Step 5: Hotel Programs

Step 4 explained the domestic airline programs at a very high level. In this step, I’ll explain the basics of hotel programs.

The basic premise of hotel programs is the nicer the property or better the location, the more points you will have to spend. And in general, hotel points gained from credit cards aren’t as valuable as those obtained from airline credit cards. This varies widely among programs and locations, but for the most part holds true.

You can purchase hotel nights for as little as 5,000 points per night, and there are some that require over 50,000 points per night.

The major domestic hotel chains I like to focus on are Choice, Club Carlson, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood. There are many others, but these stand out because:

  • They all have co-branded credit cards with a substantial sign-on bonuses
  • Generally, you can find one or more in every small and major city in the US

For a full list of the points required for each hotel chain and category, I have compiled a master list of Hotel Award Charts .

To find out how many points a specific hotel costs, log in to your loyalty account (one click via ) and search for a location. Depending on the site there may be a box to click that says “Use Points” or something similar; if there is, check that prior to searching. The website will show you a list of hotels and how many points are required for a single night stay. At this point if you’d like, try performing a search in your city or a city you’d like to visit.

If you stay enough nights per year at a single chain, or sometimes if you hold a co-branded credit card, you may obtain what is called elite status . Elite Status can allow you things like complimentary Wi-Fi, complimentary welcome gifts, early-check in and late check-out, and bonus points on your stays. My favorite thing about elite status is sometime you will be given complimentary upgrades to larger, nicer rooms than the one you paid or used points for.

At the end of this step:

  • You’ll understand the basics of how hotel nights are priced
  • You’ll understand some of the benefits of hotel elite status