If you only get to go on vacation once or twice a year for a few days at a time, it can make sense to save up your hotel points and redeem them for luxury properties so that you can maximize your enjoyment at the destination.
My wife and I take a different approach though. We’ve lived in hotels and Airbnbs for the past 2.5 years or so, so we usually only redeem points for category 1 & 2 properties with each hotel chain in order to make our points balances last as long as possible. Splashing out 30,000 World of Hyatt points for a Park Hyatt would be nice, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that considering that would get us 6 free nights in a category 1 Hyatt property (usually a Hyatt Place).
We’ve stayed at dozens of category 1 & 2 properties since we set off on our 50 state road trip, so here’s a list of my 10 favorites. A few things to note regarding the list:
- Hotels we’ve stayed at – I’ve only included hotels we’ve actually stayed at. I’m sure there are loads of other great category 1 & 2 properties nationwide, but figured I’d only include properties we’ve had actual experience of.
- US-based – I’ve only selected domestic properties rather than any overseas. For example, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Bali last year; we’d booked it when it was only category 1, but it’s still great value even though it’s since gone up to category 2.
- Pet-friendly – We travel full-time with our dog Truffles, so all of these properties allow dogs.
- Fewer Marriott properties than it could’ve been – For as frustrating as the Marriott Bonvoy program can be, Shae and I have stayed at loads of Marriott properties on the road trip. Those have usually been TownePlace Suites and Residence Inns as so many of them were available at the category 1 & 2 level. Staying at those brands is especially beneficial for us as each room has a full kitchen. The thing is, Marriott has devalued its portfolio so much over the last couple of years that several properties that could’ve made this list are no longer eligible due to increasing to category 3.
This list is also somewhat subjective. I’ve reviewed all these hotels and more on my own site, but the scores I awarded them there don’t line up with the order in which I’ve placed them here. This list has been created in a somewhat intangible way because they’re all properties that I remember in a positive way for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s been due to room upgrades, other times it’s due to the location, while other times it’s been due to great staff. Regardless, they’re all great value for the low number of points you have to redeem.
Without further ado, here are my 10 favorite category 1 & 2 properties we’ve stayed at in the US.
Hyatt Regency Tulsa, Oklahoma – 5,000 World of Hyatt points
Tulsa was one of my favorite cities we visited in 2018. Don’t mock – it’s much better than you might expect! Part of the reason we had a great stay was because of the hotel we stayed at – the Hyatt Regency Tulsa. The property is in a great location downtown and is fantastic value at only 5,000 points per night as it’s a category 1 property in the World of Hyatt program.
I only had Explorist status at the time, so I used one of my Club Lounge Awards so that we’d have access to the lounge during our stay. Explorist status meant we didn’t have any suite upgrades, but they do have standard suites available at the property which, seeing as it’s a category 1 hotel, only cost 8,000 points per night when booking directly with points. The Executive Suite retails for $300+, so that can be a decent use of points if you’d like more space than a standard room and don’t have Globalist status.
Here are a few must-do things in Tulsa:
- Hurts Donut – They have something like 20 locations around the country, but Tulsa was the first time we’d tried them. Their donuts were excellent.
- Andolini’s Pizzeria – I’m not normally much of a pizza eater seeing as I don’t care for cheese, but Andolini’s Pizzeria had some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. They have a special oven that cooks at 900°F, so your pizza is only cooked for 90 seconds. That doesn’t affect its deliciousness though.
- Welltown Brewing – This micro brewery is just a few blocks from the Hyatt Regency Tulsa and has some good beer choices. The owner was really friendly and they have a popular quiz night during the week.
- Gathering Place – Gathering Place is a 100 acre park that only opened in September 2018, so we got to visit it only a couple of weeks after it opened. It’s a beautiful location for people of all ages, with cafes, restaurants, a skate park, boat rentals, an amazing children’s playground and more.
Hyatt Place Austin/Round Rock, Texas – 5,000 World of Hyatt points
We spent 10 weeks in Texas in the first year of our road trip. While the state wasn’t as great as a lot of Texans like to make out (sorry!), Austin was one of the better cities we stayed in.
We were there to watch the Formula 1 Grand Prix, so room rates in Austin weren’t particularly cheap. There were very few good options when using points, with our best option seeming to be the Hyatt Place Austin/Round Rock as it’s a category 1 hotel and so only cost 5,000 points per night. This ended up being a great choice as it’s an excellent hotel.
I’m not sure when it opened but it seemed fairly new, while the service from everyone was fantastic. This particular property felt a little less cookie-cutter compared to most other Hyatt Places as the room layout was different, although that might be because we were given a corner room.
The hotel is very close to Round Rock Donuts. Their donuts and kolaches are wonderful, but their Texas-sized donut is something to behold. Surprisingly, this enormous donut was incredibly tasty and well worth the money, even though we couldn’t get through it all.
Residence Inn Atlanta Norcross Peachtree Corners, Georgia – 12,500 Marriott Bonvoy points (standard rate)
Georgia was the second state we visited on our road trip. As nice as it would’ve been to stay in downtown Atlanta, we wanted to stay 10 nights in the area and so staying downtown wasn’t economical with either cash or points.
Instead, we stayed in the suburbs at the Residence Inn Atlanta Norcross Peachtree Corners. This was a category 2 property when we stayed there and remarkably, given all the devaluations the last couple of years, is still a category 2 property. Seeing as this was a couple of years ago, we only had to redeem 10,000 points per night. Although this hotel hasn’t increased in category, there has still been a devaluation because the standard rate for category 2 is now 12,500 points per night. Marriott has a 5th night free benefit, so both the 5th and 10th nights were free for us.
For all its faults, one of the features I like about the Marriott Bonvoy program is that many Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites properties let you book straight in to a one bedroom suite when using points, even though that room type is more expensive than their studio suites. That was the case at the Residence Inn Atlanta Norcross Peachtree Corners, so we got to stay in a one bedroom suite for all 10 days.
Having so much space was particularly beneficial for this stay because we were stuck at the hotel for most of our 10 days there. Our dog was sick for much of that time, so we couldn’t go out anywhere and leave her behind because she had to go out every hour or two.
Having a one bedroom suite wasn’t the only good thing about our stay. The staff there – particularly the people in charge of breakfast and the evening socials – were incredibly friendly and welcoming. The food and drink they provided for the evening socials was also better than the spread provided at many other Residence Inns that we’ve stayed at since.
We were a little disappointed with the Georgia Aquarium. It was pretty expensive and was like Times Square with fish. Everything there is sponsored, such as the Southwest Lounge (which is just a small food court), while you even have the joy of having to watch a SunTrust Bank ad before the sea lion show. I have no problem with corporate sponsorship, but paying $40 for a ticket and being inundated with ads for SunTrust Bank, Home Depot, AT&T, Southern Company and more is like paying for Hulu but still having to sit through ads.
The World of Coca-Cola is fun though. Be sure to try all the different soda flavors from around the world, especially the drink called Beverly – it’s something you have to try at least once in your life. (To everyone else who’s tried Beverly, ssssshhhh! 😉 )
Candlewood Suites Springfield, Illinois – 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points
The Candlewood Suites in Springfield, IL was probably our best experience at a Candlewood Suites property. For starters, it’s great value seeing as it only costs 10,000 points per night. If you have the IHG Premier credit card, you can get the 4th night free on award stays, while if you have the old IHG Select card, you get a 10% points rebate. If you have both, a 4 night stay has a net cost of only 27,000 after taking into account both the 4th night being free and 10% rebate. That’s incredible value considering each suite has a kitchen.
One of the main reasons this particular property made the list though is because we received an upgrade. IHG has been awful about providing room upgrades whenever we’ve stayed at their properties in the US – we’re lucky if we get an upgrade at 1 in 10 properties despite having Platinum or Spire Elite status this entire time. We booked a standard room as that was the only room type available when using points. I’d expected to get a queen studio suite, so was pleasantly surprised when I walked into a one bedroom suite without having even asked for an upgrade.
Something else which stands out is the fact that the kitchen had place settings for four. Nearly all other Candlewood Suites properties we’ve stayed at in the US only provides place settings for two, so you either have to continually hand wash the items after every meal or run the dishwasher with only a few items in it.
One of the nice things about Candlewood Suites as a brand in general is that every property has several washing machines and dryers that are complimentary to use. This is a feature we appreciate seeing as a) it’s free and b) it means we don’t have to take time out of the day to sit at a laundromat.
Similar to Tulsa, Springfield was a surprisingly interesting city to visit. It’s also an incredibly cheap place to visit; not only can you redeem 10,000 points per night for the Candlewood Suites, but there are all kinds of free things to do there including:
- State Capitol building
- Old State Capitol building
- Lincoln Home National Historic Site
- Illinois Governor’s Mansion
- Great Western Railroad Depot
- Union Square Park
- Washington Park
Although it’s not free, I highly recommend visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. It was one of the best museums I’ve even been to, with all kinds of fascinating information and displays.
Hyatt Place Roanoke, Virginia – 5,000 World of Hyatt points
I was in two minds as to whether I should even include this hotel on my list as it was actually one of my less favorite Hyatt Place experiences. It wasn’t bad, but the room was noticeably smaller than your standard Hyatt Place room, although that might have just been the specific room we were given. Our room was next to the elevator in a slightly weird location, so it might be that other rooms aren’t quite as cramped. To give you an idea of why it was noticeably smaller, it wasn’t possible to fit a luggage cart through the door, so we had to unload and load our items from the hallway.
There are a couple of reasons it made it onto the list though. First, it’s only 5,000 points per night which is a decent redemption seeing as room rates tend to be ~$125+ per night. The reason it made it so high up though is because I love Roanoke.
Shae and I lived in Portsmouth, VA for 7 years before setting off on our road trip, so we’ve visited Roanoke a few times. Roanoke is in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so it’s a beautiful area with loads of scenic drives and hiking opportunities. My favorite hike is McAfee Knob which we’ve done a couple of times, with the views from the top being well worth the effort to get up there.
So while the Hyatt Place Roanoke isn’t as nice as the Hyatt Place Austin/Round Rock, its location more than makes up for it.
- Hiking – McAfee Knob
- Sunset – Mill Mountain Star
- Nature – Natural Bridge State Park
- Pizza – Benny Marconi’s
- Sandwich – Finish The Mission from The Village Grill – Bologna, ham, salami, pepperoni, smoked ribeye & turkey, plus order the onion ring tower served with spicy bacon honey mustard sauce
- Activities – Roanoke Pinball Museum where you can play dozens of pinball machines dating as far back as 1932
Residence Inn Jackson Ridgeland, Mississippi – 12,500 Marriott Bonvoy points (standard rate)
The Residence Inn Jackson Ridgeland used to be even greater value than it is now. We stayed there a couple of months ago when it was still a category 1 property and some of our stay was covered by off peak pricing. Paired with the 5th night free benefit, that meant our 10 nights there only cost a total of 50,000 points, so an average of 5,000 points per night.
A couple of weeks ago it moved up to being a category 2 property, but that’s still pretty decent value if you can take advantage of off peak pricing, with room rates with tax going for $125+ per night.
An added benefit of booking with points is that you can book directly into a one bedroom suite, despite studio suites being cheaper when paying cash. We were then able to get a minor upgrade to a one bedroom suite with a fireplace; having a fireplace would be a little unnecessary during the summer in Mississippi, but we were there in January, so it was nice sitting in front of a fire while it rained outside.
I tend to stay up late at night working, so having a separate living room means Shae doesn’t get woken by any kind of light; when staying at Hyatt Places, I head down to the lobby to work seeing as very few Hyatt Places have one bedroom suites. On the flip side, Shae is often up early to teach with VIPKid and Outschool, so having a living room means she doesn’t wake me up at 5am.
As always with the Residence Inn brand, every room has a full kitchen, breakfast is complimentary and Monday-Wednesday they have The Mix – an evening social with complimentary food and drink.
We weren’t particularly impressed with downtown Jackson, so we didn’t spend much time there. There’s a fair bit of stuff worth visiting within a reasonable distance though:
- Mississippi Petrified Forest – there was a Groupon which meant this only cost a few bucks per person. The handout they give you when you arrive has lots of interesting information about the forest, plus it’s dog-friendly.
- Vicksburg National Military Park – this is about 45 minutes west of Jackson and is enormous. There’s so much to see there – if you’re a Civil War buff, you could easily spend two days there and still only scratch the surface.
- The Old Country Store Restaurant – this is a buffet restaurant with delicious southern food and an owner who serenades you.
- Mississippi Civil Rights Museum – we’ve visited loads of civil rights locations on the road trip, but the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum was interesting in its own way because a lot of the exhibits focused on Mississippi’s particular civil rights issues which weren’t always covered at other civil rights museums.
- Rodney ghost town – there are still some people living in Rodney, but there are also lots of abandoned buildings and a couple of abandoned churches
Country Inn & Suites London, Kentucky – 15,000 Radisson Rewards points
I’ll be honest – I didn’t hold out much hope for Kentucky before we arrived there in April 2019. However, by the end of our 6 weeks there, I’d fallen in love with the state. There are so many beautiful state parks, there’s the Bourbon Trail and if you’re trying to save money/points on accommodation, there are several category 1 & 2 properties across several brands to take advantage of.
One of the cities we stayed in was London as there was a pet-friendly category 2 Country Inn & Suites which meant we only had to pay 15,000 Radisson Rewards points per night. While the hotel itself wasn’t particularly remarkable, I loved our time in London which is why it makes it onto this list.
London is near the city of Corbin which is home to the Harland Sanders Cafe & Museum – the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Corbin also has a great BBQ place called Sonny’s BBQ as well as The Wrigley Taproom & Eatery.
London is about 30 minutes from Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. In addition to seeing Cumberland Falls, I recommend hiking to Dog Slaughter Falls which, despite the name, Truffles also enjoyed seeing.
It’s also only an hour from Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. That’s home to Tri-State Peak where you can stand in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee at the same time.
Hampton Inn Enterprise, Alabama – 20,000 Hilton Honors points
It’s a little tricky including Hilton in this list because they now use dynamic pricing rather than categories. In theory, category 1 corresponds to 5,000 points per night and category 2 to 10,000 points per night. At the time of our stay, the Hampton Inn Enterprise only cost 10,000 points per night and we received the 5th night free, so it only cost us 40,000 points for our 5 night stay. It now appears to be 20,000 points per night, but in some ways that’s now a category 2 level property seeing as Hilton doesn’t have any properties in the US that are charged at the 5,000 point level.
We really enjoyed our stay at the Hampton Inn in Enterprise, mainly because of the people. There was a front desk staff member called Cody who was fantastic. She was always incredibly friendly, plus we were in the lobby area when she was dealing with a family whose Expedia reservation wasn’t showing up. She was professional throughout the entire situation, despite the guests starting to lose their cool.
The people of Enterprise were awesome too. We were there because Enterprise is home to the World’s Smallest St Patrick’s Day Parade – one person who walks up one block to the city’s Boll Weevil monument and back again.
We got chatting to some people after the parade and they took us under their wing for the rest of our stay there. They invited us to a homebrew competition that evening, took us to a museum, out to lunch and even invited us over for dinner one evening. We’ve made lasting friendships and got to meet up with a couple of them a few months ago while we were all in Tennessee, so we have fond memories of Enterprise.
The World’s Smallest St Patrick’s Day Parade was fun, so that’s worth attending if you’ll be in Enterprise mid-March. The US Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker was far more interesting than I’d been expecting, plus you need to check out their Boll Weevil Monument because, y’know, where else are you going to see a monument dedicated to the boll weevil?!
In case you’re wondering why they have a monument to the boll weevil, many years ago it decimated the crops of Enterprise. While that normally wouldn’t be something to celebrate, it resulted in farmers planting different crops which proved to be much more profitable in subsequent years, thus causing them to be better off in the long run.
Country Inn & Suites Tucson Airport, Arizona – 15,000 Radisson Rewards points
We actually just finished up our stay at the Country Inn & Suites Tucson Airport a few days ago. It’s a category 2 property in the Radisson Rewards program, so it only cost us 15,000 points per night.
One of the reasons I enjoyed our stay there is because we were upgraded to their 1 bedroom Executive Suite even though we only booked a regular studio suite. We’ve gotten upgrades to one and two bedroom suites with our last three stays at Country Inn & Suites properties. That’s been great seeing as we only have Gold status from their credit cards and is a much better success rate than we’ve ever gotten with IHG despite having Spire Elite status with them.
Another reason it made this list is because I loved our time in Tucson. While the city itself isn’t exciting as such, it’s a beautiful area with mountains always in sight.
I used the Uber credit from my Amex Platinum card to order tacos from La Fresita. They were very reasonably priced and came loaded with meat, so I’d love to eat there again if we return to Tucson in the future.
Shae went to Biosphere 2 which has seven model ecosystems (including an ocean and a rainforest) and found it fascinating. I also loved Catalina State Park so much that we went hiking there three times, while Saguaro National Park is a short drive from the city.
TownePlace Suites Winchester, Virginia – 12,500 Marriott Bonvoy points (standard rate)
The TownePlace Suites Winchester isn’t quite as good value now as it was. When we stayed there last year, it was a category 1 property in the Marriott Bonvoy program, so it only cost 7,500 points per night. With every 5th night free on award stays, our 10 nights there only cost us a total of 60,000 points.
It went up to category 2 in March 2020, but 12,500 points per night can still be a good redemption depending on the cash cost per night and if you can take advantage of the 5th night free benefit. One of the benefits of using points is that similar to some of the other Marriott properties I’ve included on this list, you can book straight into a one bedroom suite when using points, even though that room type is more expensive than a studio suite when paying cash.
In case you’re not familiar with the TownePlace Suites brand, you also have a full kitchen in your suite, along with complimentary breakfast.
Winchester is in the north of Virginia, near the borders of West Virginia and Maryland, while about 1.5 hours from Washington D.C. It’s less than 45 minutes from Harpers Ferry and only about an hour from the Luray Caverns – an attraction that’s definitely worth visiting.
Not only are the Luray Caverns an impressive sight, we also love it because they’re pet-friendly provided your dog can be carried. We have a backpack for Truffles for times such as these, so she got to join us on the tour.
If you’re into wineries, we can also recommend Barrel Oak Winery in nearby Delaplane. It’s a beautiful location, has good wine, is extremely pet-friendly inside and out and has a ton of outdoor seating. If you’re an RVer, they also take part in Harvest Host, so you can stay there overnight for free.