How to Maximize Credit Cards for Cheaper Accommodations This Holiday Season

Inflation dramatically affects how we spend our money. And it’s not just the essentials – like supermarket spending or gas purchases – it also impacts our travel plans. A September 2022 Bankrate survey found that rising prices are prompting 79% of holidaymakers to change their plans.

One of the most popular money-saving strategies is to opt for cheaper destinations and accommodations, which 1 in 4 vacationers say they are doing this year. Finding more affordable destinations is quite simple, like choosing Mexico City over San Francisco for a winter getaway. But no matter where you’re traveling (some people are already tied to specific destinations to visit friends or family, especially during vacations), finding affordable accommodation can significantly reduce the financial burden.

Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate, says hosting is up just 1% from a year ago, which isn’t too bad. But with airline fares up 28% on last year, lower accommodation costs mean you may be able to afford that more expensive airfare. If you have a few travel rewards credit cards in your wallet, you need to maximize the perks, benefits, and points that come with them to take advantage of cheaper accommodations. Here’s how.

Maximize your points

It makes no sense to sit on a big stash of points just waiting for the right time to spend them. It is time ! In fact, points are more valuable when spot prices are high, which is usually the case during peak holiday dates. And many co-branded travel and hotel cards have big point bonuses that can net you a few free nights (or even several, if you play your cards right) at a hotel. Here’s how to use your credit card points for cheaper accommodation.

Flexible point currencies

Flexible point currencies such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points and Capital One Rewards are some of the most useful point currencies as they offer various options to transfer them to hotel programs or book travel through credit card travel portals. .

Transfer of credit card points to hotel programs

Flexibility is what makes these points most valuable. For example, Chase has three hotel partners: Marriott, IHG and Hyatt. If you have Chase Points but Marriott hotel point rates are extortionate and there are no IHG hotels in your destination of choice, you can always transfer them to Hyatt for redemption. Be sure to find your chosen exchange before transferring your points, as you cannot get them back. Here is a cheat sheet for transferring flexible reward currencies to hotel points.

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: IHG One Rewards (1:1), Marriott Bonvoy (1:1) and World of Hyatt (1:1)
  • Amex Membership Rewards: Marriott Bonvoy (1:1), Choice Privileges (1:1) and Hilton Honors (1:2)
  • Citi Thank You Points: Choice Privileges and Wyndham Rewards (ratios vary depending on the Citi Card you hold)
  • Capital One Rewards: Choice Privileges (1:1) and Wyndham Rewards (1:1)

The ratios show how many credit card points constitute one hotel loyalty point when you transfer them. For example, the 1:2 ratio associated with transferring Amex points to Hilton Honors means that 50,000 Amex Membership Rewards points would equal 100,000 Hilton Honors points.

Note that sometimes offers and promotions change the points ratio by giving bonus points when transferring.

Use points to book travel on travel portals

You can also book hotels using points through each bank’s travel portal. While this option may not always provide the best value for your points, it does allow you to book hotels that do not participate in loyalty programs, boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, inns, home rentals And much more. This creates a lot of flexibility for travelers who need a vacation rental for a large family or group or are visiting a destination that may not have big brand hotel properties like Hilton or Marriott.

Co-branded hotel credit card points (and perks)

Those who hold co-branded credits with major hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and beyond can redeem those points for free or discounted hotel stays. (Some programs offer a “Pay with Points and Cash” option if you don’t have enough points to cover your entire stay.)

Note that programs such as Marriott, Hilton, and IHG offer free nights when booking with points. Each program has its own rules and limits.

The Hilton program offers the fifth night free on the average nightly rate to members with Elite status who book stays with points on a stay of up to 20 nights. IHG offers every fourth night free, but you will need to have a specific co-branded card for this benefit: IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card, IHG Rewards Traveler Credit Card or IHG Rewards Premier Business Credit Card. Marriott offers up to the fifth night free on points stays, but compensates for the most affordable night.

Benefits of Hotel Elite Status

Many credit cards offer their holders elite status – both co-branded hotel cards and flexible travel rewards cards. Some of the most popular are the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, which offers Bonvoy Platinum status, and the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card, which offers IHG Platinum status. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire credit card offers Hilton Diamond status and the Platinum® card from American Express offers both Bonvoy Gold and Hilton Gold status.

Although elite benefits vary by program and status level, some of the benefits are listed below. Be sure to check specific programs for exact details.

  • Free credits for breakfast or meals
  • Early check-in/late check-out
  • Room upgrade
  • Earning additional points
  • Lounge access
  • free WIFI

While elite status doesn’t necessarily get you a free stay, you can certainly enjoy money-saving benefits like dining credits and room upgrades.

Additional Benefits

There are many one-time credit card perks that can make hosting more affordable. Here are some economic benefits you should look out for:

Annual travel credits and free night certificates

Many travel cards offer annual discounts or free stays. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has a $300 travel credit, which means that if you spend $300 on a hotel, vacation rental (or plane ticket or any other travel-related item), you’ll see it refunded on your statement as a credit. The Amex Platinum offers a $200 resort credit on hotels in the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and the Hotel Collection. Many co-branded hotel credit cards offer a free night certificate each year, such as the new Marriott Bonvoy Brillant card which offers a free night under 85,000 points each year after your card’s renewal month.

Promotional offers

Keep an eye on your inbox and rewards portal for any limited-time promotions your issuer may be offering. Many American Express cards offer Amex offers, which provide benefits such as statement credits for spending a certain amount at specific hotels and other retailers. Other cards, like the Capital One Venture X Rewards credit card, also offer promotional offers, like a 5% credit on VRBO rentals.

The list is long, but it is not necessary to memorize it. If you have a travel credit card, especially one for which you pay an annual fee, be sure to log into your account and research the benefits available to you. A few minutes of research can save you hundreds.

The bottom line

It is true that many of the aforementioned credit cards have annual fees. But if you work to ensure you get the full value of each card’s perks and benefits, you can really stand out when it comes to lodging savings, especially during an expensive holiday season.

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