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I get it – the word “free” is a magic word. I’m reminded of the Freakonomics episode that talked about how people overwhelmingly picked a “free” Hershey Kiss over a heavily discounted piece of gourmet chocolate, just because it was FREE!
I actually think that there is somewhat of a psychological difference between using points for a hotel stay (which you might think of as a “free night”) and the free hotel nights that come from different credit cards. I’ve signed up for several of the cards that give free hotel nights and I think I am not alone in trying to go for the most expensive hotels possible with those free nights, right? It’s the reason I suggest signing up for 2 IHG credit cards at the same time, and the reason we used one of our free Hyatt hotel nights at the Hyatt Regency Nice Palais De La Méditerranée on our stay in Monaco (pictured below)
Now, some might argue that we “wasted” our free IHG nights when we were in London by using them on a hotel that “only” cost 35,000 IHG points but who’s counting?
The downside of free hotel nights
So while free is great, here is my problem with free hotel stays. Unless you have top tier status, I find you just end up with a basic (crappy) room and end up getting charged for every little thing that the hotel can think of. There’s a reason my basic rule of thumb is that so-called “budget” hotels DESTROY nice ones.
Take our recent stay at the Hyatt Regency in Nice, France. We have mid-tier Hyatt Platinum status, but we got no free breakfast, no free wi-fi, and if we’d had a car, they’d have charged us to park it there! They also did charge us a city tax on our “free” night but at least there were no resort fees, which I count as one of the biggest hotel scams out there
(SEE ALSO: 3 things that drive me crazy about hotels)
Our current free hotel night dilemma
We are heading on a round the world trip shortly, and are trying to settle on our hotel options. We need 1 night in Hong Kong, 4 nights in Singapore and 1 night in Dubai. I recently signed up for the Citi Hilton Reserve card, which gives 2 free weekend hotel nights upon meeting the minimum spend, which we plan to use at the Hilton in Singapore. I do have top-tier Hilton Diamond status, so I am hopeful to get something nice there.
I have 1 of my 2 free nights from the Hyatt credit card left, and I also have 2 free Club Carlson nights from complaining when they removed the Bonus Night feature on their credit card. In Dubai there are a few Radissons, as well as a Park Hyatt and Grand Hyatt. I wouldn’t mind using one of my Hyatt nights there, but it would really be nice to get club / lounge access, but it doesn’t look like Platinums are guaranteed that. Does anyone have any luck getting lounge access as a Hyatt Platinum? I could go with the Radisson in Dubai, since there aren’t any Club Carlson hotels in either Hong Kong or Singapore. If I don’t use it there, I may end up “wasting” it at a Country Inn and Suites for an upcoming stay!?!? 😛
Got any good suggestions for how to best use our free hotel nights?
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Good point about getting charged everything little thing for not being a top elite.
As of late, my wife and I find ourselves using airbnb/homeaway/vrbo more and more. We have lots of hotel points that don’t seem to interest us anymore. If only there are cards for redeeming airbnb nights…
That would be pretty slick. I know you can do things like get a 2% cashback or a Barclay Arrival for airbnb but it’s much harder to get outsized value with those
I concur, I find that chain hotels in most countries are grossly overpriced compared to similar quality aribnb or mom-n-pop hotels.
I personally hate 5-star luxury hotels. It’s a bunch of fakes working there who’re just brown nosing for a tip. Laundry costs a fortune, eating there costs a fortune. They nickle and dime you as much as possible, which is the opposite of what you’d expect.
My worst example is Westin Sydney, where water is $10 a bottle, internet cost $20 per day (in 2014) and I won’t even mention laundry prices. Then I moved to HOliday Inn to burn some points and it was opposite experience, and the bed and room finishes weren’t any worse.
Can’t wait for Chase to release a 40k or 50k Hyatt bonus, but I suspect Hyatt knows that would be worth way more and it’s not cost effective.
The biggest thing for me is kitchen. When we travel we always hit up local markets to buy fruits, champagne (just because), and local delicacies so we can take our time and enjoy ourselves at wherever we’re staying – especially after a long day of sightseeing and eating out (think leftovers too!). Without a kitchen, we’re forced to use the bathroom sink for handling food.
Almost all our recent card applications are non-hotels. We figured, since we can now fly premium for next to nothing, what we would’ve otherwise paid for airfare (economy, of course), we use it for airbnb instead. That is our definition of vacation.
Generally I agree with you about the importance of kitchens. We made great use of that at the Hyatt House San Juan. In this case though, we’ll be moving around a bit and so it will be harder to transport / store food.
We really liked the Grand Hyatt Dubai. You could pay to get guaranteed lounge access. But even if you don’t, you will enjoy your time at the Grand Hyatt Dubai.
Hit up the Conrad Singapore. It is generally reasonably priced on the weekends and over in SunTec, so it is right off of the subway and a quick jaunt to the airport.
It is always been a pleasant stay there and a nice change from Orchard Road, plus the lounge is wonderful.
A great use for the Raddison nights is in Dubai. That is a way better use than in the US. We used them for 12 hour layovers. If you have limited time, go for the downtown location, an easy walk to the giant mall with food. For more time, stay at the Creek location and enjoy the history of that area.
We just stayed at the Radisson in Diera Creek with points. Easy walk to the waterfront, nice hotel.
FYI. To have access to Hyatt Lounge, Hyatt does allow Diamond users to gift the “Guest of Honor”, where the recipient will receive the full Diamond benefits.
That’s a good idea that I had forgotten about – I’ll have to look into that
Don’t hold your breath for Diamond bliss at Hilton Singapore. I stayed there several times as a Diamond and never got anything I would consider an upgrade. Sure, I was usually given a room on the Executive Level, treated nice, got my free breakfast, enjoyed the lounge, etc. but the rooms on the Executive and normal floors were the same size. I think the Exec room added a Nespresso machine and a bottle of water. Woopdedoo. Admittedly it has been a few years but I doubt anything has changed. I agree with GodofSpoons, go for the Conrad. It’s very nice. Most of the things you’ll want to do in Singapore are a short subway or taxi ride away. If you must stay in the Orchard Rd area, I’d suggest the Grand Hyatt. The hotel felt much more upscale than the Hilton and I really enjoyed my last stay there. There is also a Marriott at the corner of Orchard & Scotts. I can’t vouch for their rooms, but I have spent several evenings with colleagues in their corner bar, which is awesome for people watching. Don’t forget to eat some Singapore chili crab and drunken prawns at the Harvest Seafood Restaurant, 37 Boat Quay. It’s a great place for dinner on the Singapore river with a nice view.
I don’t need a super big room as we’ll be out on the town more. What I’m most interested in is executive club / lounge access. But you and a couple of people have suggested the Conrad – I’ll have to look into that
I took a night in the IC Park Lane London with my annual [USA] IHG card free night. It was a mistake as the room are small, the staff very snooty and it just left a bad feeling. I should have used it for a night in a less costly property where I would have been genuinely welcomed and had room to swing a cat. I must say the reason I booked there was because it gave me a cheap thrill to get a $700 a night room for free!
I am taking a few nights in May at the Marriott Group 5 Westin La Quinta Golf Resort & Spa, Benahavis, Marbella, which looks very attractive on the website. Not quite sure why it is only group 5. That looks like great value for free nights.
Wow, that is weird, I dragged my crew of six to the IC Park Lane (after 17 days in Greece, Egypt, Jordan and turkey, with only carry on bags, so we were seriously schlumpy), didn’t have cash to pay the cab, had my bank card fail to work and had to get cash from the front desk, all before we checked in, and they treated us with warmth and hospitality and upgraded all three of our rooms to “cat swing able” rooms with a nice view for our one night stay. All on free night certs.
On the topic under discussion, I would definitely suggest using your club Carlson certs overseas, you are treated much better as a credit card elite than you would be domestically.
As far as lounge access as a Hyatt platinum, don’t hold your breath, it ain’t gonna happen. So far, I have seen absolutely no benefit to my Hyatt platinum status. Even as a diamond, I found Hyatt did the absolute minimum that they were required to do. I think I must be an anomaly though, because I have been treated very well by Hilton, Marriott, IHG, and Carlson and treated poorly by Hyatt and SPG, pretty much the opposite of the accepted wisdom. So much so that my June trip to Asia will be almost entirely Hilton.
Right – that’s the thing with the “free” nights – you (at least I) feel the need to “maximize” it. In our case we were in London as well but chose not to use it at the IC Park Lane – instead staying at the Staybridge Suites Vauxhall.
So is the use of points “better than” free nights? Or, is it all the same crappy rooms unless you have elite status?
It depends I think. I think the one nice thing about using points is that you often aren’t going to go all out for a 80,000 or 90,000 point room – most people will rather pick a more mid-range hotel. But with “free” nights, you feel the need to maximize it at the most expensive hotel possible
Makes sense. Sounds like people tend to be more rational with points vs free night certs. I have 2 free night certs with IHG (accelerate promo) and I do feel the need to mazimize by staying at an expensive location. Thanks for the response.
I really have to think about it before using my free night at the more upscale hotel. I find the more moderately priced hotel to be a better experience. For example: rather than choosing the Intercontinental in Vienna, I am going to stay at a Marriott which appears to have a lighter atmosphere, not so stuffy. Going to use my free night at a Crowne Plaza in Zurich, as the Crowne Plaza has a more relaxed feel. Plus, if on vacation, i want to be relaxed, and possibly chat with people who are travelers like me. This is usually easier at the moderately priced hotels rather than the upscale.
I stayed at the Vienna Marriott in November 2014 for a week on points and it was great. The rooms were standard Marriott, but what made the stay was the lounge access as a Gold Elite. The lounge had food and drinks (soft and alcoholic) all day – breakfast in the morning, some snack foods during the day, and some light buffet entrees like pasta, beef/pork/chicken medallions, canapes, etc. (in fact, on our first night we arrived late and were so tired that we were able to make a meal out of the lounge food). Because of the hotel’s excellent location, sometimes we were able to return, grab some waters or a snack, and resume sightseeing. As an elite, I also received free internet (I think it was also free for everyone in the lobby). The staff was pretty quick to recognize my family of 4 and you can easily explore old Vienna on foot or via the tram that stops out front. BTW, I’ve stayed at a lot of Intercontinental properties too. I don’t necessarily consider them better than Marriott. They are usually good, but can be hit or miss. For example, sometimes the ICs have a grand lobby and public spaces, but when you are disappointed when you arrive at your room.
I would avoid “free” nights at older luxury properties in popular tourist destinations where there are large differences in the rooms – you will get the worst available.
Not sure you can use certificates for this, but when available I sometimes try for club access rooms at Hyatt or Hilton for precisely this reason. That way I’m assured at least breakfast and the increase in points required isn’t normally so dramatic.
The blisters on my fingers just healed from addressing 188 envelopes and writing 188 index cards 30 days ago for priority club points for my wife and I. Now the emails won’t stop coming and I have blisters on my finger tips from pushing the elevator button when playing the game. The pain will ease when I spend 40 nights at a holiday inn point break hotel for free.
Please expound on how to get Priority club points. Thanks.