What Are Mattress Runs, and How Do They Work?
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Even if you’re new to the points and miles game, you’ve probably heard the term “mileage run” before. 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 still worthwhile (thanks to revenue requirements for elite status and revenue-based earning charts), mileage runs can help you earn (or requalify for) airline elite status, especially as the year winds down.
In this post, I want to explore “mattress runs,” which are the hotel equivalent of mileage runs. These hotel stays in pursuit of points or elite status typically receive less airtime, but are still used regularly by award travel enthusiasts. In this post, I’ll explore the mattress run phenomenon to help you decide whether they’re ever worthwhile, and in what circumstances they might be useful to you.
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) in order to earn rewards or elite status. The idea is that by completing your stay, you receive greater value than what you spent on the stay. Purists would argue that in a true mattress run, you never even visit the room! Instead, you just check in and leave the property, content to let the hotel award you points or elite credits without using any of the amenities.
While it might sound wasteful or outlandish to spend money on something you aren’t using, completing a mattress run can make sense for a number of reasons. Here are a few:
1. To Earn (or Requalify for) Elite Status
Every year TPG Points and Miles Editor Nick Ewen writes a series of posts analyzing the value of elite status with the major hotel 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 had at each rung of elite status. 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 Nick’s 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.
I’m personally toying with a mattress run myself at the end of 2019, depending on how my year of travel shakes out. While I shouldn’t have any trouble requalifying for my Marriott Bonvoy Titanium elite status, I really have my heart set on earning Ambassador status this year. This requires 100 nights and $20,000 of qualifying spend and unlocks access to a dedicated ambassador to handle all of your Marriott travel, as well as “Your24”, which lets you pick your check-in and check-out times to match any 24-hour period you want, instead of the standard 3pm arrival and noon departure times. While I should be able to hit the $20,000 mark thanks to a pricey Maldives vacation at the start of the year, the 100 nights will be a lot trickier. Leveling up to Ambassador status would add a lot of value to my Marriott travel, and so I’m contemplating booking a fifth night free award stay at a category 1 hotel. I wouldn’t be spending any money, just throwing away 30,000 Marriott points, but if that’s what it takes to get to the next level, I’m in.
Keep in mind that many hotel (and other) credit cards come with automatic elite status (or the ability to earn elite status through spending), so completing a mattress run isn’t the only way to reach a higher tier. For example, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers automatic top-tier Diamond status to all cardholders, and The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card both offer automatic Marriott Gold status. The Platinum card also offers Hilton Gold status, and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant also allows you to upgrade to Platinum status by spending $75,000 per year.
2. To Earn Points Towards a Specific Redemption
When you have a specific (and lucrative) award redemption in mind, but you’re just short of the required number of points, a mattress run to earn the remaining balance could make sense. For example, if the extra points would unlock an award night that saves you $500, then spending $100 for an unnecessary stay might be a relative bargain. This is especially true if you’re afraid that standard award inventory will disappear before you can earn the extra points through traditional methods. However, keep in mind that you may have better options:
- Marriott Rewards allows you to book an award stay when you’re short on points using its “Points Advance” feature; you just need to earn the rest prior to check-in. This removes the urgency to earn extra points to cover a specific redemption, since you can lock in the award and then worry about earning the points.
- Many hotel programs are partners with transferable points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards (Hyatt, IHG and Marriott), American Express Membership Rewards (Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors and Marriott) and Citi ThankYou Rewards (Hilton Honors). These programs allow you to transfer points directly and with little to no out-of-pocket expense. Naturally, this option doesn’t help if you’re seeking elite status and it usually represents a poor redemption value, but if you just need to boost your loyalty account, transferable points can help.
- If you’re thinking about spending $100 on a hotel stay solely to earn points, you might want to consider buying points or looking at a cash+points redemption instead. Again, this won’t always offer as good a value as a straight up award redemption, but it has the added benefit of getting you the points you need instantly without having to wait for your stay to credit.
3. To Take Advantage of a Bonus
Another time when a mattress run may make sense is when a program offers a one-time bonus for hotel stays. You’ll see the major hotel chains offer promotions usually once every quarter. Right now in fact, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt are all offering some type of bonus points on hotel stays. After registering, you can earn anywhere from a fixed bonus (usually a few thousand points per stay) to double base points with Marriott’s Double Take promotion.
Each of these promotions requires registration and has slightly different terms which you should make sure to double check, but you might be able to earn a nice bonus here. With Marriott’s Double Take promotion you’ll now earn 20x base points per dollar spent beginning with your second stay. When you add in my Titanium elite multiplier and the 6x points I earn paying for the stay with my Bonvoy Brilliant card, my total earnings come out to a whopping 33.5x points per dollar spent, or almost 27% back based on TPG’s valuations. This might not be reason enough by itself to consider spending money on a mattress run, but if you were thinking about one anyways for the reasons mentioned above it sure sweetens the deal.
This analysis only captures part of the decision-making process when it comes to mattress runs. There are a few other things that you should consider:
- Additional out-of-pocket costs — You usually have to spend something in addition to the room rate to complete a mattress run. This might be gas and/or wear and tear on your car driving to your local hotel, or it could be an additional meal that you wouldn’t have paid for at home. You also should account for your time; as my freshman year economics professor would say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch!”
- Turning a mattress run into a vacation — My analysis above assumes that the stay is a true mattress run, taken solely for the purpose of earning points or elite status credit. However, things change a bit if you can turn a mattress run into an actual vacation for you, family and/or friends. It’s a lot easier to justify a superfluous hotel stay if you can get some additional value out of it (beyond loyalty program benefits). I’m a huge fan of staycations in my own city, 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.
- Checking in vs. no-show — Generally speaking, hotel loyalty programs won’t award points or elite status credits to confirmed guests who simply don’t show up. However, at least once I have had a hotel give me credit for a no-show stay. I forgot to notify a Starwood property when a snowstorm cancelled my trip, but a few days later, the points posted to my account. Just be aware that booking and paying for a reservation likely won’t be enough. You’ll probably need to actually check in to the property (either in person or virtually) to earn points and credit for the stay.
Mattress running isn’t for everyone, but it can be a viable strategy to take advantage of a promotion or earn additional credits toward elite status. A pure mattress run means you don’t even enjoy any of the hotel’s amenities, but if you can convert a mattress run into an actual vacation, all the better!
Have you taken a mattress run? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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