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How I went from hostels to hotels with points and miles

Aug. 18, 2022
14 min read
Sydney Harbour YHA - The Rocks
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When my husband and I started traveling, we often stayed in guesthouses and hostels. We appreciated the low prices and the budget-friendly amenities and activities these properties had to offer.

However, as we started traveling more and working remotely, we found ourselves wanting to branch out beyond these affordable accommodations. So, over time, we transitioned from guesthouses and hostels to hotels.

At first glance, shifting to hotels may seem like a pricier way to go. But as we learned, there are perks that come with hotel stays that are just as valuable as saving money on the room itself.

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Here's how we made the switch from guesthouses and hostels to hotels and saved money along the way.

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Staying at guesthouses and hostels

A dorm room at Mahana Lodge Hostel & Backpackers in Papeete, French Polynesia. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

The first trip I planned for myself was to Mexico City in 2012. In search of an affordable place to stay in the heart of the city, I settled on a guesthouse in the historic city center that happened to be inexpensive.

After having such a great experience at that property, I was sold on the guesthouse concept. Having access to hotel-style rooms and, occasionally, other facilities like shared kitchens and self-serve laundry seemed like an ideal way to travel without spending a lot of money.

So, as I began taking solo trips, I decided to try out a few European hostels to see if those were equally enjoyable. I quickly found that yes, I also liked staying in hostels.

What to expect at guesthouses and hostels

A bungalow at Pension Espace Beach in Maupiti, French Polynesia. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Typically composed of private rooms and dorms, hostels (and some guesthouses) often offer kitchens and self-serve laundry or inexpensive laundry services, among other perks. The good ones even organize complimentary activities.

I loved having access to these features, as being able to cook my own meals and wash clothes without dropping a ton of cash went a long way as a student and recent graduate.

Knowing I had a couple of room options to choose from was great, too, since I didn't always travel the same way. While I usually booked a female dorm when traveling by myself, I often opted for a private room when my husband or friends were with me. (Keep in mind, though, that private rooms are generally pricier than dorms, so you may need to skip these if your budget is really tight.)

How to maximize your savings when staying at guesthouses and hostels

A private room in a hostel in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

You can find inexpensive guesthouses and hostels in many destinations across the globe. For example, we paid $21 per night for a private hostel room in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Another time, I paid $19 per night for a private hostel room in Belgrade, Serbia.

There are also times when other expenses may be included in a property's room rate. For instance, during one trip to Germany, we paid only $58 per night for a coworking guesthouse that included ample workspace throughout the property, high-speed internet and all our meals.

Regardless of which guesthouse or hostel you choose, there are several ways you can stretch your dollars further:

  • Speak with the property manager or owner if you're interested in extending your stay, as they may offer you a discount for booking directly on-site instead of through an online travel agency.
  • When visiting expensive destinations, pick a property with money-saving amenities like self-serve laundry and cooking facilities.
  • If you need fast, reliable internet during your stay, look at Booking.com's internet rating to see if the property you're interested in will meet your internet needs.
  • Always compare the cost of multiple dorm beds to a private room when traveling as a couple or group.
  • Turn to a site like Google Hotels to look at prices for your property of choice, as rates can vary significantly from one online travel agency (OTA) to another.

How you book your stay matters as well. For many years, we booked every guesthouse and hostel we visited through Booking.com, as we earned affiliate rewards through our small business' referral link. However, when the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card started offering 10 miles per dollar spent on Hotels.com bookings in January 2018 (a promotion that ended in January 2020), we switched to using Hotels.com Rewards. The high earning rate and the ability to earn a complimentary night after every 10 nights booked because of our Hotels.com Rewards membership helped decrease our overall lodging costs.

Related: 9 things people misunderstand about traveling on a budget

Transitioning to IHG and Choice hotels

A room at the InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort in Vietnam. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

When my husband and I started traveling as digital nomads in 2017, we slowly shifted away from guesthouses and hostels. Doing so wasn't a purposeful decision but rather a result of constant frustrations with unreliable Wi-Fi and noisy, uncomfortable places to work.

Since we were both writing about hotel rewards, credit cards and elite status for a living, we also found ourselves wanting to use some of the redemptions and benefits we regularly wrote about. So, we started staying more frequently at lower-priced hotels.

What to expect at budget-friendly hotel brands

The Holiday Inn Resort Batam in Indonesia. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Offering considerably less expensive nights (on average) than higher-end brands like Marriott and Hyatt, IHG and Choice quickly became appealing options for us as we started staying at hotels.

Sure, both brands' loyalty programs lacked valuable elite perks (although IHG recently improved its perks with the new IHG One Rewards program), but we were able to easily snag mid-tier Platinum Elite status with IHG as a perk of the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card. Not to mention, we loved that we could often book inexpensive rooms that didn't cost much more than what we'd previously spent on stays at guesthouses and hostels.

Although many of the cheaper rooms were minimally appointed with little beyond essentials like desks, beds and basic coffee makers, they were an upgrade from what we were used to at guesthouses and hostels. It also didn't hurt that the redemption rates for award nights were easily attainable.

How to maximize your savings when staying at IHG and Choice hotels

A room at the Holiday Inn Johannesburg Airport in South Africa. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

One benefit of the IHG and Choice hotel chains is that you can usually find a hotel at a modest rate in most destinations. While $20-a-night stays were long gone, we found the prices at IHG and Choice hotels to be well within reason.

During past trips, we paid just $69 per night for a centrally located Holiday Inn in Sydney and $57 per night for a Holiday Inn Express in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Both brands' loyalty programs are simple to understand and make it easy to leverage points when you book directly, especially with Choice, which rarely charges more than 30,000 points per night for award stays.

For example, we've been able to snag rooms in multiple Japanese cities for only 8,000 Choice Privileges points per night — a redemption that you can still find and book in places like Osaka and Tokyo. We've also redeemed 6,000 Choice Privileges points per night to stay in Brooklyn, New York, and 8,000 Choice Privileges points per night to live out of an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic.

Likewise, we've redeemed a mere 5,000 IHG points per night to stay at a Holiday Inn in Nola, Italy, and 15,000 points per night to bed down at the beautiful InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort in Vietnam.

To increase how much money stays in your wallet, be sure to take advantage of points sales. I can almost always get much better than TPG's valuation for IHG — and the price at which I can buy IHG points during 100% bonus sales — when I redeem IHG points.

Consider getting the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card, too, if you plan on frequenting IHG properties. It offers a fourth-night-free reward perk, meaning every fourth night on IHG award stays lasting four or more nights costs zero points.

Related: 9 tips for taking a luxury vacation on a budget

Adding on Marriott and Hyatt hotels

Alila Fort Bishangarh's Regal Suite in India. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

While my husband and I initially didn't mind that the IHG and Choice rewards programs didn't provide many elite perks, we eventually found ourselves wanting more for our loyalty. Despite maintaining IHG Platinum Elite status (a benefit of the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card) and earning status with Choice organically through stays, we received very few benefits besides elevated earnings and the occasional upgrade.

So, after stumbling into Platinum Elite status with Marriott out of convenience back in 2019 — when we stayed 50 nights with Marriott solely because the brand's hotels were often the best options available in destinations we were visiting at the time — we decided to focus more on the Marriott Bonvoy program. My husband's Platinum Elite status coupled with my newly earned World of Hyatt Globalist status, which I received when Hyatt offered decreased elite qualification requirements and offered a double elite nights promotion in early 2021, made us incredibly curious to see what travelers liked about both programs.

What to expect at higher-end hotel brands

A sunrise overwater villa at Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Despite paying more per night (on average), resulting in our annual lodging costs increasing, we've found ourselves getting a lot of value out of Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt.

With Marriott, we enjoy receiving complimentary breakfast at many properties and especially appreciate the guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout benefit that comes with our elite status. This latter perk alone has led to us staying at more Marriott hotels.

Hyatt gives Globalists a number of perks, including club lounge access, room upgrades (like this impressive one I got at Alila Fort Bishangarh in India) and late checkout at 4 p.m. If you book award nights for friends or family, you can also gift your elite benefits to those staying via Hyatt's "Guest of Honor" perk.

Many travelers believe World of Hyatt Globalist status is the best hotel elite status, and after accumulating many stays as a Globalist member, I can understand why.

How to maximize your savings when staying at Marriott and Hyatt hotels

A room at the Hyatt House Johannesburg Sandton in South Africa. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Although cash rates are generally higher for Marriott and Hyatt properties, we've been able to use Marriott and Hyatt points to decrease lodging costs and stay within budget — much like we've done with IHG and Choice. For example, redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points at the former Category 2 Protea Hotel Kruger Gate in South Africa provided outsized value.

There are impressive Category 1 and 2 Hyatt properties where you can get excellent value when redeeming relatively few World of Hyatt points, too. For instance, I've been able to book Category 1 hotels at places like airport properties in Atlanta, Hyatt Houses in South Africa and a Hyatt Regency in Dubai for just 3,500 World of Hyatt points per night on off-peak dates.

Best of all, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio, so it's easy to earn Hyatt points to cash in for free nights.

As a general rule of thumb, we use points when cash rates are high enough to let us get more than TPG's valuation when redeeming. However, free night awards from hotel credit cards have also let us enjoy some impressive properties simply because we have affiliated hotel credit cards with modest annual fees. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card, which has a $95 annual fee, offers a free night award worth up to 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points every year after your account anniversary.

Resort fees are not waived for award stays with Marriott like they are with Hyatt, though, so you may want to avoid Marriott properties with pricey resort fees if you're looking for a way to cut costs.

Related: 14 cities where you can book luxury hotels at budget prices

Bottom line

A room at the Category 1 Park Hyatt Chennai in India. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Everyone has different travel budgets, but if you visit destinations with inexpensive hotels, stay at affordable brands and leverage hotel points, you'll find that hotels won't put as much of a dent in your wallet as you may expect.

For example, it's still possible to find award rates for less than 10,000 points with most of the major hotel loyalty programs. You may also find that select destinations — like Dubai and Bogota, Colombia — offer low cash rates year-round or during off-peak times.

While guesthouses and hostels in many locales often cost less, I've found that I can usually get more out of my stays at hotels. To get good value from your hotel stays, follow one or more of these tips:

  • Compare paid rates with award rates to decide which option will provide better value.
  • Consider staying slightly outside your destination for lower points or cash rates.
  • Look for brands that provide complimentary breakfast for all (such as Holiday Inn Express and Quality Inn) or offer breakfast as a benefit at your elite tier, if you have status.
  • Pick an extended stay property like Candlewood Suites or TownePlace Suites if you need more space or apartment-like amenities, such as self-serve laundry and kitchen facilities.
  • Check for hotel promotions, such as Choice's frequent stay twice and earn 8,000 points promotion.

Before you know it, you'll be well on your way toward enjoying hotel stays that don't break the bank.

Featured image by Roof-top views at Sydney Harbour YHA - The Rocks in Australia (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
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Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees