You spend years diligently racking up rewards points with a particular hotel chain. Perhaps you even open a credit card to boost your earnings and enjoy some elite benefits. Then, it comes time to redeem those points for a dream vacation, or maybe just a weekend getaway at this point. Now more than ever, when travel is such a personal decision, it's important to maximize your points for the trips you want. Here are 15 common mistakes to avoid when redeeming hotel points, according to an expert.
1. Being Too Quick to Redeem Your Points
"One of the most common mistakes I see people make with booking hotels using points is not comparing rates," says Ariana Arghandewal, points and miles editor at The Points Guy. "People will redeem their points at a popular hotel without considering what the cash rate is and whether it even makes sense to use hotel points," she adds. In other words, why blow tens of thousands of points for a $200 hotel room when you might be better off paying cash now and saving those points for a more expensive redemption down the road? To avoid this trap, whip out your calculator and divide the cash cost of a night by the number of points you need. It will depend on the specific currency you're using, but if you're getting under a half-cent per point in value, you can bet it's not a good deal.
2. Redeeming Points for Non-travel Awards
Hotel points are a form of currency. That's to say, you can cash them in for a variety of different rewards, not just stays. But doing so is usually a big no-no because you get far less value than you would when using them for travel. For instance, you can use Hilton Honors points for Amazon purchases, and Marriott Bonvoy points for gift cards with hundreds of retailers, but you only get a mere 0.2 cents per point in value with either option. That's well below the potential when redeeming those points for rooms.
3. Not Booking Before Your Points Expire
Although the major hotel chains have paused points expiration for the time being, this likely won't be the case past 2021. Now is an excellent time to review the policies of the various programs with which you have accounts, and ensure that you have some qualifying activity to keep your points active for when you want to use them.
As a rule of thumb, Accor Live Limitless, Hilton Honors, and IHG Rewards points expire after 12 months of no activity. Choice Privileges and Wyndham Rewards expire after 18 non-active months, and both Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt points disappear after 24 months of non-activity. Best Western Rewards points don't expire. Before you go booking gratuitous stays, though, remember that "activity" usually includes earning as little as a single point for things like using a cobranded credit card or making purchases through a hotel program's affiliates. So, there are lots of ways to keep your points alive.
4. Not Being Flexible on Dates
You probably want to use your hotel points on specific dates. But introducing a little flexibility into your outlook might open up a world of possibilities. Apart from room availability during certain busy times, many hotel points programs have introduced saver, standard, and peak pricing, and the differences in award rates can be startling.
For example, a top-tier Marriott Bonvoy property, like The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, charges between 62,000 and 100,000 points per night, depending on the dates. Just think, you could be paying 38,000 extra points for the same room if your schedule is rigid. Likewise, at high-end Hilton properties like the luxurious Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand, award nights range from 75,000 to 95,000 points per night. Shift your trip dates, and you could save 20,000 per night, stretching the value of your points even further.
5. Not Booking Rooms Individually or Looking Night by Night
Like booking rooms normally, you might find some price fluctuations when using points. They can be especially dramatic if standard rooms are not available on some nights of your proposed stay and the entire reservation prices out at a premium or suite level, according to Arghandewal. The example she gives is a five-night stay in which a standard room might be available for only four of them, and the hotel attempts to sell you a suite for the whole booking instead. Rather than looking for a room across all the dates of your trip, she suggests, "Comparing rates on a nightly basis can save you a lot of points and cash. You can then book your preferred room type for four nights and the suite for one to save quite a lot." What's more, she says, "Sometimes, hotels will just give you the suite for your entire stay, so you don't have to switch rooms."
Conversely, some award rates have minimum-stay requirements. So, if you're coming up empty when searching for single nights, try entering two- or three-night bookings and see if any rooms open up.
6. Forgetting About Free Night Certificates
Several hotel credit cards deposit award night certificates into members' accounts, either automatically or when they hit certain spending thresholds. For instance, the World of Hyatt credit card bestows members with a free reward night each year (redeemable at a Category 1 to 4 property, so it's worth up to 15,000 points), and you can earn a second one by spending $15,000 or more with the card in a calendar year. The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless from Chase comes with an award night worth up to 35,000 points each year, while the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant from Amex offers an annual award night worth up to 50,000 points. Meanwhile, the Hilton Honors Aspire Amex extends a yearly free weekend reward night that's good Fridays through Sundays at nearly any Hilton property around the world. All these certificates expire, usually around a year after they are issued (2021 is an exception, given the unusual travel circumstances). So, if you have a hotel credit card, make sure to redeem any free nights you might be entitled to before they lapse, and before you burn through any points instead.
7. Not Taking Advantage of Fourth or Fifth Night Free Benefits
Three of the largest hotel chains offer members the opportunity to book award stays of several nights at a discount. Missing out could unnecessarily cost you tens of thousands of points. Marriott Bonvoy members who redeem points for stays of five consecutive nights get the fifth night free — a 20% discount. Hilton Honors elite members of any level — Silver, Gold, or Diamond — are also eligible for a fifth night free on award stays. Don't have status? Remember that Hilton's credit cards all include some tier of it as a benefit, whether it's Silver with the Hilton Honors American Express card, Gold with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass, or top-rung Diamond with the Hilton Honors Aspire American Express card.
Speaking of credit cards, if you carry the IHG Rewards Club Premier card, you can get a fourth night free on award stays. Depending on how often you redeem, this one perk alone could be worth signing up for the card.
8. Not Booking Before the Hotel Category Changes
Most of the major hotel loyalty programs shuffle some of their properties into different categories each year. While some hotels go down in category, and thus in points pricing, others shift upwards. As of March 3, for example, the W Aspen is going from a Category 7 to a Category 8 hotel with Marriott Bonvoy, meaning rooms will cost 62,000 to 100,000 points per night instead of 44,000 to 70,000. By booking before the recategorization date, though, you can lock in the lower price. Wait until after, and expect to shell out a lot more points.
9. Not Maximizing Cash and Points Options
Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Radisson all offer the ability to mix points rates with cash copays. Doing so lets members who might not have enough points to book a stay outright to pay for a portion of the cost with money. While this certainly adds a level of flexibility, it can also be a drawback.
For instance, World of Hyatt award nights cost between 5,000 and 30,000 points, depending on the property. (There's also a cadre of ultra-exclusive resorts that cost 40,000 points, where cash and points hybrid bookings are not offered.) The program's cash and points rates range from 2,500 to 15,000 points plus half the nightly room rate. So, you're paying half the points and half the money. Sounds great, right? It can be. But let's say you're booking at a low-occupancy time, where room rates are fairly depressed. By using points for half the paid rate, you could be redeeming your points at a relative loss. For example, let's take the Category 4 Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Rooms in March start at $249 or 15,000 points per night, or 7,500 points plus $125. But in June, room rates start at $349 or 15,000 points per night, or 7,500 plus $175. In the first case, you're getting about 1.7 cents per point in value, and with the second, you're getting 2.3 cents per point. Wouldn't you rather save your points for the higher-value option?
10. Overpaying for Premium Rooms or Suites
Certain hotel chains allow members to redeem points for premium rooms or even suites. But whether it's worth doing so depends on how much value you're getting.
At the Hilton Austin, rates for a standard room with a king bed start at $134 or 26,000 points per night in March. Upgrade to a Skyline View room, though, and you'll pay $163 or 55,000 points per night. That's over double the points for a room that costs $29 more per night. No thank you. Staying in the same city, let's say you wanted to book a room at the Renaissance Austin. A standard king with an atrium view costs 25,000 points or $116 in March. Upgrade just one category to an executive suite with a king bed that costs $134 per night, and you'll need to redeem 44,000 points. That's an extra 19,000 points for just $18 more in value. Again, pass.
11. Converting Hotel Points to Airline Miles
Some folks might forget that it's possible to transfer different kinds of hotel points to various airline partners. Due to poor conversion rates, this is an option to avoid for the most part, though. For instance, Radisson Rewards points transfer at a rate of 10:1 to miles with 35 airlines, including United, Southwest, and Delta. Wyndham Rewards points transfer at 5:1 to miles with 11 airline partners.
The one exception is Marriott Bonvoy, whose points convert into miles with over 40 airline partners. The choices include major U.S. carriers like American Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest, and United, plus international airlines like Virgin Atlantic, All Nippon Airways, Air Canada Aeroplan, and British Airways. While the usual ratio is three Marriott points to one airline mile, when you transfer 60,000 points at a time, you get a 5,000-mile bonus, ending up with 25,000 miles instead of the usual 20,000. Room rewards are generally a better option, but this can be worth it in some circumstances where you have a specific, imminent flight reward in mind.
12. Using Hotel Points Instead of Credit Card Points
Here's another one where you'll have to do the math. You can redeem certain credit card points — including Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Capital One Venture miles — for hotel reservations and sometimes get an even better rate of return than using hotel-specific points.
"The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal lets Sapphire Reserve cardholders redeem points for travel at a rate of 1.5 cents each," explains Arghandewal. "Hotel points might give you less value than that, especially if you're traveling during off-peak dates. I recently searched for a room at the Kimpton Muse Hotel in New York during the summer. IHG Rewards (in which Kimpton participates) was charging 57,000 points per night, while the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal required just under 20,000 points." Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to IHG, but by booking directly through the former, she saved over half of them.
13. Buying Hotel Points for a Stay
Like airline frequent-flier programs, hotel loyalty schemes sell their points at a steep premium. For instance, Hilton points cost $10 per 1,000, so one cent apiece. But redemption values are closer to 0.4 to 0.6 cents each. If you're just buying a couple thousand to round up for a fancy hotel room, that could still be worthwhile. Otherwise, you might as well look into booking those cash and points rates.
14. Not Canceling on Time
One of the biggest selling points of using hotel points to book a stay is the added flexibility to cancel if you need to. Many award rates are refundable up until 24 hours before check-in, so you can wait until the last minute. Miss that deadline, though, and you could be on the hook for one paid night at the "best available rate" (read: expensive) plus taxes and fees.
15. Not Budgeting for Resort Fees
Finally, more hotels in vacation destinations have started charging resort fees, while city properties have instituted "amenity fees" for things like Wi-Fi, gym access, and activity passes. While Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, and Wyndham Rewards generally waive these fees on award stays, Marriott and IHG do not. So, if you want to book a stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Maui, for instance, expect an automatic charge of $35 per day extra for high-speed internet, shuttle services, a photo session, and activities you might not even partake in, like basketball and croquet. Or, use IHG Rewards points at the Kimpton Canary in Santa Barbara, and you'll still have to pay the daily $35 fee for things like a $10 food and beverage credit, a canvas tote bag, upgraded Wi-Fi, gym access, and weekly rooftop yoga classes, whether or not you actually use any of those amenities.
Redeeming hotel points for stays can be a great way to save money when you travel. There are a lot of mistakes to avoid when doing so, though, to make sure you get the most value from your points and the most enjoyment from your trip.
Eric Rosen is a Travel + Leisure contributor based in Los Angeles, and the host of the Conscious Traveler podcast. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter.
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