Different Hotel Points Strategy: How I Stay at 5-Star Hotels More Often Than You (Even If We Have the Same Amount of Points)

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The strategy of many miles & points enthusiasts is to hoard the points they earn from valuable hotel credit cards and spend them for super fancy hotel stays they’d never pay for with cash.  They’d rather not use points for the cheaper, more boring hotels.

But I submit that you can stay at 5-star hotels WAY MORE OFTEN if you do the exact opposite.  Spend your hotel points at boring low-category hotels, and put the cash you save toward your future 5-star vacation.

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The view from my room at the W Verbier, Switzerland.  One of the best hotels I’ve ever booked, and I did NOT use points.  I generally use cash to stay at 5-star hotels

My Strategy to Stay at 5-Star Hotels More Often

Here’s the crux of my argument:   You’re almost always guaranteed to get a better value for your points by redeeming them at super low-category hotels.  That’s because the base rate for hotel rooms are usually above $100 (after taxes & fees), and the points to reserve them are crazy low.

For example, the Hampton Inn Ozark costs $130+ per night after taxes.  But you can reserve the room for just 10,000 Hilton points.

This is probably one of those super boring hotel stays you’d rather pay for as you save your points for an exciting stay later.  But it’s a great deal.

To put it in context, the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card currently comes with a welcome bonus of 125,000 Hilton points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.  If you were to use that bonus exclusively at hotels similar to this, you would save ~$1,572 along your travels ($131 per night X 12 nights at 10,000 points each).

Good luck squeezing a similar value from that card bonus at 5-star hotels.

Hilton’s top notch hotels cost 95,000 points per night.  Here’s a look at the VERY popular Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort in Hawaii.

Rooms in June cost $762, or 95,000 Hilton points, per night.  If you redeemed 2 award nights here, you’d save $1,524 (almost as much as if you had used all your points for cheap hotel stays).  But 2 nights would also cost you 190,000 points (70,000 points more than the cheap hotel scenario).

So What Exactly Is the Strategy?

The common hotel points strategy is:   Open hotel credit cards and earn big welcome bonuses.  Save bonuses for jaw-dropping hotels that you can’t afford with cash.  Pay cash for the cheap-o hotels you’d book anyway throughout the year. This flip-flopped strategy is:   Use points for the everyday cheap-o hotels and save that cash you would have spent toward a future 5-star hotel stay.

To reiterate the above example, if you’re looking for a weekend stay at the Grand Wailea in Hawaii, use your AMEX Hilton Ascend welcome bonus on your normal uninspiring hotel stays, and deposit the cash you would have spent on that stay into your Grand Wailea Hawaii fund.  With this strategy, you could achieve 2 nights at the Grand Wailea with 120,000 Hilton points instead of 190,000 Hilton points.

Come On, Man, You Just Picked Hotels and Dates That Support Your Argument

I took a peek at my recent Marriott history, and here’s what I found:

  • 1 night at Courtyard Cincinnati Airport – $140 (or 17,500 points)
  • 2 nights at TownePlace Suites Chicago Elgin/West Dundee – $165 (or 15,000 points)
  • 1 nights at TownePlace Suites Charlotte Fort Mill – $220 (or 17,500 points)
  • 1 night at the Courtyard Dulles Airport Herndon/Reston – $194 (or 12,500 points)

By using points for these stays (I didn’t use them for one of the stays, but the point still stands), I spent 62,500 Marriott points and saved $719 in cash.

You probably know that if you want to stay at Marriott’s most aspirational hotels, you’ll drop at least 60,000 Marriott points per night (Marriott’s highest category hotels cost 60,000 and 85,000 points).

I’ll wager that the $700+ I saved by using points for my everyday travels are a better deal than had I paid for all my stays and reserved a 5-star Marriott hotel for 60,000 points.

I can now take that $700 and spend it on multiple nights at plenty of Marriott’s 5-star hotels.

Many of Marriott’s 5-star hotels are reasonably priced so long as it’s not peak season

The 2 Drawbacks of This Strategy

Elite Night Credits

Not all hotels offer elite night credits for award stays.  If you’re chasing elite status, it might not be best for you to use points for your cheap and frequent hotel stays.

Bonus Award Night Perk

Some hotels will give you a bonus night for staying 4 or 5 consecutive award nights.  For example, if you book 4 nights at a 5-star Marriott hotel, you’ll get a 5th night for free.  This can tilt the needle in favor of saving your award nights for your desired 5-star hotel.

However, if you’re paying with cash, you’re able to book through platforms like AMEX Fine Hotels & Resorts, Virtuoso, or other luxury websites that will give you bonus amenities like:

  • Spa credits
  • Restaurants credits
  • Room upgrades
  • Free breakfast
  • 4th night free

Amenities differ based on the hotel, but I’ve been very surprised how many hotels offer the 4th night free when booking through one of these websites.  That’s another benefit of booking with cash instead of points.

Bottom Line

Don’t spend your points on 5-star hotels.  Spend them on low-category hotels for which you’d normally pay money, and then SAVE THAT MONEY FOR YOUR DREAM HOTEL.  I can almost guarantee you’ll reach your luxury travel goals faster this way.

I don’t hear this strategy touted enough; most assume that the smartest decision is saving points for the 5-starsiest hotels.  I just virulently disagree.

Let me know what you think!  And subscribe to our newsletter to have miles & points advice sent to your inbox.  More tips = more trips!

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Boonie
1 year ago

This is like price tag sticker shock – easier for someone to pay $100 out of pocket than $700. Unless your running the numbers the initial reaction is what is less.

Marilyn B
1 year ago

Maybe this works for someone who has a lot of cheap night hotel stays. But we don’t. We’re retired, and lately we have been taking some destination cruises where we have hotel stays of only 2 or 3 nights before and after. So we use the points, or free nights if feasible, for those nights in higher category hotels.

Sarah
1 year ago

I meant 20% discount in multiples of five….the ioad is acting up and it’s late in Israel.

Sarah
1 year ago

I think this is the most ridiculous strategy I ever heard. I don’t go to a hotel for one or two nights, so if I’m using points I’m staying in multiples of five for the 10% discount. I live nonstop in hotels, and I book the least expensive hotels or get good pricing so I can save points for $600 up per night or a five or ten night stay using points instead of paying $4800 and up for ten nights.

Marriott Marty
1 year ago

You can do both… using 90k Wyndham for 6 night executive suite at a La Dolce, a 15k IHG for a night where I need to be, 132k Hilton for 4 nights (e ecutive suite at 40k a night (there are 3 of us) and the two Ritz Carlton certificates at the JE Gronsner in london (have Platinum status for lounge). I am paying 112 Euros for Crown Plaza bear airport first night to sleep before we rent a car and multiple family Old IHG accounts for Intercontinental hotels in Paris for 5-6 nights (have 5 nights booked waiting for the last certificate- do it all 21 days in europe and 20 nights on points

john
1 year ago

I find the cheap hotels work just fine.
We’re just looking for WiFi, king bed, breakfast (usually), tub (if available).
We only use hotel points or portal/points.
Sometimes we stay at all inclusive Hyatt or Wyndham, but always on points.
I get status matched to Diamond.

Chaz
1 year ago

I think your strategy could likely be summarized as: You are going to stay in various hotels while you travel; figure how many cents per point you get by using points vs. paying; choose points when you will get higher numbers of pennies per point (but don’t forget, this might occur at lower-price hotels!). You can get an idea if you are getting a good deal on points by checking various bloggers’ listings of value of various points, but in the end, it’s how you travel that is most important.

One more thing to consider: More expensive hotels usually have higher taxes (which usually don’t apply to points stays), meaning you have to look at the *total* price to determine value of your points. And more expensive hotels often impose greater fees — which are sometimes but not always waived if staying on points. So find out the “all-in” cash price vs. the number of points and the additional cost if any, do the simple math, and see if you are wise to expend points for your stay.

Cheers!

Tracy s
1 year ago

Thanks. I never thought of this.