7 hotel award booking tricks for when you can’t find the room you want
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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. 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.
Search for one or two guests (instead of three or four)
In the U.S., most hotels have standard award room options with two beds that can accommodate up to four guests (two queen or two double, for example). Overseas, it’s much less common.
If you’re traveling in a group of three or four (particularly if you have kids) and you don’t see award rooms available for a party your size, try your search again with one or two guests. Hotel booking systems can be strange – I had an experience with Hyatt (in the U.S.) where an award room with two queen beds showed up when I searched for one person, but when I added my three kids, only a room with one king bed was available for the same night.
Of course, some standard rooms do not allow more than two 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 two doubles, for instance, instead of a king. It’s always worth a try.
For anyone who travels with kids, some hotels allow you to book a room intended for two 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 three little people in tow) and also at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile when I traveled with my mom and young daughter.
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 a team member when he tried to book a single weekend night at a Hyatt. Nothing was available, but when he changed it to a two-night stay, the award room was there. He booked the two-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 four-night booking, the night became open. He adjusted the booking afterwards successfully for a single night.
On a past President’s Day weekend, another team member had the opposite experience. He’d tried to book a three-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.
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.
This can also be helpful if you find an award room with one bed (say a king) but you require two doubles. If paid pricing is the same for each, you may be able to get an agent to switch you into a room with two beds with a quick phone call. Again, no guarantees, but there’s no harm in trying.
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.
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.
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 🙂 )
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 third-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 standard night (8,000 points per night after March 22, 2020).
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.
It’s an even bigger improvement if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, because points from that card are worth 1.5 cents each toward travel booked through the portal. In the above example you’d end up paying ~6,569 Chase Ultimate Rewards points for the same night. You might also consider using cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to book your hotel if award nights aren’t available. Then, redeem miles to “erase” the cost of your stay.
Take advantage of bonus award nights
While this isn’t technically a trick to help you find an award night when one doesn’t appear to be available, this is a great way to increase the value of your points. Some of the major hotel chains offer bonus awards nights when you book a stay of a certain length. Depending on the loyalty program you might need a certain rewards credit card or elite status.
With Hilton you’ll get the 5th night free on points booking if you have any level of Hilton status. Thankfully, Hilton status is incredibly easy to earn because it comes free with any Hilton credit card.
Marriott has the “Stay for 5, Pay for 4” feature, with it you’ll receive a complimentary night when you book an award stay of five or more nights with points. This feature is available to all Marriott Bonvoy members, regardless of whether or not you have elite status.
With IHG you can get a fourth night reward benefit if you have the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card. The way it works is simple, when you’re booking an award stay of three or more nights, the points cost of the fourth night will be discounted at booking.
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 people 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).
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 three or four, try one or two)
- 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’re 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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