Oct172014

Loyalty Traveler $100 hotel night rule

This post shares how I stayed more than 50 hotel nights in 2013 spending less than $100 per night on average for hotel rooms for hotels priced much higher than I paid in most cases.

There was a surprising insight given to me by a hotel industry CEO a few years ago,

“You can buy a laptop for the price of one hotel night” was his response to the idea that many travelers pay $400 for a hotel room night in many places.

That idea of value between hotel stays and other things in life given a $400 hotel room for one night compared to a $400 laptop computer for years has stuck with me. I recalled that conversation last week as I looked at a $350 laptop in Costco. Hotel room rates are quite a bit higher in many places these days than in 2009-10. Computers cost less.

Loyalty Traveler $100 Hotel Night Rule

Over the past seven years since I started publishing Loyalty Traveler blog, my general rule is I stay in hotels when I travel, and 90% of time in brand chain hotels. My objective is to use hotel loyalty programs for $100 average room nights.

I am self-employed. I pay for 50 to 80 hotel nights most years. I pay all my own travel expenses with the occasional hotel room for media events provided for free, like hotel industry conferences. I stayed 67 hotel nights in 2013 with 9 free nights for industry conferences with BoardingArea, Carlson Hotels, Hyatt-MGM and IHG. All other expenses associated for most of these conferences were self-paid. Many of the conferences I attended in 2013 did not provide any lodging or transportation expenses. BoardingArea provided a $250 stipend for the BoardingArea May 2013 conference in Colorado Springs and $150 for NMX social media conference in Las Vegas. I drove to both those conferences from Monterey, California. I paid for my other 58 hotel nights in 2013 with my credit cards and hotel points.

Credit card manufactured spend for points, discount hotel booking sites like TravelPony and the enormous depth of locations available through Airbnb do not play a role in my travel. Not that I have anything against these websites for booking travel, I simply have not found a more compelling deal with these services for places I have been compared to what I get and the ease of using Best Western Rewards, Choice Privileges, Club Carlson, Hilton HHonors, Hyatt Gold Passport, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and Wyndham Rewards.

Nine programs cover nearly all my needs.

Best Western Rewards, Choice Privileges, Club Carlson, Hilton HHonors, Hyatt Gold Passport, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and Wyndham Rewards.

Fairmont President’s Club, Kimpton Karma and Le Club Accorhotels are also great loyalty programs for brands I do not frequent as much as I would like for hotel stays.

$100 Proof is in the Taxes

I am writing about my $100 hotel rate rule after spending this week working on taxes and studying my travel patterns for the past 20 months. This is a big picture view of how hotel loyalty programs over the course of the year offer good hotel rate value. Upgrades and such as elite member is gravy.

My hotel bookings amounted to $5,300 paid on hotel room rates in 2013 and about 300,000 hotel points redeemed in several programs. My $100 rule means I should have stayed about 53 nights in hotels in 2013.

There may be some value in readers looking at how one year of my hotel stays played out. I don’t frequent luxury hotels unless there is a bargain. Even if I had the money to pay for a $500 hotel room in New York, I would not pay that rate. There are too many other things I value more highly than a $500 hotel room expenditure. I stayed in New York four nights in 2012 courtesy of Starwood Amex Stars and that year I stayed in five $500+ per night hotels. They were all complimentary stays. I kind of freaked out at St. Regis Bal Harbour, Florida in the late December holiday season when looking at the $1,200 per night room rate folio displayed on the TV menu and thinking to myself, even for free, there is something very wrong about this blogger experience.

That Starwood experience strengthened my resolve to focus on hotel stays at $100 per night average. That rule has worked for me for the past decade and more.

January 2013 Priority Club* / IHG Rewards Club mistake rates

IHG Priority Club launched the changeover on January 18, 2013 from hotel brand reward categories to a 10-category hotel reward night system for hotel stays using IHG points. Loyalty TravelerPriority Club realigns awards to 9 categories Jan 18, 2013. The former system for reward night pricing was unique for the hotel loyalty industry in that reward nights had specific price points based on the IHG hotel brand. For example: Any Crowne Plaza hotel worldwide was either 25,000 or 35,000 points per night. Priority Club had only established multiple point prices for reward nights within specific brands a couple years earlier. *July 2013 name change to IHG Rewards Club.

There was a mistake pricing opportunity during the IHG Priority Club changeover from brand pricing to hotel reward category pricing and select hotels worldwide that should have been higher suddenly dropped in price to 15,000 points per night.

On January 15, 2013 I booked 11 hotel nights using Points & Cash reward stays, whereby I bought 10,000 points for $70 and redeemed 5,000 points per night for hotel stays. (Deal Gone) Priority Club Rewards Deep Discounts: Act Flash (1-15-2013).

  • Crowne Plaza Beverly Hills $70 + 5,000 points (3 nights)
  • InterContinental Toronto Yorkville $70 + 5,000 points (2 nights)
  • InterContinental Toronto Centre $70 + 5,000 points (3 nights)

IC Toronto Centre IHG15K mistake

My rate was $105 in IHG Rewards Club points for 15,000 points per night.

Rates averaged $275 per night for eight nights for $2,200 in hotel rooms after taxes. I saved another $400 over four nights at the Holiday Inn Alexanderplatz in Berlin during a travel conference in March 2013 by redeeming 60,000 Priority Club points for $200 per night room rates. 180,000 Priority Club points for 12 hotel nights.

I paid $840 for 120,000 Priority Club points in January. I redeemed those points and another 60,000 points in my account for $3,000 in hotel rooms with 12 reward nights. $1,260 in Priority Club points at $70/10,000 points for 12 nights is a $105 room night.

IC Yorkville pool

Rooftop Pool at InterContinental Toronto Yorkville.

I cancelled my January 2013 reservation for the Ramada Inn in Koreatown, Los Angeles for attending ALIS conference at JW Marriott Live, after booking the Crowne Plaza Beverly Hills three nights for $210 + 15,000 points.

IHG Best Price Guarantee free nights

I actually paid $147 to stay at a Holiday Inn Express in March 2013. I questioned myself all week why I would have paid that much to stay at a Holiday Inn Express. That was my most expensive hotel night of 2013.

While writing this article I went back and checked to find the hotel stay was supposed to have been a free night after an approved IHG Best Price Guarantee. I had three approved Best Rate Guarantee in 30 days for free nights at Crowne Plaza Denver in February and Holiday Inn ORD and another airport Holiday Inn Express in California in March 2013. Turns out the California HIX charged my credit card the initial rate I booked and never credited the night as a free Best Price Guarantee. Three hotel nights for $147 or an average $49 per night is not bad. Better will be three hotel nights for free. The email is sent to the California HIX.

I had four free nights at IHG hotels in 2013 with successful best price guarantee claims.

Radisson Blu Berlin 2-for-1 rate meant 160 EUR for a two night weekend Saturday and Sunday night stay. This is the AquaDom hotel with the world’s largest cylindrical aquarium, operated by Merlin Entertainment (a company who I call the Disney of the UK for American readers).

Loyalty Traveler – Radisson Blu Berlin Hotel Review (March 12, 2013)

AquaDom

$112 per night with a true Blu view from my bed to Berliner Dom on a snowy night.

Berliner Dom

Radisson Blu Royal Oslo, Norway and Park Plaza Westminster, London rounded out the Carlson aspect of my 2013 hotel stays in Europe at 50,000 points per night.

Hotel Kämp Helsinki, Starwood Luxury Collection

A night in Helsinki in a historic hotel suite at Hotel Kämp was one of only three Starwood Hotel stays I made in 2013. That one night was one I will always cherish as a hotel stay. I had this feeling I stepped back in time on the snowy and bitterly chilling eastern front of Europe in the land of snow and smart blondes.

Hotel Kämp stay was SPG Cash & Points at $90 + 4,800 points and using the second of two Platinum suite upgrade certificates given to me from SPG Amex Stars 2012 PR campaign.

Nine other hotel nights during January to April 2013 rounded out the season before I went on three month binge of western road trips living a desert life and touring the Utah Fabulous Five National Parks, flying over the Grand Canyon and photographing elk in the high Rockies of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mounatin NP

Two trip ideas fell through in fall 2013 for a trip to Yellowstone and a trip to Dublin. I am making up for Dublin next month with a November 2014 trip. Yellowstone will have to be a trip in a different year.

I had five nights at Marriott properties with four stays in early 2013 ($540) earned two free nights from the MegaBonus promotion for one free night Category 1-4 certificate after two stays. Those two free nights were redeemed at The Henry, Autograph Collection, Dearborn, Michigan in January 2014 when I was in Detroit for the North American International Auto Show ($400 value).

Art of Dreaming

Watch Those Credit Card and Loyalty Statements

In addition to being charged $147 for a room that should have been a free night with an approved IHG Best Price Guarantee claim, I also saw I was charged twice for a room night in May 2013. I booked the hotel with Priceline and paid with one card. The hotel charged me for the night on a different credit card. A phone call, another $73 credit back to my credit card.

You have to watch those credit card and loyalty program statements. My statements revealed over 5% billing and loyalty program errors from three hotel stays in 2013.

I finished calendar year 2013 with 67 hotel nights for $5,300 in 2013. Deduct 9 complimentary nights for hotel industry events.

I stayed 58 nights for $5,300. I stayed in Best Western, Choice Hotels, Carlson Hotels, Hyatt, InterContinental, Marriott, Priceline and Starwood. No Hilton or Wyndham hotels in 2013, although I stayed in both of those two chains in 2012 and 2014.

That is an average rate after taxes of $91.38 per night for 58 hotel nights.

The $5,300 price tag includes $600 to buy 152,000 Choice Privileges points. Those points were redeemed for Nordic Choice Hotels in Norway last month with a redemption value for more than $4,000 in hotel rooms.

Bergen

Clock Tower patio view from Clarion Collection Havnekontoret Bergen, Norway

I also spent $360 for 60,000 Wyndham Rewards points. I redeemed 30,000 points for one night at Mills House, Charleston, South Carolina in May 2014 when rates were over $300 per night. Loyalty TravelerHistoric Charleston, SC 1853 The Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel (May 2014).

My $5,300 price tag for 2013 hotels and hotel points covered 58 nights in 2013 with another ten nights redeemed in 2014 from hotel points purchased in 2013 and several more available free nights with Best Western, Hyatt and Marriott earned in 2013. That takes the per night rate down to $78 per night all-in.

I prefer to keep it simple and count total nights stayed in a calendar year and total hotel spend and that works out to $94 per night for 58 hotel nights in 2013.

All the free nights I have redeemed with points in 2014 will certainly keep my hotel room rate average less than $100 per hotel night for another year.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

Comments

  1. I may have missed be here, but how many “free” nights did you get associated with credit card anniversaries (IHG, Marriott, Hyatt, etc.)? If those count here, do you factor in annual fees?

  2. @Carl P – zero free nights in 2013 from credit cards.

    I was not kidding when I said credit cards are a minor part of my hotel stay strategy.

    I have a Hyatt Visa card and my initial two free nights in suite were used in January 2014 for Highlands Inn 8 miles from my home where my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.

  3. Great article. I am surprised, you travel a lot – I expected a higher number of nights. Is this your optimal number or would travel more if you could?

    I also try to keep under $100 a night. I found that hard in NZ and Japan, averaged $160NZ and $140 respectively earlier this year.

  4. @walterj – I would travel far more if I were not married and maintaining a family life at home in Monterey. My ideal hotel stay would be four nights in one place and then move on to the next hotel in the next town slowly working my way around a country.

    As it is in my situation, I like to average a week traveling about every six weeks. I tend to travel 60 to 80 hotel nights most years. I stay with family too, so not always in hotels.

    The main thing missing from our travel schedule in recent years is a long summer vacation to Europe. We used to stay in Europe for two to four weeks in summer. The recession, medical and family issues knocked that opportunity out in recent years. Summer 2015 we plan to get back to European vacation.

  5. Really enjoyed this piece. I too have a $100 rule, I am frequently amazed by how much a room for the night can cost, and people are willing to pay, compared to so many other expenses in life. I do a lot of my leisure stays with booking.com at mom and pops now. I am writing this from St Thomas, USVI on the balcony of a home overlooking Frenchman Bay, far from the cruise ship and resort crowds, for $65/night.

  6. Ric, try the IHG club visa. Annual night at any IHG hotel for $49 annual fee. 10% back on points redemptions, even points and cash ones – buy 10K points for $70 + 5K from account, use 15K, get 1.5K back. Top tier status automatically – no worry about mattress runs.

    I’ve done 3 IHG stays this year that had a total room cost of ~$540 for $118 out of pocket + 3.5K points.

    You don’t have to do manufactured spend to make the credit cards a good deal.

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