A great way to save money on your trip is by redeeming hotel points – but first you must acquire some. There are a few different methods for doing so and I’ll go through each of them in this post. With a little effort, it’s not too difficult for Canadians to derive benefit from hotel loyalty programs, even as a leisure traveller.
Earning Hotel Points for Future Travel
I suspect there are quite a few people out there who assume that the only folks who can earn any meaningful amount of hotel points are those who travel for work. I’m pretty sure that’s what I thought before I got started. Of course, it also depends on what one considers to be a meaningful amount. My goal is simply to save money on accommodation where possible, so any ways to achieve that are of interest to me.
1. Hotel Stays
Earning points from staying at a chain hotel with a loyalty program (IHG, Choice, Wyndham, Hilton, Marriott, Radisson, Hyatt etc.) is the most obvious way to collect points. The key is to book a qualifying rate, meaning one that’s eligible to earn points. This generally requires booking directly on the hotel chain’s website or app (or by phone) and not through an online travel agency like Expedia. Any rate that includes a discount for program members will earn points. CAA or senior rates will work as well.
It’s a good idea to check the program’s terms and conditions to learn the earning rate for the brand at which you’ll be staying. Some programs, like IHG, display the total points total you’ll earn at the time of booking. Others, such as Wyndham, guarantee a minimum number of base points per stay. Always check your account to confirm that the correct number of points have posted.
If you have elite status with the program, you’ll typically earn a percentage bonus on top of the base points. You’ll also earn additional points if you pay with a co-branded credit card.
Lastly, if you avail of any onsite amenities that you can charge to the room, that will be added to the total and be eligible for points as well.
It’s natural to assume that it’ll take a long time to earn enough for a free stay if you’re not a road warrior who spends many nights in hotels every year. That’s why you’ll want to supplement this with other strategies to bring in more points.
2. Loyalty Promotions
Be on the lookout out for good points-earning promotions from the various hotel programs. Most of these are publicly available while others are targeted to specific members. Make sure you’re signed up to receive promotional emails and monitor blogs and websites that cover such offers. You might as well register for any promotions you learn about in case they happen to line up with your travel plans later. It’s also very important to review the terms of the promotion very carefully.
Promotions come in many forms. Sometimes it’s a simple double or triple points offer. Other times, a variable bonus will be awarded for multiple stays and/or stays of a specified length. Occasionally you’ll earn bonus points for staying at certain brands or in specified cities.
For instance, the current Hilton promotion awards members double points on stays of one or two nights and triple points on stays of three or more nights. The IHG promotion progressively hikes the multiplier up to a max of 4x the points after you’ve stayed a certain number of nights. Wyndham is offering 7500 points after two stays that members can earn twice.
As you can see, promotions are either stay-based or night-based. If you’re planning a road trip where you’ll be racking up lots of one-nighters, a stay-based promo would suit you best. The frequent Choice promotion where members can earn 8000 points after every two stays is ideal for this.
Note that one cannot book back-to-back nights at a single hotel as it will only count as one stay even with separate reservations. However, if there are two guests, you could alternate reservations to get around that if you’re okay dealing with multiple check-ins/check-outs and earning points in more than one account.
Try to keep an eye on several programs for any opportunity to stack promotions. Last year there was a promo where IHG Rewards members could earn 10,000 points per night at Kimpton properties for stays of a certain length. I had also received a targeted promotion for 10,000 points after my next two stays in the 60 days after registration. When combined with the publicly available multiplier promo at the time and a bonus for booking through the app, it would have been easy to earn enough points from one trip to make accommodation on the next trip free.
Finally, spread your “loyalty” around. As you gain familiarity with the various programs, you can more easily evaluate the worthiness of a given promotion. Although it makes choosing a hotel a bit more involved, it can pay off in the end. If you’re really keen on capitalizing on enticing promos, you might even engage in a little hotel hopping to maximize point accumulation in destinations where this is feasible.
Rarely, there are promotions where it’s worth doing a “mattress run”. That’s when you check in to a hotel for the sole purpose of getting points in a quantity worth more than the cost of the stay. You might not even bother sleeping there. Those opportunities are sadly few and far between these days.
3. Bonus Point Package Rates
Now and then you’ll see reasonably priced bonus point package rates available. Compare the after tax difference between the package and the rate you’d otherwise book so you know exactly how much more you’re paying for those points.
IHG offers additional points for purchase on every booking. Some hotels also offer their own separate points packages. With Marriott, the package rates vary widely so it’s worth shopping around. IHG rates are fairly similar between hotels and Choice point packages appear to have fixed pricing (although you may find the odd one that doesn’t fit the pattern).
Always double check whether the package rate awards points on a per night or per stay basis. If it’s the latter, you might only want to book one night under the package rate, depending on whether there is a length of stay requirement.
In my experience, a great destination for points packages at reasonable rates is New York City, especially if you can capitalize on some of the seasonal sweet spots when hotels are cheaper. NYC is also a convenient city for hotel hopping with so many chain properties in close proximity.
To sum up, don’t assume that all “pay extra for more points” rates are a bad deal. Bargains do exist, and when you come across one, be sure to make a note of it for potential future use.
4. Buy Points
Aside from booking a points package, you can always just buy points directly. If you go this route, you should have a pretty clear idea on how you intend to use the points so you know for sure you’ll come out ahead. Remember to factor in any points you won’t be earning from the stay. Definitely do the math but it should be an obvious deal. And with so many programs using dynamic pricing, ideally you should be ready to lock in your booking as soon as the points appear in your account.
Note as well that most programs use Points.com to process the sale. As it’s a Canadian company, you’ll be charged HST on the purchase. And because it’s priced in USD, you’ll also pay an extra 2.5% unless you hold a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
If you’re planning on a major purchase, try to wait for a discount or bonus so you’ll get more for your money. Many hotel programs offer fairly frequent promotions on the sale of points. Or if you can hold out for the next US Travel Association Daily Getaways sale, you might save a bit more and avoid paying HST.
5. Credit Cards
Here in Canada we have a couple of options to earn hotel points from credit card spending. There is a Marriott Bonvoy American Express in both personal and business versions and a Best Western MasterCard. In the past, there were IHG Rewards (or Priority Club as it then was) and Choice Privileges cards but those are long gone. It would certainly be nice to see another co-branded card.
An indirect way to earn hotel points is by converting Amex Membership Rewards for which there are a number of cards available including the popular Amex Cobalt. Cardholders can convert points to Marriott or Hilton at fixed transfer ratios with Marriott being the superior value. (They can also be turned into Aeroplan points which might be preferable to hotel points for many travellers.)
There are those who’ll suggest that you jump into the “US credit card game” to access Hyatt or Hilton points via the generous sign-up offers available south of the border. Before going down this road, one should carefully consider the legal and ethical implications of passing oneself off as a US resident for credit card sign-up bonuses for which non-residents are ineligible per the terms.
There are multiple survey options but I’ll focus on eRewards as that’s the one with which I’m most familiar. To join, you must receive an invitation from a loyalty program unless you can find a sign-up link floating around the web somewhere.
It’s best if you can sign up through a link affiliated with the program for which you intend to redeem your eRewards dollars. When I first joined, I could only redeem for IHG points but I also had access to most of the available airline programs. Now I have access to multiple hotel programs and have redeemed for Radisson and Hilton points in addition to my usual choice of IHG.
Online surveys can be horribly tedious, but I receive so many in my inbox that I just ditch the boring or intrusive ones. I know that if I were a bit more dedicated and not so picky on the topic, I could rack up way more points this way.
Unless I’ve missed any, those are the main ways to accumulate hotel points. It takes effort but it’s worth it if you like to save money and have the time and inclination to learn the nuances of loyalty programs. For me, it’s been a lot of fun over the years sorting through promotions and figuring out ways to stretch those points into free nights. I’ve taken many trips that only happened because of points – either to earn them or to burn them – and hopefully there will be many more to come.