Should You Redeem Points For A Hotel Stay?

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Reader duane asked the following in the “Ask Lucky” forum, regarding how to decide whether to pay for a hotel stay or redeem points:

How do you decide when to pay and when to use SPG points? Case in point: Amman Jordan Le Meridien — 40,000 SPG points vs. US$1300 + earn even MORE points for premium cabin-long haul travel on Etihad/Cathay/Qatar?

I know that to many this will probably seem like a “simple” question, but I think it’s a really fundamental topic which can be applied to many aspects of the hobby, which is why it’s worth covering here.

Le-Meridien-Amman

When trying to decide whether to pay for a hotel stay, here’s what you should factor in:

  • The total cost if you paid for the stay in cash, including taxes, service charges, etc. (keep in mind that in many markets those can add an extra 20%+ to the price of a stay compared to the “base” rate)
  • Whether you’d earn elite qualifying stays/nights by paying with cash but not with points, and whether that matters to you (in the case of SPG it’s a moot point since you get elite qualifying credit even for award stays, but that’s not the case with all hotel chains)
  • How many points you’d be giving up by redeeming points rather than paying cash, including any promotions or other bonuses you might be forgoing, as well as the points you’d earn through credit card spend
  • How much you value a points currency at, which is admittedly highly subjective

So in the above case, the choice is between redeeming 40,000 Starpoints or paying $1,300. I value Starpoints at 2.2 cents each, so to me 40,000 Starpoints are worth ~$880. Since this is Starwood:

Based on the above, Duane would be redeeming 40,000 Starpoints, and on top of that potentially forgoing ~5,200 Starpoints (or ~6,500 Starpoints if he’s an SPG elite member). Assuming he’s an elite member, that raises the “real” cost of the redemption to 46,500 Starpoints. At a value of 2.2 cents each, that’s like a cost of ~$1,020… which is still considerably better than spending $1,300. So I think redeeming points is the better option here, by far.

Again, this is based on my valuation of 2.2 cents per point. If you value Starpoints considerably differently, you may come to a different conclusion.

Bottom line

Hopefully this is a useful general framework for deciding whether to redeem points or pay cash for a hotel stay. The general method should work regardless of which chain we’re talking about.

The big variable will be how much you value a given points currency. Travis outlined the framework for deciding on that in a previous series.

Does anyone have a different way of approaching whether to redeem points or pay cash?

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Comments

  1. I’m with Tom. I don’t find SPG redemptions at the Cat 6 or better level to be a good use of points, and since I don’t have tons, by definition redemptions at that level are out of the question. So the hotel has to be a “reasonable” value at the cash rate, or I’m booking some place else.

    When I travel, my stays don’t have to be “free” or restricted to places that earn/burn points. However, they do need to be good value.

  2. Of course, if you’re willing to be indifferent to brand loyalty and hotel status (maybe you’ve seen too many bloggers post pictures of breakfast spreads in the executive lounge, and think that maybe you’ll just go out for a change ;)), there’s also an even different possibility: look up prices on your favorite opaque hotel booking site for the star category/location you want, or, if you don’t want to chance it, using your favorite aggregation site, and get costs there. Instead of comparing the Amman Jordan LM, you’d compare those prices to points as well as the LM.

    Quite often this throws into sharp relief the premium you’re paying for brand loyalty and elite status. (If you end up booking through hotels.com you can often get back in effect a 10% rebate, and through various cashback engines, be getting something on top of that). This often ends up being a good deal… though you might miss out on corn flakes in the Executive Lounge.

  3. @Tom @Dan:

    The LM Amman is an SPG cat 4, 10k points per night, that figure is for a four night stay. Sounds a little high to me ($300 a night is kinda pricey unless OP is traveling at a high demand time, right now the Four Seasons is less than $300 for stays a week out), but not that ludicrous.

  4. Hi Ben,
    I’m an Iberia Plus member and I want to redeem Avios on a round tip from Milan to Santiago del Chile, Iberia’s longest route in December.
    The flight cost in Avios is 183000 and I saw you value Avios at 1.3 cents each but I can’t calculate how many dollars are 183000 Avios. How can I calculate the cost in dolars? Can you help me?
    Thank you very much,
    Fede

  5. At those rates the room had better come with a free subscription to the Ashley Madison website. If you are going to get screwed, might as well go all the way.

  6. A couple people mentioned it already but I always compare prices of hotels around me. With hotels you usually have a lot of options. I can typically find a perfectly acceptable cheap alternative to a hotel stay nearby. That isn’t always the case with flights. Unless there is a low cost carrier I’m usually paying similar prices no matter what airline I use. So if you have to stay at that hotel then it might make sense. Otherwise I would compare a stay at the hotel you’d stay at if you paid out of pocket. There are times when I’ll splurge on aspirational properties but SPG points don’t seem like a good use at top category hotels.

  7. I frequently find the cash plus points is the best deal.

    Or, if you are an elite level, look at the points required for the least expensive room knowing you get upgraded with status.

  8. As usual, the self-serving blogger with absolutely no common sense (and little actual life experience) completely misses the point.

    Hey, I got news for you: staying in sanitized, fancy, corporate mega-resorts is not your only option. I know, hard to imagine, but it’s true. Never mind that they cost a fortune – spending actual money on someplace like this is incredibly foolish. But forget the money for a moment, the fact is, staying in places like this actually gives you a crappy travel experience and wastes all your time/money/effort – because these places actually insulate you from the place you are (presumably) going to visit and prevent you from having an authentic experience. You might as well spend a week in the Centurion Lounge at the airport. Hey, why go to Europe when you can enjoy the clean, predictable comfort of Disneyland – they have a nice castle there, and no complicated language barrier!

    Look, I enjoy luxury as much as anyone. And yes, I’m in several hotel programs (when I travel for work, these chains are the only options, and they work fine for business trips when the boss is paying). And yes, I have a few hotel program credit cards – I do occasionally take advantage of one of these chains on a limited basis when on a personal vacation, under specific circumstances: London and Tokyo, for example, are really expensive cities, and the Hyatt and Club Carlson properties there were nice enough, had good locations, met my needs, and generally worked out well as freebies. But you would have to be stupid, rich or both to pay rack rates for these places, or worse, PLAN YOUR VACATION AROUND THEM. Sure, it was nice to have a free, comfortable place to stay for a few nights there. But to assign a so-called “value” to hotel program points based on the assumption that you would otherwise spend your money on one of these places…? How much of a fool do you really think we are?

    When I travel for pleasure, I prefer to stay in someplace that actually has a soul, some connection to the place and the people who live there. Staying in small, charming, usually-centrally located, old places is part of the fun of travel. Staying in sterile, glass towers – even with great service and the typical amenities – does not compare. I’ll always remember the little places I’ve spent my nights in forever, long after the cookie-cutter corporate rooms have been quickly forgotten.

    If all you know are Starwood or Hyatt or Hilton properties….how sad for you! Why bother going anywhere? You can stay in the same predictable bubble anyplace. You apparently do not get it, but travel is about more than what kind of champagne they’re pouring and whether the nuts served in the front of the plane come in a warm bowl. Sheesh…pearls before swine…

  9. I’d consider this because I’d still make a profit either way, since you’d have to pay me way more than $1,300 a night to go Amman, Jordan, right now.

  10. @Fede:

    100 cents makes 1 US dollar. Thus 183000 * 1.3 cents (Avios valuation) / 100 (cents to dollars) = $2,379 US dollars.

  11. @Brad:

    So, I guess you’re what Rick Steves would sound like if he had anger management issues and decided it was time to troll Lucky’s blog and deliver a lecture, huh?

  12. For those of you who say “look around for a better deal” that might make sense for comparable hotels, but for those saying he should find a cheaper place or “who needs a lounge?” You are imposing your standards (or lack thereof) on the questioner. Many of us really want great service, a lounge, and a nice chocolate on our pillow. You can spend your points and money how you like, but “choose a cheaper hotel” is not an answer to “which is the better way to pay for this hotel?”

  13. +1 eponymous. Maybe Brad IS Rick and is saying here what he can’t say on PBS!
    BTW, Brad, get off your high judgmental horse. Some of us just want a small taste of “local color” and mostly travel in order to relax and be waited on. My travel does not revolve around, but heavily weights, the level and quality of service at the destination. No need to waste your pious pity on me- I’m quite happy, thank you.

  14. @Tom “or find a cheaper hotel. $1000 or 1300 a night, that is crazy!”

    Kayak shows Four Seasons under US$300 and Grand Hyatt under US$200. But I suppose those places must be bedbug-infested garbage compared to a place where the fair price is US$1300.

    I’m sure glad not to be stuck at a nasty cramped noisy dirty Peninsula or Four Seasons or Ritz or Mandarin property where you probably have to poop in a bucket and then carry the bucket to a cess pool and then clean the bucket so room service can serve you slop in it. I mean, that’s what I imagine those places are like compared to a US$1300 hotel.

    I don’t understand spending miles on hotels, which are all pretty much the same, when you could be booking J or F flights. The difference between a US$13 hotel and a US$1300 hotel is infinitesimal compared to the difference between back-breaking Y and luxe F over an ocean. (Yes, I’ve stayed at a lot of US$13 hotels. I once stayed at a very nice and comfortable US$3.50 hotel with big lake and mountain views. The parking lot view rooms also cost US$3.50, so check in early! How many Starpoints should I have spent to save US$3.50?)

  15. Brad makes some good points about hotels (not Ben) that many would do well to consider. I would disagree with Ben’s third bullet that using points forgoes spend on a card. Using points for a hotel stay rather than a card merely gives you the ability to spend the $1300, in this case, on something else. You can always find something else to spend your cash on, or heaven forbid, you could put that money in your 401k. If that money was actually saved, what does that do to the calculation of benefits and costs in the original question?

  16. I think there is another more subjective factor here and it is the capacity to generate the points. Let’s say I own a business that has large expenses every month and my suppliers let me pay with my spg card…then, the use of points is usually always the way to go unless the hotel is so ridiculous cheap that in that case I would pay with cash. But I think in general is always a better idea to keep the cash.

    The other side of that coin is if one is not capable of generating the points, then it my be wise to save them for a much better redemption, where spg points can be valued at more than 5 cents. (High season, Europe, etc).

    As for Brad comment I think it is very unfair with Lucky. Some people might not like or enjoy the unpredictability of small hotels in unknown cities. I have traveled around the world and believe me, I have experienced the real places without having to sleep in a local place. (Which I have experienced also). It is always great to arrive to a confortable bed and shower that is predictable. With spg I know what go expect, what upgrade I am going to get, etc.

  17. While I would not spend that much for a hotel room, it doesn’t make much sense to me for people to be judgmental with what other people do with their money or points. If their life priorities include valuing stays at expensive properties, so be it, as long as I am not paying for it.

    I do agree that focusing on corporate properties would diminish my travel experiences. For instance, when I went to Beijing on the mistake fares multiple times, I chose to stay in delightful hutong areas to get a different experience. I also stayed once in a regular corporate hotel. Much more fun in the neighborhoods and would do so again in a heartbeat.

  18. This is it. Who is your audiance? Not even the 1% would pay 1300 dollars for a night in Jordan (!) and that guy will not be reading your blog to save money.

    This can’t be a joke like your Shanghai pearl deal. How did you become so out of touch?

  19. Stayed at the Grand Hyatt for 3 months while on work assignment in Amman in 2008 & the hotel decor, food in dining rooms, and service at that time was amazingly high end. Surprised to see that it is now only rated by Hyatt as a 2 star. That means one could currently use merely 4000 points, pay $55 a night, earn points on the award stay, & enjoy the middle eastern hospitality in a property that I think is really a great value for the Hyatt offering.

  20. Hi Lucky, I’m a long time reader of your blog. Love it! There has been a malware ad on your site for a few weeks now, specifically on the RSS feed which redirects IE and tells me my PC is infected and to call a number. My PC is not infected. This had happened a few months ago and was fixed by someone on your site (forgot his name). Can you please turn whatever ad is causing this issue again? Thanks!

  21. I’ve re-read the original question and answer 3x. Nowhere do I see “per night.” Why is everyone assuming it’s 1300 a night?

  22. Can’t you folks read? Its not $1300 a night, its $1300 for the entire trip. If you’re gonna comment, read first. And he asked a question of Ben, if he wanted poor trolls like Brad to chime in, he would’ve asked you directly

  23. @ PM — May I ask what time this happened most recently? The people troubleshooting thought they had a fix in place as of 4PM Eastern, so want to address it ASAP if that’s not the case. Sorry for the inconvenience!

  24. Amman Jordan Le Meridien classic room is $176 per night for various dates in September according to spg.com

    What is all the fuss about?

  25. And winning comment/answer is….Ricardo’s on August 31, 2015 at 7:24 pm!

    Perfect answer on all counts, including to @Brad’s “lamentation” about why one should choose Le Roach Motel over Le Meridien…. 😉

  26. @ Tiffany – it happened to me once about a week ago. I’m on a Mac using Chrome. Really really bad… took some advanced knowledge on Chrome for me to clear it.

  27. FYI: that was $1300 for 5 (FIVE) nights — (4 nights get one free) INCL. TAXES (hefty).
    i researched all the other hotels and B&Bs (incl. By the Lemon Tree) in Amman before choosing LM.
    in Chiang Mai i paid to stay at Rachamankha, in Siem Riep i paid to stay at Foreign Correspondent’s Club, in Seminyak at Villa Blubambu rather than stay for FREE at a SPG property — i am in no way blindly loyal to a hotel program. BTW: the new Westin in Ubud is no where near Ubud !?! not really.
    dear ben/tiffany:
    the way i did my maths was thus: my one way F ticket Qantas Sydney-LHR priced at $6600 cost me 60,000 SPG points (thanks to Mero @ PointsPros and that AA 20% bonus that ended yesterday) — so i got 11 cents out of each SPG point. is it incorrect to calculate that way?

  28. We are in this points game for a reason, to travel without paying a lot. So why wouldn’t we use the points we earned? I traveled for work and became 150 night PLT member, whether I use points or money I get upgraded, usually to the upper end suite. When I go on vacation I always use points don’t want to use cash..

  29. If you really, really, really need to use SPG points for airline transfers and you don’t have a way to earn them very often, then hold onto the points. However, when you have a low-category hotel that has high-ish prices AND can combine it with 5th Night Free, this can make for a good value for redeeming points (or perhaps look into Cash & Points).

    With regards to rates, I’d highly encourage anyone to always try all the rate options (checkboxes) on SPG site. Sometimes, some of the packages/promos (e.g. SPG Breakfast Plus) can be significantly cheaper.

    Yet another option that’s good to keep in mind, especially for for higher-category hotels, is SPG50. If that rate type is available (you can only verify by calling in), you pay 1000 points to get 50% discount from RACK rate. Normally, RACK rates are unreasonably high but in high season/touristy areas, 50% of RACK can be lower than “Lowest Available” rate.

  30. I use to stay at B&Bs and off-beat hotels before I joined hotel chain programs. Now I earn points by spending money and save cash by utilizing points (when it suits my needs). This has been a great way to visit many places inexpensively or for free and have a consistent stay.

    Once I booked a room months in
    advance at a family-owned coverted mansion in Brugges. Yea! I arrived after 6pm and was told they gave my room away. Boo! I was very unhappy
    because (they claimed) there was nothing they could or would do except refund my money. So sorry!

    Instead, I stayed in some locally-owned attic room. Sure I enjoyed
    Brugges; but obviously, it wasn’t the
    same. My planned accomodation
    was ruined!

    I seriously doubt a major franchise
    hotel chain concerned with customer
    service and loyalty would conduct
    business in this manner. First of
    all, there’s almost always a room
    available even if they say they’re booked. In addition, I would expect
    them to DO SOMETHING to compensate me (points, voucher, secure alternative accommodations,
    etc.).

    I’ll go native only if my tried and true hotel choices are not located there.
    Lesson learned!

  31. I’m currently dealing with this three-pronged decision for my upcoming trip to Paris and Venice. One one hand, I can get good redemption rates at the Westin Paris Vendome — 20,000/night for a $852/night room (4.262 cents/point). On the other hand, I would never spend $852 for that hotel — ever. I’m trying to figure out where my redemption rate versus cash rate breakeven point lies. Would I pay cash if the cash rate at an acceptable alternative is less than my standard point valuation? In this case the points spent are worth a minimum of $400 to me. I’m not sure I’d rather spend $350 than use 20,000 points for acceptably comparable (if not equal) lodging. However, I think I’m coming to the conclusion that I would certainly rather spend $200 on a room than use SPG points that are worth at least double that cost. I don’t want to get in the habit of hoarding points, but I think holding onto the points for future redemption or even transfer to AA provides a better return in the long run here. Curious to hear what other readers’ breakeven point would be. For me, it seems like if I can find an acceptable room for 50% of the point value, cash becomes the preferred payment.

  32. I’m currently trying to determine where my “Points vs. Cash” break-even point lies. It seems to be a three-pronged decision involving not simply the redemption rate of cash versus points, but also comparing the rate of the hotel in question against alternatives (hotel and non-hotel).

    For example, I’m trying to decide whether I should redeem 20,000 SPG points for the Westin Paris Vendome at an excellent redemption ratio of 4.262 pts/nt. At first glance, that redemption rate seems like a great option. But the room rate listed for my stay is over $800/nt. For three nights, spending 60,000 is exhausting a minimum of $1200 in SPG currency.

    My dilemma is figuring out at what cash rate would I pay out of pocket to stay at an acceptable (if not the same level) lodging alternative, rather than utilizing those valuable points? I would never pay $800 for the Westin Paris Vendome if there were reasonable alternatives. Even using SPG point valuations, we are looking at a minimum $400/nt in points. I would use points rather than pay $350 for a reasonable alternative, but at what point does that decision flip to cash outlay?

    The absurdity of the Westin Paris Vendome rate listed becomes quite clear when one looks at Air BNB listings in the same area for ~$800/nt. Literally every option surpasses the value of the Westin — and it’s not remotely close. Still, I’d rather redeem points than outlay $3200 for 3 nights. At $400/nt, the result is pretty similar — the majority of the options on Air BNB are a better choice than spending $400/nt in points at the Westin, but the fact that points > cash in general still push my choice to points.

    I’m starting to find that my tolerance for cash outlay probably falls somewhere at 50% of the points value required to secure lodging. For this booking, that means I’d probably pay cash for any reasonable alternative that meets my needs if it costs less than $200/nt. Unless staying at the hotel/resort itself was the primary draw (in Paris, it certainly is not) then paying double the alternative outlay to redeem points seems like a poor choice to me. I’d rather save them for a more valuable redemption or use them for flights after transferring to AA.

    I’m curious to hear whether any other readers have done this analysis, and where their respective break-even points fall.

  33. Moderator: sorry for the double comment — it looked to me as if the first didn’t post. Please delete my first comment (and this one) upon moderation. My second comment is laid out better.

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