I have previously explained how to get the most discounted room rate and best deal at a luxury hotel, to help you save (lots of) money when traveling. Today, I take it one step further and explain how to stay for FREE at a hotel. And I’m not only talking about budget properties here, but also about luxury hotels, even those that belong to the portfolio of the world’s most exclusive and ultra-luxurious hotel brands, such as Four Seasons, Six Senses, St Regis and Aman Resorts. Getting a complimentary room (a “comp” as it is called in the travel industry jargon) for one or more nights, is the ultimate hotel perk and a lot better than finding a good deal as it makes you feel special. If you have always dreamt of staying for free at a luxury hotel, then keep on reading and be inspired by my eight travel tips.
1. JOIN A HOTEL LOYALTY PROGRAM
These days, almost all major hotel chains own a lucrative loyalty program that allows you to earn points (via hotel stays, flights, and credit cards) and then redeem them for free nights. In addition, members of these loyalty programs also get valuable benefits such as complimentary upgrades, WiFi and breakfast. The only condition is that you have to book your hotel stays directly on the official hotel website or via a Virtuoso travel agency. Deciding which hotel loyalty program is right for you depends on four factors:
- The number of hotels owned by the chain (as the larger chains offer more options to earn and redeem points)
- The benefits that are most important to you
- The countries where you travels take you to (as some chains are better represented in certain countries as compared to others)
- The type of hotel you want to stay at (ranging from budget to ultraluxurious)
The high-end luxury hotel chains are rather reluctant to the idea of a loyalty program, with only very few of them offering one that allows you to redeem points for free nights. You can read my reviews of these loyalty programs (with their pros and cons) here:
- Marriott Bonvoy by the Marriott group, which includes The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, St Regis, W, and The Luxury Collection hotels (Bulgari hotels are excluded from the program).
- World of Hyatt by the Hyatt group, which includes Park Hyatt and Andaz hotels.
- Hilton Honors by the Hilton group, which includes the Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels.
- Le Club AccorHotels by the AccorHotels group, which includes Fairmont, Raffles and Sofitel hotels.
- IHG Rewards Club by the IHG group, which includes Intercontinental hotels.
- Sirius by the Jumeirah hotel group.
2. BOOK YOUR STAY WITH HOTELS.COM
Hotels.com is my 2nd favorite hotel engine booking websites (after Virtuoso). You can save lots of money when you book (luxury) hotels on Hotels.com, as I have previously explained here. One of the main reasons why I like Hotels.com is because it offers a simple but excellent loyalty program, called “Hotels.com Rewards”. When you book and stay 10 nights at eligible hotels, you’ll get 1 night free to redeem at a hotel of your choice. Hotels.com works out the average value of all the 10 nights you’ve collected and gives it back to you as a free night. I have scored tons of free hotel nights this way, amongst them the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence, Italy.
3. MAKE USE OF A BEST RATE GUARANTEE
Best Rate Guarantee (BRG) programs are increasingly used by hotels chains around the world and guarantee that a hotel guest is offered the lowest available rate for a night or a multiple-night stay. If means that if you find a better, publicly available rate on another website than the official hotel website, you can submit an online claim. If your claim is approved, not only will the lower price be matched, but you will also receive an additional 10 to 25% discount (depending upon the hotel chain). It’s important to keep in mind that a BRG claim will only be approved for a booking of the identical room type, date and length of stay, and reservations must be made directly on the hotel websites (not on third-party websites).
For an overview of the different BRG programs, click here.
While a BRG rate – the most discounted rate you can get by communicating directly with the hotel – is already a splendid feature on itself, it’s also possible – and not difficult at all – to hack a BRG program for free hotel stays:
- Marriott Bonvoy – the loyalty program of Marriott Hotels – has one of the world’s best run BRG programs. If you find a lower rate prior to, or within 24 hours of, booking your hotel room, simply submit a BRG claim to Marriott to honor that lower rate, with a choice between an additional 25% discount or 5000 Marriott Bonvoy points. If you choose the points (instead of the additional discount), then you can earn tons of hotel points that you can later redeem for free hotel stays. I earn at least 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points this way per year, earning me one or two free hotel nights at one of Marriott’s luxury hotels and it doesn’t require a lot of effort.
- Hotel booking engine Travelocity‘s BRG program offers another easy way to earn free hotel stays. If you find a cheaper rate on your Travelocity hotel reservation up to two days before your check-in, then Travelocity will refund the difference and give you a $50 USD travel coupon for future travel (learn more about this here). So if you earn a $50 USD credit per single booking and book 10 hotel stays per year, that’s $50 * 10 = $500 USD worth of hotel stays per year.
So, the Key is always trying to find a better rate than the one on the official hotel website, but that’s not difficult at all as I explained here. Most of the time, the lowest room rate can be found on the aggregator websites Trivago and Hotelscombined, which verify hotel prices at hundreds of other sites (e.g. Ebookers, Booking.com, Hotels.com, Otel.com, Expedia, Onhotels.com, Hotelopia.com, etc…) and show where you can book the cheapest rate, after which you submit a BRG. Try it out yourself here:
4. GET A HOTEL BRANDED CREDIT CARD
Most hotel chains have a credit card that is affiliated with their loyalty program. With these credit cards, you earn extra hotel points with your everyday purchases (from groceries to phone bills), which you can then redeem for free hotel stays (as explained above). But of even greater interest are the hotel points or vouchers that you will receive when you apply for a credit card, often enough for one or more complimentary hotels night. Some examples:
- The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express card is one of the fastest ways to earn Marriott points. You will earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you spend $3,000 USD in purchases on the card in your first 3 months from account opening; that’s enough for 10 free hotel stays at one of Marriott’s budget hotels, or one free night at one if its top-end properties. In addition, you will get one free hotel night every year after your card account anniversary (redemption level at or under 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points).
- The Word of Hyatt VISA credit card, only available in the USA, is probably the best hotel credit card in the industry. You earn 25,000 hotel points after you spend $ 3,000 USD on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening, plus an additional 25,000 points after you spend $ 6,000 USD total on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening. That’s enough for two nights at one of Hyatt’s luxury hotels. You will also reveive one free night at any Category 1–4 Hyatt hotel or resort every year after your cardmember anniversary, and an extra free night if you spend $15,000 USD during your cardmember anniversary year.
- Citizens of selected countries can earn Hilton Honors bonus points with a Hilton Honor credit card on everyday purchases, and then redeem these points for reward nights and more. Plus, certain Hilton Honor credit cards automatically come with elite status and/or tens of thousands of bonus Honors Points.
Unfortunately, most of these credit cards are only available to citizens of the USA and Canada. However, when you live in a country where the major hotel chains don’t have a branded credit card program, you can still earn hotel points with a credit card by transfering the program points from your American Express or Diner’s Club credit card into your hotel loyalty account, hereby boosting your hotel points balance towards a free hotel stay.
5. JOIN AN AIRLINE’S FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAM
Frequent-flyer programs are customer loyalty programs used by most airlines that allow you to earn points or miles that are redeemable for free flights, upgrades, car rentals, shopping but also free hotel stays. While converting airline points into free hotel stays is not always the most economic ways to spend your precious miles (in most cases, you are better off using them for free flights), there are some exceptions to the rule, such as booking stays at hotels of the Hilton chain (including the Waldorf Astoria and Conrad brand) with the Miles & More program of Lufthansa.
Interestingly, the last couple of years, several airlines have established exclusive partnerships with hotels, making it easier than ever before to earn free hotel stays while cruising at 30,000 feet:
- Marriott Bonvoy collaborates with the frequent flyer program ofEmirates, SkyWards, in the so called Your World Rewards program. Marriott Bonvoy members earn 3 points per US dollar spent on all eligible Emirates flights (on top of Skywards Miles), which are redeemable for free hotel stays. Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite, Titanium Elite and Ambassador Elite members even enjoy elite in-airport benefits, including priority check-in and priority boarding.
- American Airlines and Hyatt Hotels have also established a collaboration. In addition to AAdvantage miles earned by flying on American, World of Hyatt Discoverist, Explorist and Globalist members also earn one World of Hyatt bonus point for every eligible dollar spent on qualifying American flights.
6. MAKE USE OF A ‘FREE NIGHT’ HOTEL PROMOTION
It’s always recommended to keep an eye our for hotel promotions that advertise a free night when you book a certain number of paid nights. These types of specials are mostly only available when you book directly on the official hotel website (so be sure to sign up for the newsletter of your preferred hotels to make sure that you know about upcoming promotions). One of the hotel brands where it does make sense to make use of this promotion is Soneva, which manages phenomenal resorts in the Maldives and Thailand. Soneva regularly launches promotions where you get on or two free nights (in addition to other benefits), which can save you thousands of dollars. Current offers can be checked on the Soneva Fushi (Maldives), Soneva Jani (Maldives), or Soneva Kiri (Thailand) website.
6. COMPLAIN ABOUT A TROUBLING EXPERIENCE
A hotel stay can be an unpleasant ordeal when things do not go as planned (e.g. a major defect in your room, a service issue, a disappointing excursion, misstatements about a hotel’s amenities, a downgrade, an overbooking, etc …). When confronted with a major inconvenience that is clearly the responsibility of a hotel, then complaining in a polite matter – either at the hotel or afterwards through the hotel’s customer service – may be your chance to get a free hotel stay. For example, a couple of years ago, I was confronted with an overbooking at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Munich (there was no room available for me, despite that I had booked it months in advance), and to compensate for the ordeal, the hotel refunded my (prepaid) stay and offered me a 2-night voucher for a future trip.
7. JOIN THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY
Travel agents, meeting planners, travel journalists, and other industry insiders frequently get complementary hotel stays as a reward for the business they bring to the hotel. There are usually available rooms since hotels are rarely fully occupied, so it makes sense for the hotel to assign the room to travel industry insiders as a sign of appreciation or for exposure in the media.
8. BOOST YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE
More and more luxury hotels are opening up to new promotional opportunities to boost their profits, by offering free stays to a select few guests in exchange for recognition on social media. If you have at least 100,000 followers, and your social media profile matches the hotel brand’s aesthetic, then there’s a chance that you will be offered freebies, ranging from discounts to free nights, as long as you engage to promote the property during your stay.
Read the story in Fortune of a travel blogger who spent 5 free days at The Mulia Resort in Bali, Indonesia, where rooms range from around $400 to $1,000 per night, thanks to her more than 400,000 Instagram followers.
By ‘The Luxury Travel Expert’
Paul Ebeling, Editor
Enjoy your travels…