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My Swiss army knife hotel strategy for free stays around the world

Oct. 31, 2021
8 min read
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Each hotel points currency has its own strengths and weaknesses. To achieve your travel goals, you should be collecting more than one type.

Your hotel strategy won't be exactly the same as mine -- but after years of earning and burning the points I amass from the best hotel credit cards, I have found a distinct pattern when I redeem:

  • I use Hilton points when I need shelter
  • I use Marriott points for luxury resorts when the property is the destination
  • I use Hyatt points for big city stays

This is where each of the points programs shine, in my opinion. I'll tell you why, and remind you how to quickly and easily collect rewards with each.

Redeem Hilton points for shelter

You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Hilton hotel -- particularly if you're traveling domestically, within Europe or most anywhere around the Pacific Rim. They've got their fair share of nice hotels, but Hilton specializes in the unfancy.

Because Hilton hotel brands like Hampton Inn and DoubleTree tend to live beside the interstate, as well as in smaller cities, I find it the ideal points program to use when I simply need a roof over my head and a clean bed.

I save a ton of money using my points for bottom-of-the-barrel hotels instead of luxury properties. We estimate Hilton points are worth about 0.6 cents on average, but using your points for low-category hotels can get you WAY more value. After all, it's difficult to find a hotel that costs under $100 after taxes. But there are tons of hotels that cost 10,000 to 15,000 points per night.

(Screenshot courtesy of Hilton)

For example, the above hotel costs $130+ after taxes are included, but costs just 10,000 points for a free night. That's a value of 1.3 cents per point -- a great value for Hilton points.

Hilton points are perhaps the easiest currency to earn in the points and miles world. Hilton gives them away like candy. You can earn hundreds of thousands of Hilton points quickly and easily by opening any of the following cards:

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The information for the Amex Hilton Aspire has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

You can also transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio (though your Amex points are often better used by transferring to airlines).

Redeem Marriott points for five-star resorts

Marriott is the biggest hotel chain in the world, with more than 7,600 properties worldwide. It's also got (by far) the largest and most unique collection of five-star hotels and resorts.

Whether you're trying to visit the Maldives, Dubai, the Caribbean or Peru, Marriott will have a wonderfully un-cookie-cutter resort that's ideal for your vacation. I save my Marriott points for luxury stays at resorts where I don't plan on leaving. I use Marriott points for hotels that are the destination.

Marriott has too many bucket list resorts, like the St. Regis Maldives, to blow points at a regular old hotel. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/The Points Guy)

My wife and I stayed at the St. Regis Maldives in 2019. It was an ideal Marriott points redemption in my opinion because we didn't once leave the resort. We enjoyed our points redemption 24 hours per day.

If the surrounding area is fun, I probably won't employ Marriott points for a free stay, because I can probably have just as much fun in a hotel as a resort. For example:

  • I would not use Marriott points in downtown Dubai, because I could have just as much fun in a plain ol' hotel. I'll be spending a lot of time away from the hotel, so why burn my points for a property I'll hardly experience?
  • I would use Marriott points at Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai, which is located in the middle of the Dubai desert, because I'd be at the resort the whole time.

Marriott also gives you the fifth award night free, meaning you'll get the best value for your points if you book five consecutive nights.

You can earn Marriott points with any of the following credit cards:

Make sure to read this post to see which Marriott welcome bonuses you're eligible for.

Redeem Hyatt points for luxury hotels in big cities

Hyatt points are great for luxury hotels in fun areas with lots to do.

Hyatt has a painfully low number of hotels around the world compared to most other chains. They've got around 1,000 hotels worldwide -- though they have a few great partnerships with companies such as MGM and Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and their recent acquisition of Apple Leisure will add 100 all-inclusive properties to its portfolio.

However, you'll almost always find Hyatt hotels in big cities like New York, Paris, London, Singapore, Bangkok, etc. If you're in a city with a population of at least a couple hundred thousand, there's probably a Hyatt nearby. In other words, Hyatt points may not fit into your travel strategy if you only use points to visit the family for Thanksgiving in small-town USA.

Hyatt hotels are mostly in bigger cities. (Screenshot courtesy of Hyatt)

I tend to use Hyatt points when I'm staying in a big city for a night or two. They're convenient, and they always rank as some of the best in the city.

The Hyatt loyalty program doesn't offer a free-night incentive to stay an extended period of time like other chains (Marriott and Hilton offer fifth award night free, IHG offers 4th award night free), so I'm not missing out on points by booking just one or two nights at a time.

There are definitely exceptions with the Hyatt hotel brand -- they've got destination-worthy hotels, like the Andaz Maui, but I use Hyatt mostly for glitzy five-star stays in exciting cities.

You can accrue lots of Hyatt points by opening the World of Hyatt Credit Card and the World of Hyatt Business Credit Card. But Hyatt is also a Chase transfer partner, so you can also earn Hyatt points quickly with cards like:

Bottom line

Not all hotel points are created equal. Depending on your travel style, you may have no use whatsoever for certain hotel currencies. I deliberately collect points with Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt because I find that all three serve a very different purpose along my travels.

Let me know your hotel points strategy!

Featured image by Mystique Santorini (Photo courtesy of Marriott)
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.