How to Pick a Hotel for Flexible and Longer-Term Travel
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Traveling flexibly or for a longer period of time requires different lodging needs than traveling on short work trips or vacations. In particular, certain aspects that aren’t utilized or needed by shorter-term travelers can be extremely useful to flexible or longer-term travelers.
Flexible travel can appear in many forms, but in this article it means that you don’t need to be in a specific city on particular nights. Perhaps you know you want to spend June and July in Europe, but only have a few must-see cities and can visit these cities in any order. Or, you want to take a trip to Europe but are open to which cities you visit. By nature, many longer-term travelers are also flexible travelers.
Here are useful tips and hotel recommendations for your next flexible or longer-term trip.
Map It Out
Many hotel loyalty programs — including IHG, Hyatt, Starwood, Marriott, Best Western and Radisson — group their properties into categories, where lower categories cost fewer points per night. And flexible travelers have the advantage of staying at hotels based on solid award night redemptions as opposed to hotels in certain cities or locations.
Although the individual loyalty program websites display award night costs when a search is performed for specific dates in a particular city, this can oftentimes be time intensive if you’re not sure which cities you want to visit. This is where AwardMapper comes in.
AwardMapper plots hotels for various brands onto a map. This map can be filtered by brand as well as by the number of points needed per night. Unfortunately, the map isn’t completely up-to-date so some properties no longer exist while others have changed category or aren’t even listed. Nonetheless, it’s still a good starting point for considering award night options in a general area.
Location, Location, Location
Staying in a central location is often high priority on shorter trips — but longer-term travelers and budget travelers may be willing to widen their search radius in order to find cheaper stays and redemptions. However, be sure to consider how well connected the hotel is via public transport, how expensive taxis are in the area and whether there are ride-sharing apps that work in the area.
Flexible travelers can use location to their advantage as well. Hotels around exhibition centers and stadiums can offer excellent value when there aren’t events. Some locations may be less expensive during low season. And some cities are simply less popular tourist destinations so award nights may be priced surprisingly low. A perfect example of this is Frankfurt, Germany, where I recently spent 8,000 Choice Privileges points — which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $48 — to stay for a night in the centrally located and pet-friendly Star Inn Frankfurt.
Citi Prestige 4th Night Free
Whether you prefer hostels or overwater villas, the Citi Prestige 4th Night Free benefit is excellent for longer-term travelers who want to spend at least four nights in one location. I’ve booked stays at places that range from a four-room guesthouse in South Africa to a capsule hotel in Japan to a rundown motel in Miami — and everything in between.
TPG has various resources related to the Citi Prestige 4th Night Free benefit:
- The Complete Guide to Booking 4th Night Free Stays With Citi Prestige
- 5 Reasons the Citi Prestige Is the Best Card for Booking Luxury Hotels and Suites
- Can You Use Citi’s 4th Night Free Perk at All-Inclusive Resorts?
- You Can Now Get Two 4th Night Free Credits With Citi Prestige
- Best Ways the TPG Team Has Used the Citi Prestige 4th Night Free Benefit
Many Airbnbs offer discounts for stays of a week or longer and a month or longer. I’ve stayed for longer than a week at multiple Airbnbs in Eastern Europe and gotten discounts of 15-30% off the standard nightly price.
Some hotels also offer long-stay discounts. These discounts are usually found by searching on the hotel or brand’s website. I’ve recently seen 10-30% discounts for stays of three or more nights at particular Marriott, Best Western, AccorHotels and IHG properties. I found a “Stay Longer Pay Less” rate in Sydney, Australia, at the Holiday Inn Darling Harbour this past Christmas. When combined with the Citi Prestige 4th Night Free benefit, I only paid 453 AUD ($347) total for my five-night stay in the heart of the city.
Certain hotel brands have perks that are particularly friendly to flexible and longer-term travelers. Here are a few aspects of hotel brands that I’ve noticed and used as a flexible, longer-term traveler.
The IHG Accelerate program provides challenges that can earn travelers a substantial amount of points each quarter. Especially for flexible travelers, there are enough reasonably priced properties in the IHG brand that IHG Accelerate requirements can often be satisfied easily and at a low cost.
For flexible travelers, there are opportunities for good-value redemptions. I use AwardMapper to find locations that feature 10,000 and 15,000 points per night redemptions. Plus, the IHG PointsBreaks list provides great value for flexible travelers. The IHG PointsBreaks list features properties that can be booked for just 5,000, 10,000 and 15,000 points each quarter. I used the most recent PointsBreaks list to stay for nine nights in Nola, Italy, for 5,000 IHG points (which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $30) per night and for three nights in Rome, Italy, for 10,000 IHG points (which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $60) per night.
IHG and Chase recently announced a new co-branded credit card: the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. One huge benefit of this new card for longer-term travelers: a fourth night free benefit for award stays. This’ll encourage me to use IHG points for longer stays when I might’ve otherwise booked a revenue stay with my Citi Prestige to get the fourth night free.
IHG features two long stay sub-brands — Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites — that can often be found for reasonable cash or points stays. I’ve stayed multiple times at the Candlewood Suites by the Houston (IAH) airport for 10,000 IHG points (which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $60) per night. These nights can be especially good when you need to do laundry, as Candlewood Suites has free self-serve washers and dryers on-site.
Choice Privileges points provide particularly good value at many properties in Europe and Japan. Since leaving the US in July 2017, I’ve made the following notable Choice redemptions:
- Comfort Hotel Osaka Shinsaibashi, centrally located in Osaka, Japan: 8,000 points (which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $48) per night
- Comfort Hotel Central International Airport, located on the airport island for Nagoya (NGO) and excellent for AvGeeks: 8,000 points (which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $48) per night
- Comfort Hotel am Medienpark, just a quick train from all the sites in Munich, Germany: 12,000 points during Oktoberfest (which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $72) per night
- Comfort Hotel Star Inn Stuttgart Airport-Messe, located in a charming neighborhood near Stuttgart (STR) airport: 8,000 points (which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $48) per night
- Comfort Hotel Star Inn Frankfurt, centrally located in Frankfurt, Germany: 8,000 points (which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $48) per night
One complexity of redeeming Choice Privileges points: redemption values differ based on day of week and season. This can work out very favorably for flexible travelers, but means that AwardMapper isn’t very helpful as it takes time to find great award redemptions.
Longer-term travelers can take advantage of Marriott’s fifth night free on award stays in standard rooms.
Flexible travelers may be able to take advantage of Marriott PointsSaver Rewards. Marriott PointsSaver Rewards is a fluid list of hotels with mildly discounted award night rates. Unfortunately, the list is usually rather limited.
Like Marriott, Starwood also offers a fifth night free on award stays — but only for stays at category three through seven properties. For a category three property, this means a five-night stay costs 28,000 points — which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $756. For many travelers this won’t be a great deal.
Customers staying at category one and two properties are thrown a bone though, as weekend nights at these properties are 1,000 Starwood points cheaper than weekday nights. This means a weekend night at a category one property costs 2,000 points, which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $54. Likewise, a weekend night at a category two property costs 3,000 points, which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $81. According to Starwood’s website, there are 339 category one and two properties worldwide, including 91 in North America and 34 in Europe. Unlike many brands, Starwood makes it easy to see where hotels in each category are located via an interactive map feature.
Starwood’s Nights and Flights is a program that flexible travelers may find useful. The Nights and Flights program allows redemption of Starpoints for air miles and five nights at a category three or four property. Five nights and 50,000 air miles at a category three property costs 60,000 Starpoints (which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $1,620), while 50,000 air miles and a stay at a category four property costs 70,000 Starpoints (which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $1,890). Note that the hotel nights alone cost 28,000 Starpoints at a category three property and 40,000 Starpoints at a category four property, so it could be a good deal depending on which airline miles you obtain and how you redeem these airline miles.
Of course, keep in mind that the SPG program will transition to a unified program with Marriott in August 2018, at which point it will operate under a new award chart.
Hilton’s award night pricing isn’t straightforward due to the elimination of redemption categories and peak and off-peak pricing for award nights. However, flexible travelers can still find good value redemptions by using the tool on Hilton’s website to check current maximum redemptions for potential hotels and then using the flexible dates option to see when redemptions are low.
Searching takes time, but there’s value to be found, such as at the Hampton by Hilton Krakow. Using the flexible date search option, this property seemingly always costs 10,000 Hilton points per night — which TPG‘s latest valuation values at $60. However, TPG‘s Richard Kerr believes there’s a lot more value to be gained from Points & Money Rewards.
Like Marriott and Starwood, Hilton also offers the fifth night free on award stays in standard rooms — but only to guests with Hilton Honors elite status. Luckily, Hilton Gold status is included as an automatic benefit on the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card, and it’s also granted to The Platinum Card® from American Express cardmembers.
The Bottom Line
Flexible and longer-term travelers can take advantage of perks that other travelers might not be able to utilize, such as free nights on four- or five-night stays. Although not completely up-to-date, AwardMapper can be extremely useful for finding properties that fit within a desired redemption budget.
This article was written based on my experience being on the road since July 2017 as a digital nomad. If you have any additional hotel tips for flexible and longer-term travelers, please leave them in the comments.