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Hotel Award Booking Tricks When You Can’t Find the Room You Want (We’ve Used Them All!)

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Hotel Award Booking Tricks When You Can’t Find the Room You Want (We’ve Used Them All!)

Jasmin BaronHotel Award Booking Tricks When You Can’t Find the Room You Want (We’ve Used Them All!)Million Mile Secrets Team

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Has this been you?

You’ve applied for all the best travel credit cards, diligently saved up a ton of miles and points, and are ready to plan your epic vacation.  Then when it comes time to book your hotel, you search for the award rooms you want and find NOTHING available.

It’s discouraging, but don’t give up yet!  There are a number of hotel award booking tricks you can keep in your back pocket that might save the day.

Silver Status Comes Complimentary With the Hilton Honors American Express Card Which Earns You Benefits Like Late Checkout and Free Water Bottles in Your Hotel Room
All Is Not Lost – Use These Hotel Award Booking Tricks to Find the Free Stay You Want

All of us on the MMS team have used these hotel award booking tricks to unlock free travel, even when the hotel website says the room you need isn’t available.

Hotel Award Booking Tricks

Don’t throw your hands up in the air if you can’t find an award room off the bat.  Even if award rooms are available, you might have challenges finding a hotel that accommodates your family or fits in with your exact dates.  Here are a few strategies to try if your initial search doesn’t return the results you want.

1.   Search for 1 or 2 Guests (Instead of 3 or 4)

In the US, most hotels have standard award room options with 2 beds that can accommodate up to 4 guests (2 queen or 2 double, for example).  Overseas, it’s much less common.

If you’re traveling in a group of 3 or 4 (particularly if you have kids), and you don’t see award rooms available for a party your size, try your search again with 1 or 2 guests.  Hotel booking systems can be strange – I recently had an experience with Hyatt (in the US) where an award room with 2 queen beds showed up when I searched for 1 person, but when I added my 3 kids, only a room with 1 king bed was available for the same night.

Need 2 Beds but Can Only Find Rooms With One? Try Adjusting Your Number of Guests

Of course, some standard rooms just do not allow more than 2 people, but it’s worth dialing back the number of guests to see if additional award rooms become available.  At times there are options to add a rollaway bed, or you can call and request a switch to a room with 2 doubles, for instance, instead of a king.  It’s always worth a try.

For folks who travel with kids, some hotels allow you to book a room intended for 2 adults even if you have kids under a certain age along with you, as long as they sleep in “existing bedding.”  Always double check the terms, because you don’t want to have a nasty surprise at check-in – overseas, they’re a lot stricter with the maximum number of guests per room.  That said, I’ve had success with this traveling with my kids at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi (and they even upgraded me at check-in after seeing 3 little people in tow), and also at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile when I traveled with my mom and young daughter.

2.   Change Your Number of Nights

Sometimes during peak season, hotels won’t show single award nights available.  But when you search for a multiple-night stay (overlapping the night you want), suddenly an award pops up!

This happened to team member Keith when he tried to book a single weekend night at a Hyatt.  Nothing was available, but when he changed it to a 2-night stay, the award room was there.  He booked the 2-night stay and contacted Hyatt afterwards to modify his booking to a single night (always check the cancellation policy before you try this!).

Avery had a similar experience booking a Marriott hotel in Times Square for New Year’s Eve.  Award nights weren’t available for just December 31, but when he tried a 4-night booking, the night became open.  He adjusted the booking afterwards successfully for a single night.

Booking Around Popular Times Like Holidays Might Mean Hotels Play Games With Award Availability

Just this past President’s Day weekend, team member Joel had the opposite experience.  He’d tried to book a 3-night stay at a Marriott hotel for a ski trip with his pals in Colorado, but couldn’t find an award room (perhaps because they didn’t want members burning their points for such an expensive weekend).  However, when he searched for each night separately, they were available.  His workaround was booking each night individually with points under each of their names, then combining the reservations at check-in so they could stay in the same room.

3.   Pick up the Phone

Hotel websites can be notoriously glitchy, so if you don’t see the room you want searching online, call the hotel chain (not the specific hotel) to see if they can help.  This won’t always work, but I’ve had success with gracious phone agents who were able to call the individual property to release an award room that wasn’t showing online.

It’s also handy for chains like Hyatt which advertise no blackout dates if a standard award room is available.

No Luck Searching Online? Call the Hotel Chain Before You Give Up

This can also be helpful if you find an award room with one bed (say a king) but you require 2 doubles.  If paid pricing is the same for each, you may be able to get an agent to switch you into a room with 2 beds with a quick phone call.  Again, no guarantees, but there’s no harm in trying.

4.   If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get

Some chains, like Hilton and Hyatt, allow you to book premium rooms (such as ones with club access) with points, but they might not always show up when you search online.

If you’re willing to take a chance, you could book a standard room and try for an upgrade.  Having elite status (you can get it for free from some of the best hotel credit cards) can make a difference here.  There’s usually a section to leave comments or special requests when you make your booking, so that’s a good place to start by politely asking for an upgrade if one is available.  Otherwise, asking nicely at check-in is always a good call.

And don’t forget to mention if you’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary, or have special needs.  Hotels will often go above and beyond to make your stay memorable and more comfortable if they know about your situation in advance.  The InterContinental Dublin went all out when I let them know we’d be there on an award stay for my daughter’s 13th birthday, and all I did was mention it in the comments of the online booking.

We Got a Suite Upgrade and Lovely Treats From the Folks at the InterContinental Dublin, and All I Did Was Mention It Was My Daughter’s 13th Birthday Celebration

I’ve also had success booking an award stay for my 82-year-old dad at an otherwise ordinary Choice hotel.  I mentioned on the booking that he was an older fellow and coming off a tiring, long day’s drive, and asked that they do whatever they could to make his stay easier.  They upgraded him to a bigger room with easy access from the lobby, the hotel manager came out to specifically greet him, and he says the hotel staff periodically checked in to see if they could do anything to improve his visit.  He was tickled pink!

Bonus Tip:   My family once got upgraded to a club access room before I even got a chance to ask.  While handing over my ID at check-in, my then-very-young daughter asked within earshot of the agent if we’d get to visit the hotel lounge this time.  “Probably not,” I said, “because I don’t have elite status anymore.”  The agent overheard and smiled at my daughter;  “We can upgrade you to a club room sweetie – enjoy!”  (That’s my one-time equivalent of the $20 Las Vegas trick 🙂 )

5.   Don’t Forget About Flexible Points

Even if an award night is available, it’s always worth comparing what you’d pay in hotel points versus booking with flexible points through a travel portal, like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou.

There aren’t blackout dates when you book this way, because it’s similar to booking through a 3rd-party travel site like Expedia or Orbitz.  And sometimes, you’ll get a better deal compared to transferring points to a hotel program and booking an award night.

Here’s an example.  Hyatt is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, so you could transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio to book an award stay at the Hyatt Place Orlando / Lake Buena Vista, where rooms cost 12,000 Hyatt points per night.

Always Compare the Award Price to Booking With Flexible Points – You Might Be Pleasantly Surprised

But if you redeemed Chase Ultimate Rewards points directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal in this case, you’d pay significantly less.  The example below is using points from the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed for travel through the portal.

You’d Spend Fewer Points Booking Directly With Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Instead of Transferring to Hyatt

It’s an even bigger improvement if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, because points from that card are worth 1.5 cents each towards travel booked through the portal.  In the above example you’d end up paying ~6,569 Chase Ultimate Rewards points for the same night ($98.53 cash price / 1.5 cents per point).

You might also consider using cards like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® to book your hotel if award nights aren’t available.  Then, redeem miles from these cards to “erase” the cost of your stay.

6.   Keep Trying

Because hotels have flexible cancellation policies for award nights, sometimes people make bookings without firm plans that they later cancel.  So if you don’t find an award room right away, keep checking back (especially closer to the date, when folks tend to cancel speculative bookings).

Some of us on the team will book another hotel in the same city to lock-in a hotel room no matter what, but keep trying for their desired property.  Then, if a booking opens up at the hotel you actually want, you can jump on it and cancel your backup stay (as long as it’s within the cancellation window, of course).

Bottom Line

Don’t give up if you can’t find a hotel award night when you first start searching.  There’s still hope if you try these hotel award booking tricks:

  • Try searching for fewer guests (instead of 3 or 4, try 1 or 2)
  • Change the number of nights, and if you find awards open up, tweak the reservation later
  • Call the hotel chain directly to ask for help or see if the hotel will open up award availability
  • If premium rooms aren’t available with points, book a standard award, then ask for an upgrade – especially if you are celebrating an occasion or have special needs
  • Check availability and pricing using flexible points through sites like the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal
  • Keep trying frequently to see if award rooms have opened up

What strategies do you use when you can’t find hotel award nights?  We’ll add tips and tricks to this post in the future with your help.

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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I want to stay at the Radisson blue hotel at the Zürich airport but it was $400. There were no points dates available but I checked once a week and after six months of checking change the type of room to a family room and it was available. So I booked it and save $400 . Annoying and strange!

Author

Hi Lillian – That’s a great example of how weird hotel award booking systems can be – thanks for sharing. Enjoy your award stay and happy to hear it worked out for you!

Another trick that has worked for me with Hilton Honors, is checking the box for “Show Accessible Rooms”. Sometimes these rooms are available at the Standard Reward Rate, but won’t show up unless you check the box. Accessible Rooms are available to members even if you don’t need the Accessible features (Hilton even tells you that you can book these rooms if no other room is available). ProTip: I have heard it even works at the Beverly Hills Waldorf Astoria!!!

Author

Hi Chad – Thanks for sharing. This is a somewhat controversial workaround that not everyone would be comfortable doing because – even if Hilton says it’s ok – booking an accessible room means it’s not available for someone with a disability who might actually need it.

I do know of folks who’ve booked accessible rooms when they’re the only room available, but called the hotel immediately afterwards to let them know they don’t actually need the accessibility features and to move them to a standard room if one becomes available.

It’s a tricky one.

Yep. I ALWAYS call to make sure the hotel knows that our ONLY intention is to procure a “standard room reward” and they almost always immediately move us to a “regular” room. The first time i learned of this tip was when i phoned Hilton Reservations and the person answering told me that she was searching the same way.

Author

Hi Chad – Good info, thanks!

If I accumulate CR points now with the Chase Freedom card (NO AF) and the Chase Preferred card ($95 AF) THEN in the future upgrade to the Chase Reserve ($450 AF) will my previously accumulated points be worth 1.25 or 1.5?

Author

Hi RSNFAN – If the points are linked to your Chase Sapphire Reserve account, they’re worth 1.5 cents each towards travel booked through the portal.

Here’s more about combining your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to one account:

https://millionmilesecrets.com/guides/video-guide-combine-chase-ultimate-rewards-points-to-one-card-or-transfer-points-to-a-spouse/

Open hotel alerts 😉

Author

Hi Erin – Thanks – does Open Hotel Alerts notify if an award night comes open? As far as I can tell it’s for paid nights.

Hi Jasmin! Open hotel alerts is only for paid rooms. I can set an alert for a standard room and when it becomes available, that usually means an award night is possible. For instance, Hyatt Regency Kyoto had no availability during my planned travel dates. I set an alert to be notified when a standard room was available. When I got the alert, I went to Hyatt’s website and sure enough there was award availability.