What is Your Hotel Strategy?


Level 2 Member
I’ve been meaning to revamp my hotel strategy for some time (way too long), and I really wanted to hear others’ strategies, and their thoughts on the options I’m considering below.

My overall goal is to use two programs/strategies so that I have options where ever I want to travel. That may be slightly ambitious, but I don’t want to concentrate on one program only to have it devalue badly, or not find a property at a destination. This is all complicated by not having a specific destination/goal planned at the moment.

I find that there are so many nuances to the points game that it’s hard to know all of the ins and outs of each program or strategy. I would love to read your strategies and/or suggestions to mine.

My Hotel Requirements
  1. Room Access Through the Lobby (rather than the parking lot) - It's a safety/security/paranoia thing
  2. Free Breakfast - Saves time and money
  3. Lots of Properties Around the World - Would like to be able to book a room in almost any city I might travel domestically and internationally (my struggle with Hyatt)
  4. (preferred, but not required) Ease of Booking - I define this as not having to use Google Street View to determine if the hotel I'm considering has lobby or parking lot entry to the room
  5. (highly preferred) A Way to MS Points - Use a co-branded CC, shopping portal, etc. to accumulate points at a reasonably cheap rate
  6. Avoid All Eggs in One Basket – I don’t want to be all-in with one hotel chain

Not a Priority
  • Top Status - I don't need top status unless it gets me the breakfast, however I do subscribe to the philosophy 'some status (even low), is better than no status at all'
  • Upgrades - The room is just a place to sleep; I'm exploring my destination the rest of the time
  • Luxury - No need to stay in the nicest places as long as the hotel is in a safe area

Current (Legacy) Strategy
  • Neither my spouse nor I travel for work. Therefore, all points are earned from spend (including MS) and occasional paid stays
  • I put non-bonused (and some MS) spend on the Club Carlson card - I'm now sitting on a bazillion Carlson points, so I'm not using the card as much. But 5x on non-bonused was really nice when MS costs were cheaper
  • My spouse puts non-bonused spend on the Hilton Reserve (for now) - almost no MS
  • Because I do some MS on Carlson, if we pay for a stay, it's at Hilton
  • (somewhat unrelated) I have Amex MR and Chase UR earning CCs, but I prefer to use those points for airfare since the value tends to be better than transferring to hotels

Why I'm Considering a Change (and some more history)
  • I picked up the Carlson card back when they offered the last night free when using points. That perk allowed me to overlook the lack of free breakfast at some properties, but is now long-gone
  • I rarely find great value for my points when staying with Carlson
  • We originally chose Hilton as the other hotel because they had just devalued, and I was hedging on it being a while before the next devaluation. Now they've gone Delta (no award chart) and I don't like the way they make it difficult to plan ahead

Potential New Strategy 1: Hotels.com
Credit Card Pairing:
  • Barclay Arrival – MS and paid stays to be refunded with points
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve for paid stays (not refunded)
  • Other CC for discounted Hotels.com GCs (opportunistically)
  • Essentially a 10% return per night paid from Hotels.com’s rewards program
  • Hotels.com GCs are often sold at a discount and/or can be purchased at stores with CC bonuses
  • Portal payout is generally pretty strong (7% for paid/rewards eligible stays)
  • Already have the Sapphire Preferred
  • No direct MS options for Hotels.com’s program (unless paired with a 2% card like Barclay Arrival)
  • Buying discounted Hotels.com GCs may require speculative/floating purchases
  • not all bookings accept Hotels.com GCs – I found this out the hard way and was quite unhappy
  • Am I back to using Google Street View to determine room access (at least for non-chain hotels)?
  • What kind of breakfast is available (at least for non-chain hotels)?
  • No status of any kind - low status is better than none (see above)

Potential New Strategy 2: Replace Carlson or Hilton with Marriott/Starwood/Ritz
Credit Card Pairing:
  • SPG – MS and paid stays
  • Chase Ritz Carlton – MS $10K for Gold
  • Already have the SPG
  • Spending $10K on the Ritz CC gets me free breakfast (with higher tiered status) at many locations, and is doable in a couple of months, even for determined busy people
  • Easily meets the first 4 requirements above
  • Marriott has a shopping portal (heck if I’ve ever been able to get it to pay out, though)
  • I'm not as blown away by MS on the SPG as everyone else. Perhaps I have a mental block when I see that I'm only getting 1 point per $1 (I realize 1 SPG = 3 Marriott/Ritz)
  • Offshoot of the previous point: cannot MS points cheaply on any Marriott/Ritz CC
  • Breakfast not guaranteed at some locations, even with status
  • The Ritz CC carries a $450 fee (alternatively, MSing $30K on the SPG is doable and likely in this strategy, rendering the Ritz CC moot)

Potential New Strategy 3: Replace Carlson or Hilton with Marriott/Starwood/Ritz AND Pair with Amex Platinum
Credit Card Pairing:
  • SPG – MS and paid stays
  • Amex Platinum (personal or business) – automatic Gold
  • Same as Strategy 2, except I’m replacing the Ritz CC with Platinum, and I don’t have a minimum spend to reach Gold status since the Platinum card gives it automatically
  • same as Strategy 2, except I’m paying a $450-$550 annual fee to Amex rather than Chase if I don't MS 30K on the SPG card

Potential New Strategy 4: Replace Carlson or Hilton with IHG
Credit Card Pairing:
  • Chase IHG – MS and paid stays
  • I already have the IHG card
  • Security (room access) and status (with CC)
  • Free night from CC without any minimum spend
  • Points Breaks, though I hesitate to add this since I tend to have my hotel room booked long before the PB list is published
  • MSing with the CC at 2x is not very exciting/profitable (IMO – convince me otherwise?) depending on your valuation of IHG points
  • Breakfast not guaranteed at all locations, even with status
  • No shopping portal

Potential New Strategy 5: Replace Carlson or Hilton with Citi Prestige
Credit Card Pairing:
  • Citi Prestige
  • Citi Thank You Premiere (or AT&T Access)
  • Citi Prestige 4th Night Free
  • $200 annual fee after airline credit (not discounting for Global Entry since it isn’t yearly)
  • Msing 3x on the Premiere can add up quickly
  • Most of my domestic trips (majority of my travel) tend to be less than 4 nights
  • Msing on the Premiere CC requires gas station spend; that tends to be tougher to accomplish, and a lot more difficult to explain to Citi if they question it


Silver Member
I do think you are undervaluing SPG points and overvaluing the points multiple per dollar of spending against the actual value of the points. Five Club Carlson points are on average not worth 1 Starpoint when assessing the cash value of the rooms in question.

That said (more as a general guide to gage your options with) no one knows where that card will be at the end of 2018.

The Marriott/Starwood conglomerate does have a lot of options. Many of them don't meet all of your requirements but many do. Another advantage for Marriott is there are 5 cards with bonuses. Marriott business and personal, Starwood business and personal and, to some degree, the Ritz card. The Marriott cards now come with a restricted annual free night, but the Starwood cards are the way to go for someone that is planning to MS them. A meer 30k gets Marriott/Starwood Gold. You can get Platinum through spending on the Ritz card but I don't think Platinum is worth the huge point difference of putting that spend on a Starwood card.

Not knowing the future of the program has been a damper on the enthusiasm of many. But I think there is a good chance Marriott will not want to devalue the rewards very much when they do merge the programs to try and keep as many Starwood loyalists as they can. So I think the joint programs have a lot of potential over the next 12 months and I personally plan to focus a lot of my points earning with Starwood and hope for good things.

After that. If I had to pick two programs I would probably take IHG and Hyatt. IHG because there are some nicer options out there and because the huge number of Holiday Inn locations make it easy to get the value back on the fee even in a light travel year. Hyatt because the points have a fairly high value and can be redeemed in more expensive markets and be supplemented with URs earned at excellent multiples. In fact I think redeeming URs through Hyatt is a very good use of URs.

Another thing to consider is that lots of different programs can work well depending on specific redemptions... and that switching programs periodically can also be for the best. So earn what you can see yourself redeeming easiest and then earn more or try something else.

I'll be interested in following the thread to get others perspective as well. It's always good to get new insights into these programs and where to find the best value.

El Ingeniero

Level 2 Member
I would at least start with IHG & Hyatt for free night certs in exchange for the annual fee. Beyond that, I would look 18 months out and make earning contingent on burning.


Level 2 Member
Thanks for the responses so far. The lack of a specific redemption does make this a challenge for me as I am banking points speculatively.

@mec - I struggle with the Starwood value as a holdover of my old strategy. I viewed Starwood points as miles, and the wait time of the transfer was the dampener for me. I need to remember that if I choose Marriott/Starwood as a strategy, the points are now more likely to be used as hotel points.

@El Ingeniero - I do have the IHG card for the purpose you pointed out, but the lack of Hyatt properties puts that CC application on the back burner

I'm hoping to hear form more folks, the points game is vastly different for everyone, and I like hearing about different strategies.


Level 2 Member
We often use our free night certificates (IHG, Hyatt, Marriott) on long weekend getaways, where we choose the destination based on the certificates to be used.

Over the year, Hyatt has provided us with great weekend adventures in Savannah, NYC (back when the Hyatt House was a cat 4), Chicago, Washington DC, and next month at Coconut Point, FL.

Marriott is more iffy because the category 5 threshold rules out most of the interesting places but we've used them in Ottawa and Kingston, Ontario; Brandywine Valley, PA; and in Barbados this coming winter.

IHG is the best of them all, since there is no category limit to their redemption - the best uses were at the fabulous Intercontinental Le Grand in Paris, the historic Willard Hotel in Washington DC and the Intercontinental New York in Manhattan - each of these rooms were valued at >$500.


Level 2 Member
I agree with the benefits of the IHG. Used certs for IC in Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Jordan, The Willard, IC Times Square. You can get a lot of value for your $49! On the other end of the spectrum - I use points for stays in AUS at the Staybridge for cheap when visiting family - it's actually a decent, clean, roomy hotel room w/breakfast and they are good about recognizing status.


Level 2 Member
Certs have proven to be an interesting "problem" for me. I had a Hyatt cert expire unable to use it and I thought the world had ended! I swore I wasn't going to collect certs any more, yet I still do. We get the 2 IHG certs each year (wife's card and mine) and we typically end up using these for mediocre rooms. Ok, so they are free ~$150 a night rooms at $49 each, but at times this seems like such a minor win I keep reviewing the complexities in my head. We use 2 certs to stay in Tampa in January because we are there anyway and their expiration is just a couple of months away. We stay at a Hyatt in FLL a week later for the same reason. In between we're in Belize and I saw few chain hotels where we will be (mostly in San Ignacio).

We always plan our destinations first, then see where hotel certs and points fit. Moving on to Club Carlson. I'm with the OP on how these used to be more than handy when the last night was free. Now, however, most of our redemption have been low-cost Country Suites in the states. I struggle to get 0.4 cents of value out of each point, but have managed. In Belize City there is a nice looking Raddison. At 57k CC points each night (we needed 2) I was going to bite; we have 400k? across 3 accounts. Still, when I saw the cash price of $140/night I ended up paying cash. Was I silly for trying to get more value out of my CC stash? Probably, but I'm stubborn like that. Interestingly, the CC website's cash price was much higher than what I found on one of the aggregating sites.

We have 3 CC certs sitting in the bank. Couldn't use them in Belize. CC isn't my go to hotel chain any longer. I'm not sure I'll try to replace those 3 certs this year (at 10k MS each).

Had some wonderfully points-cheap high-value Marrioitt redemptions in Africa recently - 7500 points per night in multiple places, when available. I had sworn off Marriott because of issues elsewhere with some less exciting redemptions. But in Africa these were very worthwhile.

The SPG card is special to me. While I currently am saving up to hit 40k (in my mind this is 50k airline transfer), we've had some wonderful redemptions here. There are some great SPG properties, at least for now, that can be had for 10k/night. Then, I mentioned the Marriott hotels we stayed at in Africa. We had no Marriott points as I used those all to get the SW CP for this and next year. We transferred SPG -> Marriott for these. 2500 SPG points/night in some impressive hotels. This may be the best leverage opportunity at the moment, although I JUST realized this for myself. Not sure how long this will last tho. Marriott hotels never seem to be a good buy to me on points, usually requiring more than I would expect. However, at 1/3rd those points via SPG? Maybe.

And even when you don't plan on transferring SPG points to airlines in chunks of 20k, it's a great backup plan for when you need 1->10k in a certain program relatively quickly. Not instantly, and in the case of LAN, months, but we've transferred elsewhere in 1-3 days.

A bunch of US trips next year, then a big overseas trip in Jan 2019. I've got points and certs pretty well diversified. We'll see if we can apply them well.

I've babbled enough. But wait. I think you can be more strategic if you had some idea where you might want to travel in the short term. As I said, if I were to do Africa again (and we will), Marriott and SPG would have great value. I've heard (but have no experience) that Choice Priv points are advantageous in Scandinavia. IHG works almost everywhere. Cash back is even more flexible but harder to leverage to a great degree (no outrageous redemption advantages). Domestically? Marriott would seem less shiny to me. I mean, it does. But maybe that's just me.
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Level 2 Member
I can chime in on Choice for Norway. We stayed at a small but lovely Choice hotel in Tromso - 5 nights, breakfast, dinner and afternoon "tea." All on points, no cash. Great deal. Haven't used the card since but haven't closed as it is no fee.

I actually use my SPG for hotels. We've stayed in some great places in Peru and Qatar, and will be staying in Seychelles next fall.

I'll be using Marriott cert in Rwanda, and using IHG pts in Nairobi close to the domestic airport for positioning.

I agree with @knick1959 that we don't plan our trips around hotel pts or certs, but so far we've been able to use them easily. The only one I found difficult to use was the 2 night Hyatt - to use that, we actually did plan a weekend trip just to burn it.


Level 2 Member
I agree with @knick1959 that we don't plan our trips around hotel pts or certs, but so far we've been able to use them easily. The only one I found difficult to use was the 2 night Hyatt - to use that, we actually did plan a weekend trip just to burn it.
We lucked out using our latest Hyatt 2 night cert. We used it to stay in the wonderful Lahaina Hyatt on Maui. So that worked out very well. Other 1 night certs have not been as fruitful for us.


Level 2 Member
@knick1959 I don't blame you for paying cash when you weren't seeing the value you wanted, I do this on occasion too. Frankly, some MS has a cost (time, fees, etc.), and I want to make sure I'm getting more out of my points than I am putting in.


Level 2 Member
I have a few upcoming blog posts about hotels, but here are a few thoughts. I collect all major, and a few obscure, hotel points (I do the same with airline miles). They have all served me at different times. I would suggest this approach for the flexibility, if you have the opportunity. On the other hand, I'm happy to have a room and don't need glamour, so I don't pursue status (but will take it if given for free).

When I do become a slave to value is during devaluations. I feel compelled to take advantage of the big sweet spots before they die. This can be a problem when you have a stake in many different programs, and I find many of my trips dictated/influenced by about-to-die sweet spots. Overall, it works out because there are enough about-to-die sweet spots to choose from, so I'm always going to somewhere of interest.


Level 2 Member
Had some wonderfully points-cheap high-value Marrioitt redemptions in Africa recently - 7500 points per night in multiple places, when available. I had sworn off Marriott because of issues elsewhere with some less exciting redemptions. But in Africa these were very worthwhile.
And as a good working example of how terrible Marriott redemptions can be domestically, I was just shopping for hotels near Hot Springs National Park. Plenty of hotels ... including a highly rated Courtyard for $107/night. Or, wait for it ... 25k per night. That equates to 8333 SPG points which still is not any kind of a deal. Certainly won't do a points deal here!


Level 2 Member
When I am out of town for anything besides pleasure - Choice hotels.
Simple hotels and almost all of them have at least a continental breakfast.
This scenario is perfect for when wife and I are on roadtrips. No wasting time looking for a spot to grab a bite to eat before heading out on the road

When we go out on vacations/pleasure - SPG
Yes, the points are harder to earn. I really like them due to the glamour and value - Don't need a gazillion points for one night's stay.

I find myself using Choice more often, since we usually only go on large vacations once every other year.