Miles for non-chain stays

Every year, my family visits Delray Beach Florida for vacation, and to visit relatives, and to get the %$#! out of Michigan’s cold and grey winter.  Our favorite place to stay, Crane’s Beach House, is expensive and not part of any hotel chain, so my hotel points, gift cards, and stay certificates are worthless there.  Instead, I look for ways to save as much money as possible and earn as many rewards as possible through other means.

In the last couple of years, my approach has been to go through the Ultimate Rewards Mall to Travelocity to book the hotel.  That way I earn an extra 2 points per dollar above my credit card rewards.  By paying with my Sapphire Preferred card, I earn 2X from the card + 2X from the Ultimate Rewards Mall + a 7% annual dividend.  All of this results in earning 4.28 points per dollar.  I also keep an eye out for Travelocity coupon codes.  It’s not unusual to find one for 15% off, or more.

I was curious, though, whether I could do better.  I recently published news that it is possible to pay for Sears Vacations with Sears gift cards.  Since there are many ways to earn points and save money when buying Sears gift cards, it was worth a look to see if I could book my hotel there.  I also decided to check PointsHound and RocketMiles.  Both sites offer bonus airline miles when you book hotel stays. 

For comparison purposes, I picked a specific in-season 7-night stay.  I entered the dates and the number of occupants (3) into each site. Here is what I found…

Crane’s Beach House

Of the four hotel booking sites, only Travelocity listed Crane’s Beach House as an option.  Round 1 winner: Travelocity.

This would have been a terribly boring post if I stopped there, so I looked at other hotels nearby…

Dover House Resort

I’ve never stayed at The Dover House Resort, but it’s close to Crane’s and might be worth a try.  Of the four booking sites, only Travelocity and Rocket Miles listed this hotel.  Both sites offered the same price ($282 per night).  Rocket Miles also offered 7000 American Airlines miles for the stay.  If I were to book through the Ultimate Rewards Mall and Travelocity, though, I would earn about 3800 Ultimate Rewards points.  Both Travelocity and Rocket Miles would qualify for double points when paying with my Sapphire Preferred card, so I won’t count those points earned in this comparison.  Unless you have a discount code to make Travelocity cheaper, Rocket Miles is the better choice here.  It offers almost twice as many miles as Travelocity at the same price.  Round 2 winner: Rocket Miles.

Delray Beach Marriott

I’ve stayed a couple of nights at this hotel in the past, but was not particularly impressed.  And, despite the title of this post, this was one of the few hotels in the area that I could find on all four booking sites so I included it in the analysis.  Here were the results:

Travelocity: Price: $391 per night for a AAA rate ($434 with taxes).  Miles earned through Ultimate Rewards Mall: 4860.

PointsHound:  Price: $420 per night.  Miles earned: 6650 (American Airlines).  Unfortunately, when I clicked through to book this hotel (to see the final price with taxes), the site told me that the hotel was not available.

Rocket Miles: Price: $420 per night ($467 after taxes) for a non-refundable room.  $434 per night ($482 after taxes) for a refundable rate.  Miles earned: 7000.

Sears Vacations:  Price: $479 per night for a non-refundable room.  No refundable rates were listed.  All prices are shown with taxes and fees included.

Even though Rocket Miles offered more miles than Travelocity for the 7 night stay (7000 miles), Travelocity was close (4860 miles) and much cheaper.  If you generously value each mile at 2 cents each, the difference in value of the miles earned between these two options is worth only $43 for the entire stay.  Since the Travelocity option saves you $33 per night, it is a far better option.  Sears was too expensive, and PointsHound didn’t allow the booking at all.  Round 3 winner: Travelocity.

Hyatt Place

The new Hyatt Place hotel in Delray Beach was also available through all four booking sites so was worth looking at despite being a chain.  Here’s what I found:

Travelocity: $189 per night, non-refundable ($209 after taxes).  No refundable rate was listed.  Miles earned through the Ultimate Rewards Mall: 2830.

PointsHound: $189 per night, non-refundable ($216 after taxes). $229 per night refundable ($261 after taxes).  Miles earned: 3900.

Rocket Miles: $199 per night, non-refundable ($222 after taxes). $239 per night refundable ($266 after taxes).  Miles earned: 7000.

Sears Vacations: $212 per night, non-refundable.  Price is after taxes.  Miles earned depends on method of obtaining gift cards.  Assuming 10X for obtaining gift cards, miles earned: 14,840 miles.

In this round, the Sears Vacations’ price was competitive (bested only slightly by Travelocity).  And, if we assume that Sears gift cards can be obtained for 10 miles per dollar, Sears Vacations results in far more miles than the other options.  Round 4 winner: Sears Vacations.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, there is no clear single best way to book a hotel to maximize savings and point earnings.  Travelocity has a far better inventory than the others and often offers the best price even before applying Travelocity discount codes.  But, it’s not always the best option…

Rocket Miles and PointsHound offer more miles than you would get with the Ultimate Rewards Mall and Travelocity, but sometimes they charge more as well.  While it appears here that PointsHound always offers fewer miles than Rocket Miles, that’s not necessarily the case.  PointsHound has a tier system in which you’ll earn more miles the more you book with them.  The miles I quoted above are based on being a level 1 nobody with PointsHound.  Also note that PointsHound sometimes offers “double dip rates” where you can earn both miles and hotel status and points.

Sears Vacations offers the most potential in terms of points and miles earned per stay, but it is much more complicated on many levels, from buying gift cards to using them.  And, Sears Vacations sometimes has terrible prices.  You could fix the price issue by utilizing the Sears Vacations Best Price Guarantee, but that would just complicate things even more.  And, don’t forget that if you pay with gift cards you do not get automatic trip insurance from your credit card.

Don’t forget that you can sometimes do better by booking directly with a hotel.  Many hotels will negotiate better rates with you directly.  And, chain hotels offer points, elite status credit and elite perks that you won’t necessarily get if you book through an online agency.  With Marriott, in particular, it is often possible to double dip by getting points for buying gift cards, and then booking the hotel through a portal for more points.  And, you’ll get points from your stay as well!

Finally, don’t rule out other options besides hotels.  While you won’t earn as many miles, you can often save a lot of money by forgoing hotels: rent a home through a site like VRBO, or rent a time share, or stay at a B&B, or stay at a hostel, or give couch surfing a try…

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. I almost always stay at non chain hotels as I don’t like chains. The three hotels I stay at regularly always give me lower rates than those published. So I forgo miles for hard cash – an excellent exchange!

  2. I think spending down my bluebird account for hotel situations like this is a good option. I am making 4.3(net) Thank you points for loading the bluebird with Vanilla Reloads. Even better is go through Travelocity or similar and a portal and then pay with bluebird and take advantage of available coupons and portal earned miles/points plus the Thankyou points earned through Vanilla/Reloads

  3. I notice you only mention a handful of sites here, but hotels.com for example gives 5x UR points through the portal, and 10th night free. Also check out trivago.com, they aggregate the prices on all major sites and sometimes there’s quite a range for the same hotel.

    • rick b and Joseph: Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll give Hotels.com a try! The free night every 10 nights amounts to a 9% discount on 11 nights. If good discount codes are available for Hotels.com then it probably is a better choice than Travelocity, especially at 5X!

  4. I’m a pretty big fan of hotels.com for some non chain hotels. Right now its 5x points through UR mall and you get a free night every 10 nights. its normally around 3x year round.

  5. Which of these options still allow hotel status credit? I assume Travelocity and Sears do, since they are just travel agengies. Is that correct?

    • Scott: None of these options will necessarily give you stay credit towards hotel status except for Points Hound when it lists a double dip rate. Best bet to ensure stay credit is to book directly with the hotel chain. With many hotels, you can click through a portal to get extra cash back or points even when booking directly with them.

  6. One topic I’d love a blogger to tackle is how to maximize points for people who prefer to use AirBnb or Bedandbreakfast.com for their lodging needs.

    Also interested in creative ways to use points for these two lodging sites. Once I redeemed a bunch of SW Rapid Rewards points for Bedandbreakfast.com giftcards but now I treasure my RR points too much to do that again. Are there other reward programs that can be redeemed for that site’s gift cards?

    Thanks.

  7. I agree hotel.com is the way to go, when like you say the hotel doesn’t belong to any loyalty program. Be aware that you get a free night based on the average price of the previous 10 nights…and the award does expire…I have until Dec to use my free night.

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