Travel Hacking To Free Hotels – My Recent Redemptions Across 5 Loyalty Programs

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Our room at the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay had a fantastic view of Tokyo DisneySea!
Our room at the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay had a fantastic view of Tokyo DisneySea!

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.


My son looking down at Tokyo from our 50th floor suite at the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
My son looking down at Tokyo from our 50th floor suite at the Park Hyatt Tokyo.

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!


The Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay is a fantastic integrated family resort on Disney property.
The Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay is a fantastic integrated family resort on Disney property.

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!)

Club Carlson

The view from my room at the Park Inn Yas Island included Ferrari World, the F1 Speedway, golf courses & the ocean!
The view from my room at the Park Inn Yas Island included Ferrari World, the F1 Speedway, golf courses & the ocean!

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.


The pool at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa with Mission Bay in the background.
The pool at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa with Mission Bay in the background.

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!


The bedroom of my Presidential Suite at the Crowne Plaza Doha Business Park in Qatar.
The bedroom of my Presidential Suite at the Crowne Plaza Doha Business Park in Qatar.

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

Our room at the Holiday Inn Express Taoyuan was basic & nice, but it was a great value at only 5,000 points and we arrived late and left early.
Our room at the Holiday Inn Express Taoyuan was basic & nice, but it was a great value at only 5,000 points and we arrived late and left early.

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

DatesHotelMy CostCheapest Retail Cost inc. Taxes & FeesNotes
Crowne Plaza Doha Business Park
20,000 points
Upgraded to Presidential Suite & given club lounge access as a Platinum member.
Park Inn By Radisson Abu Dhabi Yas Island
28,000 points
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
12,000 points
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
12,000 points
Upgraded to deluxe room on high floor as Platinum.
Holiday Inn Express Taoyuan, Taiwan
5,000 points
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.


Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer earns and burns millions of miles/points per year circling the globe with his family. An expert at accumulating travel rewards, he founded Miles to Memories to help others achieve their travel goals for pennies on the dollar. Shawn also runs a million dollar reselling business, knows Vegas better than most and loves to spend his time at the 12 Disney parks across the world.

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  1. What is the Arrival Card – where do you get it and how do you get cash posted on it it use for rptravel purposes?

    • Thanks Patricia. Travel hacking just means utilizing tips and tricks to travel for as close to free as possible. This could mean getting credit card sign up bonuses, manufacturing spend, utilizing category bonuses and a number of other things. It really is a generic term.

  2. Hi, Can you explain how using the arrival card points gets you a 65% discount? “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.” I’m not getting how 2.2% cash back is equal to a 65% discount. I think its great and would love to do it, can you please explain in detail how you get this discount?

    • Hi Chris. Thanks for commenting. Sorry for not being clearer about the math. The simple version of the math is that the Arrival Card pays 2.2% cash back. I was buying $500 Vanilla Reload cards for a $3.95 fee. The total charge was $503.95 per card and I earned $11.09 cash back to use towards travel. This means I was paying $3.95 to get $11.09 in free travel. $3.95 is 35.6% of $11.09. This means that I was getting a 64.4% discount on my travel when using Arrival points to pay. I rounded out the numbers in the article to make it a little simpler.

      Vanilla Reloads aren’t still widely available, but CVS does allow you to purchase One Vanilla Visas for a $4.95 fee that can be loaded to Bluebird at Walmart. Since the fee is higher you would be earning just above 50% off of travel. Of course there are many more ways to do this as well. Hope this helps!

  3. This is very impressive, and therefore very intimidating to me. Your regular readers are probably less overwhelmed by it though. Personally it makes me want to hunt around your archives and see how you got yourself to the varying status levels and decide which could be a good fit for me. Great information, wicked organized, too!

    • Delia if you ever have any questions please let me know. Most of the statuses are gained as perks for holding a specific credit card. I will be publishing a post soon about how to get each of the statuses without too much effort. Thanks as always!

  4. HI Shawn,
    I found your article interesting. I’ve been at this “game” for a couple years now and my question is this: You said you stay in less convenient properties that offer a lower redemption price. Could you expand a little as to your selection process? For example, in Tokyo, there must have been at least 20 available properties between your reward programs. Do you research each and every property in every location you’re staying? How do you determine in which city to use a particular program? If you get to the end of your planning and realize you should have (for example) stayed at Hilton properties in Tokyo, rather than Carlson, and Carlson properties rather than IGH in San Diego, do you start all over? This is what gets overwhelming for me on a trip when we are moving around a lot. Is there an easy way of selecting the best (value) property in a certain local?

    • Thanks Kim. I would be glad to answer your questions. Tokyo was a bit of unique situation since we had the Park Hyatt Suite booked and they only had availability for those two days. I then looked for nearby hotels and found the Hilton and Hyatt Regency. This was the splurge part of our vacation so I wanted a nice hotel. The Hilton was 50,000 points per night while the Hyatt Regency is 12,000. Additionally, the Hyatt Regency was closer to the Park Hyatt since we had to switch. I chose the Hyatt Regency.

      I tend to do a quick search for availability and cross reference it with my points balances and what we are looking for. If we are barely going to be in the room then I take that into consideration. Generally I don’t feel the need to be right in the center as long as there is reliable transportation.

      I am not a huge planner so I like to wait towards the end to book things. This backfires once in awhile, but in general I have a good feeling of which programs to use based on what I see. Unless something goes completely wrong, I don’t backtrack and erase plans. Sometimes a Point Breaks or mistake rate will come along and I will change my plans based on that.

      A good example of a decision to use less points is Seoul. I knew that we were barely going to be in the room, so we booked the Holiday Inn a little outside of the center for 15,000 points per night when there are 2 better located IC hotels for 35,000 each. I picked that hotel because it was easy to get to from public transport and thus from the airport. We didn’t have to hire a bus or taxi so the trip to the hotel cost us about $10 where the limo bus would have been $40. All of those things go into a decision. Most of the other brands had very high redemption costs as well.

      My decisions are mostly made by using my experience and intuition. Having done this for awhile now, I tend to be able to sort through information quickly and find things like transport links, location, reviews and cost and then decide which few options are best before sorting it down to one. This whole thing sounds way too complicated though. I will end with this. If you get the hotel for free, then don’t worry to much. You might miss a better redemption once in awhile, but there is a time cost in all of this as well! Thanks again!


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