Should you do a mattress run for hotel points or elite nights?
Even if you’re new to the points and miles game, you’ve probably heard the term “mileage run." In essence, a mileage run is when a traveler takes a flight (or series of flights) for the sole purpose of earning miles.
While it’s debatable whether such endeavors are worthwhile, mileage runs can help you earn airline elite status, especially as the end of your qualification period nears.
In this post, we'll explore “mattress runs,” which are the hotel equivalent of mileage runs. I'll discuss what they are and what to consider when deciding whether you should do a mattress run.
What exactly is a mattress run?
Let’s start with a quick overview of a mattress run. In its simplest form, a mattress run is when you book and pay for a hotel room (that you otherwise wouldn’t need) to earn rewards or qualify for hotel elite status.
The idea is that the cost of the stay is offset by the benefits of earning additional points. Purists would argue that you don't use the room in a true mattress run. Instead, you check in and then leave the property.
But, many would also say it's a mattress run as long as you wouldn't have booked the stay if it wasn't for the points or elite nights you'll earn.
While it might sound wasteful, completing a mattress run can make sense for several reasons.
Mattress runs for elite status
Every year TPG writes a series of posts analyzing the value of hotel elite status with the major loyalty programs, including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and IHG. Whether you’re gunning for top-tier status or one of the lower levels, there’s value to be found at each tier.
If you’re just a few stays or nights short of a given status level, it may make sense to find an inexpensive room as the end of the year approaches and your window to qualify for elite status closes.
Each of TPG's hotel status valuations sees a huge jump between tiers. So even if you spend a few hundred dollars to earn higher status, you may get more than that in return as you reap the higher benefits for the entire next year. Hotel loyalty programs offer all kinds of valuable perks for elite members, including free breakfast, suite upgrades and better point-earning structures.
For example, you might be close to earning Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite status. If you'll have 73 elite qualifying nights at the end of 2022 based on your currently booked stays, you'd need just two more to earn Titanium Elite status. You could select five elite night credits as your 50-night choice benefit to boost you to 78 nights. Or, you could book a two-night stay at the least-expensive Marriott hotel near your house to reach 75 nights.
Remember that many credit cards provide elite status (or the ability to earn elite status through spending) as a perk. So completing a mattress run isn’t the only way to reach a higher tier. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card offers complimentary Platinum Elite status. And the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card offers complimentary Gold status (and the ability to earn Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year through spending on your card).
Mattress runs to earn points
If you're just short of the required points for a specific (and lucrative) award redemption, a mattress run to earn the remaining balance could make sense.
For example, if the points you'd earn would unlock an award night that saves you $500, then spending $100 for an unnecessary stay might be a bargain. This is especially true if you’re afraid that award availability will disappear or award pricing will increase before you can earn the points you need through traditional methods.
However, before you book a mattress run to earn points, keep in mind that you may have better options:
- Marriott Bonvoy allows you to book an award stay when you’re short on points using its Points Advance feature. However, this feature guarantees your room, not the total number of Marriott Bonvoy points required.
- Many hotel programs partner with transferable points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards (Hyatt, IHG and Marriott), American Express Membership Rewards (Choice, Hilton and Marriott), Capital One (Choice and Wyndham) and Bilt Rewards (Hyatt and IHG). Naturally, this option doesn’t help if you’re seeking elite status. But if you need to boost your points balance to make an award booking, transferable points can help.
- If you’re thinking about spending $100 on a hotel stay solely to earn points, you might consider buying points or booking a points and cash redemption instead.
In short, it usually won't make sense to book a mattress run to simply earn points.
Mattress runs to maximize a promotion
It usually won't make sense to book a mattress run for points alone. But, a mattress run can make sense when a program offers a lucrative bonus for nights or stays.
For example, Choice Privileges periodically offers a promotion where you can earn at least 8,000 Choice points for every two stays. And Hilton is currently offering promotions for bonus points and double elite night credit, which could help you earn Hilton Honors elite status.
Note that many promotions require you to register before your stay, and promotions usually have some exclusions. Read the terms carefully before booking a mattress run for this purpose.
Other mattress run considerations
This analysis only captures part of the decision-making process when it comes to mattress runs. There are a few other things you should consider before booking.
Additional out-of-pocket costs
You usually have to spend something in addition to the room rate to complete a mattress run. If you drive to your local hotel, this might be gas for your car. Or it could be an additional meal you wouldn’t have paid for at home. You also should account for your time.
Turning a mattress run into a vacation
Most of this story assumes the stay is a true mattress run, taken solely to earn points or elite status credit.
However, things change a bit if you can turn a mattress run into an actual vacation for you, your family or your friends. It’s easier to justify an extra hotel stay if you can get some additional value out of it (beyond loyalty program benefits).
I’m a huge fan of staycations, and I’ll often try to mix them with a concert or sports game I’m going to so I don’t have to fight traffic late at night. It may or may not be ideal economically, but it’ll certainly be more fun.
You'll probably need to check in for your stay
Generally speaking, hotel loyalty programs won’t award points or elite status credits to confirmed guests who don’t show up.
I have had a hotel give me credit for a no-show stay at least once. But know that booking and paying for a reservation likely won’t be enough. You’ll probably need to check in at the property to earn points and credit for the stay. You could try to check in virtually via the program's mobile app, but this is never guaranteed to work.
Even guests who've physically checked in occasionally face issues on mattress runs. You'll find notes in most hotel loyalty program terms and conditions stating you must physically stay at a property for a stay to be elite-qualifying. For example, Hyatt's terms and conditions note:
The Member must actually check-in and complete the stay for his or her reservation at a Point Property to earn points. No points will be awarded for any non-refundable prepaid fees, cancellation fees, or no-show fees paid by a Member for a reservation that (s)he did not actually use.
So, to avoid potential issues, you may want to make it apparent that you checked in, used your reservation and completed your stay. Yet another reason to make a staycation or vacation out of your mattress run.
Mattress runs can be a viable strategy to take advantage of a promotion or earn additional credits toward elite status. Especially if you can convert a mattress run into an actual vacation, it may be well worth doing.
However, remember there are many other options besides mattress running. For example, you could open a new credit card that gives elite status as a perk. Or you could buy or transfer points to top off your account for a lucrative redemption.
Additional reporting by Ehsan Haque.