On average, Americans spend $2,000 on a summer vacation. If you have plans to travel multiple times during the year, it can be challenging to budget for all of it. But if you’re serious about finding ways to save money when you travel, consider these six ways to get your hotel stay for free.
On average, Americans spend more than $2,000 on a summer vacation, according to Allianz Global Assistance, and that’s just one trip. If you have plans to travel multiple times during the year, it can be challenging to budget for all of it.
If you typically stay in hotels when you travel, the cost can average more than $100 per night in many major cities. Fortunately, there are ways to score free hotel stays, allowing you to save that money or use it to travel more often.
If you’re serious about finding ways to save money when you travel, consider these six ways to get your hotel stay for free.
See related: How to strategically plan for travel in the new year
How to get a free hotel stay
1. Sign up for hotel loyalty programs
Every major hotel brand has a rewards program that gives you credit when you stay at properties within the brand. For example, the World of Hyatt program awards you 5 points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels, and free nights start at 5,000 points (or as low as 3,500 during off-peak times starting in March 2020).
This means that if you have one five-night stay in a Hyatt hotel with an average price of $200 per night, you’ll have enough points for one free night. Also, some rewards programs, including Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors (requires silver elite status or higher), will give you a free night if you book a certain number of nights with points.
Of course, it can take a while and a lot of money to earn enough points for a longer stay. But when you combine loyalty program earnings with other ways to get free hotel stays, you’ll reach your goal more quickly.
“You’re missing out on so many opportunities if you don’t enroll in loyalty programs,” says Debra Schroeder, who runs Traveling Well For Less, a travel advice website. “You’re basically leaving money on the table.”
You can also take advantage of other rewards programs to get free nights. For example, for every 10 nights you book through Hotels.com, you’ll receive one for free.
2. Credit card rewards
Many major hotel chains have one or more co-branded credit cards that allow you to earn loyalty points with the brand just for using it on everyday purchases. These cards also often provide introductory offers to make it easier to rack up rewards quickly.
One example is the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which offers 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months — that’s good for as many as 15 free nights with off-peak travel.
For many people, credit card rewards are the fastest way to earn free hotel stays. Depending on how much you spend, using a hotel credit card to rack up points can give you several free hotel nights every year.
3. Credit card anniversary nights
In addition to a rewards program, several hotel credit cards also offer a free anniversary night’s stay every year when you pay your annual fee. Many cards don’t require you to spend any money to get this perk, but some, including the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, do require you to meet a spending requirement.
Others, including The World of Hyatt Credit Card, give you one anniversary night’s stay automatically and a second after you meet a spending requirement.
See related: How to avoid resort fees when you book a hotel stay
4. Stack rewards
Some hotels offer dining programs and online shopping portals that make it possible to earn hotel points you can use toward free stays, and this is on top of the rewards you’re already earning with your credit card on the purchase.
For example, with the IHG Rewards Club dining program, you’ll earn up to 8 points per dollar when you join, register any credit or debit card and eat at one of the more than 10,000 participating restaurants, bars and clubs with the same card. Hilton is the other major hotel chain that has a dining program.
“When eating out at home and while traveling, I always look for [partner] restaurants,” says Schroeder. “You’ll be surprised at how many restaurants participate.”
If you shop a lot online, Wyndham and Choice Hotels both have online shopping malls that give you bonus points when you shop with partner retailers. Just visit the hotel’s shopping portal first and click through to the retailer of your choice, then complete your purchase as normal.
If you’re not loyal to either of those hotel programs, websites like Swagbucks use the same approach, but allow you to use your rewards earned to buy Hotels.com gift cards. This approach can give you more flexibility with your hotel stays – and again, the rewards you earn are on top of what you’re getting with your rewards credit card.
5. Use your phone
If you have a little free time now and then, a handful of mobile apps allow you to earn rewards that you can turn into free hotel stays.
“I earn Hotels.com gift cards by using several apps on my phone,” says Melissa Nance, author of The Penny Pinching Globetrotter. “I play games like rolling dice and trivia. I also take surveys, some that are just one question and others that are longer. I scan receipts from the grocery store, gas station and various other places into apps to earn more. I even watch movie trailers.”
In total, Nance has seven such apps and usually spends 10-15 minutes per day using them. Some of the apps she uses include Fetch Rewards, Shopkick, Verydice and Ibotta.
6. Leverage your social media following
Hotel properties often rely on word-of-mouth advertising to attract guests, and travel bloggers often take advantage of that fact to convince managers to give them free stays in exchange for coverage.
But you don’t need to be a travel blogger to do this, says Christina Cindrich, a two-time Emmy Award-winning travel TV producer and host.
“If somebody has any kind of following on social media, it’s not difficult to get free hotel stays,” she said. “I’ve done it before when I’m not even working; I’ve just gone to Bali and reached out to hotels, and we’ve done a collaboration for free hotel nights.”
Of course, your experience can vary based on where you’re going and the properties you reach out to, and there’s no guarantee a sizable Twitter or Instagram follower list will be enough.
See related: Is hotel elite status really worth it?
The bottom line
If you’re looking for ways to get free hotel stays, the best way to achieve your goal is typically through hotel credit cards. Earning rewards on your everyday purchases and getting a free anniversary night every year may be enough to cover multiple vacations.
Also, consider other travel rewards credit cards.
“No single rewards card is right for everyone, so it’s really just about how you spend your money and what kind of rewards you value most,” says Cindrich. “[But] any kind of travel card you decide to get can get you closer to a dream vacation.”
But if you’re not sure you want to get a rewards credit card or you’re looking for opportunities to supplement your credit card rewards earning, there are plenty of other ways to get free nights in your favorite destinations.
For beginners, it can all be a little overwhelming, and it can take time to figure things out, says Nance. But the effort can be well worth it.