My Swiss army knife hotel strategy for free stays around the world
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Each hotel award currency has its own specialty. You should be using multiple types.
Your hotel strategy won’t be the exact same as mine, but after years of earning and burning points I collect from the best hotel credit cards, I have found a distinct pattern when I redeem:
- I use Hilton points when I need shelter
- I use Marriott points for luxury resorts where the property is the destination
- I use Hyatt points for big city stays
This is where each of the points programs shine, in my opinion. I’ll tell you why, and remind you how to quickly and easily collect rewards with each.
Hilton for shelter
You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Hilton hotel, particularly if you’re traveling domestically, within Europe or most anywhere around the Pacific Rim. They’ve got their fair share of nice hotels, but Hilton specializes in the unfancy. Their points are the easiest of all hotel currencies to earn, and their award nights start at just 5,000 points (though 10,000-point hotels are much more common).
Because Hilton hotels like Hampton Inn and DoubleTree tend to live beside the interstate, as well as in smaller cities, I find it the ideal points program to use when I simply need a roof over my head and a clean bed,
A lot of people poo-poo this approach, but I save a ton of money using my points for bottom-of-the-barrel hotels. We estimate Hilton points are worth about 0.5 cents on average, but using your points for low-category hotels can get you WAY more value. After all, it’s difficult to find a hotel that costs under $100 after taxes (well, at least when there isn’t a pandemic). But there are tons of hotels that cost 10,000 to 15,000 points per night.
The above hotel costs $120+ after taxes are included, but costs just 10,000 points for a free night. That’s a value of 1.2 cents per point — a great value for Hilton points!
You can earn hundreds of thousands of Hilton points quickly and easily by opening any of the following cards:
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
- Hilton Honors American Express Card
- The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card
You can also transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio, although your Amex points are likely better put to use when transferring to airlines.
Marriott for luxury resorts
Marriott is the biggest hotel chain in the world, with more than 7,400 properties worldwide. It’s also got (by far) the largest and most unique collection of five-star hotels and resorts.
Whether you’re trying to visit Bora Bora, Mexico, Santorini or Bali, Marriott will have an exceptionally UN-cookie-cutter resort that’s perfect. I save my Marriott points for luxury stays at resorts where I don’t plan on leaving. I use Marriott points for hotels that are the destination.
My wife and I stayed at the St. Regis Maldives last year. It was an ideal Marriott points redemption in my book, because we didn’t leave the resort once. We enjoyed our points redemption 24 hours per day and got great value to boot.
If the surrounding area is fun, I probably won’t deploy Marriott points for a free stay, because I can probably have just as much fun in a hotel as a resort. For example:
- I wouldn’t use Marriott points in downtown Dubai, because I could have just as much fun in a hotel as a resort. I’ll be driving around the city to see all the ridiculous sights and likely won’t be spending much time at the property anyway.
- I would use Marriott points at Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai, which is located in the middle of the Dubai desert because I’d be at the resort the whole time.
Marriott also gives you the 5th award night free, meaning you’ll get the best value for your points if you book five consecutive days.
You can earn Marriott points with any of the following credit cards:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card
Just read this post first to find out if you’re eligible for each Marriott welcome bonus. Amex points also transfer to Marriott, but just like Hilton, you’re likely better off saving those points towards airfare.
Hyatt for five-star hotels in big cities
Hyatt points are great for luxury hotels in fun areas with lots to do.
Hyatt has a painfully low number of hotels around the world compared to most other chains. They’ve got less than 1,000 hotels worldwide (though they have a couple of partnerships, such as MGM, Small Luxury Hotels of the World, etc.).
However, you’ll almost always find Hyatt hotels in big cities like New York, Paris, London, Singapore, Bangkok, etc. If you’re in a city with a population of at least a couple hundred thousand, there’s probably a Hyatt nearby. In other words, you likely will not find a Hyatt if you’re headed to small-town USA to visit the family for Thanksgiving.
I tend to use Hyatt points when I’m staying in a big city for a night or two. It’s convenient, and they always rank as some of the best in the city. Recent stays include Philadelphia, Dallas, and Zurich.
The Hyatt loyalty program doesn’t offer a free-night incentive to stay an extended period of time like other chains (Marriott and Hilton offer 5th award night free, IHG offers 4th award night free), so I don’t feel guilty about booking a night or two at a time.
There are definitely exceptions with the Hyatt hotel brand — they’ve got destination-worthy hotels, like the Andaz Maui, but I use Hyatt mostly for glitzy five-star stays in exciting cities.
Not all hotel points are created equal. Depending on your travel style, you may have no use whatsoever for certain hotel currencies. I collect points specifically with Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt because I find that all three serve a very specific purpose along my travels.
Let me know your hotel points strategy! And subscribe to our newsletter for miles and points tips and ideas sent to your inbox once per day.
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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! :)