Many people are of the opinion that it’s not worth spending money on nice hotels. I disagree with that notion slightly; I think there are “tourist” locations where you plan to be out and about most of the day, and for these places it makes sense to me to spend your points or money at a more mid-tier hotel. I also believe that there are other destinations, like the Maldives or Koh Samui to name some popular ones, that are more about the resort or room you’re staying in and thus it’s worth it to spend extra on the hotel.
Let’s take a look at how much it would cost someone if they wanted to use just manufactured spending to achieve free nights at the best hotels for the most popular hotel chains. Note that I’ve included the cost of just the actual spend – gas and your time are not included. I’m assuming you’ll unload these with Bluebird/Serve, which are free.
Starwood Preferred Guest
Any discussion about top-tier hotel redemptions with SPG should start off with a very large caveat. While SPG has 7 categories of hotels that go up to 35K points per night, they also have a list of “special” hotels that they charge roughly double the price for. Unfortunately, this list of hotels includes some of the aspirational properties that SPG has (you can find them in the fine print here).
Effectively, SPG charges you twice for the same thing. They first assign these hotels Category 7, which is already supposed to denote a premium property, but then double the price because they don’t have standard rooms.
I’ll discuss earning 35K points for the purposes of this post (there are still great properties at this price), but keep in mind that you might need to roughly double it for certain hotels.
You’ll need to earn 35K points, and really the only way is from the SPG credit card. That means you’ll need to spend $35K on the card for one free reward night. If you’re buying $500 gift cards at $2.95 apiece, which is the going rate at Simon malls, then you’re buying 70 gift cards for fees totaling $206.50.
For $206.50 plus gas/time, you get a free night at a “regular” Category 7 property.
Hyatt Gold Passport
Hyatt charges 30K points for a top-tier property, but luckily there are no restrictions like SPG has. The best way to earn Hyatt points is through old reliable: Chase Ink. You’ll need to spend $6K to get to 30K points. By buying $200 gift cards at $6.95 apiece from office supply stores, you’ll need to buy 29 gift cards (total purchases of $6,003) for fees totaling $201.55.
For $201.55 plus gas/time, you get a free night at ANY Hyatt property.
Hilton charges 95K for their top-tier properties, but they have seasonal pricing and sometimes they drop to 80K. I’ll calculate based on the higher number.
The best way to earn Hilton points is to use the Hilton Amex Surpass card, which earns 6x on grocery store purchases. You’ll need to spend about $16K at grocery stores for a free night. By buying $500 gift cards at $5.95 apiece (the typical price at grocery stores), you’ll need to buy 32 gift cards for fees totaling $190.40.
Note that you can also use the Citi HHonors Reserve card at Simon Malls for 3x purchases, which works out to roughly the same cost but double the amount of gift cards you’ll need to buy.
For $190.40 plus gas/time, you get a free night at ANY Hilton property.
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) Rewards Club
IHG charges 50K points for their top tier properties, and thankfully they partner with Chase. Again, using the Chase Ink card, you’ll need to buy 49 gift cards at $206.95 apiece for total fees of $340.55.
This is worse than buying IHG points outright through this current buy points offer, which can be done for $287.50 and which I recommend over manufacturing spend.
But if not, for $340.55 plus gas/time, you get a free night at ANY IHG property.
Marriott’s program isn’t the best for this type of thing. They charge 70K for a night at their best hotels (Ritz Carlton hotels), but again this program accepts transfers from Chase.
Using Chase Ink, you’d need to buy 68 gift cards at $206.95 apiece for total fees of $472.50. This will rarely be worth it since this is the cash price of most top-tier hotels.
Marriott hotels themselves cost up to 45K per night. This means you’d need to buy 44 gift cards at $206.95 apiece for total fees of $305.80. There are some nice JW Marriott properties around the world that this might make sense for under certain circumstances, but always check the calculations.
For $472.50 plus gas/time, you get a free night at ANY Marriott property, including Ritz Carlton hotels.
Cautions and Other
As always, be careful when you manufacture spend. There have been a few reports recently of Chase going after the accounts of heavy manufactured spenders, but in general if you’re not spending huge amounts then you should be fine. Besides – keep in mind that the 5x benefit only applies to $50K/year for each Chase Ink card.
A good habit to keep in mind is to always liquidate your gift cards ASAP. You never know when a deal will die – these opportunities come and go somewhat often – so try not to hold on to gift cards for too long. If your favorite grocery store or Walmart stops taking gift cards, you may have a difficult time making use of them all!
Be careful with American Express. I find the best way to MS with them is to slowly increase your monthly spend and build up to your desired amount. For example, spend $1K the first month, $2K the next, then $4K, then $6K, etc. etc. until you get to your desired monthly amount. This is true for their credit cards only – they’re charge cards (Premier Rewards Gold, Platinum, etc.) are a different story and I recommend you be extremely cautious with those.
Also keep in mind that SPG, Hilton, and Marriott offer a “5th night free” on award redemptions. This will bring your cost basis down by $40-$50 per night if looking at it on a per-night basis.
More often than not, you’ll have to spend some money to earn the points you need for a really great trip. If you want to go “all out” on a really nice hotel property for a honeymoon, anniversary, or just a really nice once-a-year vacation, it can usually be done for much, much less by manufacturing the points than you might otherwise pay for it.
This post was intended as a general guide, to help you with calculations and see how much it would cost using one particular method. Keep in mind there are plenty of cash back credit cards that can make your entire trip free…if you manufacture enough cash back. Always do your own calculations and do what works best for you, and do those calculations before you start to manufacture the spend.