Eleven Free Hotel Nights
Eleven of our last twelve hotel nights have been free. (If you consider our timeshare exchange to be free as well, you could add another seven free nights onto that total.) By understanding and using hotel chain loyalty programs (and one third party site), I’ve tried to milk every free penny we’ve got coming, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job if I do say so myself.
On June 24, we checked into the Holiday Inn Kings Cross, in the King’s Cross area of London. (Fun side note: Try researching if the area and train station should be written with or without an apostrophe.) Holiday Inn is part of the IHG, an international hotel chain that includes hotels like The Intercontinental at the high end and Candlewood Suites at the low end. You can earn points through most of the standard ways: staying at IHG hotels with your loyalty account number or spending on the Chase IHG credit card. Notably, when you open a new Chase IHG credit card and reach a spending threshold (currently a total of $1,000 in the first three months of card membership), you can receive a large signing bonus (right now at 60,000 points). Free nights in the IHG loyalty program usually run between 30,000 and 60,000 points, depending on your target hotel and the popularity of the time you want to stay. When we wanted to visit London Pride, rooms at the Holiday Inn were 30,000 points a night–that’s easy to come by when we each got 60,000 points just for opening credit card accounts.
On June 26, after two free nights in London, we took the Eurostar train to Brussels, Belgium, the seat of the European Union. While there, we stayed for five (free) nights at the Aloft Hotel, part of the Starwood Preferred Guest hotels group. The SPG group includes some extravagantly high end hotels, including the W and Westin brands, as well as “The Luxury Collection.” It also includes some low end brands like the Four Points by Sheraton. Free nights are between 3,000 and 35,000 points per night, depending again on the quality of the hotel and the popularity of the time you want to stay. When you open a new SPG American Express credit card account and reach the spending threshold of $3,000 in the first three months of card membership, you can receive a signing bonus of 25,000 points. (I’ve seen this bonus go as high as 30,000 once in a blue moon, but never higher than that.) After applying for these American Express cards, we were easily able to afford 7,000 points per night to stay at the Aloft Brussels. Better still, a promotion offering a fifth night free after four paid nights, we received the fifth night free, for a savings of over $700, all for applying for two credit cards. We highly recommend the SPG loyalty program, and the hotel brands and low thresholds for free nights make it one of the most attractive loyalty programs out there. If you’re interested in applying for the SPG American Express, let me know and I can send you a referral email.
On July 1, after five free nights in Brussels, we took the train to Paris to see the festivities at Paris Pride. In Paris, we stayed for two (free) nights at the Hotel du Louvre, a Hyatt hotel. Most people have heard of the Hyatt hotels chain, which includes very high end properties such as the Park Hyatt Tokyo and Sydney, as well as middle-tier and lower-end properties like the Hyatt Place. Some formerly independent hotels, such as the Hotel du Louvre, are now included in the Hyatt umbrella. Free nights in standard rooms cost between 5,000 and 30,000 points per night, depending on all the usual factors. When you open a new Chase Hyatt credit card and meet the spending threshold of $1,000 in the first three months of card membership, the credit card comes with a signing bonus, just like the other credit cards. However, this signing bonus isn’t simply earning points in your account; this signing bonus gives you two free nights at any Hyatt hotel in the world! There’s no limit to the cost the room, and it can even include the ultra-luxury properties like the Park Hyatt properties around the world! All it took was a quick phone call to the Hyatt loyalty program, and we were booked into the Hotel du Louvre for the weekend, which normally retails for 500-600 Euros per night.
On July 3, after two free nights in Paris, we took an early morning train to Cologne, Germany for a three night stay at the Wyndham, and the first two of those nights were free. While the Wyndham chain has its own loyalty program, these free nights were actually courtesy of the third party booking site Hotels.com. When you book a hotel through a third party site, you don’t get to earn any points in that hotel’s loyalty program; instead, most of these sites have loyalty programs of their own. I’m a big fan of Hotels.com’s: for every ten nights you book through their site, you get one free (with the value equal to the average price you paid for those ten nights). Compared to specific hotel chain programs, this is incredibly easy to understand. What’s more, you know you’re getting almost 10% back from the money you spend on their site, and it gets even better than that: because they’re a third party booking site, there’s no restriction on where you can stay and when! They just credit the money against your charges and you pay the site directly, then arrive at the hotel to a fully prepaid room.
Hotel loyalty programs are hard to understand, and they’re all so different. Keep at it, though; you might really save yourself a lot of money if you pick a hotel chain you like and just stick with it! Without them, I don’t know how we would be able to afford the trip we’re on, especially through these expensive areas of Western Europe.