Buying miles or hotel points is not something I discuss frequently in my posts. My main goal with this blog is to highlight ways for regular families to travel affordably, or as close to free as possible. Not all of us in the miles and points community make six figures each year, even though it may seem like it at times. That’s why my personal strategy, for the most part, involves applying for credit cards so I can accumulate various currencies dirt cheap. However, I realize that not everyone can or should apply for new cards.
Perhaps you’ve been burned in the past and got yourself into debt. Or maybe your credit score is simply not high enough to get approved in the first place. Does it mean that you should give up on miles and points altogether? Not necessarily. As I’ve said before, this is not a “one size fits all” type hobby.
Occasionally, simply buying points at a discounted price can turn your family vacation dreams into reality. Let me give you a hypothetical example. Let’s say your family has around $300 to spend on hotels, and you want to put together a 3-5 night vacation. You can’t really afford to fly, and are only able to drive within US, possibly Canada.
Let me show you how two current points promotions can make it happen.
SPG and IHG promos
SPG promo: Now through December 29, 2017, save 35% on all purchases of 5,000 or more Starpoints. For $318 you can buy 14,000 SPG points. Keep in mind that your account has to be open for at least 14 days in order to take advantage of this promotion. You can join SPG program for free.
14,000 points can cover a 4-night stay at a category 2 property, as long as you include weekend nights. That’s an average of $80 per night all-in.
Don’t forget that SPG points transfer to Marriott on 1:3 basis. Marriott program lets you have 5th night free via points, regardless of category. With SPG, its has to be category 3 or higher.
IHG promo: Now through December 8th, you can get up to 100% bonus points as long as you buy at least 20,000 points. The offer is technically targeted, but 100% bonus seems to show up on most accounts. If it comes up for you, you should be able to buy 50,000 points for $312, possibly less. Some see a price of $250, or 0.5 cents per point. You can join IHG program at no cost.
50,000 points can cover a 5-night stay at a category 1 property. That’s an average of $62 per night all-in.
If you have hotel plans in the upcoming months, you may want to look into various promotions which will allow you to accumulate points on the cheap. This may be a better route vs. buying them. LoyaltyLobby blog keeps good track of current hotel promos.
When accumulating miles and hotel points, I use a very simple principle: Buy low, sell high. Yes, just like stocks. You will usually get the best return during holidays, special events and high season. But as long as your points “appreciate” substantially compared to what you’ve paid, you should consider burning them.
Few properties where you can get the most value out of your points
I had several requirements in my search:
1) The property can not be located near an airport. Who wants to spend their precious vacation time listening to plane noise?
2) The room has to fit at least four people comfortably. That means two queen-size beds.
3) The hotels have to be located near popular tourist destinations.
4) The reviews have to be decent.
All are category 2 properties, which cost 4,000 points on weekdays, 3,000 points on weekends.
Four Points by Sheraton Niagara Falls Fallsview To me, this is one of the best deals in SPG program. While hotel doesn’t look fancy, the location can’t be beat. During the summer, hotels next to Niagara Falls charge a premium. Buying points can be a great way to experience this amazing natural wonder on the cheap.
This hotel runs at $150-$200 during the summer and occasionally, the rates can be downright insane:
That’s a pretty sweet return on your SPG points, wouldn’t you agree?
Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort This is a decent hotel for families looking for a relatively affordable place near Disney. Just watch out for parking fees ($15 per day).
Four Points by Sheraton Studio City It’s located close to Universal Studios park, and would provide a good base for exploring the area. Rooms have two queen size beds with a possibility of adding a rollaway. It appears they no longer charge extra for parking or resort fees. The hotel has been recently remodeled.
Four Points by Sheraton Jacksonville Baymeadows It’s a good base from which to explore nearby beaches and do a day trip to St. Augustine.
An important note: Orlando is a relatively cheap market, but rates can still be high during holidays and spring (high season). That’s when using points will pay off big time. At other times, you will probably be better off renting a condo.
Sheraton Roanoke Hotel & Conference Center Located near Blue Ridge Parkway.
Four Points by Sheraton Bakersfield Close to Sequioia National forest and Six Flags park.
Aloft Ontario-Rancho Cucamonga Situated at the foothills of San Gabriel mountains.
All properties (unless otherwise stated) are category 1, so they cost 10,000 points per night.
Holiday Inn Fort Myers Downtown area Close to Sanibel island (excellent shelling) and Fort Myers beach. I really like this area of Florida and recommend you visit it with your family. My sister-in-law just took my daughter to this hotel for a weekend getaway and they really enjoyed it. Kids eat free.
Typical beach in Sanibel island
Holiday Inn and Suites Brooksville I-75 Free breakfast is included. Brooksville boasts numerous outdoor attractions, which include Withlacoochee State Forest, Withlacoochee State Trail, Croom Motorcross ATV Park and Weeki Wachee Springs.
Holiday Inn Express : Madera-Yosemite Pk Area (15,000 points per night). Even though it’s a category 2, I still think it’s a good deal because the hotel is very close to Yosemite entrance. Breakfast is included and reviews are excellent.
Holiday Inn Express and Suites Meadowlands Area (15,000 points per night). I think this hotel is a pretty good deal if you want to do a day trip to NYC. Driving in the city itself can be insane, so staying in New Jersey instead makes a lot of sense if you have your own car. When you buy points at 0.62 cents apiece, the hotel will cost $93 per night all-in. While certainly not cheap, when you factor in indoor pool and free breakfast, I think it’s a pretty decent price. See my detailed review
These are just a few examples, and there are many more. IHG is a weird program because they don’t list hotels by categories. The biggest bargain is IHG PointBreaks program where certain properties cost only 5,000 points per night.
If you do decide to buy points, your trip, obviously, will be anything but free. In many cases, you may be able to book a vacation rental with kitchen for not much more in terms of cost. See my post The age-old question: Hotel points or vacation rentals for family vacation?
There is one huge benefit to booking with points, and it’s flexibility. You can usually cancel one or two days ahead and get your points back. It’s much more complicated when you are dealing with vacation rentals. Of course, you can buy travel insurance with the latter, but still. In addition, most hotels have amenities like pool, and some offer complimentary breakfast.
Buying points is almost never a no-brainer, but every family has different needs. So, if you are in a spot where you can’t apply for credit cards, look at various promos and do the math. You may be able to take your kids to Niagara Falls after all!
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.