Today (August 14, 2015): Travel Tip: How to get FREE hotel nights.
I previously explained how to get the most discounted room rate and/or best deal at a luxury hotel, so that you can save (lots of) money. Today, I take it one step further and explain you how you can stay for FREE at a hotel. And I’m not only talking about budget properties here, but also about luxury hotels, even those that belong to the portfolio of the world’s most exclusive and ultra-luxurious hotel brands, such as Four Seasons, St Regis and Aman Resorts. Getting a complimentary room (a “comp” as it is called in the travel industry jargon) for one or more nights, is the ultimate hotel perk and a lot better than finding a good deal as it makes you feel special. If you have always dreamt of staying for free at a luxury hotel and/or want to cut your travel budget, then read the following 8 tips and start traveling for free!
1. Join a hotel loyalty program
These days, almost all major hotel chains own a lucrative loyalty program where – in addition to other benefits such as complimentary upgrades, WiFi and breakfast – you can earn points every time you stay at one of their properties and then redeem them for free nights. Deciding which hotel loyalty program is right for you will depend on 4 factors:
- The number of hotels owned by the chain (as the larger chains offer more options to earn and redeem points).
- The benefits that are most important to you.
- The countries where you travels take you to (as some chains are better represented in certain countries as compared to others).
- The type of hotel you want to stay at (ranging from budget to ultraluxurious).
The high-end luxury hotel chains are rather reluctant to the idea of a loyalty program, with only very few of them offering one. I hereby give you an overview of the major luxury hotel loyalty programs (click the links for their pros and cons). IMHO, the first 2 – Starwood and Hyatt – offer the best program.
- Starwood Preferred Guest by Starwood hotels, which includes St Regis, W, and The Luxury Collection hotels.
- World of Hyatt by the Hyatt group, which includes Park Hyatt and Andaz hotels.
- Hilton HHonors by the Hilton group, which includes Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels.
- Marriott Rewards by the Marriott group, which includes The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels
- Sirius by the Jumeirah hotel group.
- IHG Rewards Club by the IHG group, which includes InterContinental hotels.
2. Book your hotel stays on Hotels.com
Hotels.com is one of my favorite hotel engine booking websites, besides booking hotels through Jetsetter, via Virtuoso, or – in case that I stay at one of the larger chains – on the official hotel website. You can save lots of money when you book (luxury) hotels on Hotels.com and I have previously explained here why. One of the reasons I am such a huge fan of Hotels.com is that they have an excellent loyalty program, called “Welcome Rewards”. When you book and stay 10 nights at eligible hotels, you’ll get 1 night free to redeem at a hotel of your choice. Hotels.com works out the average value of all the 10 nights you’ve collected and gives it back to you as a free night. I have scored tons of free hotel nights this way, amongst them the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence, Italy.
3. Make use of a Best Rate Guarantee
Best Rate Guarantee (BRG) programs are increasingly used by hotels chains around the world and guarantee that a hotel guest is given the lowest available rate for a night or a multiple-night stay. If means that if you find a better, publicly available rate on another website than the official hotel website, you can submit an online claim. If your claim is approved, not only will the lower price be matched, but you will also receive an additional 10 to 25% discount (depending upon the hotel chain). Important: a BRG will only be approved for booking of the identical room type, date and length of stay, and reservations must be made directly on the hotel websites (not on third-party websites). Finding a better rate than the one on the official website is not difficult at all, as you can read in my tips for getting a luxury hotel at the cheapest price.
For an overview of the different BRG programs, click here.
While a BRG rate – the most discounted rate you can get by communicating directly with the hotel – is already a splendid feature on itself, it’s also possible – and not difficult at all – to hack a BRG program for free hotel stays:
- Always wanted to earn a free night at a luxurious InterContinental hotel? Well, InterContinental’s excellent BRG program gives you a very good chance for scoring one. If you find a lower rate for an InterContinental hotel on another website and you submit an online claim, all within 24 hours of completing a reservation at the official InterContinental website (IHG.com), then InterContinental will provide the first night’s room price free and match the lower average nightly room price found for that stay for the remainder of your stay (in case of a prepaid room, the difference in price will be refunded). So if you only stay one night, then that night will be for free. I have done it multiple times before. There is one catch however, and that is than you can only submit a claim after making a reservation, and not all rates are eligible for a BRG (so make sure that you book a refundable rate, so that you can cancel your reservation in case your BRG is not approved).
- Starwood Preferred Guest or SPG – the loyalty program of Starwood hotels – has one of the world’s best run BRG programs. If you find a lower rate prior to, or within 24 hours of, booking your hotel room, simply submit a BRG claim to SPG to honor that lower rate, with a choice between an additional 20% discount or 2,000 Starpoints. If you choose the points (instead of the additional discount), then you can earn tons of free Starpoints that you can later redeem for free hotel stays. The number of Starpoints needed for a free or discounted night will depend upon the SPG category of the hotel (SPG hotels come in 7 categories), starting at just 3000 Starpoints for a night at a category 1 hotel to a minimum of 30 000 Starpoints at a category 7 hotel. I earn at least 50,000 Starpoints this way per year, earning me one or two free hotel nights at Starwood’s luxury hotels and it doesn’t require a lot of effort.
- Hotel booking engine Expedia‘s BRG program offer another easy way to earn free hotel stays. If you find a cheaper rate on your Expedia hotel reservation up to two days before your check-in, then Expedia will refund the difference and give you a $50 travel coupon for future travel (learn more about this here). So if you earn a $50 credit per single booking and book 10 hotel stays per year, that’s $50 * 10 = $500 worth of hotel stays per year.
Once again, the key is always finding a better price than the one on the official hotel website, but that’s not difficult at all as I explained here. Most of the time, the lowest room rate can be found on the aggregator websites Trivago and Hotelscombined, which verify hotel prices at hundreds of other sites (e.g. Ebookers, Booking.com, Hotels.com, Otel.com, Expedia, Onhotels.com, Hotelopia.com, etc…) and show where you can book the cheapest rate, after which you submit a BRG. Try it out yourself here:
4. Get a credit card affiliated with a hotel rewards program
Most hotel chains have a credit card that is affiliated with their loyalty program (see above). With these credit cards, you earn extra hotel points with your everyday purchases (from groceries to phone bills), which you can then redeem for free hotel stays (as explained above). But of even greater interest are the free hotel points or vouchers that you will receive when you apply for and receive your credit card, enough for one or more free hotels night. Some examples:
- The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is one of the fastest ways to earn Starpoints (only available in USA, UK, Canada and Japan). You will earn 30,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your credit card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months; that’s enough for 10 free hotel stays at one of Starwood’s budget hotels, or one free night at one if its top-end properties.
- The Hyatt VISA credit card, only available in the USA, is probably the best hotel credit card in the industry. You will receive 2 free nights (at a category 1-4 Hyatt property) after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months with this credit card. This bonus offer is available to you as long as you have not received a new card member bonus for this product in the past 24 months.
- Citizens of selected countries can earn HHonors Bonus Points with a Hilton HHonors card on everyday purchases, and then redeem these points for reward nights and more. Plus, certain Hilton HHonor credit cards automatically come with elite status and/or tens of thousands of bonus HHonors Points.
Alternatively, when you live in a country where the major hotel chains don’t have a credit card program, you can transfer program points from your American Express or Diner’s Club credit car into your hotel loyalty account to increase your hotel point balance and earn free hotel stays.
5. Join an airline loyalty program
Frequent-flyer programs are customer loyalty programs used by most airlines that allow you to earn points or miles that are redeemable for free flights, upgrades, car rentals, shopping but also free hotel stays. While converting airline points into free hotel stays is not always the most economic ways to spend your precious miles (in most cases, you are better off using them for free flights), there are some exceptions to the rule, such as booking stays at hotels of the Hilton chain (including the Waldorf Astoria and Conrad brand) with the Miles & More program of Lufthansa.
Interestingly, the last year, two airlines have established exclusive partnerships with Starwood hotels, which make it now easier than ever before to earn free Starwood hotel stays while cruising at 30,000 feet:
- Starwood’s loyalty program SPG and the frequent flyer program of Delta, SkyMiles, share crossover rewards: SPG Platinum and Gold members earn 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent on eligible Delta flights, which are redeemable for free hotel stays.
- SPG and the frequent flyer program of Emirates, SkyWards, share Your World Rewards: SPG Gold and Platinum members earn 1 Starpoint per US dollar spent on all eligible Emirates flights (on top of Skywards Miles), which are redeemable for free hotel stays.
6. Make use of special hotel promotions
Keep an eye our for hotel promotions that advertise a free night when you book a certain number of paid nights. For example, from time to time, some hotels launch a “stay two nights and receive a complimentary third night” type of offer for guests who stay more than one night. These types of specials are mostly only available when you book directly on the official hotel website (so be sure to sign up for the newsletter of your preferred hotels to make sure that you know about upcoming promotions), or via websites like Dealbase and Travelzoo, which both list current hotel deals, including complimentary nights.
6. Complain about a troubling experience
A hotel stay can be an unpleasant ordeal when things do not go as planned (e.g. a major defect in your room, a service issue, a disappointing excursion, misstatements about a hotel’s amenities, a downgrade, an overbooking, etc …). When confronted with a major inconvenience that is clearly the responsibility of a hotel, then complaining in a polite matter – either at the hotel or afterwards through the hotel’s customer service – may be your chance to get a free hotel stay. Recently, I was confronted with an overbooking at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Munich (there was no room available for me, despite that I had booked it months in advance), and to compensate for the ordeal, the hotel refunded my (prepaid) stay and offered me a 2 night voucher for a future trip (you can read my trip report about the so-so Mandarin Oriental Munich here).
7. Join the travel industry
Travel agents, meeting planners, travel journalists, and other industry insiders frequently get free hotel stays as a reward for the business they (may) bring to the hotel. There are usually available rooms since hotels are rarely fully occupied, so it makes sense for the hotel to assign the room to travel industry insiders as a sign of appreciation or for exposure in the media.
8. Build up your social media
More and more luxury hotels are opening up to new promotional opportunities to boost their profits, by offering free stays to a select few guests in exchange for recognition on social media. If you have at least 50,000 followers, and your social media match the hotel brand’s aesthetic, then there’s a chance that you will be offered freebies, ranging from discounts to free nights, as long as you engage to promote the property during your stay. Read the story of a travel blogger who spent five free days at The Mulia Resort in Bali, Indonesia, where rooms range from around $400 to $1,000 per night, thanks to her more than 400,000 Instagram followers.