If you enjoyed our previous post, How to Fly Your Family First Class for (Almost) Free, you may be wondering how to save on the other major vacation cost – the hotel. This week we tackle how to get the best luxury hotel deals, so that you can save while enjoying the kind of pampering that only a 5-star hotel or resort can provide. After all, who wants to fly first class to your vacation and then stay in a 2 or 3-star hotel or sub-par rental that has you wishing you were back home?
Fortunately, with our tips below, you can really look forward to where you’ll be taking your family for your next vacation! Please note that with all the credit card perks below, our previous advice still applies: you should only apply for these cards if you don’t currently have any credit card debt, pay off your balance in full every month, and don’t anticipate applying for a mortgage, refinancing or other major loan within the next year or two.
1. Free Luxury Hotel Nights as a Credit Card Sign-up Bonus
Hyatt Visa: 2 Free Nights at Any Hyatt Worldwide, Including Luxury Park Hyatts – The Hyatt Visa earns you two nights at any Park Hyatt in the world, after your first purchase with the card (allow about 10 days for the certificate to post to your account). If your spouse or you already has Hyatt Diamond elite status, your two nights will even be in a suite! But even if it’s for two regular rooms, here’s a secret: since you can use your two nights for any Park Hyatt or other Hyatt property in the world, that includes all-suite properties such as the Park Hyatt Maldives (where villas are sometimes over $1000/night), which also includes a lavish breakfast daily. The Hyatt Visa also gives you Platinum status as long as you’re a cardholder, so you’ll get the best room for the category you booked, free Internet, and more Hyatt points for your paid stays. Yes, there’s a $75 annual fee that isn’t waived the first year, but we think that’s a very reasonable price to pay for 2 nights that could be worth $2000.
Fairmont Visa: 2 Free Nights at Any Fairmont Worldwide – The Fairmont Visa also earns you two complimentary nights including breakfast for two at any Fairmont worldwide, after you spend $1000 within your first three months. It’s not as lucrative as the Hyatt Visa, since you do have to spend $1000 first, and most Park Hyatt properties are, in my opinion, a cut or two above Fairmont properties, but it’s still quite a good deal if you would normally have at least $1000 in credit card spend in three months anyway – which most families would on groceries alone. Some of the top properties you may want to stay in using your two free nights (or four free nights, if your spouse gets the card too) are The Savoy in London, The Plaza in New York City, Le Royal Monceau-Raffles in Paris, and the Raffles Praslin in the Seychelles. The annual fee of $95 is waived if you apply for the card by July 31, 2012.
Marriott Visa: 50,000 Bonus Points Can Be Redeemed for a Free Night at Any Tier 1-3 Ritz-Carlton – The Marriott Visa offers 50,000 bonus points after your first use of the card. Some people think Marriott points can just be redeemed at Marriott hotels, but you can also redeem them for Ritz-Carlton stays, since Ritz-Carlton is owned by Marriott. This means that you could redeem for the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Maui, Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas, and even one of our personal favorites, Hotel Arts Barcelona (which many don’t even realize is a Ritz-Carlton!) Plus, if your date is eligible for a Points Savers rates, you’ll need 33% fewer points. The $85 fee is waived the first year, so your family could be looking at 2-3 free nights at a Ritz-Carlton, worth up to $1500 depending on your hotel and dates, if your spouse and you each get the card.
2. Redeem Points for a Free Luxury Hotel Stay
In addition to the initial signup bonus of either free hotel nights or points, hotel credit cards help you earn more points on paid stays. For example, the Hyatt Visa earns 3 Hyatt Gold Passport points per $1 spent at Hyatt properties, the Fairmont Visa earns 5 Fairmont Rewards Points per $1 spent at Fairmont properties, and the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card earns 5 Starpoints per $1 spent at Starwood properties if you’re a Platinum or Gold SPG Member, otherwise 4 Starpoints per $1 spent at Starwood hotels.
My personal recommendation, however, would be to also earn Ultimate Rewards points with the Sapphire Preferred Visa or the Ink Bold Business Card, since you can earn 2 points per $1 spent on all travel and dining spend with the Sapphire Preferred, and 5 points per $1 spent on all office supply store, telecom services and cable spend with the Ink Bold. Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to Hyatt, Priority Club (InterContinental, Holiday Inn, etc.), and Marriott. An award night at a 5-star Park Hyatt is 22,000 points, so if you earned the 50,000 signup bonus points for the Ink Bold, that would be more than enough for 2 award nights at any Park Hyatt worldwide.
3. Redeem Cash and Points for a Discounted Luxury Hotel Stay
One of the best kept secrets of the Starwood Preferred Guest program (the loyalty program for Starwood hotels, which includes Westin, Le Meridien, W Hotels, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Sheraton and Aloft) is the cash and points redemption option. Now, this option isn’t available at every property and isn’t always available (unlike free award nights, which have no blackout dates, there are blackout dates and capacity controls for cash and points awards) but when they are available, they’re typically the best deal. Category 6 properties such as The Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki, St. Regis Princeville on Kauai, which can go for $400/night for a standard room, are just $150 + 8000 Starpoints. That’s over 3 cents per point, a very good redemption value for hotels. Note that cash and points is not offered for Starwood’s very top tier Category 7 properties, and you won’t earn any Starpoints on the cash component of a cash and points stay. You will earn a stay or night credit toward elite status, however, just as you do with regular award stays.
4. Book with TravelSort for a Discounted Luxury Hotel Stay for Any Date
My company, TravelSort, specializes in members-only discounted rates for luxury hotels and in personalizing luxury and boutique hotel recommendations for you based on your travel preferences. Since we partner with wholesalers, we’re able to offer rates that are 10-50% lower than you’ll pay elsewhere online at Expedia, Orbitz, or the hotels’ own sites. And our rates are available for all of our hotels all the time, subject only to room availability. Since the most popular luxury hotels tend to sell out of their discounted rates (just as airlines do with their discounted fares) it pays to book ahead with us to obtain the best selection of room types and rates. It’s free to request membership, and our weekly newsletter highlights new hotels that we’ve added, special deals, and additional miles, points and travel credit card tips.
5. Book on a Private Sale Site for a Discounted Luxury Hotel Stay with Restricted Choice and Dates
By now, most people have heard of Jetsetter, Voyage Prive, Sniqueaway and other private sale sites. All of these sites work more or less the same way: they deal in distressed inventory, that is, the rooms that hotels are having difficulty getting bookings for, either because it’s low season for the hotel (think late January or February for a New York or Chicago hotel), it’s a new property or one that’s changed ownership and badly needs hotel guests, or the hotel is struggling for some other reason. This is also why you’ll never see top hotel brands such as Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis on any private sale site. You also will be somewhat limited in terms of choice, both of hotels and dates you can book, since usually a private sale consists of a handful of hotels available for a week or so, with booking dates only for the next several months. That said, if you like to take short impulse trips or are a procrastinator, you could potentially get a great private sale rate for a weekend getaway.
Hilary Stockton is the founder of TravelSort, an innovative travel site that helps savvy travelers find their perfect luxury or boutique hotel at up to 50% off every day, and also advises on how to maximize frequent flyer miles and points to fly business and first class for less than the cost of coach. You can follow her on Twitter @TravelSort