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Recently, a reader asked me on social media how I choose overnight accommodations for my family of five on our vacations. Specifically, why do we pick a hotel over a condo, and vice versa?
On an ideal vacation, we would stay in a two- to three-bedroom condo with a kitchen, washer/dryer and lots of space. The kids would each have their own beds, and my husband and I would have our own master bedroom with a king-size bed.
The resort would have an ideal location and fun amenities, including a resort-style pool with lazy river and water slides. And we would use points to stay for free! We pretty much had this set-up in Kauai at Waipouli Beach Resort (see my recent review).
A resort like that with space, location and amenities is a unicorn for large families. Often, we have to sacrifice something and compromise based on a variety of things. Here are some factors we evaluate before deciding on a hotel vs. condo on a trip.
Length of Trip
The number of nights we will be staying in a place plays a big role in whether we stay in a condo vs. a hotel room. Our tolerance for sleeping in the same room has changed over time as our kids age and get bigger. It’s getting harder to share beds with our kids, and they no longer need us in the same room to feel safe.
If we’re just staying two to three nights, we can totally sleep in one hotel room, even with our “extra” kid on the floor. However, if we’re staying for close to a week or more, we will drive each other crazy in a small space. Turning out the lights early so my younger two can go to sleep while I quietly browse my phone gets old. And don’t even get me started about getting woken up by my early risers.
On longer trips, I’m willing to sacrifice the location and amenities of a hotel for the extra space of a condo. My sanity is worth it. For example, on our upcoming 3-week beach trip this summer, I knew there was absolutely no way my family could stay together in a hotel room for that length of time. Plus, without a condo kitchen, our food bill would be astronomical. A hotel just wouldn’t work.
Another consideration is that many condos charge a hefty cleaning fee regardless of length of stay. For shorter stays, it doesn’t make sense to incur that extra fee, but it’s easier to absorb that fee on longer stays.
Purpose of Trip
The type of overnight accommodations we choose varies depending on the purpose of our travel. Is the city the attraction, or is the resort the main attraction?
If we are traveling to an area with lots to see and do and we know our days will be packed, hotel and condo amenities don’t matter as much. We will really just need a comfortable place to sleep in an ideal location to see what we want to see. My recent whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. is an example. Although we stayed in a hotel, we could have easily stayed in a rental condo without a pool or restaurant.
But, if we are going on a trip to unwind and do “nothing”, onsite amenities become much more important in our decision. And generally speaking, hotels have superior recreation amenities compared to most condo resorts. Many, but not all condos really lack the “wow” factor in onsite restaurants and pools.
My family’s trips to Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa near Austin on July 4th and New Year’s Eve holidays were all about the resort amenities. The resort’s exclusive fireworks shows and private carnival were impossible to duplicate at any nearby condo resort, so the sacrifice in space was worth it.
On shorter Disney trips, we will sacrifice the space of an off-site condo in order to get on-site Disney amenities, like the 60-day FastPass+ window, easy monorail access and Extra Magic Hours.
Almost always, our travel budget plays a huge role in where we will stay. This is especially true if we are staying during peak season, like Spring Break.
Most years, we save money for one splurge vacation. Last year, that vacation was our Disney Cruise to Alaska. It took a long time to save up the cash for that expense. That meant that if we wanted to go on any other trips that year, they would have to be free or almost free.
I still wanted to escape for Spring Break a few months before that cruise. We didn’t have many flexible points at our disposal, so we had to use hotel points to make the “free” trip possible. We used SPG points to stay at the Sheraton Sand Key and Hyatt points to stay at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point.
The cash price for each night was around $300, so we saved over $2100 on our Spring Break accommodations. Thank goodness for hotel points! Renting a condo with cash would have made this trip impossible with our next-to-nothing budget. So, even though we had to squish our family of five in single hotel rooms for the entire week, it was that or nothing. And my motto is, “Always take the trip!”, even if the sleeping set-up isn’t the best.
My family will be facing the same dilemma next year. We are planning a big international trip in the summer which will eat up the majority of our vacation budget for the year. Rather than skip a Spring Break trip, I would rather use hotel points for a standard room so that we can get away for at least a few days without using a ton of cash.
Using Points for Hotel Stays and Condo Rentals
Most people are familiar with using traditional hotel points for free nights. See our list of best hotel credit card bonuses. Keep in mind that you can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and use a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Card to erase your travel-coded expenses from your credit card statement.
But, don’t forget about other credit card rewards that you can use to book both hotels and condos. The Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal has many condo resorts bookable with points. You could also use points from the Citi ThankYou Premier card or even use AA miles to book hotels and select condo resorts.
Note: Condos booked through vrbo are usually coded as real estate instead of travel and won’t work using Capital One Venture Rewards or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. However, accommodations booked on Airbnb typically code as travel. See this reference chart on Doctor of Credit.
I wish that our overnight accommodations were always spacious, affordable and full of amenities for every single trip. Wouldn’t that be a dream?!?
My family will likely prioritize space over amenities more and more as we get older. That said, I’d rather be “roughing it” in a small single hotel room on the beach than staying at home for Spring Break. The small comfort sacrifices of any type of lodging are a small price to pay for a change of scenery and making memories with my family on a trip.
When do you prefer to stay in a hotel room vs. a condo? What is the deciding factor for your family, and do you see your accommodation preferences changing over time?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.
For our family of 4, we value free breakfasts and location the most. So that mostly leaves hotels, rather than condos/apartments. The free breakfast saves us anywhere from $80 to $120 a day for all of us. Plus, it’s nice to be able to just walk downstairs to eat first thing in the morning, rather than have to drive somewhere or take a train.
The location is also huge for us because transportation costs can really add up. Having a rental car helps (although there is still gas and parking fees). But if you’re relying on public transport/taxi/uber, then the costs can really add up the farther away you are from all the “action.” Plus you spend more time commuting. So we look for places that are more walk friendly or a very short train/uber ride to our preferred attractions.
@Aaron It’s hard to beat a free, hot hotel breakfast! When we stay in condos, our breakfast is store-bought muffins, string cheese and oatmeal. I don’t want to have to cook more than necessary.
We lean more towards hotels at the moment, but I can see us shifting to condos soon. I like a fun hotel, and i enjoy the amenities (including an actually good breakfast!). Condos are good for saving on food costs but cooking on vacation is annoying…the task falls on me so I need to be deliberate with my food planning so to minimize cooking time and clean up.
I took my instant pot with us once, and in my cooler had some precooked, frozen taco meat to heat up in it, as an example.
In the points world, I’m seeing families place their points efforts toward flights and being more flexible with hotel/condo so to get the exact room they need. I’m seeing the logic in that.
@Kacie You make such a good point about cooking! I don’t enjoy cooking, but I do it 95% of the days we’re at home. I do look forward to going out to eat on vacation. On our recent trip to Kauai in a condo, we purchased some ready-made food from the store (like fried chicken) so I didn’t have to work so hard on meal planning.
I like the fried chicken idea. I’ll also buy food that I normally wouldn’t at home (Lunchable type of things) and other prepackaged meals. Some groceries now sell meal kits, kind of like what you can get with those delivery services, and I’d consider picking up some of those.
No matter what, food when we’re traveling is always more expensive than at home and for us that is why travel is never free, lol!
@Kacie When my kids were younger, they loved having Lunchables for lunch on vacation. It was a staple for them. Now my boys are ravenously hungry all the time and Lunchables just won’t cut it. And you’re right, food is usually more expensive on vacation, even at the store.
As a family of five, we make similar choices. For one night and at a hotel that allows it, we will bring a cot for our middle son. However, now that all three are teens, it’s not really enjoyable sharing one room. Just the showers alone hold us up in the morning so we generally get two hotel rooms. Our preference is always timeshare/condo.
@Michelle I can imagine that with 3 teens, space is highly desirable! We haven’t done two hotel rooms as much because it’s usually so expensive. But next year on an international trip, we will stay in a few places for just 1-2 nights, so we will likely have to have two hotel rooms then.