Free hotel rooms with miles & points:Best hotel points!

Table of Contents

    This guide covers how hotel points work, our favorite rewards programs, all-inclusive hotels for free, and our favorite credit cards to earn free hotel rooms. 

    We used miles & points for flights long before we started using them for hotels. But now that we’ve started learning how to get free hotel rooms, too — we’re hooked! Using points, we’ve stayed at 5 star resorts in Cancun and Malaysia, but have also stayed at independent hotels in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and more! I also use hotel points for mini “retreats” where I go to get a quick kid-free night nearby where we live.

    New to my site and miles and points? Start here to learn how we use credit card deals to travel  the world for (almost) free with our family.

    How do hotel points work?

    Almost every hotel chain has their own rewards program. The important thing to remember is that points are essentially worthless if that hotel chain doesn’t have any hotels where you want to go. Or if the hotel’s point value is so high that it will take you years to get enough points to stay there!

    Keep in mind, unless you travel for work very regularly, it is hard to accrue enough points to get many free hotel rooms — that’s why we use credit card bonuses to jump start our points accounts.

    Most hotel chains divide their properties into categories. Each category will cost a progressively higher amount than the previous category. Hotel costs in points vary widely depending on the chain. And it is important to keep in mind that the cost with points is not always tied directly to the cash price, so there can be some great values, as well as horrible values.

    To give an idea of points costs: A Category 1 Marriott Property will cost 7,500 points to book a free hotel room, a Category 2 Marriott Property will cost 12,500 points, etc — all the way up to Category 8 which costs 85,000 points per night. Or Hyatt Category 1 Properties are 5,000 points per night, up to 40,000 points for Category 8.

    Some hotel chains like Hilton and IHG vary their award pricing based on supply and demand so there are no fixed rates for free hotel rooms booked with points.

    Marriott and Hyatt have “peak” and “off-peak” pricing with no set rules so properties can cost more or less than their standard rates.

    Where do you want to stay in your free hotel room?

    The first thing you want to do is scope out where you will want to stay before you start collecting points. A great tool for this is AwardMapper which shows you hotels available with points in a certain destination. It is not always 100% accurate but a good starting place. 

    Once I find a few hotels that I really like, I always go to its website and enter in some test dates to get an idea of what award availability is like.

    TIP: If you’re a family of 4+ — search for hotels for 2 adults and 1 child. Many hotels set official occupancy limits to 3 so if you search for 4, it will come up as unavailable. But when I email (or direct message on Instagram) to ask if 2 adults/2 children can stay, they often say that’s fine. Same goes for families of 5+

    If you identify a hotel with a major chain you love, there is probably a credit card that can get you a few free hotel rooms (or nights) there.

    What if I don’t like chain hotels?

    You can use credit card points to book almost any hotel with points — if you have the right card.? If you?re only going to get 1 or 2 cards per year and want something easy, I often recommend the Capitol One Venture Card or Bank of America Premium Travel Rewards.?

    Capital One Venture card
    Capital One® Venture Rewards – Limited time 75,000 mile offer
    • $95 annual fee
    • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
    • Miles can be redeemed to erase any travel purchase. 50,000 miles = $500
    • Can be transferred to a variety of partners like Jet Blue, Wyndham, Avianca, Turkish Airways and more
    • Also worth considering the Venture X which has more benefits and the same offer.

    The Capital One Venture (usually 50,000 points after spending $3000 in 3 months, $95 annual fee) is an example of an easy flexible card for hotel expenses. Those 50,000 points will give you $500 back on travel expenses. Be aware, though, charges have to code as travel AND the expenses have to be at least $25 for you to be able to request statement credit. You don’t have to have enough points to cover your whole expense. You could book a $600 hotel stay that covers 5 days and reimburse yourself $500 if that’s how many points you have. This will also work for Airbnb stays!

    Most of the flexible points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, and American Express Membership Rewards also have booking portals on their websites that allow you to book other hotels directly. 

    The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, for instance, is currently powered by Expedia, so almost any hotel you see on Expedia will be bookable with Chase Ultimate Rewards. On a trip to Gili Air, Indonesia (a tiny island with no motorized vehicles), we used 4,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards a night to book a villa at Villa Bulan Madu – a small hotel with only 5 rooms. Many HomeAway/VRBO properties are also bookable with Chase Ultimate Rewards points (we booked this apartment in Paris with our Chase Ultimate Rewards through the portal — just make sure you read the fine print on fees clearly!)

    Want Chase Ultimate Rewards? The Sapphire Preferred card is a great place to start and my favorite card for beginners!

    Chase Sapphire Preferred – Learn how to apply
    • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
    • $95 annual fee
    • Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to a variety of partners like Southwest, Hyatt, United, and more!
    • You can also redeem points through the Chase Travel Portal. 60,000 points = $750 of travel
    • Great option for booking all-inclusive resorts or hotels in Hawaii.

    We’ve used Citi ThankYou points to stay at Coco Beach Island Resort in Puerto Galera, Philippines — another family-owned hotel. We were able to book direct through their portal (and the 4th night was free thanks to our Citi Prestige Card). Citi ThankYou points are easy to earn with the Citi Premier.

    Citi Premier Offer
    Citi Premier®: Limited time 80,000 point offer

    Our favorite hotel rewards programs for free hotel rooms

    Our top 3 hotel rewards programs are Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG), Marriott, and Hyatt. We have kept cards from all of these programs for a many years now because even though they have an annual fee, you get a “free” night at their properties once a year. I saw “free” because if you pay the annual fee, it is not truly free. We look at it like a reduced rate, prepaid vacation. Here’s what we love about each of these programs:

    Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG)

    • 4th Night Free: If you hold the IHG credit card (except the older version), you get the 4th night free on award bookings.
    • Free Breakfast: Holiday Inn Express, Avid Hotels, and Staybridge Suites all offer free hot breakfast.
    • Annual “Free” Night with credit card:?This can be used at hotels up to 40,000 points per night. We often use ours for a staycation in Chicago and have enjoyed the Intercontinental Chicago and also some Holiday Inn Properties.
    • In Europe, IHG has the largest number of hotels where a family of 4 can stay in a room and great value on award pricing.?
    IHG® One Rewards Premier Credit Card – 140,000 points
    • $99 annual fee
    • Earn 140,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
    • Reward Night after each account anniversary year at eligible IHG hotels worldwide (worth 40,000 points)
    • 4th night free when you redeem points for any stay of 4 or more nights
    • Earn up to 26 points total per $1 spent when you stay at an IHG hotel
    • Earn 5 points per $1 spent on purchases on travel, gas stations, and restaurants. Earn 3 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
    • Platinum Elite status as long as you remain a Premier card member
    • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Fee Credit of up to $100 every 4 years as reimbursement for the application fee charged to your card
    • $50 in United TravelBank cash each calendar year

    IHG® One Rewards Premier Business Credit Card – 140,000 points
    • $99 annual fee
    • Earn 140,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
    • Reward Night after each account anniversary year at eligible IHG hotels worldwide (worth 40,000 points)
    • 4th night free when you redeem points for any stay of 4 or more nights
    • Earn 10 points total per $1 spent when you stay at an IHG hotel
    • Earn 5 points per $1 spent on purchases on travel, hotels (non-IHG), gas stations, dining, social media and search engine advertising, and office supply stores.
    • Earn 3 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
    • Platinum Elite status as long as you remain a Premier card member
    • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Fee Credit of up to $100 every 4 years as reimbursement for the application fee charged to your card

    Marriott

    • 5th Night Free: Every award booking of 5 nights qualifies for 1 night free. They will deduct the lowest night.
    • Free Breakfast:?Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, SpringHill Suites, Element by Westin, and TownePlace Suites. A lot of these properties also have larger rooms and suites for families that are bookable with points, too.
    • Elite Status: If you can earn elite status, it comes with some great benefits like more properties with free breakfast and free upgrades to club levels that include more free food.
    • Annual “Free” Night with credit card:?Depending on the card you hold, you will either get an annual night certificate for a property worth 35,000 points or 50,000 points.?
    Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card
    Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless®
    • $95 annual fee
    • Earn 3 free nights (each valued up to 50,000 point) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from your account opening
    • 1 Free Night Award annually after your Card account anniversary (up to 35k)
    • Earns 6 points per $1 at Bonvoy (Starwood / Marriott) properties and 2 points per $1 on everything else.
    • After holding this card for 1 year, you can upgrade to the Ritz Carlton card, which is one option for families to get airport lounge access.

    Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex Card
    Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card American Express Card (see current offers here)
    • $450 annual fee (Terms Apply | Rates and Fees)
    • Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points and 1 Free Night Award after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
    • $300 annual Marriott travel credit: Effective 9/22/22, the $300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit benefit will no longer be available. It will be replaced with a NEW benefit of up to $300 in statement credits per calendar year (up to $25 per month) for eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide.
    • Priority Pass airport lounge access for cardholder + 2 guests (enrollment required)
    • 1 Free Night Award annually after your Card account anniversary (up to 50k)


    American Express® Marriott Bonvoy® Business card
    • $125 annual fee (Terms Apply | Rates and Fees)
    • Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
    • Provides 1 free night certificate every year on account anniversary (at a hotel up to 35k points)

    Hyatt

    Hyatt has a smaller number of properties worldwide than either of the above chains so you are less likely to find a Hyatt where you want to go. But the properties they do have offer can have a great value.

    • All-Inclusive Resorts: Hyatt has a number of Ziva and Zilara properties that are 5 star all-inclusive resorts that are bookable with points. We have stayed at the Hyatt Ziva Cancun twice and had an amazing experience. Great spot for a relaxing couple’s getaway–rooms are 20,000-25,000 points per night. Not as realistic for a family as they charge 10,000-12,500 points extra for anyone over 2 years old after 2 people.?
    • Low points redemptions: Hyatt redemptions start at just 5,000 points per night and many hotels are between 5,000 and 12,500 points per night to book.
    • Free Breakfast: Hyatt House, Hyatt Place
    • Annual “Free” Night with credit card: We have used ours at the Hyatt Place by LAX for overnight stopovers and also at the amazing Chicago Athletic Association Hotel in Chicago.
    World of Hyatt – Learn how to apply
    • $95 annual fee
    • 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
    • Provides 1 free night certificate every year on account anniversary (up to a category 4 hotel)
    • If you spend $15,000 per year on the card you will earn an additional free night certificate

    One of the best ways to get even more Hyatt points is by opening a card that earns Ultimate Rewards from Chase and then transferring them over to Hyatt.

    Chase Sapphire Preferred – Learn how to apply
    • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
    • $95 annual fee
    • Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to a variety of partners like Southwest, Hyatt, United, and more!
    • You can also redeem points through the Chase Travel Portal. 60,000 points = $750 of travel
    • Great option for booking all-inclusive resorts or hotels in Hawaii.

    Hilton

    • 5th Night Free: Every award booking of 5 nights qualifies for 1 night free. They will average the cost of 5 nights and deduct that amount from the total. 
    • Free weekend night: The Hilton Aspire (annual fee $450) gives an annual free night at almost any Hilton property in the world. This can be a great redemption for really luxurious hotels. The Hilton Business card and Surpass card also give you an option to earn an annual free night if you spend $15,000 per year on the card. 
    • Free Breakfast: The Hilton Aspire, Surpass, and Business card will all give you a level of elite status that provides free breakfast at almost any Hilton! Hilton offers free breakfast at Canopy, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Home2 Suites, Homewood Suites, and Tru. 
    Hilton Honors Amex Surpass Card
    Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card – 130,000 points
    • $0 intro annual fee first year, then $95 annual fee
    • Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership.
    • 12x points for spend directly at Hilton hotels and resorts
    • 6x points for spending on gas and groceries
    • Complimentary Gold status (enrollment required)
    • 10 Priority Pass visits per year (enrollment required)

    Choice

    • Great value in Europe: Choice has a large number of properties in Europe where you can book for a family of 4, and some great values. 
    • Free Breakfast: Comfort Inn, Comfort Suits, EconoLodge, MainStay Suites, Quality Inn and Sleep Inn all offer free breakfast. 
    Citi Premier Offer
    Citi Premier®: Limited time 80,000 point offer

    Wyndham

    • Suite Upgrades: The Wyndham Earner+ card gives you Diamond status which gives your family access to Suite upgrades! 
    • 7,500 points per year: You will also receive 7,500 points per year when you keep the card. This is enough for a free night at a low end property. 
    • Free Breakfast: Baymont Inn & Suites, Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, La Quinta, Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham, Super 8, Travelodge, and Wingate by Wyndham all offer free breakfast. 
    • Vacasa vacation rentals: A great value with Wyndham is too book Vacasa vacation rentals — cost is 15,000 per bedroom. So if you find a large one bedroom place, there can be some great options!
    Capital One Venture card
    Capital One® Venture Rewards – Limited time 75,000 mile offer
    • $95 annual fee
    • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
    • Miles can be redeemed to erase any travel purchase. 50,000 miles = $500
    • Can be transferred to a variety of partners like Jet Blue, Wyndham, Avianca, Turkish Airways and more
    • Also worth considering the Venture X which has more benefits and the same offer.


    Capital One Venture X
    Capital One® Venture X : Earn 75,000 bonus miles
    • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
    • $395 annual fee
    • $300 annual travel credit when booking through Capital One’s portal
    • 10,000 points every year on account anniversary (worth at least $100)
    • Statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck
    • Easy airport lounge access for your whole family
    • Miles can be redeemed to erase any travel purchase. 75,000 miles = $750
    • Can be transferred to a variety of partners like Jet Blue, Wyndham, Avianca, Turkish Airways and more.
    • Get our downloadable checklist here so you can max your benefits

    All-inclusive hotels with points & DIY all-inclusive 

    We have stayed at both the Hyatt Ziva Cancun and Holiday Inn Montego Bay Resort on points with our kids and had a great time at both resorts. Particularly in the first 2 years after our son was adopted, it worked really well for us to stay at one site for the a whole trip. Unfortunately, the deals we used to stay at those hotels are no longer as easy to get. But there are still ways to stay at all-inclusive resorts for free with points!

    Here’s a list of some of the all-inclusive hotels that can be booked with points. With the IHG Premier card, for instance, if you can get 150,000 points (standard sign up bonus is 130,000+), you can stay 4 nights at the Holiday Inn Montego Bay Resort. The hotel is 50,000 points/night but the 4th night is free if you hold a IHG Premier or Traveler card. It isn’t a super fancy resort, but still a lot of fun! Two kids under 13 stay free, too. 

    You can also combine a few cards to make almost any hotel “all-inclusive.”

    For instance, when we flew to the Philippines to adopt our son, we used Citi Thank You points to book a standard hotel room at Coco Beach Resort for a week of low key family bonding time.  What we wanted, though, was a different room. We then called Coco Beach and paid the difference to upgrade to a higher level room. When we were there, we ate all our meals at the hotel restaurants.

    We used the the Barclaycard Arrival+ (currently unavailable, but comparable to the Capital One Venture) to pay our bill at checkout, including our upgrade fee and all our other fees from meals. Since they were paid for at the hotel, they coded as a “travel expenses” and we were able to use our points to request a statement credit for the whole balance.

    You could do the same thing by booking a hotel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal — or by booking any hotel with points and then charging all your meals to your room and paying at the end!

    Questions about how to get started booking hotel stays for free? Email me!

    2 thoughts on “Free hotel rooms with miles & points:Best hotel points!”

      1. I am so glad this was helpful! Hotel programs do not make it easy to understand since they all operate a little bit differently.

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