3 Key Rewards Program Tools for Staying in Good Hotels at Very Little Cost

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I’ve never gone and spent $450 on a hotel room, but I’m not a budget traveler either.

There are a lot of travel bloggers who travel year round and do their best to keep costs super low. I travel for work, and pleasure, but I don’t travel full time or live in hotels. I also never really put myself into a box like travel blogger, this is just my blog where I share my thoughts, experiences, and strategies with folks who find it (hopefully) useful or interesting.

Many of the full-time or nomadic types stay in hostels, backpacking around Southeast Asia to keep their costs down. Now, since they do it full-time they probably know far more about this than I do. But that’s now how I would go about it.

A dozen years ago the go-to app was Priceline. You could do 30 night bids at a time and find them often accepted in the low $30s a night in San Francisco. Grab a Hyatt stay for a month. And back then Priceline stays even counted towards Hyatt’s Faster Free Nights promotion. Earn Diamond status, have lounge access and daily housekeeping, and generate free nights as well for about $1000 a month in ‘rent’ in downtown San Francisco. That was the first time I heard of anyone living full time in hotels.

Hotel markets are far stronger than they were circa 2002, and hotel programs no longer as generous giving elite and promotional credit on Priceline stays either!

If I were looking to be more of a nomad and travel on a budget today, my key tools would probably be:

I play the loyalty game and get tremendous value out of my suite upgrades and free upgrades even while keeping rates low and maximizing deals like ‘cash and points’ offers.

But loyalty programs also have a real role to play at the budget level, such as staying in Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and even Intercontinental-type properties for ~ $35 per night.

Priceline and Hotwire are still tools for the arsenal, especially when I’m helping folks that don’t already have points or need to stay in a specific neighborhood. But these programs can provide even better value than the opaque, non-refundable booking sites.. with reservations that usually remin fully cancellable.

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I recently stayed at 3 different hotels in Italy on points or free nights, shown below in how I would rank the quality of my stays:

    – Marriott category 5 at a resort in Tuscany, using the annual free night for the credit card – wonderful room and bed. Cost = $85 for the annual fee on the card.

    – Holiday Inn Express in Foligno, using 5,000 points a night (points break) – quite nice low-key hotel and nice free breakfast.

    – SPG Westin in Florence, using 25,000 SPG points – awful bed, much worse worse that the Holiday Inn Express!

    And I normally value those 25,000 SPG points at about the same as 80,000 IHG points. I complained to SPG and their answer was Ho Hum, sorry you didn’t like it.

  2. No more Westins for me! I meant to say worse but worse worse now sounds even better when I consider what I could have got for 25,000 SPG points!

  3. Yes, TravelMore – we are spending 4 nights in New York at the Martinique on just the annual bonus points for renewal fees on our cards.

  4. The Club Carlson card now requires two consecutive award nights to be redeemed before adding a free night (your third). I guess the previous one award night one free was too generous. Still a good deal.

  5. mk, are you sure that with the Carlson visa the second night or a two night award stay is no longer free? Just reread the conditions and perhaps it is a question of semantics or my brain not working too well, but I do not think (or at least hope) that you are right.

  6. @MK,
    Your Club Carlson info is not correct. The card offer says: “Bonus Award Nights – When you redeem Gold Points for 2 or more consecutive Award Nights, your last night is free.2 Exclusively for cardmembers!”

    This means you only need to reserve 2 (two) nights and the 2nd one is free.

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