How to Use Points for a Free Hotel Stay!

Elizabeth and I are two teachers that travel every break we get.  We obviously could not pay for all of these stays, and we often are asked the question, “Wait, how are you able to pay for all of this?”  The answer is WE DON’T PAY FOR IT!  The following post simply explains how to get started earning points for a beginner!

Pretty much every hotel chain has a loyalty program in order to retain customers and to try to convince us to stay at their chain more often.  Loyalty programs are different for each hotel group, but programs exist for the most expensive beachfront hotel to the cheapest hotels next to the interstate.

In order to set up a loyalty account with hotels, you only need to go to their website and create a username and password.  But before doing this, please read the rest of the post.

When first starting out in the effort to accrue points, I fully recommend picking one loyalty program and learning everything you can about it.  If you try to gather information from too many programs at once, the fine details of each one will blur together.  Go to the website from each hotel program and look at the properties they own. Take note of the number of hotels, the location of hotels, and how expensive it is to redeem points.

So, the best advice I have for which loyalty program you should choose really depends on what you want from a hotel or vacation.

1. Are you wanting to go to an aspirational property for a free vacation?

2. Are you wanting to go to a hotel you could normally afford but are trying to save money to stay for free?

Most of us that use points frequently for hotel stays choose number 1 from above, but the practice of gathering points for stays fits anyone wanting to travel.  Figure out more about which programs fit your needs as a traveler below.

This is for the people on a limited budget (like us) that want to stay at a beachfront resort or downtown hotel with all of the amenities possible.  First, you need to look thoroughly at the location and properties for each hotel chain.  I suggest starting with these:


*to read more about Marriott go here





After studying the links above, notice that some of the chains require very different amounts of points to redeem a free night. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harder to use points with that system, because you might be able to earn points much more easily.

For example, I only earn 1 point per dollar using the Starwood credit card on everyday spend, but with the Hilton credit card I get 5 points per dollar on most of my spend.  That makes it sound like Hilton is way better, right? Well, you need to look how much it costs to redeem points.

Hilton costs 95,000 points at their top properties, while Starwood costs 30-35,000 points at it’s top properties.  Overall, we can earn points far faster at Hilton, but it costs way more to get a free night. So for lack of better words, most of the hotel programs “even out” in some places; however, there are sweet spots for each chain.  Look for detailed posts about each chain in the future.

If you normally pay for hotels and want to save money by staying for free and you aren’t wanting to stay at an overly lavish resort, then this section is for you. As stated above, you need to study the websites for each hotel chain and see if where you normally stay already has a loyalty system.  If it does, then sign up!  If not, look for properties in your normal spending range and join the loyalty program for that chain.  I have listed some recommendations below.

Marriott-all levels except very cheap

Hilton-all levels except very cheap

Choice Hotels-mostly cheap but some upper level properties

Wyndham-mostly cheap but some upper level properties

IHG-all levels

Best Western-all levels but more in the cheap area

There are several ways to earn points for hotel stay redemptions.  The quickest way to earn points is to join a hotel loyalty program and stay at the hotel.  After a certain amount of stays, you will end up getting enough points to get a free stay.  The amount of stays will vary for each hotel chain.

Another fast way to earn points is through a credit card.  Most hotel credit cards offer generous sign-up bonuses after you spend a certain amount on the card.  You will also earn points for every dollar you spend on everyday things like groceries, gas, restaurants, etc.  Please read this post about which card fits you!

The last major way to earn points is through the hotel chain’s shopping portal.  You can shop online at common stores like Nike, Apple, Macy’s, etc. using the shopping portal and will earn points toward your hotel program.  This is one of the easiest things to do that doesn’t cost you a dime!

If you want to get started in earning hotel points for free nights, researching each hotel program is your only option.  I don’t mean to devote hours of time for each program, but before you decide on the one you definitely want to begin with, you will need to be very familiar with the fine details.  Please look for upcoming posts about the major hotel chains to help you make your decision!