How to stay in really nice hotels for free

Now that Airbnb is in nearly 200 countries around the world, many people don’t even consider staying at hotels anymore.

Though you can usually get lodging for much cheaper with Airbnb than hotels, it’s not just for budget travelers. Luxury travelers stay in luxury Airbnb houses and apartments. Whatever your budget, Airbnb allows you to live as a local.

A sort of free version of Airbnb is Couchsurfing.com, where you can request to stay with locals who share their couch, air mattress or spare room for free. This really works best if you are willing/able to share your couch as well when visitors come to your town.

If you prefer hotels, here are some things you can do to get extremely high-quality lodging for free on your next trip:

  • Start by checking Awardmapper.com to see your destination’s hotel options. If you already have points with a specific hotel’s loyalty program, you can check the box next to that program and Awardmapper will show you all the hotels available, along with an estimate for how many points each hotel costs per night. Slide the bar in the upper left to filter hotels that are within your desired points range.

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  • If you don’t have points with any hotel chains, you can check out all the available hotels at your destination, then decide which one you’d like to earn free nights for.
  • As an example, let’s say you’d like to stay at the Hyatt Regency London.

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  • For a weekday booking in September, this hotel costs $525/night if purchased in advance, or 25K Hyatt points. Next step is getting two nights here for free…
  • To get two free nights, there are two very good credit card options for Hyatt.
    • First, the Chase Hyatt Visa Signature credit card, which offers two free nights at any Hyatt hotel after spending $1K in the first three months. A few reasons this card is really good: The minimum spend requirement is one of the lowest at $1K, while most cards of this caliber require $2-5K. The fee is also relatively low at $75 and is waived the first year. Finally, the card gives you a free night at any category 1-4 hotel on every year-anniversary, which is usually worth way more than the annual fee. I used this card for my first taste of luxury recently.

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  • Our next credit card option is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which allows you to transfer points directly to your Hyatt account at 1:1. The signup bonus for this card is 50K points after $4K in spend, and 5K points for adding an authorized user. Once you earn the bonus, you can transfer 50K points to your Hyatt account, which is enough for two free nights at our example London Hyatt. Check out my post here for more info on why travel sites are so obsessed with this card.
  • Update October ’16: Chase has a new card that has an insane 100K-point sign-up bonus. Here’s a review of the Sapphire Reserve.
  • Right there we have three options for earning two free nights at our desired hotel, and with some planning you could even get both cards for four free nights. Though, this is only one of many options for getting great value out of your Sapphire signup bonus.
    • A couple disclaimers:
      • Chase has an unannounced rule that likely won’t allow you to get approved for Chase cards if you’ve gotten 5 or more personal credit cards in the last 24 months. Here are some credit card options that avoid this rule.
      • It may be a given, but never sign up for a credit card just for the bonus without doing plenty of research and planning to never carry a balance on the card. The cost of carrying a balance can quickly cancel out any benefits you get from the signup bonus.
      • Also be careful not to spend more than you normally would just to meet the minimum spend requirement. There are quite a few cards that I would love to get, but haven’t, because the minimum spend requirement is too high for me (talking to you SPG Business and Chase Ink Plus).
  • If your desired hotel is a Hilton, IHG, Marriott, Carlson, or Starwood, here are some options:
    • Hilton: Though there are quite a few Hilton card options, my favorite is the HHonors American Express card, which currently offers a 75K-point signup bonus. This card has no annual fee and gives you free Silver elite status, so you can basically keep this card and your Hilton Silver status for life without having to use it or worry about it. Silver status gives you the fifth night of a 5-night award stay for free. Check out the other perks for each elite level here. As a note, Hilton hotels vary wildly in the amount of points they cost per night, so 75K points could get you 18 nights at a category one hotel in the middle of nowhere, or one night at a category 10 hotel at a popular destination. Check out how many points each category costs per night here.
    • IHG: Holiday Inn anyone? This chain of hotels has many low-level hotels all over the world, but also some very nice ones. My other favorite Chase hotel card is the IHG card, which can get you 60K bonus points after $1K in spend. This card is great because the annual fee is only $49, is waived the first year, and gets you a free night at any IHG hotel each anniversary.
    • Marriott: Chase has had an insanely high amount of bonus points available for their Marriott cards: 87.5K for personal card (requires $3K spend) right now, and 100K for business card (required $5K spend) in the past. I’m not a huge fan of these cards because the annual fees of $85 and $99 respectively are not waived the first year. Similar to Hilton points, these points are not very valuable in many situations, so you’ll likely need a ton of points to get great bookings anyway.
    • Carlson: Club Carlson currently has a business card from U.S. Bank that earns 85K bonus points after $2.5K in spend, with a $60 annual fee that is not waived the first year. The reason I’ll get this card one day is that it likely won’t count against my 5/24 Chase limit (because it’s a non-Chase business card), and it gives you 40K points every year-anniversary. This card was very popular a few years ago when it also offered a free night every year and the second night free of any two-night award booking. Though both those benefits are gone, this is still a pretty good card. Plus, I had a really good customer service experience with Carlson recently.
    • SPG: As I mentioned in an earlier post, this program has some of the most valuable points out there. And the business card likely also flies under Chase’s 5/24 radar. The signup bonus is currently 25K, which is less than the 35K offer they had this past March. I’ll wait for this bonus to go back up before I consider signing up.
    • For any of these cards, Frequent Miler has more info and links to the cards.

Feel free to email me with any questions about award bookings you’d like to shoot for. I’d also really love to hear your comments, or any tips that you have. Have a great day!

7 thoughts on “How to stay in really nice hotels for free

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