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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 then 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 when the hotels don't have their own loyalty program (or lack one that's worth using)?
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 (Online Travel Agency — sites like Expedia or Kayak), or simply booking directly with a boutique hotel or chalet 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.
Not all methods offer top value, and there will be times you're better off maximizing the rewards earned on your stay instead of redeeming rewards, but almost every destination will offer an opportunity to use points, miles, or cash back to offset the cost of your travel.
In short, you likely think of earning points with Marriott Bonvoy or World of Hyatt to redeem for hotel stays, but it's possible to use points and miles for hotels that aren't in a rewards program. Your strategy here will be different, obviously.
Redeem Fixed-Value Rewards and Cash Back Cards for Hotels & Airbnb
One solution to redeeming points when you can’t utilize your branded hotel points is using fixed-value bank rewards. These include points earned with the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card or Capital One miles from the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. How do these rewards work? Pay for your accommodation using the card, then you can redeem your rewards against the cost of the stay as a statement credit.
There are a few restrictions. With the Capital One Venture, the purchase needs to code as travel to qualify for the statement credit. Otherwise, you'll need to redeem your rewards as cash back (which yields less value). With the Bank of America Premium Rewards Card, you'll choose to redeem your points as cash via statement credit or a direct deposit to an eligible Bank of America account.
Stack Cash Back Portals, Offer Codes, Travel Credits & OTAs
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, plus a handful in the center (mostly around Ubud). But what if you want to visit the western part of the island?
You can choose to book these hotels on a card like the Capital One Venture and redeem your miles 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® to collect 3x Ultimate Rewards points on the purchase — points you can put toward 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 CashbackMonitor.com and earn up to 10% cash back (offers can change; this offer was available at the time of publication).
- Find discount/offer codes via coupon and retail sites, such as the hotel deals from Groupon.
- Pay with a Sapphire Reserve earning 3x Ultimate Rewards points and/or receive $300 back each year as a travel credit (the 3x points earnings on travel kicks in after the travel credit is exhausted)
- Earn OneKeyCash through the shared rewards program between Expedia, Hotels.com, and Vrbo.
The gift card approach
It's also worth looking for discounted gift cards for these OTAs. For example, if you find a $100 Hotels.com gift card on sale for $90 at your local supermarket, you could buy it with a credit card that earns extra rewards at grocery stores (such as the American Express® Gold Card). On top of earning points from your purchase, you'd get $10 off and still could follow the strategies above to tack on extra rewards or discounts when booking online.
Extra points with other programs
It's also possible to “double dip” by earning rewards in more than one program during your stay. For example, you can earn British Airways Avios on Airbnb stays and earn United miles on Vrbo stays. You need to book stays through a specific website to qualify. That means these may not trigger the portal bonuses mentioned above, but they present another option for earning extra.
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 portals allow you to book hotels, rental cars, flights, and more using your points.
Depending on what cards you hold and the type of travel you're booking, points can provide a fixed value of up to 1.54¢ per point. But if you have a stockpile of points, using them in this way means you're not using cash. And it means you're using points to pay for a hotel where most people assume you can't book a night with points.
Moreover, credit card issuers have all launched hotel programs. Booking with a program like Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts or the Capital One Lifestyle Collection means you could pay with your credit card rewards and potentially tack on extra benefits like room upgrades, on-property spending credits, and more. And in the case of The Platinum Card® from American Express, you could use up to $200 per year toward certain prepaid hotel reservations through Amex Travel. Enrollment is required for select Amex benefits.
Just because there isn’t a selection of chain hotels at your chosen destination doesn’t mean you can't pay for your hotel with points. 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. Rather than redeeming points at the time of booking, you'll need rewards that you can redeem after the fact, paying with your card and then applying credit to reduce or eliminate these charges from your credit card statement.
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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