Few weeks ago, I wrote a post on Paradox of Choice in the Miles and Points Hobby In it, I’ve mentioned that you should beware choice overload. You can literally drive yourself nuts trying to figure out whether to pay cash or use points when it comes to hotel choices. So, today, I’ll try to outline a strategy on how you can minimize this choice overload and make a decision once and for all. Mind you, I’m not a good example in this department. Still, here are a few steps I try to follow:
1.Pick a destination first, always
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with flying somewhere just to check out a newly opened hotel. To each his own. But that’s not how I do things. Destination comes first, then miles and points have to fit around that location. Sometimes there is an abundance of chain hotels where I can burn points, and sometimes there is none. Of course, my preference is to conserve our savings. So, if there is a choice of locations, I’ll try to go to one that lets me use my miles and points stash.
2.Decide if getting a hotel is the right strategy
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that having a separate bedroom and kitchen is preferable when you are traveling as a family. If you value privacy, you may want to stick with vacation rentals. Check sites like VRBO, SkyAuction, AirBnB etc. Of course, you do lose out on flexibility, but you can always purchase trip insurance from Insuremytrip to protect yourself in case your kid falls ill at the last minute.
Something reader Erik suggested is checking into timeshare presentations. In exchange for 90 minutes of your time (though, it usually ends up being 3 hours), you can get free lodging. Of course, don’t even think about buying one! Seriously, don’t.
I’ve actually tried to talk my husband into going to one of these, but no dice. He hates the idea even more than constantly switching credit cards. His family has done a fair share of timeshares (it rhymes!) when he was a kid, and he is permanently put off by the whole thing. Actually, my in-laws haven’t done it in years either. The last time they attended a timeshare, the salesman got visibly depressed when they said No. Who knows, it could have been his last chance to meet the quota or lose the job. It spoiled their vacation.
Of course, I’m not saying it’s wrong to attend a timeshare. You are simply taking them up on their offer, kind of like with credit card bonuses. Just remember, there is a human element involved. Will you be able to resist high-pressure salesmanship? It’s not like miles and points blogs, you can’t just click away.
But what if you prefer to go with hotel because you value flexibility or only need to stay for one night? In that case…
3.Compare paid and points options
So, let’s say there are several chain hotels in the area where I can burn points. Depending on location, I may or may not utilize this hobby. For example, I’m much more likely to stay in chain hotels in USA than I would in Europe. Recently, we had a 1-night stay in Dublin before our flight to America. I could have redeemed IHG points for a Holiday Inn Express by the airport, but opted not to.
I really wanted something unique and “non-cookie cutter.” That said, our flight didn’t leave till 2 PM the next day, so we had some time to explore a local Irish village. Even though our time there was short, it was incredibly fun and memorable. If we had to fly out at 8:00 AM, we would have stayed by the airport. But in this case, staying at a castle was the best choice, especially since we were able to utilize $100 coupon from Orbitz. That’s why you should…
4.Check various promotions and coupons
Beware, this could cause a major case of choice overload. First, you want to check hotel promotions and see if you can leverage your stay to complete a hurdle in order to get bonus points. For example, I’ve mentioned Club Carlson promo where cardholders can get 30,000 bonus points (stackable with other promos) for just 1-night stay through the end of August. Let’s say you value this currency at 0.2 cents per point, which is very conservative.
Assuming you can earn 32,000 for one night, that’s $64 in value. So, if you can find a Club Carlson hotel that costs $90 per night, you would really only be paying $26. This is dirt cheap even if you are not a fan of Club Carlson. Of course, your ROI will be best when staying only one night. Most chains run some sort of promotion on hotel stays for a good part of the year. Some will give you a free night after two paid stays, others will give a set amount of points. Some are quite lucrative, others are “weak sauce.” I recommend you follow LoyaltyLobby website because it does a good job of updating readers on offers as they come along.
If you are a status chaser and need only few booked nights in a certain brand to qualify for top-tier benefits, it also makes sense to throw your energy in that direction. Personally, I’ve never pursued any kind of status, but once again, it’s the case of “to each his own.” I suppose, if you are going to stay somewhere anyway, might as well make it an investment for the next year. I don’t fault those who do it, it’s none of my business.
If staying for a few nights in one location, you can look at various travel sites to see if they run a promo that would suit your needs. Most of the time, the coupons will be listed on “Deals” page. Here is an example from Orbitz website:
Speaking of Orbitz, it has a reward program where you earn Orbucks (Orbitz currency) for hotel bookings, redeemable for future stays. If you are not a member yet, you can join via my referral link which will give you $25 off your first hotel stay. Thanks in advance!
You may also be familiar with Hotels.com loyalty program where you get a 1 free night rebate after having 10 paid nights. It basically amounts to a 10% discount, which is pretty good. For many who prefer non-chain hotels, this program could be a perfect fit.
Also, check Evreward and see how much cash back you can earn for booking various chain hotels through a shopping portal. For instance, when you are looking for IHG property, you’ll have to type in “Intercontinental” instead of IHG. Don’t ask me why.
As you can see, at the time of me writing this post, you could get up to 6% cash back on your booking, but at times, that percentage can be as high as 9%.
All promotions appear to be “weak sauce” ?
5.Check and see if you can get good value from redeeming your existing stash of hotel points
If you already have a decent supply of hotel points, it makes sense to save cash and use those instead. But when should you redeem your precious stash? Only you can answer that question. I’ve put together a post listing my personal value when it comes to miles and points. This list is constantly evolving. It’s also very subjective and your value will likely be quite different. Still, my reasoning may help you determine a ballpark figure. Also, read my cheekily-titled post Does size matter when it comes to value of points?
I’ve encouraged my readers to be “satisficers” when it comes to redemptions. Well, here is the proof that I practice what I “preach.”Recently, I made an IHG redemption that gave me only 0.51 cents per point. I burned my 75,000 points without hesitation. The hotel was in perfect location to where we needed to be, and the room was comfortable and clean. IHG brand may be wacky and uneven, but you can count on their presence whether it’s a big city or a smallish town. Check my post Fifty shades of hotel points
Hmm, what’s up with with all these inappropriate titles? Eh, what do you expect from me? I’m a bored housewife, y’all!
6.No hotel points? Consider signing up for a hotel credit card
Let’s say you found a hotel you really like, and it happens to be a bargain on points. But you don’t got any! That’s when it could make sense to apply for a card that offers hotel points. Naturally, you need to be picky and make sure it’s worth the trouble. Personally, I like to go for cards that will give me at least 3 nights once I complete minimum spending requirement. Be aware, categories can change without notice, or there may not be any availability for your dates, so always have a Plan B for your points.
I’ve said many times that families should pick cash or miles over hotel points. But, occasionally, it could make sense to consider the latter. So choose wisely. Or don’t. There is nothing wrong with opting to pay cash for your lodging or even attending a timeshare, for that matter.
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.