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In theory, using points and miles for hotel stays is a straightforward affair. Determine your destination, plan out the points and miles needed, design and execute a card application and spending strategy to acquire the points, and book your free night award. But what happens if your destination has no hotels affiliated with a rewards program? Are you stuck paying cash? Or is there still a way of using rewards points to score free accommodations?
Earn and Redeem Points, Miles, & Cash Back for Accommodations
Unless you’re traveling to a monastery in some remote and forgotten land, there is likely some accommodation you can book using a rewards earning credit card. This could be a vacation rental such as an Airbnb, a budget hostel, inn, or motel, an independent hotel booked via an OTA, or simply booking a boutique hotel or chalet direct that are not associated with any rewards program.This means there are still ways of using your hard-earned points and miles when the destination has no rewards affiliated hotels.
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Not all methods offer top value, and there will be times you're better off maximizing the rewards earned on your stay rather than redeeming rewards, but almost every destination will offer an opportunity to use points, miles, or cash back to offset the cost of your travel.
Redeem Fixed-Value Rewards and Cash Back Cards for Hotels and Airbnb
One solution to redeeming points when you can’t utilize your branded hotel points is using fixed-value bank rewards. These include Arrival Miles earned via the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, Venture Miles from the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, or Travel Rewards earned on the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card. How do these rewards work? Pay for your accommodation using the card, and you can redeem your points against the cost of the stay as a statement credit.
There are a few restrictions; namely, the purchase needs to code as travel to qualify for the statement credit, and in the case of the Arrival Plus, there is a minimum redemption value of $100 or 10,000 Arrival Miles. Of these cards, our pick would be the Arrival Plus as you receive 5% of redeemed miles credited back to your account, giving you a 2.1% return on your spend. It also comes stacked with great travel perks and insurances, and charges no foreign transaction fees, and supports Chip + PIN, making it a solid card international travel rewards card.
Other options include using cash back cards like the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business (if you're a small business owner), the Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers cash back and ultimate flexibility. For a no fee card, the Citi Double Cash is one of the best cash back cards available, offering a flat 2% back on all spend (1% as you spend and 1% when you pay).
Stack Cashback Portals, Offer Codes, Travel Credits, and OTA’s
There are plenty of destinations where chain hotels are not available. Santorini, for example, only has a small selection of rewards affiliated properties. Bali has plenty of chain hotels in the south of the island, but the minute you leave the southeast corner, there is nowhere you can redeem your chain hotel loyalty points.
You can choose to book these hotels on a card like the Arrival Plus and redeem your points as a statement credit. Or reduce the nightly cost through cash back portals, coupon offers, and taking advantage of OTA loyalty programs, and then pay for your stay with a points earning card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and collect 3x Ultimate Rewards points on the purchase you can put towards another holiday.
We’ll run through a simple example of how you could potentially stack a stay booked via Hotels.com:
- Click through to Hotels.com via a portal like befrugal.com and earn 3% cash back (for Hotels.com Rewards Members – 9% if not a member as of this posting)
- Find discount/offer code via coupon and retail sites, or check the Hotels.com coupon page which regularly provides coupons offering 10% off and add it in at checkout
- Pay for with a Chase Sapphire Reserve® earning 3X Ultimate Rewards points, and receive $300 back as a travel credit (the 3x points on travel kicks in after the first $300 is credited back)
- As a Rewards member, each night will count towards Hotels.com’s ‘Collect 10 nights, get 1 free’ (value of your free night is the average price of the 10 nights you collect) providing a further 10% off the end cost of the hotel.
Note: You cannot use coupons with Hotels.com AND earn towards their ‘Collect 10 nights, get 1 free rewards program'; it is one or the other. That said, you can leverage the Hotels.com rebate program and stack on that benefit! Also, if you happen to purchase a hotels.com gift card/gift certificate at a discount you could always use that and gift cards do not invalidate the use of a coupon or earning nights towards your 10 count.
You can score free Gold elite status with Expedia (typically takes 15 nights or $10K) if you hold the EXPEDIA®+ VOYAGER CARD from Citi. While the benefits aren’t up to the same standard as a fantastic travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll get 25,000 Expedia+ points after spending $2,000 in 3 months, complimentary upgrades and early check-in/late check-out at Expedia+ VIP listed hotels, plus an additional 30% Expedia+ base points on spend. Expedia+ points redeem at a penny a piece through Expedia.com, not the best value but another option where hotel chains aren’t available.
Pay for a Hotel Using Points Through Bank Travel Portals
Another alternative is to find a hotel you can book directly through American Express Travel or the Chase Travel Portal. Both travel portals allow you to book hotels, rental cars, flights and more using either your Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards.
Points have a fixed value of up to 1.5¢ per point depending on what cards you hold and the specific redemption. But if you have a stockpile of points from bank rewards cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® or The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, and you’re unlikely to need them in the near future, redeeming for hotels stays means you’re not using cash.
Redeem Membership Rewards Direct For Airbnb
This option is not one we recommend due to a pretty poor redemption value; however, it can get you out of a bind if you’re short on holiday cash but flush with Membership Rewards. You can redeem Membership Rewards directly for Airbnb stays via Amex Express Checkout:
- Select Amex Express Checkout as payment type
- Enter your American Express User ID and Password in the pop-up
- If your card is eligible, you’ll see the option to use points.
Why don’t we recommend paying for Airbnb with your Membership Rewards? Because the redemption value is a poor 0.6/0.7¢ per point, well below the minimum value we expect to redeem Amex points for by transferring to partners or using the points directly to book a flight. But, if you have an excess if Membership Rewards and you really don’t want to pay cash for your Airbnb, it’s an option.
This option requires an eligible Membership Rewards earning Amex card. You can check whether you have a valid card via the link in Airbnb's Amex help article.
Just because there isn’t a selection of chain hotels at your chosen destination, doesn’t mean you will be out of pocket the whole cost of your stay. You can still use points, miles, and cash back to offset the cost of hotels and other accommodation, making hard to reach or unique locations that much more affordable and well within the range of most travelers.
If you have any stories to share or tried and true hacks when there are no rewards-affiliated hotels available, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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