A few weeks ago we ran a promotion on our Facebook page where we asked readers to share what topics they want us to cover on the blog. Quite a few of you expressed interest in learning about best strategies on using hotel points for road trips. So, that’s what this post will focus on.
Going on a family road trip during the summer is very much an American thing. My husband’s fondest childhood memories have to do with driving around western states and visiting national parks. His family had an old pop-up camper (no bathroom), so they utilized campgrounds at night.
This type of travel is definitely not for me, though I certainly can understand the appeal. That said, if you can find a special on a comfortable (a.k.a tricked-out) RV, it’s definitely something to consider. See my post Using Cruise America to Travel Hack Camping. I recommend you bookmark their Hot Deals page that lists deeply discounted RV rental specials. Very often the deals are so good, it makes sense to pay for airfare so you can take advantage of them.
But what if you prefer to stay in hotels and want to drive your own vehicle? In that case, you should focus on accumulating the right type of hotel points. When you decide which parks you want to visit, I recommend playing around with tools like HotelHustle, AwardMapper and Pointimize. Check TripAdvisor reviews for properties you are interested in and go from there. You may also want to read my post Family trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National park with the help of points
Best hotel programs for family road trips
Pros: 1) excellent footprint, 2) ability to book a suite via points for the same rate as a basic room
Cons: 1) the quality of properties can be hit or miss, 2) Choice uses variable award rates on hotels, so some can be expensive via points during high season
There are quite a few Choice properties near national parks. Many off-the-beaten-path Choice hotels cost 8,000-12,000 points per night, and you can often get a suite, which is a lifesaver for big families. One major downside is that you can only book 30 days ahead domestically, 60 days if you can match to their elite status (IHG Platinum counts).
Ways to get Choice points:
Purchasing Choice currency at a full price of 1.1 cent per point usually won’t make sense, so you may want to keep an eye on DailyGetaways promotion, which should return next spring. You can buy points for around 0.42 cents apiece, but you have to be quick. It may be worth it to stock up speculatively if you are planning a road trip in the summer of 2018. At times, Choice sells points at a discount, so make sure to check the website. Lastly, Amex Membership Rewards points transfer to Choice on 1:1 basis, but that should be your last resort.
Credit card: Choice Privileges Visa Signature Application link (pays no commission). You will get 32,000 points after spending $1,000 in 3 months, no annual fee. The bonus was as high as 50,000 points in the past, so you may want to hold off applying for now. Personally, I would go for other, more lucrative Barclay offers like Jet Blue card, but that’s just me.
Pros: 1) excellent footprint, 2) some excellent deals via cash+points rate
Cons: 1) the quality of properties can be hit or miss, 2) fixed redemption system means redeeming points on basic properties is usually not the best option
Wyndham has a ton of properties near national parks. Many are a “fleabag motel” type, so definitely do your research ahead of time. Wyndham charges 15,000 points per night for all the properties in the program. However, there is also an option of paying just 3,000 points in exchange for getting a sizable discount.
Take for example Super 8 Gardiner/Yellowstone Park area hotel. Here are paid rates for June of 2018:
That’s quite a lot for a motel, but there is very little competition in the area. The property has indoor corridors, pool and free breakfast, and gets decent reviews. Here is the rate when using Wyndham points:
If you want to stretch your Wyndham stash, redeeming points on Go Fast award may be the way to go.
Ways to get Wyndham points:
You can buy a maximum of 5,000 Wyndham points per calendar year at a rate of $55. They also sell them via DailyGetaways promotion, and last year the rate was $175 for 15,000 points. That’s not exactly dirt cheap, but the math might work for Go Fast rate in some properties.
Through 1/31/2017 you can earn up to 15,000 bonus points on three stays via Visa Checkout promo. If you need to pay for a hotel anyway, it could make sense to shift your business to Wyndham for the sake of the promotion.
Credit card: Wyndham Rewards Visa Card Application link (pays no commission). Right now the sign-up bonus is 45,000 points, so this is a good time to apply. The annual fee of $75 is not waived.
Pros: 1) excellent footprint, 2) the quality of properties is fairly consistent
Cons: 1) slim pickings next to national parks, 2) all the recent devaluations mean finding bargains can be tough
IHG doesn’t have many properties located right next to national parks. That said, if you don’t mind a bit of a drive, it could be an excellent option for your needs. Plus, in all likelihood, you will need to overnight in a small town while driving between parks. Most will have a Holiday Inn Express in the vicinity. While not a fancy hotel brand by any means, it’s a decent mid-range option with clean rooms and complimentary breakfast.
Holiday Inn Express in Lake Placid, Florida
You should expect to pay between 10,000-35,000 points per night, with most Holiday Inn Express properties falling into 20,000 points range. IHG runs a promotion every 3 months called PointBreaks where certain hotels on the list cost only 5,000 points per night. If you are flexible, it’s possible to put a cheap road trip based on what’s available on that list.
Ways to get IHG points:
IHG regularly runs a sale on purchasing points, where the price works out to be 0.57 cents apiece, sometimes less. I don’t recommend buying speculatively under any circumstances. Like I said, these sales come around fairly often, so wait till you have solid plans in place. A potentially lucrative option is participating in one of IHG promos, like new Accelerate, especially if your current vacation plans match up.
Credit card: IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card. Right now I believe the affiliate offer is the best one out there, where you get 60,000 points after spending $1,000. You may be able to get an extra $50 credit if you do a dummy booking on IHG.com. Be aware, the official bonus has been as high as 80,000 points in the past, so I would hold out for now.
Pros: 1) excellent footprint, 2) the quality of properties is fairly consistent
Cons: 1) slim pickings next to national parks, 2) dynamic award pricing means finding bargains can be tough during peak travel periods
Hilton program is very similar to IHG, though finding bargains in the latter is a bit easier. Hampton Inn (a competitor of Holiday Inn Express) is a decent small-town option. You will get a basic (usually clean) room and a complimentary breakfast. Some properties cost as little as 10,000 points per night, but those deals are rare. During the summer you should expect to pay between 20,000-50,000 points per night, depending on hotel market.
Ways to get Hilton points:
Hilton sells points for 0.5 cents apiece on a regular basis. Membership Rewards program will often have transfer bonuses where the ratio is 1:2. It’s not great, but it’s an option nonetheless. I would not stock up on Hilton points speculatively via transfer or purchase.
Credit card: Hilton Honors Surpass Credit Card from American Express. This card’s bonus has been as high as 100k+ in the past.
Keep in mind, in January of 2018 American Express will launch new Hilton cards, so you may want to wait and see what type of sign-up offers will be available. Your choice, of course.
Obviously, there are other hotel programs out there which may suit your needs better. However, if you are not 100% sure on your itinerary, I would focus on the four options I’ve highlighted above. When going off the beaten path, you want good footprint first and foremost. Of course, NOT picking up bed bugs should be your goal as well!
Readers, what advice would you like to add?
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.