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What to Do When Hotel Points Are Worthless

May 01, 2019
7 min read
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Here at TPG, we publish our monthly valuations of points and miles, but there are times when it seems hard to assign any value to hotel points. Let me clarify that I don't think my hotel points are completely worthless in that they don't have any worth or value. I'm glad we have them, and we've used them and will continue to use them to help travel for less.

That being said, in the right situation, it doesn't matter if you have 100 or a million hotel points at your disposal. There's simply no good way to use them. Our family has an upcoming trip where we're facing this exact dilemma of seemingly worthless hotel points.

Current Hotel Program Balances

Between me and my wife, we have the following hotel point balances across the major programs (rounded to the nearest thousand):

  • Best Western: 112,000
  • Hilton: 331,000
  • Hyatt: 34,000
  • IHG: 63,000
  • Marriott: 100,000
  • Radisson: 131,000
  • Wyndham: 66,000

Note that these numbers are in addition to a decent stash of transferable points (notable Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards) that we could use to transfer to many of these hotel chains. Most of these points have come over the last few years through careful applications for new credit cards as well as taking advantage of hotel promotions like IHG Accelerate.

Neither one of us has a ton of paid work travel where we'd be getting points, and I know we should do a better job of burning these hotel points (since devaluations happen all the time!). We're just having a hard time doing so for a trip this summer.

Flying My Family to Europe

We have traveled domestically here in the United States, and we've gone on one-on-one trips with just one or two of our kids, but to this point, we have not yet traveled internationally as a full family of eight.

My son and I visiting the mountaintop monasteries of Meteora Greece.

But that's changing this summer, as we have tickets for all eight of us to visit Lisbon and Barcelona. We booked the tickets a few months ago, taking advantage of a cheap fare sale on TAP Portugal. We payed about 22,000 Citi ThankYou points per person, round-trip.

With the trip coming up, we've been trying to firm up the details of where we're going to stay and what we're going to do. I figured that our big stash of hotel points would cover our lodging, but I'm having trouble finding a way to use them.

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Navigating Hotel Occupancy "Limits"

Our family of eight obviously has a harder time than most staying at hotels, and that's fine — I accept that. Here in the US, I generally treat hotel occupancy limits as "suggestions" rather than hard-and-fast rules, and I usually have no problem booking a room at a hotel that might list an occupancy of less than eight, as long as I think my family will be comfortable.

But overseas (especially in Europe), even "normal-sized" families run into issues. Not only are the occupancy limits much smaller (an occupancy limit of 2 on a standard room is not uncommon); hotels are quite strict about making sure how many people are staying. Usually they cite fire codes, and whether that's actually the real reason, I've heard enough stories of travelers being forced to pay extra money at check-in for extra people to know that I didn't want to try it.

So let's look at a couple of hotel options at which we were looking to use our points. First, here's the Hilton Barcelona. With my top-tier Diamond status, if this were a domestic hotel, I'd feel pretty comfortable about booking the hotel and getting an upgrade to a suite (possibly even one that would fit our whole family in one room). We'd also enjoy executive lounge access as a bonus! But in Barcelona, here's what comes up for award rooms:

And that room has an occupancy of limit of just two! In order to accommodate my entire family, we'd need to spend over 500,000 Hilton points per night for a total of four rooms — thanks but no thanks.

Now let's take a look at the Lisbon Marriott.

70,000 points per night gives you a maximum occupancy of three (2 adults and 1 child). When I up my search to 4 people, the results only include the Presidential Suite as a possibility — for €385 Euros and no availability using points. 210,000 Marriott points per night is a bit better than Hilton but still not something on which I'm willing to spend my hotel points. Other hotels are similarly out of range for my points budget.

Now What?

So now that I've ruled out using any of my hotel points, I am turning more and more to vacation rentals like VRBO or Airbnb. Even that ends up being pretty expensive, depending on where we want to stay and how close to the city (I know... I know... #largefamilyproblems). One added bonus of staying in an Airbnb or other vacation rental is having a kitchen to help cut down on food costs.

(SEE ALSO: 5 Tips for Feeding a Large Family on Vacation (Without Going Broke)

Many vacation rentals even offer discounts for week-long or longer stays, though I do miss my fifth night free at Hilton / Marriott.

For families slightly smaller than my own, there are a handful of properties in Europe that do allow higher occupancy levels. They won't help me, but you can snag rooms using points if you're a family of four. For details, check out our guides to London and Paris hotels that allow for point redemptions for two adults and two children.

If these aren't viable pathways, another option could be to use fixed-value points to cover the cost of a place to stay. While this won't necessarily result in maximum value for your points, it can nevertheless be a great way to minimize your out-of-pocket costs.

For example, here's an available room through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal in London for a five-night stay in July that would accommodate my entire family:

Note that this rate is available to holders of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, as each Ultimate Rewards point is worth 1.5 cents toward travel for these individuals. It's amazing to think that I'd need to transfer 20,000-25,000 points to World of Hyatt to book just one night in a standard room in London for those same dates.

Bottom Line

There are certain places where it's hard (if not downright impossible) to use your hotel points for a free stay. However, there are still some great options for family travelers, and with Marriott slated to add a new home-sharing brand (Homes & Villas), here's hoping that these options will continue to expand. It's a bit of a bummer that my stash of hotel points won't come in handy this summer. But never fear — that just means they'll still be there for the next trip!

Ever run into a place where your stash of hotel points hasn't gotten you where you want to go? Leave it in the comments!

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.