Why I usually redeem points for mid-tier hotels (and when I opt for luxury instead)
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I love high-end hotels — but more often than not, you'll find me at the nearest DoubleTree, Courtyard or other mid-tier property.
Sure, I've had my fair share of ultra-luxury experiences at Ritz-Carlton, W and Park Hyatt properties worldwide. I love them, but they rarely fit my travel style. When I visit a new city, I try and spend as much time as I can out-and-about. A hotel bar is great, but the local dive bar is even better. And while I love the occasional hotel meal, you'll usually find sampling street food and other local cuisines.
The vast majority of my hotel stays — both paid and award — are at mid-tier properties around the globe. In this article, I'll walk you through why this is. It will include both personal travel perspectives and a more in-depth points analysis.
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I try and stretch my points as far as possible
As mentioned in the past, I try and stretch my points and miles as far as possible. I do this by staying in mid-tier hotels, as doing so saves me a lot of points compared to high-end properties. I travel multiple times per year, so I consistently save hundreds of thousands of points per year by opting to stay at these mid-tier properties.
To put this into perspective, let's compare two Marriott properties in Chicago. The JW Marriott Chicago costs 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night on standard dates. I've used points to stay at this property in the past and — while nice — it's not a gamechanger by any means. It has solid rooms with a really nice lobby, but I'd say it's only marginally better than other nearby Marriott properties.
On the other hand, the Aloft Magnificant Mile is 25,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. I've stayed at this property too — it's definitely less luxurious, but it's in an arguably better location and has similar amenities.
Personally, I'd book the Aloft if given this dilemma. It's a comparable property in a better location and I'd save 50% of the miles in the process. I've found that this is similar in most cities that I travel to, so unless it's a special occasion, I'll opt to book the cheaper points option so long as it's in a good location.
Hotel amenities are great — but I rarely use them
As mentioned in the intro, I tend to spend very little time in hotels when I travel. I like to experience local fare, so my meals are eaten at local restaurants, pubs and food carts. Plus, I tend to work at local cafes instead of my hotel room.
With that in mind, I tend to look past hotel bars, restaurants and super swanky hotel rooms. Instead, I look for newer properties located in convenient parts of town, whether downtown or in an interesting up-and-coming neighborhood.
This makes it far easier to focus my efforts on finding solid mid-tier properties with a nice, clean room to come back to at the end of the day. Plus, many mid-tier properties — namely Aloft, AC Hotels, Embassy Suites and others — have solid lobbies with a minimal amount of amenities regardless.
For example, Embassy Suites have free breakfast and an evening reception for all guests at all properties. This brand is one of my go-to's when I'm on road trips for this reason.
That said, I make exceptions to this rule from time to time. If I'm booking a hotel in a city I've frequented or am just passing through, I'll try and book a hotel with free breakfast and lounge access — both of which I can access with Marriott Platinum Elite status and Hilton Honors Diamond status. This helps me save on expenses when on long road trips or overnight layovers where I don't have time to get out on the town.
Mid-tier is luxury compared to budget hotels
It's also important to understand that I'm not referring to budget hotels when I say mid-tier hotels.
I spent many of my teen years traveling and staying in hostels and low-end hotels. I wouldn't trade these years for anything, but this gave me a renewed perspective on luxury travel. The average Courtyard or Aloft is miles better than a shared hostel room, motel room near the airport or a cheap Airbnb in Eastern Europe.
This perspective makes me — at least for now — very happy with spending less money or points to stay at a lower-end hotel. The average DoubleTree property feels like a five-star hotel compared to sharing a crowded hostel room in downtown Dublin (trust me, I don't recommend that one). So with that perspective, I'm better off using fewer points per stay to stretch my points for more travel.
It's also worth noting that most of my travel is solo travel. Since I don't have to impress anyone on these trips, heading back to a mid-tier hotel isn't something I need to justify or otherwise think about.
Of course, this perspective probably won't last forever. As I continue to travel and have new experiences, I may opt to prefer high-end properties over time. But until then, I'll keep my sights set on mid-tier properties where I can stretch my points and still have a comfortable place to rest at the end of the day.
Related: Meet the points and miles backpacker
I don't always stay at mid-tier hotels
I don't always stay in mid-tier hotels, though. In fact, I book high-end properties on 20% to 30% of my trips — let's take a closer look at why I do this.
Trips with my girlfriend
I take a good portion of my trips with my girlfriend. However, she doesn't get to travel as often as I do, so I generally reserve my high-end hotel stays for when we travel together. We spend more time at the hotel than I do when I travel alone, and a high-end property makes a special trip even more special — especially when we're both visiting a city for the first time.
We also pool our points together to book hotels when we travel together. This makes booking these hotels a lot easier than if I was traveling alone, since we effectively split the cost.
I always use my hotel certificates for high-end stays
Additionally, I always use hotel certificates for high-end stays when possible. I earn a handful of certificates every year with my Marriott and Hilton co-branded credit cards. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card includes an annual free night award valid at at a participating hotel that costs 50,000 Bonvoy points or less.
You can only use this certificate for a single stay, so I always try to maximize it by using it for a hotel that costs 50,000 points. These are generally high-end luxury properties. I plan on using my 2020 certificate for a night at the Mesm Tokyo once the Japanese border reopens to U.S. tourists. A one night stay costs $734.39 after tax next Spring, giving me a ton of value for my certificate.
Likewise, Hilton weekend night certificates give you a free night at any Hilton property worldwide. These certificates are also best used for high-end redemptions — after all, a free night at a $500 per night Waldorf Astoria is a far better deal than a night at an $80 per night Hilton Garden Inn.
Paid stays are a mixed bag
In most cases, pricing for cash stays are far more volatile than award stays. This is especially true if you're booking with a program that uses a standard award chart. This includes programs like Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt. Prices vary during peak and off-peak times, but will never stray more than a few thousand points from the standard award chart price.
Because of this, I sometimes opt to spend a little more for a higher-end property if it makes sense.
For example, if I'm picking between an Aloft and a Ritz-Carlton and the Ritz is only $30 more per night, I'll book the Ritz. That said, if it were $150 more, I'd opt for the Aloft. It all boils down to the cost-difference if hotels are in a similar part of town. This is especially relevant when booking stays during the pandemic, with rates being cheaper across the board.
This also happens when traveling in inexpensive cities. For example, Marriott properties in Bangkok are usually very inexpensive compared to other large cities. I checked a random date for a stay at the Four Points by Sheraton, Sukhumvit 15. A night is just $49, which is a solid deal for any Four Points property.
On the other hand, a night at the Renaissance Bangkok, Ratchaprasong Hotel was $73 per night on the same day. In this case, I'd opt for the more luxurious Renaissance. The $24 extra per night is more than made up for with a better location and a nicer room — especially since it doesn't make sense to use points for these properties given their award chart prices.
Hotel points are a great way to stay in hotels around the world for cheap. And while ultra-luxury is great on occasion, I more often find myself using points for mid-tier hotels. Whether on a road trip, international expedition or a quick domestic trip, you'll usually find me at a property that provides great value and is comfortable enough to spend a few nights in.
But that isn't to say I don't enjoy the occasional stay at a high-end property. I'll book these when it makes sense from a points or cash perspective. Likewise, I'll book these if traveling with my girlfriend for a special occasion. These exceptions to my rule are made possible because of the points I save by staying at mid-tier properties when traveling alone.
Feature photo by Sergei Prokhorov/Shutterstock