Advanced Strategies to Earn Extra Rewards on Hotel Stays (2021)
Everyone should already be taking the relatively simple steps to earn rewards on their hotel reservations by using a credit card that earns good rewards on travel spending and earning points with the hotel's loyalty program (when possible). When better rates aren't available elsewhere, booking through Hotels.com Rewards Program is a good way to further boost your rewards.
If you are willing to invest even more time and effort, you can usually earn extra rewards on your hotel reservations. These extra rewards effectively lower the cost of your stay.
It's not that hard to take advantage of any of these additional rewards option. The reason we consider them "advanced strategies" is that it takes extra work to investigate what is available from each of these different options and factor the different possibilities into your hotel booking decision.
Does a particularly good promotion mean you should pay a higher price to book through some other site? Is it worth giving up the hotel's own loyalty points and benefits to book through a third party channel? Do the extra rewards available for a hotel switch your decision of where to stay?
We already recommend that you search a hotel booking aggregator like Kayak.com, one or two "private deal" websites, and the hotel's own website for most hotel reservations, as well as the Luxury Travel options and/or Hotwire whenever they are appropriate. Not everyone wants to take the extra time to evaluate a bunch of additional options. But if you do, you can often get an even better deal.
Usually you want use the card that offers your best reward rate for general travel purchases, such as the Sapphire Reserve. But there are some times where you might want to use a different card:
- If you are booking through an online travel agent, such as Hotels.com, you'll earn 5x ThankYou points with the Citi Prestige Card.
- If rates on the Chase travel website are good, you can earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points with the Freedom Unlimited Card or Freedom Flex Card. In the rare cases where a prepaid reservation on the Amex website makes sense, you can earn 5x Membership Rewards points with the Amex Platinum Card.
- In some cases, the hotel's own credit card provides more valuable rewards that using your general-purpose travel card. This is true with the Hilton Surpass Credit Card, Hilton Aspire Credit Card, Hyatt Credit Card, Wyndham Business Card, and Best Western Credit Card. It is even more true if you are trying to spend money on the card to earn a free night certificate.
One of the easiest ways to earn extra rewards on your reservation is to book through a "shopping portal". When it is time to book, rather than going directly to the hotel's or online travel agent's website, visit a travel portal first and you're likely to some additional cashback on your reservation.
Most online merchants, including some travel booking sites and hotel companies, pay "affiliate fees" for websites that send them customers. Shopping portals collect those fees and refund some of the money to you. For general information about shopping portals, see Earn extra rewards using Shopping Portals.
- When booking directly (except at Hyatt), you can usually earn an extra 1-5% cashback. Most hotel programs participate in shopping portals. However, cashback rates tend to be fairly low.
- At Hilton, you'll earn a lower cashback rate if you book as an elite member. They figure that the portals don't really deserve much credit for sending them their own elite customers and pay out lower fees.
- You can usually earn around 4% extra cashback when you book through Hotels.com and Hotwire. Extra cashback for Hotels.com reservations is usually higher if you choose not to participate in Hotels.com's loyalty program, but you are almost always better off accepting the lower rate and earning the additional 10% from Hotels.com.
- At other online booking sites you'll usually earn an extra 3-8% cashback. Unfortunately, there isn't a convenient way to compare rates across each of the many sites where you can book. In any event, these rates aren't usually high enough to cause you to move away from booking directly, through Hotels.com or Hotwire, or through some sort of private deal website.
- There are always some additional terms and conditions. To be sure, you'll need to check the fine print on the shopping portal site. For example, with Marriott, you won't earn cashback on AAA rates, gift card purchases, or stays at some excluded hotels. Our strategy is usually not to bother. We just book the reservation through the portal and hope that we wind up getting some extra rewards.
- You'll only receive the rewards sometime after you've completed your stay. This avoids the need to claw back your rewards if you cancel your reservation.
If you are booking a room at a chain hotel, you can almost always take advantage of a special promotion to earn additional reward points or a special discount. There is usually some sort of promotion available and you can often stack together multiple promotions to earn even more points.
In the most extreme cases, you can combine several different promotions to earn more in bonuses than it costs to book the room in the first place. With many hotel promotions, you'll need to register for the promotion before a certain deadline, even if you have more time to stay at a hotel.
- The best website for finding loyalty program promotions is Frequent Flyer Bonuses. They have a page for every hotel program, even many of the less popular ones, and a fairly comprehensive list of promotions for each program.
- Loyalty Lobby provides more information about special hotel rates and sometimes lists promotions that are missing from the “frequent flyer bonuses” website. It can be worthwhile to look at both sites. Make sure to click on the “Hotel Promotions” menu on the header to get to the pages focused on each of the major hotel programs.
- Frequent Miler is a good alternative if you want to see just the main promotions from each of the major programs.
- Sometimes, offers are targeted to specific members. Some hotel promotions are available to everyone, but other promotions are only available to specific people who have received a targeted promotional offer.
- If you want to find out about targeted promotions, you’ll need to agree to receive promotional emails. You can’t always rely on the websites above. Tips for Managing Promotional Emails.
- Promotional offers are SOMETIMES good enough that it can be worthwhile for you to book a room, even when you aren't interested in staying at a hotel. For example, with a “stay twice, get a free night” promotion, if you can use the free night to get $200 in value on an upcoming stay and you can book a cheap hotel for $60/night, it is worthwhile to spend the $120, even if you don’t need the room.
- To get credit for your stay, you’ll usually need to check-in to the hotel (although you don’t necessarily need to spend the night there). If you don’t check-in, you won’t receive the promotional benefits, even if you still get charged for the room. It’s not fair, but it's the way it works. If a promotion is particularly worthwhile, it can be worth contacting the hotel's general or sales manager and see if they are willing to check you in "remotely", so you don't need to actually visit the hotel.
- With some programs, you can get credit for more than one hotel room at the same time. However, if the promotion requires different “stays”, you can’t just make two different reservations on subsequent days, check-out, and then check back in again. The hotel will count back-to-back reservations as a single stay.
Online booking site promotions
Third-party travel booking sites (like Expedia, Agoda, and Booking.com) sometimes offer special promotions that provide discounts on their regular rates. You can typically find deals that give you 10% or 15% off any hotel reservation. Occasionally, you can find even better deals such as $50 or $100 back (which can sometime work out to a free hotel night at a less expensive hotel).
- When one of these travel sites is running a particularly good promotion, you can save money by booking with them, rather than directly with the hotel or via Hotels.com. Factoring in the promotion, prices can sometimes even be cheaper than what is available from private deal sites or Hotwire.
- The best source of information on current promotions is a Wiki maintained by FlyerTalk. Since not everyone can add a code directly to the Wiki part of the discussion board, it can be worthwhile to also check some of the latest posts.
- Otherwise, you need to rely on searching the listings on the general-purpose “promotion code” sites like RetailMeNot, Coupon Cabin, or the coupon section of Groupon.
- When you book through a third party booking site, you usually won't earn points or receive benefits through the hotel's loyalty program. Make sure that the promotion is worth it. And make sure the booking site's promotion is better than the 10% back you'd get from just booking through Hotels.com.
Unfortunately, the listings on these sites include a lot of clutter. Many of the listings are just the normal “sales” that booking sites offer, in conjunction with hotels, to help sway where you stay and just show up as part of the normal search results.
In addition, the promotion code websites don’t provide any way to quickly view what is available across the different travel websites—you need to check each site’s offers individually and you are likely to miss promotions from sites you don’t normally think about.
"Bonus Mile" booking sites
Online travel is a competitive business, and different startups have different strategies for trying to carve a slice out of the market. The approach of several companies is to give you large quantities of frequent flyer points whenever you book a hotel room.
Often the most valuable way to book your hotel room is through Rocketmiles, PointsHound, or Kaligo. While you might pay a slightly higher rate and won’t get hotel loyalty program benefits, you will receive thousands of frequent flyer points or other rewards, which can provide enough added value to make it worthwhile.
When better "mileage back" deals are available, you can expect to get several thousand miles for a typical $100-300 room reservation. If you value the reward points at about 1.5 cents each, it isn't unusual to receive 20-25% back in reward value. But, if a good deal isn't available, you may only receive something like 100 miles.
Bonus Mile hotel booking sites
- Rocketmiles. Rocketmiles is generally the most useful of these sites. They have the widest range of reward options, including Membership Rewards points, Amazon.com gift cards, and Uber credits. It is also the only one that earns Southwest Airline miles that can be used to qualify for the Companion Pass. And they frequently offer the most reward points for any given hotel.
- Kaligo. For US Hotels, Kaligo usually charges slightly more than the "best available rates", but they sometimes offer more reward points than the other sites. Internationally, they often have the cheapest room rates and the widest selection of hotels. Unfortunately, Kaligo supports the fewest number of US frequent flyer programs. But it does support United and Alaska, as well as a set of useful foreign programs. Provides direct price comparison information, as well as the most powerful tools to filter through the hotel listings.
- PointsHound. PointsHound is probably the least attractive of the three options. Room rates are competitive, but they often provide fewer reward points and usually have the smallest selection of hotels. That said, there are plenty of times where they offer a better deal than the other two sites, so they can still be worth adding to your search. Supports the fewest overall number of frequent flyer programs, but still has generally useful options like Alaska and American.
If you don't have definite plans for using your miles, collecting Membership Rewards points with Rocketmiles is usually a good option. You'll typically receive more points than you would with many of the other programs and the points can be transferred to any of Amex's partner programs.
Tips for Bonus Mile booking sites
When you use one of these sites, you can choose which type of rewards to receive, and you'll typically receive large quantities of frequent flyer miles. Expect offers of 1,000 to 4,000 points per night on many hotels and up to about 10,000 per night with a few of the most rewarding options. At a rate of 1.5 cents per point, that works out to $15-60 in value per night, and sometimes as much as $150. If you aren't interested in frequent flyer miles, some of the programs allow you to earn other types of rewards, such as Amazon gift cards.
- For any given hotel, each bonus mile booking site sometimes offers the best deal. None of these websites are clearly better than the others when it comes to room rates and reward points. Sometimes one website will be cheaper and/or offer more points, sometimes another site will. To optimize your rewards and pricing, you’ll need to look at all three sites. If you want to skip one site, PointsHound is the least likely to have the best deal.
- Reward points vary widely for different hotels. While you often get more points for more expensive hotels, the number of points varies wildly for hotels with similar room rates.
- The same hotel reservation will earn different number of points with different frequent flyer programs. Making things even more complicated, the number of points you receive is different for different programs and the differences are hotel dependent. For example, while you’ll typically earn the same number of Alaska or United miles for any given hotel, you’ll sometimes earn more from one or the other. And while you would usually earn fewer JetBlue miles than you would earn with either Alaska or American, sometimes you get a lot fewer and sometimes only a little. Once you’ve narrowed down your hotel choices, you might want to compare how many miles you would earn with a few different reward programs (sticking with the same bonus point website).
- You’ll receive additional miles for each night of your reservation. However, the number of miles doesn’t scale linearly. Usually you’ll earn a little extra miles for an additional night than you will for your first, but sometimes you’ll earn the same or less.
- Always compare rates to what is available elsewhere. Not long ago, these sites often had significantly higher room rates. But with recent tests, their room rates usually match (or are only slightly more expensive than) the standard "best available rate" available across the web. Sometimes their prices are actually lower. But, you should always compare against rates you can get elsewhere, especially on the hotel's own site, as you can often find a lower "discounted rate" that saves more money than the extra rewards are worth.
- When you book with one of these sites, you typically won't get any elite status benefits with the hotel's loyalty program. If you aren't booking at an independent hotel, you probably aren't missing out on anything. If you are booking at a chain hotel, you won't get points or elite status credit, but you might still get at least some of your elite status benefits.
- If the point payout is high enough, these sites can still be worthwhile, even if you need to pay a higher rate for the room. For example, 4,000 frequent flyer miles has a value of somewhere around $60. The value you may receive from the hotel's own reward program or the Hotels.com reward program may only be around $15. If you are only paying $20 extra for the room, it would still be worthwhile.
For example, for the W Lakeshore in Chicago, each site offers slightly different room rates and substantially different numbers of Alaska miles.
For example, if you wanted to stay at Chicago's other W Hotel, PointsHound would only give you 200 miles. You'd almost certainly be better off booking elsewhere.
For example, if we switch the reward program to United, each site provides a different number of miles.
Taking advantage of best rate guarantees to get bonus savings
Most hotel chains offer “Best Rate Guarantees” (BRG). In most cases, along with matching any lower price you find, the hotel or travel site will give you an added bonus such as an extra $50 off.
The catch is that the lower rate needs to be a publicly available rate and every other aspect of the reservation needs to be identical. For example, you can’t match a member’s only rate, a “private deal”, a rate where you used a discount code, or a rate you found as part of a package.
Because it is hard to find price discrepancies that would qualify for a Best Rate Guarantee, we usually don’t recommend actively searching for Best Rate Guarantee opportunities.
But if you ever run across a lower publicly available price on a third-party site than on the hotel's own site, you’ll have an opportunity to get a great deal on your room.
Small business rewards programs
Some hotel loyalty programs have specialized programs for small business owners. In some cases, any type of small business qualifies. In other cases, like Hyatt, you'll need to have a more formal business structure and at least 50 combined stays per year. Earn Extra Points and Benefits with Business Reward Programs.
- Most small businesses can earn an extra 3 points per dollar through IHG's Business Rewards program. This is on top of the points you'd normally earn. IHG Business Rewards Program.
- Best Western's program only offers and extra 10% in rewards. Best Western Business Advantage.
Discounted gift cards
Sometimes, you can pay for your room with discounted gift cards. During sales, you can buy gift cards for hotel chains or travel sites at discounted prices, such as 20% off. If you use them to pay for your reservations, you are effectively getting an extra discount on your room. You can often find discounted gift cards by searching eBay or Amazon. Unless you are sure you can use them, we don’t necessarily recommend stocking up on cards. But it is worth a quick search to see if you can find some at the time you are ready to book a specific hotel.
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