Do Hotel “Mattress Runs” Make Any Sense?

Yesterday I declared that the era of mileage running is over.

Except in some very limited cases, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to buy tickets and fly just to earn miles.

One case is “mistake fares” that are so low the benefits may outweigh the costs (although even there, the value of your time needs to be factored in, although when it’s an incremental ‘vacation’ rather than purely a trip for the miles that calculation changes).

Another is a single trip at the margin to earn something substantial like top tier elite status — I would argue against mileage running from scratch to get to 100,000 mile flyer status, but if ypu’re going to end the year at 96,000 miles then an incremental trip probably makes sense, provided you expect to fly as much in the coming year and will reap the benefits of the higher status.

The point here is you have to judge the value of the investment of time and money at the margin.

When I wrote last week about determining how much miles are worth, I explained that it matters how many miles you already have. The first miles you earn aren’t worth very much. Earning more miles when you have several million doesn’t get you much. Those miles are worth fare less than any theoretical average value. But the miles you earn that put you over the top for a specific award are worth quite a lot — if I have 89,000 US Airways miles, I’d gladly pay 50 cents per mile for the last 1000 miles that gets me a business class award ticket to Hong Kong.

With that in mind, consider the New York Times coverage of hotel mattress runs, checking into hotels just to earn stay or night credit towards elite status.

Most hotel programs award status based either on the number of stays (often 25 stays yields top tier status, but if varies by hotel chain) or number of nights over the course of a year (ranging from 50 to 75 for top tier status).

There are essentially three ways that travelers earn ‘extra’ stays and nights.

  • Extra stays can be earned by ‘switching hotels’. Perhaps you have a three night stay. Check into hotel A the first night, hotel B the second night, and back to hotel A the third. That way you earn 3 stays instead of just one for those same 3 nights.

  • You can make a decision to stay at a hotel chain you frequent instead of a more convenient hotel. This is really the effect of loyalty. I admit I do it, it isn’t necessarily worth it for the benefits on a given stay but if I only do it a couple of times per year then the accrued benefits over the course of a full year can justify it. It’s just important to understand how much inconvenience you’re going through for status.

  • Booking extra hotel nights you don’t need — you just check in but don’t even stay. Ideally you find hotels that don’t even require the check-in, but if you live close to a hotel that’s cheap you can check in quite reasonably and you’re “buying next year’s benefits.”

Hotel mattress runs bring fewer redemption benefits but also usually come at a lower cost than airline mileage runs, and may be more worthwhile for earning elite status — but again, at what margin is the key question? How many nights or stays do you need, how much do you need to spend, and how much inconvenience are you incurring? And then you weigh that against the benefit of what you receive — likely upgrades and free breakfast in the coming year, whose value is determined by how much those things mean to you and how frequently you’ll travel and use them in the year ahead.

Hotel loyalty programs are generally revenue-based on the earning side. The number of points you earn towards free nights are generally based on the amount of money you spend, so it’s harder to get outsized benefits from incremental stays. With an airline you may earn points that you redeem for international first class saver awards — you’re getting something expensive on the cheap that the airline makes available because it would otherwise go unsold. But hotel programs don’t have the same sort of capacity controls usually that airlines do, and don’t offer the same kind of outsized value as a result.

Occasionally hotel programs offer promotions that can justify mattress running for the points or free nights. Those were common in 2009 and 2010, and very uncommon today.

Four years ago you could earn a free night at any Hyatt in the world for every two stays (including cheap one-night airport stays) and you could earn thousands of United miles at the same time through stackable promotions. That made mattress running, even status benefits aside, worthwhile.

But the depths of the Great Recession are gone, hotels are much closer to capacity, and loyalty programs aren’t pushing the pedal to the metal to goose heads in beds the way they were then.

Hotel programs have become more important than they were fifteen years ago, when many hotels were just awarding miles in airline loyalty programs or when they had their own those didn’t have much penetration in their guest base. Now many brands see that a majority of guests are members.

And people certainly make mattress runs at the end of the year to ensure their status, since better treatment will make their coming year much easier and because it’s cheaper and less time consuming than airline mileage running.

But I’m not sure that the ‘trend’ the Times piece is suggesting is real, that mattress running is more common than three or four years ago, especially because this analysis just seems three years late:

The loophole, if it can be called that, is that travelers typically can accrue credit toward those freebies by staying at lower-end brands in the company’s portfolio, but they usually can redeem their free nights at high-end and even luxury hotels.

“It’s worth staying for $50 or $60 a night to earn a free night I can then use in Chicago or New York or Vegas,” Ms. Lynn said. Last summer, she drove to a hotel an hour from her home, checked into a $54 room and stayed only moments.

Unfortunately that’s just not really how it works today, without free night promotions on top of regular points earned.

Are you mattress running this year? If so, how come?

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, 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. Just one night because I am at 74 nights with Starwood, worth the 3000 points to hit the 75 night level.

  2. Hyatt Regency Greenwich in CT often has rates ~$100 / night. The regency club is always closed on the weekend, so that’s 3,500pts for diamond amenity + closed lounge benefit. And you get breakfast too because of the closed lounge. If you are in the tri-state NYC area, this is an easy way to complete the Diamond trial of 12 nights in 60 days.

  3. Had a work stay of 5 nights at Crowne Plaza. Did two mattress runs at Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express to complete the Big Win. Will get at least 50,000 points + stacked bonuses for $200. Worth it for me.

  4. We pseudo-mattress run frequently when at our second home in ATL. We can frequently get the IC Buckhead using my corporate rate for $99/nt. Considering that this rate includes free club breakfast, free club happy hour, and free minibar and that I earn about 20% of the rate back in the form of points, it works out to be a pretty nice deal. Over the year, this activity contributes about 25 nights towards the 60 we need for our Royal Ambassador renewal, plus it feels like home since we are now friends with all of the staff!

  5. The Marriott Megabonus and the IHG Big Win were the only hotel promos that moved the needle for me this year, and even then they weren’t that great.

  6. Yep, travel was down this year as certain projects ended. Could have made my hotel status by focusing only on that chain, but would have been wrong to charge my clients 15% more. So when the fall promos came out, I mixed and matched three programs’ fall promos to get the lowest price across those properties for all “true” stays. Then I did 8 local stays, and essentially bought points in all three programs and retained status.

    I ended up getting 2 nights worth of high end points, 2 nights worth of points for a mid-tier Carribean resort, and one Marriott Megabonus night for $500 out of pocket. Keeping status and staying ethical was worth the 3.5 hours out of pocket for traveling around.

  7. Have Hyatt Diamond status and Hilton Diamond. Got Hilton though spend, with no actual stays. Will not renew since Hyatt Diamond not that great. Have a Hyatt Place about 25 minutes from my house. Booked cheap rooms, but didn’t stay, to keep Diamond Status. Hyatt had 50K bonus for 20 nights, plus Diamond bonus, plus points for stay. Wound up getting 85,000 Hyatt points plus kept Diamond status. Worth it to me. I think Hyatt Diamond is the best status out there and willing to mattress run to keep.

  8. Did a mattress run for 2 nights to get over 100K points from Big Win and other concurrent promos for approximately $165 out of pocket (remaining 2 nights needed to complete the promo were ones I was going to stay anyway). Planning to use 75K points from this for a 3-day trip to stay at the Presidente Intercontinental Cancun which would have cost me $450+. Totally worked out for me.

  9. I am thinking of using 38,000 SPG points to book enough stays to requalify for plat 50. The net cost to me would be about 8000 points, because plat renewal means I get a requalification bonus of 35 percent off a 5-night stay. Also, the hotel is an aloft with make a green choice, so I get 250 bonus points back per night. Seems worth it to me.

  10. I did a few mattress runs in 2011/2012 when Club Carlson was making an aggressive bid for our loyalty. And it was worth it!

  11. For me, only one mattress run – a single cheap room at an IAD area Hyatt which allowed me to attain a multiple of 5 for the most recent promotion. It turned out to be fortuitous because my hot water heater died that same day.

    Also fortuitous because I am finishing the year with Hyatt at 25 stays on the nose.

    At this level, I think it makes sense.

  12. As with mileage runs, the value in mattress runs, for me, lies in retaining elite status. I would never fly solely for the miles or stay for the points, but an extra flight or stay to retain Diamond at Delta and Hilton, respectively, is a no-brainer.

  13. My hotel strategy is:

    Focus on Starwood, even if it requires a few mattress runs/staycations to requal for SPG Plat (for benefits, plat amenity points, getting one year and XX nights closer to lifetime plat, etc.) welcome rewards (which equals a 10% rebate) + up to 7 UR points per dollar through Chase UR mall.

    Hilton, Hyatt Club Carlson, etc.- status via credit cards/promos/matches for when when location, promos, staying at same hotel as friends/clients, price, etc. factor in.

  14. Faster Free Nights is Dead… Long Live Faster Free Nights!!!!

    Now those were the days where an incremental night or two would bring significant benefits. Now if Hyatt would bring that promo back, eg. only counts w a Hyatt CC, 4 nights gets you one free, etc. I’d be mattress running again!

  15. I am platinum with 4 chains and only had to run 3 nights in total at lower cost Hyatts to get the Hyatt status.

    Platinum guests like me who use wheelchairs don’t receive the benefits others come to expect. Most suites in most chains are not wheelchair adapted so usually no upgrades for me — that is if I’d like to also use the bathroom while I am staying at the hotel. (Can only hold it for so long, you know)

    I’m evaluating what exactly are the benefits of being Platinum when you use a wheelchair — nothing else is offered as a replacement for the inaccessible benefits. Free coffee? Nope. Dinner in house? Nope.

    Because of the hotel chains’ lack of foresight being Platinum when you use a wheelchair isn’t Platinum at all.

  16. Similar to KP above, I thought about a mattress run to complete my Big Win challenge for IHG. One of the goals is to stay in a selected set of cities, so unless your business travel takes you there, you need to do a mattress run and find a local friend who will check you in.

    Trying to decide whether two mattress runs before the end of the year are worth it. One I would do myself in LA, the other I’d get my sister to check in for me in DC. It’s 110,000 IHG points for about $200.

    But unlike PG, I don’t have an immediate plans for a vacation that would use the points, though I am eyeing the Koh Samui Intercontinental, which is very good value at 25K a night.

    I also still have another ~200K IHG points and two free IHG nights anywhere to use. So I think I’m going to skip the speculative $200 investment, and the hassle of 2 mattress runs, even though less than $0.002 a point is very good value.

  17. I’m stacking ihg bonuses and picking Saturday night stays to get big win points. Averaging 25k points for about 65 bucks. Wife dad and mother in law all doing same.

  18. Mattress runs do make sense, especially with IHG. Crack the case promotion a few years back was a perfect example. Also IHG lets you do promotion stacking, which makes staying a hotel night (instead of using points) more valuable.
    Club Carlson was another perfect example with their buy one get one night free offer from 2012 with each of their brands (Raddison, Country Inn and Park Inn).

  19. I needed a few more stays with Starwood so I am doing a mattress run right now using points for low level stays. The upgrade certs worked well for me overseas and I will use them again on my overseas vacation. The other perks like 4Pm checkout are useable for me in 2014. Reading out others and their experiences with the certs I can say that YMMV with them.

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