I’ve mentioned many times that hotel points have their place in your vacation fund toolbox. Sure, vacation rentals are usually a better fit for a family of four or more. However, there are times when you have no choice but to reserve a hotel room. That’s what happened to my husband recently.
Once in a blue moon, he has to do some midnight work in Port Charlotte Fl, located about 1 hour from our home. Normally, his employer pays for a local hotel, since he has to double-check everything early in the morning. Well, somehow there was a misunderstanding and his hotel bill reimbursement didn’t get approved in time.
So, he said he would just drive home at midnight and come back to Port Charlotte in the morning. I told him no way would I let him drive that late at night, especially since we have a huge stash of IHG points. I wouldn’t even mind paying for hotel room out-of-pocket, but using points is way more palatable for our budget.
I checked and there was a Holiday Inn Express for 15,000 points per night, with paid rate being $88 (plus tax). So, I went ahead and reserved it. Well, lo and behold, his boss got an approval for reimbursement on the day of the check-in. Since I found out about it at 5 PM, I was able to cancel my points reservation without penalty.
A huge advantage of award hotel stays is that you can usually cancel very close to your stay, which is not the case with vacation rentals through VRBO and such. When you have kids, you just never know when the next disease hits, am I right?
BTW, I checked and there were a few other hotels in the area, easily attainable on points. Take a look below. Even though that Hampton Inn runs at 20,000 points, you can use just 8,000 Hilton points and copay $40, a pretty good deal. Effectively, you are buying 12,000 points for $40.
Take a look at Club Carlson option. The rate is a bit high at 28,000 points, but you are offered an option to use 5,000 points to save $28. If you are points’ poor, this is a good way to stretch them. This option isn’t always offered, but you are more likely to get it in less touristy locations. Obviously, unless you are maximizing the “second night free” benefit that comes with US Bank Club Carlson Signature Visa, it makes more sense to use the co-pay option. An update: BOGO benefit is no longer available.
Neither Hyatt not SPG programs had anything in the surrounding area. That’s the problem with those chains when it comes to a typical American family’s vacation. If you are looking to do a road trip or visit relatives in a medium size town, you’ll most likely be out of luck. Not too long ago we booked a Holiday Inn Express that participated in PointBreaks promotion. We have wanted to visit my husband’s cousin for the longest time, and this sealed the deal.
Aside from several sketchy-looking hotels, HI Express was the only game in town. That’s probably why the going rate was $121 per night. But for us? Only 4,500 IHG points due to 10% rebate you get with Chase IHG MasterCard. Of course, we ended up canceling (without penalty) due to my kid’s lice infestation. But once again, it just shows how flexible hotel points are.
There are usually nice Hyatt and SPG hotels in popular tourist places, but what if you want to go off the beaten path? If you check locations near national parks, you’ll most likely come across a few IHG, Hilton, Best Western and Choice properties. That’s why when you see Hyatt or SPG promotions, think about your future vacation plans. Do they align with visiting mostly big cities?
Will you find yourself going there just so you can use your points? There is nothing wrong with those chains, but you’ll be limiting yourself somewhat in this respect. I recommend you focus on IHG, Club Carlson and possibly Hilton HHonors points.
The last ones have devalued in the recent years, but as you can see, many times you can use them to get a discounted rate on your room. You don’t have to acquire them through everyday spending (though Amex Surpass card can make sense for bonus categories), but watch for ways to leverage your existing vacation plans in order to maximize various promos.
Right now there are a few of those going on. Perhaps, you still haven’t decided on where to spend spring break with your kids and are looking at different hotel promotions. Which one should you pick? This may sound crazy, but I would go with IHG “Set your sights” promo as long your targeted offer is fairly lucrative. In spite of all the quirks, you will most likely be able to use those points no matter what destination you’ll pick for your next vacation.
You may also look into Club Carlson Extend Your Stay promo which awards 30,000 points after 3 paid nights. If you have their co-branded Visa, it could make a lot of sense to go that route, since you get every 2nd night redemption free. Be aware, Club Carlson doesn’t have as big of a footprint as IHG, especially in the West. You can see the entire map of Club Carlson properties on Travel is Free blog
Which hotel did I book?
OK, back to my husband’s situation. I went ahead and reserved Country Inn and Suites, which was running at $69 (plus tax). It had very good reviews and included hot breakfast. His employer prefers the price to stay at $100 or less, which is doable in our neck of the woods.
The more logical thing for us to do was to stick to IHG property so I could add points to my existing stash. But it didn’t seem right to make his job pay $19 more for the privilege, so I went with Club Carlson option instead. At the time, he didn’t yet have their co-branded Visa. Before I reserved the hotel, I signed him up for a free membership and opted-in promotion to get double points.
Do what works for you
This industry places an enormous value on aspirational awards and programs like Hyatt and SPG. There is nothing wrong with those. Plus, it would be foolish of me to say that those two programs are a wrong fit for all American families.
For example, Kirsten from The American Travel Project and Kendra from Points and Pixie Dust are huge Hyatt fans. It works for their respective families. They even pay cash for many hotel stays (gasp!) and maintain top-tier status with Hyatt. I’m not about to go and try to convince them that they are doing it wrong (wrong, I tell you!) and their loyalty is somehow misplaced. They are both smart (and sassy) broads and know best what works for their particular situation.
I am most certainly an IHG gal, though recently started an affair with Club Carlson. Don’t tell IHG, OK? BTW, the rumors you’ve heard are true: Club Carlson is magnificent. Oh my! Right now, there is a lot of buzz about that movie “Fifty shades of Grey.” Yawn. Playing around with fifty best Club Carlson redemptions is waaay more exciting, trust me.
For me, the three most important characteristics of a hotel program are: Value, ease of points’ accumulation and footprint. We tend to visit obscure places like St. Simons island in Georgia and Sanibel in Florida. Many times where we go, there are no Hyatts or SPG properties in sight. But once again, it’s my travel pattern, and may not be how you do things.
Readers, what promo do you plan to participate in?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.