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As the saying goes, “Everyone makes mistakes.” This pervades many aspects of life, but it’s especially applicable to using your hotel points. Even the most seasoned award traveler can slip up, resulting in a less comfortable room, extra fees, or an inability to travel. Fortunately, the most common mistakes when booking hotel award stays are easy to avoid, so today, I’ll take you through these errors and explain how to make sure your future points redemptions go as planned.
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Missing out on “bonus nights”
This first mistake is common for inexperienced travelers. Hopefully, many of you know that some hotel chains give you “bonus” nights for stays of a certain length. In essence, this allows you to obtain discounted redemption rates. Here’s a quick run-down of the policies for major chains:
- IHG Rewards Club – All members who hold the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card get the fourth award night free when booking consecutive nights.
- Hilton Honors – Hilton Silver, Gold, and Diamond members get every fifth night free on award stays at all properties (up to a maximum of four free nights on a single redemption of 20+ nights). You can easily get Hilton elite status through on of the co-branded Hilton cards, like the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card.
- Marriott Bonvoy – All Bonvoy members get the fifth award night free when booking consecutive nights.
The nice thing is that these discounts all show up automatically when you redeem your points online. The mistake comes in planning a four-night stay, not knowing that the next night would be completely free!
Related: Now live: Gift free Hilton elite status to your family or friends for a limited time
Ignoring cash + points options
Another common refrain I hear is something like, “I don’t have enough points, so I can’t book an award stay!” This is simply not true, as most chains give you the option to use a combination of money and points to pay for hotel stays. Again, here’s a quick rundown:
- Radisson Rewards – Radisson’s Points + Cash awards allow you to redeem 5,000 – 20,000 points plus a cash copay, though the exact amount depends on the property. These are bookable online. See tips on maximizing this benefit for more information.
- Hilton Honors – Points & Money awards is flexible, allowing you to specify the number of points you want to use for an award. The cash copay is adjusted based on the number of points you choose. Availability varies from property to property, but these too are bookable online.
- World of Hyatt – Points + Cash awards were added in early 2014, allowing you to redeem half of the usual points plus a cash copay. These used to be a good value until Hyatt began charging half the standard rate for the cash portion. Hyatt Points + Cash awards are bookable online.
- IHG Rewards – Points & Cash awards offer you 5,000 or more points off standard award rates with cash copays of $30 and up. These are bookable online.
- Marriott Bonvoy – Cash + Points allows start at $55 and 1,500 for an off-peak Category 1 award and go as high as $440 and 57,500 points for a peak Category 8 award night.
Always check to see if these options are available wherever you’re staying, as they might turn out to be the best deal!
Related: Booking direct: How much value does The World of Hyatt status provide?
Not checking revenue rates
If you’re like me, you want to maximize the value you get out of your points. That’s why it pains me to hear when friends or family members use their points for sub-optimal redemptions. TPG’s latest monthly valuations give you an idea of what to aim for when redeeming your points and miles, but you probably have your own way of determining the value you get from a particular stay.
A great example is the St. Regis Deer Valley. TPG pegs Starpoints at 0.7 cents apiece and you can get even more value by redeeming those points during ski season. However, paid rates drop as low as $371 in May. Burning 85,000 Marriott points for a room at that price isn’t the best value proposition, getting you just 0.44 cents per point. Be sure to check revenue rates before you book an award stay.
Transferring to an airline
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For the most part, transferring your hotel points to an airline partner is another terrible value proposition, as most chains give you very poor transfer ratios. Here are some examples using TPG’s most recent valuations:
- 50,000 Radisson Rewards points ($200) to 5,000 United or Singapore miles ($65)
- 10,000 Hilton Honors points ($60) to 1,500 AAdvantage miles ($21)
- 50,000 Hyatt points ($850) to 20,000 British Airways Avios ($300)
You typically lose close to half (or much more) value through the conversion process. There are a couple of exceptions. Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages, which give you a seven-night hotel stay plus a pot of miles, can also be a good value.
Most other hotel point conversions should be avoided.
Related: Here’s how to get your points and miles back after they expire
Not searching night-by-night
Another common error occurs when searching for longer stays. I’ve seen many times when hotels don’t have award rooms available for every night of a stay, or they don’t have the same type of room for the entire stay. In that case, it may appear that no award rooms are available, but you may still be able to use points (or a combination of cash and points) by searching one night at a time.
For example, let’s say you wanted to stay at the Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri in October. Standard rooms are 79,000 points for October 10 and 112,000 for October 11. If you search for a two-night stay on those dates, you’re quoted a price of 112,000 points per night. That’s because the cheapest room type available across those two nights is the King Deluxe Room with Private View.
If you book the first night separately from the second, you’ll save 33,000 Hilton Honors points ($198 based on TPG’s valuations). Plus, if you call Hilton Honors and ask them to link the reservations, the property may just keep you in the upgraded room for both nights!
Related: 22 promotions that will make your next hotel stay more rewarding
Ignoring resort fees
When you redeem points for an award stay, most chains will list resort fees (where applicable) at some point during the booking process. I’ve written about these fees before, and you’d be smart to pay attention to them. WhileHilton and Hyatt automatically waive resort fees on award stays, no chain has a published policy to this effect. At some resorts, this can set you back as much as $60 per night! While you aren’t on the hook for regular room taxes on award stays, you may still be hit with a resort fee.
Not knowing the rules
Knowledge gives you an incredible amount of power in the points and miles game, which is especially true for hotel award stays. I once wrote about the blackout date policies for major hotel chains, but few have any teeth. One that does, however, is that of World of Hyatt.
A few years ago, I actually “forced” the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome to open up standard award inventory because I knew exactly what the program’s terms and conditions said in relation to blackout dates.
Forgetting to cancel
Another mistake that can be very costly is forgetting to cancel an award stay within the hotel’s published cancellation window. You might think this isn’t a huge deal; after all, you’d just lose out on the points. Unfortunately, that’s not how most hotel chains operate.
When you don’t cancel an award reservation, most properties will charge you one night, plus tax at the Best Available Rate for that date, which could easily be hundreds of dollars. That’s why you should pay very close attention to the stated cancellation policy when booking an award stay using points.
Related: Coronavirus hotel change and cancellation policies: What to know
Ignoring credit cards
The final mistake isn’t specific to using your hotel points, but it will still impact your hotel award stays. Many credit cards come with automatic elite status just for holding the card and (in some cases) paying an annual fee. This can give you valuable benefits like room upgrades, premium internet, bonus points, and more.
It sometimes even opens up a redemption option that wouldn’t be possible otherwise (Hilton’s fifth-night free policy, for example, is restricted to elite members only).
Here’s a quick rundown of each chain and the co-branded cards that will help your points go even further:
- Radisson Rewards – The Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature® Card comes with automatic Gold elite status. Radisson Gold elite members earn an extra 10% bonus points on their stays, along with a 15% food and beverage discount.
- Hilton Honors – The Hilton Honors American Express Card gives you immediate Silver status, while the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card come with Gold status and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers top-tier Diamond. Any of these cards automatically opens up the fifth-night free benefit.
- World of Hyatt – The World Of Hyatt Credit Card from Chase comes with automatic Discoverist status.
- IHG Rewards – The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card gives you automatic Platinum status, which is the second highest status level in the program.
- Marriott Bonvoy – The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card comes with 15 elite night credits each year, which equals automatic Silver status.
Free hotel stays can be a wonderful thing, but there are mistakes that can sap some (or most) of the value out of your points redemptions. Hopefully, this list has given you some strategies to avoid those mistakes on your next award booking!
Featured image of the Hotel du Louvre by Andrea Rotondo/The Points Guy
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.