Have Cards, Will Travel

How I stay at boutique hotels using rewards points

Want to go beyond the big hotel chains and stay at independent hotels? Your rewards card can help with that


Boutique hotels offer a more intimate experience than big-box major hotel chains, and you can also book them using rewards. Here’s what you need to know.

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I love using my rewards points to stay at hotels when I travel, but sometimes I don’t want to stay at one of the big-box, chain hotels that seem to be the easiest to book with reward points.

While my co-branded hotel credit cards like the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card help me earn reward stays within their respective brands all over the world, there are always times when an independent boutique hotel may be a better accommodation option for me.

See related: Summer travel guide to independent hotel loyalty programs

Boutique hotels can also be booked using rewards points

Whatever your reason for thinking beyond the hotel brands – a better location, a more local experience, lower room rates or simply because the hotel group where you have your points does not have availability when or where you need it – where you stay when you travel is your choice and should reflect your style.

Credit card blogs typically teach us to understand the hotel brands – but here is a different view. Your credit card rewards points can actually help you stay outside of the major brands and help you find whatever experience you’re looking for.

Get ready to book a boutique hotel with your credit card rewards using these three tips.

1. Book boutique using your credit card’s travel portal

Beyond the big hotel chains, credit card travel portals give you access to book independent hotels at whatever level of luxury you prefer. These are the same types of hotels you’d find if you were searching on a third-party travel site like Expedia.

If you’re earning credit card points in a flexible rewards program like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Points, you can use your points to search and book hotels directly through the respective reward program’s travel portal. The price you pay in points is calculated according to what the cash price of the room would be per night.

On my recent trip to Grand Cayman, one of the best hotels I discovered on my daily runs down Seven Mile beach was the newly opened and independently operated boutique, Grand Cayman Beach Suites.

Unlike booking the Ritz-Carlton with Marriott points from your Bonvoy card or the Kimpton with IHG points from the IHG Rewards card (I explained how to book these hotels on my previous column “Resorting in Grand Cayman with shared rewards”), the Beach Suites do not belong to a big property group with a loyalty program.

You can, however, still book a room here with your credit card points.

  • Using the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to search for a room at the Beach Suites, for example, you can find availability in a king room during the summer low season at a rate of $296 per night ­– or a redemption of 19,740 Ultimate Rewards points earned on your Chase Sapphire Reserve.
  • If you have 73,740 CUR points per night to go big while still staying boutique, check out the Beach Suite’s two-bedroom deluxe beachfront suite. This room has the most amazing (and incredibly Instagrammable) soaking tub for two on its sea-view terrace facing the sunset.

2. Discover boutique ‘soft brand’ hotels within big brands

Over the past few years, most of the big property groups like Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott have been growing by adding partnerships with independent hotel collections to their branded portfolios.

In the hotelier world, these hotels are called “soft brands.” Individual hotels aren’t owned or operated by the big property group, yet their affiliation with the property group allows you to take advantage of your rewards points for free stays.

This past year, for example, Hyatt formed a partnership with the Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) — an alliance of 520 small independent hotels. Through the partnership, World of Hyatt members can now earn and redeem points at more than 200 of these boutique hotels.

On a recent trip to London, I decided to test out this new SLH partnership for myself. Rather than booking a points night at one of the two big Hyatt properties where I often stay, I redeemed a night at the Flemings Mayfair, a prestigious boutique hotel on Green Park using 25,000 points I earned on my World of Hyatt Credit Card. Compared to the Hyatt Regency, it was a much more quaint central London experience.

This SLH partnership opened up seven boutique hotels in London alone in the Hyatt portfolio – not only providing a lot more availability for using points, but also opening up a lot more options for the type of hotel where I want to stay.

3. Use your cash back travel card to stay wherever you want

If the boutique hotel where you want to stay on your trip is not bookable through a credit card portal or as part of a hotel group affiliate alliance, then a cash back card is your best bet.

One of the greatest things about cash back cards is that you can pretty much use your rewards for whatever type of travel you want.

Travel cash back cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard earn miles that you can redeem at a cash value for any travel purchase, giving you extra flexibility in using your miles for accommodation that more traditional rewards won’t cover.

I find cash back cards work well when you want to stay a little off the grid or at a less touristy location.

If you’re visiting Zanzibar, for example, and prefer to stay in one of the private beachside bungalows at the boutique Matemwe Lodge (rather than using your World of Hyatt points at the more central Park Hyatt Stone Town), you can simply make your hotel booking with your cash back card and you’ll be reimbursed with a travel credit on your statement.

We’ve got options, friends. It’s time to start staying wherever you want – even when you’re booking with rewards points!

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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