story if you can get it for $50. Once you know the revenue rate, you can calculate the return you’d get by booking an award; then use my valuations (or your own) to decide whether to pay cash or redeem points.

Brian’s other mistake was assuming the award rate would be consistent from one night to the next. Some hotel programs (like Marriott Rewards and IHG Rewards) have fixed award charts, so rates are predictable apart from the occasional promotional discount. That’s not the case with Choice Privileges, which allows award rates to fluctuate with the cash price. As I write this, for example, HTL 587 in San Francisco prices at 16,000 points for a weeknight in mid-April, 20,000 points on the weekend, and 25,000 points on Valentine’s Day. Even programs with fixed rates may lack availability for each night of a longer visit, so I recommend pricing out your entire stay before buying points to book a hotel award.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Brian for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo courtesy of Choice Hotels.

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