Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
INSIDER SECRET: Because you won’t typically earn hotel points at independent hotels, it’s a wise move to make your reservation through a third-party booking site to take advantage of bonus points. Plus, you can double-dip by starting your search through a shopping portal.
Most miles and points enthusiasts have a favorite hotel chain (or two), but there are times when you don’t have a choice and must book an independent or boutique hotel.
I recently stayed in a very small town where there were no name-brand hotels. While it stinks to not earn hotel points, I was able to get a good deal by combining online travel agency discounts, shopping portal bonuses and 3x points per dollar earned for travel with my Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Before you book, I’ll show you some strategies that can help you save money at boutique or independent hotels, earn points and get the best deal on your paid hotel stays.
Save Money and Earn Points When You Book Boutique Hotels
Step 1. Compare Prices Between Multiple Sites
Before booking any paid stay, it’s smart to do a search for your location and travel dates on a third-party site like Kayak. This will give you an idea of the hotels available (chain and independent) and pricing.
Step 2. Cross-Reference Prices With Shopping Portal and Other Bonuses
Depending on the booking site you plan to use, you may be able to earn cash back or bonus points on your stay. In fact, any time you shop online (for travel or merchandise), starting your purchase through an online shopping portal can save you a lot of money — especially if there are promotions for increased payouts like the ones we sometimes see with portals like Ebates/Rakuten.
My go-to site for checking payouts on multiple portals at once is Cashback Monitor. Enter the name of the third-party booking site that’s giving you the cheapest price for your desired hotel (like Hotwire) in the search box and you’ll see the current payouts from various portals.
There are a couple of other factors to consider before you decide which portal to use. Some online travel agencies, like Orbitz and Expedia, offer their own loyalty programs, so you’ll want to include the value of those rewards in your calculations.
And, if you’re a Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card holder, you’ll also want to compare these portal deals to earning 10 Venture miles per dollar you spend on hotel stays booked and paid for with your card through this Hotels.com link (through Jan. 31, 2020).
Because Capital One Venture miles are worth 1 cent each toward travel statement credits, this is effectively 10% back on a hotels.com booking. Plus, members of the hotels.com rewards program earn a free night (based on average cost of all nights) after every 10 nights. Here’s more about the Capital One and hotels.com partnership.
Step 3. Pick a Portal Based on Pricing and Payout
Here’s where this strategy takes a bit of finesse. You’ll want to select a third-party booking site based on:
- Total price
- Cash back or points earned through a portal
- Loyalty program points (such as Orbitz Rewards)
You’ll also want to consider booking through an “opaque” site (like Hotwire or Priceline) that offers deep discounts in exchange for not learning the hotel name until after you book. This can save you money if you’re not terribly picky about your hotel.
In my recent situation, the town I was staying in really only had two hotel options, and booking a Hotwire “hot rate” got me a much better deal. Both hotels appeared in the Hotwire search (without names) but it was easy to deduce which was which based on star rating and amenities.
In total, I saved:
- $42 by booking through Hotwire instead of with the hotel directly
- $3.12 by starting the booking through the Top Cashback portal (4% back at the time)
I also earned 289 Chase Ultimate Rewards points by using my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points per dollar on travel (points linked to the Reserve are worth 1.5 cents each when you book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, so these points are worth $4.33 toward future travel or potentially more when transferred to Chase transfer partners). Which brings me to the next point …
Step 4. Use the Right Credit Card for Your Booking
Most online travel agencies/third-party sites will code as travel, so using a credit card that earns the most bonus points or cash back for travel makes sense. Here are a few good options:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: 2x Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card: 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel (on the first $150,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary)
- Citi Premier℠ Card: 3x Citi ThankYou points per dollar on travel
You’ll also want to consider using points or cash back to erase the cost of your stay. This is where cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card really shine, because you can redeem miles to offset the cost of your reservation without having to book through the bank’s travel portal.
You can book independent hotels though the Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou travel portals using points, but you’ll miss out on discounts and bonuses offered by shopping portals and won’t earn points for your stay. It’s still worth having a peek at these sites because sometimes hotel rooms go on sale.
If you’re booking a non-chain hotel, don’t book directly through the property until you do a bit of shopping around.
Often you can reserve boutique and independent hotels through third-party sites like Hotwire or Orbitz at a discount (and possibly earn loyalty rewards through the online travel agency). By taking the additional quick step of going through an online shopping portal first, you could earn additional bonus points or cash back for your stay. I recently saved around $45 on a one-night booking in a small town by using this strategy.
To learn more hotel booking tricks, check out our post on how to save money on hotels.
And for the latest tips on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.