Avoid these 7 hotel rewards mistakes

From booking through the wrong website to overlooking resort fees, these errors can cost you money

Rebecca Lake
Personal Finance Writer
Making complex credit topics simple

Hotel rewards mistakes you should avoid

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Hotel loyalty programs and travel credit cards can make booking hotel stays more rewarding, but only if you understand the rules of the game.

Even a seemingly small misstep could cost you free nights or paying added fees.

Before booking your next hotel stay, make sure you avoid these common mistakes.

See related: 5 tips for choosing the right hotel credit card

7 hotel rewards mistakes

  1. Under-booking your reservation.
  2. Booking through third-party sites without reading the fine print.
  3. Using the wrong card when booking through a third-party site.
  4. Not taking advantage of added hotel travel perks.
  5. Buying hotel points to book.
  6. Overlooking resort fees.
  7. Not calculating value when transferring rewards points.

1. Under-booking your reservation

It may seem like a small thing, but getting the correct number of guests on your reservation matters.

“It’s important, especially if you go over the norm two-adult-two-kid rule for most hotels,” says Jason Decker, travel rewards expert and founder of Nomad Travel Hacker.

He says every hotel and region has its own rules for setting rates based on the number of guests. In Japan, for example, most hotels charge extra per person. If you book a room for one, but you’ve got a friend tagging along, “most likely you’ll end up paying an extra fee, so you should be prepared for that.”

Better yet, get your reservation right the first time so there are no surprises when you check-in.

2. Booking through third-party sites without reading the fine print

Using a third-party travel site such as Expedia or Orbitz to book hotel stays could help you lock in a great room rate, but you could be sacrificing hotel loyalty rewards in the process.

Suzanne Wolko, who blogs about her travel experiences at PhilaTravelGirl learned that firsthand. She used her Starwood Preferred Guest card to book a room at a W Hotel via Expedia and didn’t receive any Gold Elite benefits (including earning six points for each dollar of eligible purchases at over 6,500 participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels across 110 countries worldwide).

“That was a hard lesson and the last time I lost points,” says Wolko.

Decker says using third-party sites can be a headache if you have any issues with your booking, versus booking directly with the hotel. On top of that, “you’ll miss out on any hotel-specific credit card point multipliers for bookings.”

“Most hotel chains have great benefits to book direct, but even more so for travelers using a loyalty card,” says Robert Mondato, senior director, guest loyalty and partnerships at Sonesta Hotels. “Booking direct with the hotel multiplies the point value tremendously and the OTA [online travel agency] can never match that level of accelerating the stays to get to a free night.”

The Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, for example, earns 12x Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar for hotel stays booked directly with a participating hotel or resort. If you travel regularly, that could you put on the fast track to Diamond status and Weekend Night rewards, benefits you’d lose by booking through an OTA.

3. Using the wrong card to book through a third-party site

On the flip side, booking through a third-party portal could boost your travel rewards earnings, but only if you use the right card.

Hotels.com, for instance, currently offers 10x miles per dollar on eligible stays, but that benefit is available exclusively to Capital One cardholders who have a Venture or VentureOne Rewards card.

My story: How two mistakes cost me hotel rewards points

Not too long ago, I took a trip to Williamsburg, Virgina. I was looking for a deal on a room, so I turned to Hotels.com to book.

I found a great rate, but I cost myself rewards not once, but twice.

First, I didn’t take time to see if the hotel I was booking with was a Hilton Honors property. I’m a Hilton Honors member, but I gave no thought to that as I made my reservation.

When I got to the hotel, I realized my mistake as I was checking in, but it was too late. The clerk at the front desk let me know that trips booked through third-party sites didn’t count toward free stays through Hilton Honors.

The other way I shot myself in the foot was by using the wrong card. I actually have a Capital One card, but instead of charging my room to get the 10x miles, I used a co-branded retail card to pay. (It’s my catch-all card that I pay in full every month.)

Had I been paying attention and understood the rules of third-party booking sites, I could have avoided the double whammy that cost me loyalty points and credit card rewards.

4. Not taking advantage of added hotel travel perks

Hotel loyalty programs can offer more than just points, and you could be shortchanging yourself if you’re not tapping your program’s full range of benefits.

“One of the most important aspects of participating in a loyalty program is to know how the program works and understanding the other benefits that come with membership,” says Mondato.

Mondato says travelers often join hotel loyalty programs to earn points, “but never read through the program materials and miss out on the other ancillary benefits, such as early or late checkout, room upgrades or online check-in.”

Paying for four nights to get the fifth night free is one of the Starwood Preferred Guest perks Wolko regularly uses. Marriott Rewards also offers a fifth night free but note: the freebie must be used when booking your four nights. You can’t bank it for another stay later.

Victoria Beattie, traveler and founder of The Beach People, says staying loyal to one hotel has paid off in the form of free upgrades. She also utilizes the travel insurance benefit offered by her rewards card.

“I sleep a little sweeter at night knowing I’m insured,” says Beattie.

See related: Hotel cards: Get the most free nights for the fewest points

5. Buying hotel points to book

Some hotel loyalty and travel credit cards allow you to buy hotel points, but don’t waste your money, says Decker.

“It almost never makes sense to buy points,” he says. The exception is if you’re just shy of having enough for an awards redemption or if hotel rates, or if booking a room with points yields a better value than paying cash.

This is risky, though and you need to make sure there will be room availability with points before you buy, says Decker. In most cases, you’re better off paying with cash only, or splitting the difference and paying with cash and points.

But, cautions Wolko, run the numbers on cash and points deals first. You want to make sure your points stretch as far as possible before paying anything extra out of pocket.

"Dreaded resort fees are a terrible trend and another way to extort more money out of travelers."

6. Overlooking resort fees

Watch out for hidden fees if you’re going all-inclusive for your stay.

“Dreaded resort fees are a terrible trend and another way to extort more money out of travelers,” says Decker.

Resort fees can cover any number of things, such as minibar access, Wi-Fi access, local calls, airport shuttle service or beach access. These fees can climb as high as $50 per night and parking may be an additional charge.

There are a couple of possibilities for getting around resort fees. If you’re an Elite Status member in a hotel loyalty program, for instance, check to see if one of your membership perks include resort fee waivers. This benefit is extended, for example, to Hyatt Globalist members who book eligible stays.

Another option is to book with a premium travel rewards card that offers property credits or travel credits to members.

The Hilton Honors Aspire card from American Express offers a $250 Hilton resort property credit, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve card gives you a $300 annual travel credit.

Of course, both these cards come with a $450 annual fee, so you have to weigh the value of those credits and other hotel travel benefits against the cost.

7. Not calculating value when transferring hotel rewards points

If your hotel loyalty program or travel rewards credit card allows for points transfers to other loyalty programs, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth before making a swap.

Wolko says the Starwood Preferred Guest program has a good option to convert points to airlines with a bonus, allowing you to turn 20,000 points into 25,000 miles.

Marriott Rewards members, meanwhile, can get a 20 percent discount when converting Marriott Rewards points to United MileagePlus award miles.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards program allows for 1:1 transfers to select hotel partners, including Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Hyatt Gold Passport and IHG.

However, you will want to check the value of your points when transferred – Chase Utimate Rewards points are worth 1.37 points when transferred to Hyatt Gold Passport, but only 0.65 points when transferred to IHG.

If you’re transferring American Express Membership Rewards points, you will also want to pay attention to your Membership Rewards points’ value post-transfer.

There are lots of options and you shouldn’t book without weighing your points’ transfer value in the balance.

“You really need to do the math and figure out the best return on investment,” says Wolko.


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Updated: 12-12-2018