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Congratulations! Once you have a stash of reward points, you’ve made it to the fun part: free travel. This is where the addiction begins. Before you know it, you’ll be looking for ways to stretch your rewards further so you can get more for every point. You see, not all redemptions are created equal. If someone asked if you’d rather trade 100,000 points for $200 or $500, it’s safe to say you’d rather take all five hundred dollars.
Searching for outsized value isn’t always easy. Loyalty programs are designed to favor the hotels so it can take patience to find the best reward for your needs. Needless to say, though, that time can be worth it. If some free travel is good, more free travel is better.
While nothing can substitute for personalized research, certain tendencies or trends can point you in the right direction. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite tricks to get you started. With these tips, for the same number of points you can find more free nights, more luxurious hotels and more memorable experiences.
New Hotels Can Be a Gold Mine
Consistently, new hotels (whether that’s new construction or simply new acquisitions) are underpriced. It’s not unheard of for new properties to be priced one or two categories lower than comparable hotels when they first join a program, which means you could be saving tens of thousands of hotel points per stay.
This year, we’re seeing great deals on hotels like the Story Hotel Riddargatan, which is new to Hyatt and currently classified as a Category 2 hotel for 8,000 points per night. Other hotels in central Stockholm require double (or more) and eventually this one may, too. Remember, hotels can usually be reserved a full year in advance, so if you can front the points, making reservations early can save you points in the long run.
Find Ultra-Luxe Hotels
Hotels that look and feel over-the-top command astronomical rates which means your points frequently yield tremendous value. Overwater bungalows, private villas and rooms with plunge pools are all fair game when you book with points. There’s a solid chance you can’t afford the $800+ price tags that often come with rooms like this (and even if you can, trading in 100,000 points to waive the bill is a darn good deal).
Finding getaways like these is only limited by your imagination. Honeymoon destinations are often a good bet for these private, premium properties but if beaches aren’t your idea of a good time, you can still find insane spots to travel. The Intercontinental Shanghai Wonderland has features like glass walkways built into quarry cliffs, rock-climbing walls and an underwater hotel. Award prices vary based on paid rates, but could yield 0.8 cents per point or more.
Use Points for Airport Hotels
When you know you’re only getting a few hours rest, every minute counts—and airport hotels know it. Often, there’s only a single hotel connected to the airport terminal, allowing you to walk instead of wasting time on shuttle buses. Since these properties charge rates based on location, your points can be an excellent value.
Loyalty points are usually a great solution on these occasions. Rooms at the Westin Denver International Airport, for example, start at 40,000 points per night compared to typical paid rates of $265. The Intercontinental Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Hotel is even more convenient: You won’t even need to step outside to get from the gate to your room. You’ll pay for the privilege, but using points won’t sting nearly as much.
The Hyatt Regency inside the Orlando Airport is an air-side favorite among families traveling to or from Disney World. The hotel, located right outside TSA, even has balconies where you can watch fellow travelers remove their shoes and get out their laptops. Best of all, the hotel is only 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night, which is within reach of a Hyatt Category 1-4 night certificate that comes annually with the The World of Hyatt Credit Card*.
Seek Out Lesser-Known Brands
For better or for worse, name recognition usually means higher prices even if the hotel is otherwise comparable to other properties. On the other hand, that means lesser-known brands may be priced at a discount despite being wonderful properties offering similar amenities.
Marriott’s Protea brand has locations across Africa, which can make them a strategic play if you’re heading there on vacation. Properties may remind you of a Courtyard or Four Points property, but every Protea hotel is a Category 1 to 3 hotel. Room awards top out 20,000 points per night regardless of the standard rate if you paid cash. Good luck finding odds like that with better-known brands.
Protea hotels also benefit from location, with some of them in truly stunning settings. A highlight is the Protea Hotel Lusaka Safari Lodge in Zambia. Located on a jaw-dropping 2,500 acre private game reserve, the hotel goes for—wait for it—7,500 Bonvoy points per night with the fifth night free.
Look for Cities with Major Leisure-Business Discrepancies
While some cities attract both leisure and business travelers—New York, for example—other destinations are heavily skewed one way or the other. Business destinations have expensive paid rates on weeknights and cheap rooms on weekends; leisure spots are the opposite. Points travelers know that award categories are usually somewhere in the middle so that if you only redeem when it’s expensive, you’re beating the average.
Take Austin, Texas as an example. On an average weeknight, the downtown Hyatt Regency represents a poor value and most travelers would be better off booking a paid rate. Visit on the weekend, though, and it’s a different story. Paid rates soar while everyone wants to visit for live music and other nightlife. Then, redemptions can work out to 3 cents per point.
Redeem Points During Special Events
What do Mardi Gras, Oktoberfest and New Year’s Eve have in common? Hotel prices go through the roof. Special events are one of the best excuses to use your points to save on what would otherwise be major expenses. While Hilton and IHG Hotels have both moved to variable rates (meaning the cost in points fluctuates based on the cost of a paid stay), other programs have relatively stable reward prices. That can be a gold mine during special events.
There’s a major caveat to reward redemptions during special events, though. Rooms are typically limited. Travelers will need to book far in advance, often up to a full year’s notice, in order to score one of the few rooms available for rewards. Special events may also require a minimum length of stay, in which case you’ll need to plan (and budget) accordingly.
Choose Extra Space Instead of Extra Amenities
For the most part, prices go up when you add more and more luxury. When you add more space, though, you can often find giant leaps in square footage with only minor steps in point requirements. There are lots of ways to go about this, too, whether it’s using points to reserve a suite or finding hotels suited for extended stay, like Hilton’s Homewood Suites or Marriott’s Residence Inn.
One of the best partnerships for redeeming points for space is through Wyndham’s Vacasa redemptions. Wyndham Guest Rewards members can use their points to book entire vacation rental properties, which are often standalone units with full kitchens, living rooms and separate bedrooms. One bedroom units can be reserved for 15,000 points per night, a steal for an entire condo, cabin or house.
Although there’s an exception to every rule, our strategies consistently result in finding better than average redemptions and can save you time searching compared to starting from scratch. Between these seven secrets, one of them is likely to lead you in the right direction.
For more great hotel redemptions and advice tailored to specific hotel programs, check out our guides to some of the best rewards from each major hotel group:
- IHG Point Bargains
- Hilton Point Bargains
- Hyatt Point Bargains
- Marriott Point Bargains