In March & April of this year I took a trip to Asia that spanned a total of 46 days. During that time, I stayed in 28 hotels. For the first few weeks of the trip I was in Kerala, India at the invitation of the Kerala Tourism Bureau.
Following my time in Kerala, I traveled to Qatar, UAE, Japan, Taiwan & South Korea. This post won’t cover my hotel stays in India since they were provided by the government. Instead, I will focus on my post-India hotel stays and how I was able to get a variety of rooms for free.
While this post does involve travel hacking, most of what I will talk about are redemption strategies with links to relevant information on how the points were acquired. (Note: There is a great table at the end with all of the hotels, rates, my cost and notes.)
In the table at the end, you will notice that I stayed at a variety of hotels across a number of chains. Currently I have Hilton Gold, Hyatt Platinum, SPG Preferred Plus, IHG Platinum & Club Carlson Gold statuses gained through credit cards.
All of these statuses come with some basic benefits like free internet or modest room upgrades. Note that the retail prices mentioned are for the cheapest rate for the room we were booked in. If we were upgraded to a higher level room, then that cost is not factored in.
We stayed at a total of three Hyatt hotels during this trip. For my Hyatt stays, I transferred Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt Gold Passport. You will notice that we spent a total of 36,000 points for three nights between Tokyo & Incheon. All of those points and more were gained through recent Officemax promotions at a negative cost.
As for the suite at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, a little strategy was involved. My wife applied for the Hyatt Diamond Challenge last year before applying for the Hyatt credit card. One of the benefits of the credit card bonus which normally gives two free nights in a normal room is that it becomes two free nights in a suite for Diamond members.
Even though she didn’t complete the challenge, since she was Diamond at the time of application, her two free nights were in a suite. The Park Hyatt Tokyo is one of the most expensive Hyatts in the world and our suite was going for over $1800 per night!
We don’t really have status with SPG other than the Preferred Plus unpublished one that gives a marginal room upgrade. Our chain hotel options while staying at Tokyo Disney were either Hilton or the Sheraton. Since the Hilton had astronomical room rates, we chose to stay at the Sheraton.
For some reason the redemption rates at both hotels are crazy since they are located on Disney property. We paid around $140 per night total where the points redemption would have been 15,000 per night. SPG points are simply too valuable to make a redemption like that.
My strategy with this hotel was to use my Barclay Arrival card. Before the trip I was able to buy Vanilla Reloads for $3.95 and earn 2.2% cash back in the form of points. Essentially this works out to be a 65% discount on travel. Once I redeem Arrival points to pay for the stay, my out of pocket cost will have been about $150. Staying on property at Tokyo Disneyland for $50 isn’t bad in my opinion! (Today I could buy American Express gift cards and get Arrival points for even less!)
I have the Club Carlson credit card which gives Gold status and a free night on 2 night or longer stays when using points. For this reason, I rarely like to use my points for stays of anything other than two nights. The dates for my visit to Abu Dhabi changed several times and I had several hotels booked including an IHG Best Rate Guarantee that I had to cancel.
Since I was going to Ferrari World, once my dates firmed up, I decided to stay at the Park Inn on Yas Island. The Radisson Blu next door is a little nicer, but I didn’t see the need to spend 10,000 more points since there wasn’t much of a difference.
My Hilton strategy is always to redeem at low level properties or with cash & points if they are a good value. With their devaluation last year, most of the high level properties are just not a good value. While I rarely earn Hilton points anymore, I still have quite a few left from credit card bonuses a couple of years ago. I use these to fill in the gaps on award stays.
I arrived in Tokyo a day before my family and in desperate need of rest. Staying at the Hilton Narita allowed me to stay near the airport to meet them and provided a comfortable place to get some rest. They also gave us free breakfast each morning because of our Gold status.
The last hotel of our trip was the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa. We were meeting family in San Diego upon our return to the United States and they were staying in the same area. The normal redemption rate is 40,000 points, but they also had a cash & points rate of 16,000 plus $65. Since rates were well over $200 per night, I saw the cash & points as the best value. Additionally, we used our Arrival card so our total of $146 including taxes for 2 nights became about $51!
As you can see from the table, a lot of the stays were at IHG properties. The main reason for this was that I am flush with points from the Big Win. My strategy for IHG is to seek out Point Breaks and good value properties. I usually don’t stay in their most expensive properties, because I don’t see those redemptions as good values.
On several occasions I was upgraded to a suite on this trip because of my Platinum status. Almost always when I went into my room, there was a note and a plate of fruit. Twice, I was also given a bottle of wine and on one occasion lounge access. I have found that Platinum benefits vary greatly between properties, so it is difficult to know if you will get anything, but I have better luck when traveling internationally than domestically with IHG.
Lower Level Redemptions
While this is part of strategy, it applies across all brands so I thought that I would give it a different section. I don’t always go for the most convenient redemptions. While points can be easy to generate and manufacture, I am alright with staying at a less convenient hotel to get a better redemption value. We have been traveling independently for almost a decade and use public transport to get around. As long as there is some sort of transport link then I am usually happy.
A great example of this was Dubai. There were nicer and newer IHG properties in the more glitsy areas of Dubai. The Holiday Inn Burj Dubai where I stayed is a great hotel with a fantastic staff. It is located two minutes from the metro and in the older, more authentic part of town. I was glad that I stayed there and saved my points since I had a wonderful experience and was able to get on the river and experience the amazing old souqs nearby.
This is a long post and I apologize for that. My goal was to show you how I am able to travel so much and what strategies I use when redeeming points. The table below covers 21 hotel nights. The retail value of those hotels was $6,971 and my out of pocket cost was about $200. We stayed in a range of accommodations, but they were all very good and I will be reviewing almost all of these hotels over the next couple of months.
Posts like this are time consuming and I enjoy creating them, but I would like some feedback. Did you learn anything from this? Was it worthwhile to you? Should I do more posts like this? Please let me know! Thanks!
Table Of Hotels & Costs
Dates Hotel My Cost Cheapest Retail Cost inc. Taxes & Fees Notes
Crowne Plaza Doha Business Park
Upgraded to Presidential Suite & given club lounge access as a Platinum member.
Park Inn By Radisson Abu Dhabi Yas Island
Received 2nd night free with the credit card and upgraded room with Gold status.
Holiday Inn - Burj Dubai -Embassy District
40,000 points (20,000 per night.)
Upgraded to a Suite due to Platinum Status.
Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport
40,000 points (20,000 per night.)
Upgraded to a larger deluxe room & free buffet breakfast for 3 people as Gold.
Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay
$429.25 ($150 after cost of Arrival points.)
Upgraded to higher floor room. Paid with Arrival Card
Hyatt Regency Tokyo
Upgraded to a deluxe room on high floor as Platinum.
Park Hyatt Tokyo
2 Night Certificate From Credit Card
Two nights in a Park Suite with credit card sign up bonus. Two nights are in a suite since my wife was Diamond when getting the credit card.
Hyatt Regency Tokyo
Upgraded to deluxe room on high floor as Platinum.
Holiday Inn Express Taoyuan, Taiwan
Upgraded larger room as Platinum. Free breakfast. This was a Point Breaks redemption.
Holiday Inn Seoul Seongbuk
45,000 points (15,000 per night.)
Upgraded room and 4 free drinks as Platinum members.
Hyatt Regency Incheon
12,000 points (8,000 + 4,000 for Club level.)
Paid 4,000 extra points to book a room with Regency Club access for our stay.
Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa
32,000 pts + $146
Upgraded to villa & free continental breakfast for 3 people as Gold.