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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
Most traveling families have a designated planner charged with making all travel arrangements and executing the travel budget (and if you’re reading this, I’m betting that person is you). This designated family travel planner knows that when it comes to a hotel, price is often not the most important factor for a family on the road. You need space, easy access to food, the ability to separate kids and adults and a myriad of other comforts to alleviate potential stress.
If you’re trying to forego paying for a hotel with cash altogether and book on points, the challenge to access all these comforts is significantly increased. Today, let’s look at six top strategies that families can use to earn amenities that make hotel nights booked with points as comfortable or luxurious as possible.
1. Earn Status via Shortcuts
Whenever possible, hotel status should be acquired for a traveling family. It’s the easiest way to confirm the most basic hotel comforts for a family, and can give you avenues to larger rooms, suites and better customer service when life happens and plans change. Earning hotel status the traditional way typically requires many nights on the road or money spent with a hotel chain, but the discerning traveler can forego these standard requirements and acquire status via shortcut methods. If you have hotel elite status — especially top-tier status — the rest of the strategies below are pretty much taken care of. Here are my recommendations to quickly earn status:
Challenges and Matches
Status challenges and matches appear from time to time with the major hotel chains. Marriott has a long running program allowing you to request a status challenge to Gold status if you had Silver status or no status, and challenge to Platinum status if you had Gold status. We can only hope a form of this challenge continues to exists in the combined program. Hilton Honors has also been generous over the last few years with status matches, and offered a challenge to Diamond just a few months ago. Last year, Hyatt offered a shortcut to top-tier Globalist status for those with the Hyatt Credit Card, which was the primary co-branded card it offered at the time.
Co-Branded Hotel Cards
Many co-branded hotel cards offer instant status for cardholders and provide an avenue to top-tier status if you put enough spending on the card. Here’s a quick rundown:
Hilton: The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card and Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card both offer automatic Gold status, and Diamond status if you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express provides automatic top-tier Diamond status, albiet with a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees).
New Marriott Program: If you’re now a legacy holder of The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card, you can spend $75,000 in a calendar year and earn Marriott Platinum status. The same spending on the soon to be launched Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury card will also earn you Platinum status. The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express will earn automatic Silver status and can earn Gold status with $30,000 in annual spending ($35,000 beginning in January 2019). The same automatic Silver status — and opportunity for Gold — applies to cardholders with the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card.
Hyatt: The new World of Hyatt Credit Card gives cardholders instant Hyatt Discoverist status. Additionally, for every $5,000 spent with the card, you’ll earn two elite qualifying nights with no cap on the number of nights you can earn each year. This effectively means that if you wanted, you could outright spend your way to Explorist status for $62,500 a year, or Globalist for $125,000 per year if you already have Globalist status. If you don’t already have Globalist status, you can spend your way to it by charging $140,000 on the card in a calendar year. Yes, those numbers are well out of range for most families, but it’s theoretically possible.
The Platinum Card® from American Express: If you hold any flavor of the Amex Platinum card, you’ll earn Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite and Hilton Gold status.
2. Gain Lounge Access
Regency Clubs, Executive Clubs, Grand Clubs — whatever you want to call them, hotel lounges are great for families. These lounges provide breakfast, snacks and drinks throughout the day, and often cocktail hours with appetizers in the evening. My kids are one and three years old, and the lounge has saved our skin at least a dozen times in their short existence. You can gain lounge access on your award nights via the following methods.
Access Lounges via Status
Hilton Diamond, Marriott Platinum and Hyatt Globalist status grant automatic lounge access on every hotel stay booked directly with the hotel. If you have Marriott Gold status in the new program or Hilton Gold status and are upgraded to an executive room, you’ll gain access. However, in my experience, that’s a rare occasion and cannot be counted on as a strategy.
Upgrade to Lounge Access With Points
You can upgrade to a premium room with lounge access by using more points on award nights with the three major hotel loyalty programs. With Hyatt, an upgrade to a room with lounge access will cost you between 2,000-9,000 additional World of Hyatt points per night — really a steal in my opinion for so few points. Hyatt Explorist members also receive four lounge upgrade certificates per year.
With Hilton, premium room award nights can cost a significant amount of additional points, so I typically don’t even consider trying to upgrade on award nights, but it’s an option. In the new Marriott program, we aren’t quite sure what upgrading on award nights will look like. You can currently redeem additional Marriott points and cash for an upgrade certificate, with properties sometimes requiring multiple certificates to upgrade to a premium room.
3. Acquire Free Breakfast
Starting the day off with a solid breakfast is my go-to strategy to avoid a grumpy mom or kids, and not having to hunt down breakfast outside the hotel or pay hotel breakfast prices is the best way for me to avoid a grumpy start. The above methods of acquiring status and lounge access will get you breakfast on the table at a hotel, but here are a couple other options to consider:
- Book a Holiday Inn Express with IHG points — breakfast is included for all guests (and it’s a hearty offering).
- Book a Hyatt Place with Hyatt points (for now — Hyatt House?)
- Book a TownePlace Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Residence Inn or Springhill Suites with Marriott points.
- Book Canopy by Hilton, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Home2 Suites or Homewood Suites with Hilton points.
4. Upgrade to Suites
Upgrades to better views and locations are nice, but suites are fantastic for a family who wants to spread out. There are a few ways to confirm upgrades to a suite on an award stay. With Marriott, top-tier Platinum Elite members receive five single-night suite certificates, while Platinum Premier Elite members receive an additional five single-night certificates. Marriott also says suites are available for Platinum Elite and above members at check-in, but they’re not guaranteed.
Hyatt Globalists receive four suite upgrade certificates per year, valid for a stay of up to seven nights. Globalist members are also given suite upgrades at check-in, as long as the property’s designated base suite is still available. Hyatt allows anyone regardless of status to pay additional points for award nights in a suite based on the Hyatt award chart (see above). A suite will cost between 8,000-48,000 World of Hyatt points per night based on the hotel category — again, a great value in my opinion. This is also a good time to remind you that you can instantly transfer points into the World of Hyatt program from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve at a 1:1 ratio.
Hilton doesn’t give Diamond members a way to confirm a suite night in advance, but you could get lucky at check-in with a suite upgrade. I’ve personally never received a Hilton suite as a Diamond member, but my sample size is relatively small compared to most Diamond members, and there are plenty of success stories of complimentary suite upgrades.
5. Last Ditch Effort: Book Two Rooms With Points, Then Strategize
If you don’t have status, can’t achieve lounge access and there isn’t a workable property offering free breakfast, here’s what I would recommend to be comfortable on an award stay — suck it up and book two rooms with points. You can then call and request adjoining rooms which share a door, essentially giving yourself a suite (and two bathrooms — also often clutch). Putting together two adjoining rooms can work extremely well if you have a big family or are traveling overseas (where occupancy limits can wreck havoc). If you’re paying with cash, inquire about a discounted connecting room.
The other option I’ve seen that has relatively surprising success is requesting a suite instead of the two rooms. While it may seem laughable, properties have often obliged. TPG reader Toni, world-traveling mother of four, has booked two rooms with points ten times in Guatemala, Paris and Zurich, and received a suite eight of those ten times upon request. That’s a pretty amazing batting average!
Large family travel expert Dan Miller reports a solid batting average by booking a base hotel room on points and then inquiring about upgrading to a suite. This often results in him getting either a complimentary upgrade or a reasonable co-pay to secure a suite for his large family.
6. Wyndham Rewards
Every Wyndham property in the world costs 15,000 points per night, including some of the all-inclusive and resort properties. Viva Wyndham resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico contain adults-only and family friendly all-inclusive properties that can give you everything you’re looking for at a cost of just 15,000 points per night.
But you don’t have to stick with all-inclusives. For instance, the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando is a great place for a theme park trip to Florida. You can even get award nights at condos and vacation properties around the world at the same cost of 15,000 Wyndham points per bedroom, per night. TPG Senior Points and Miles Contributor Jason Steele recently took his family to the Wyndham Mauna Loa Village in Kona — where all rooms are suites — for the cost of 15,000 points per night. So don’t forget the Wyndham Rewards program when you’re on the hunt for your next family vacation award night.
The perfect award stay for my own family is a Hyatt Globalist suite upgrade certificate applied to an award booking at a family-friendly property with a solid club lounge. Extra space, lounge access, breakfast and top-notch customer service make almost every stay a great experience.
Obviously this isn’t possible for everyone, but if mid- or top-tier hotel elite status isn’t feasible for you, look to find a larger room and breakfast by booking a Marriott or Hilton “suites” property with points, which conveys free breakfast for every guest. Also, keep a stash of Wyndham points in your inventory since Wyndham’s flat award chart and variety of properties can help you out in a pinch. And just remember that while there are plenty of strategies available to make your next family award stay more comfortable, you’ll have to put in some effort to get the maximum return.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
Featured image by Summer Hull / Flytographer.
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