Here’s my easy way to travel cheap as a family and score at least one free hotel stay every year.
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We’ve all read the saving tips that tell you how you can save more money by stopping your coffee addiction today. While that is true if you have a daily $5 coffee addiction, this is not about that kind of saving advice. I am sharing with you how I recently spent 5 days at a hotel in downtown Montreal for free and how you can do it, too. This stay cost 140,000 points.
The first thing to remember with Hilton Honors points is that there’s a special offer for the 5th night free if you book 5 nights with all points, so, it was 35,000 points per night for the hotel we chose plus the 5th night free. For demonstration purposes, I will only be talking about Hilton because that’s what I use most frequently but there are plenty of other useful loyalty programs to use similar methods with.
But, how am I supposed to get 140,000 points?
If you don’t already have a Hilton Honors credit card, plan your application for when there’s a good promotion like 75,000+ points sign up bonus. Make sure you understand the terms of the bonus, for instance, it might be that you need to spend $1000 in the first 3 months to get the promised points credited to your Hilton Honors (HH) account.
I recommend the Hilton Honors AmEx because there’s no annual fees, but the right card depends on your spending and credit levels. You would need to calculate the break even point on the Hilton Honors Ascend ($95 annual fee) or Hilton Honors Aspire ($450 annual fee) to help you decide where your Hilton Honors point value is best.
Here’s a chart to help you figure it out, remember these terms may change depending on when you apply, always pay close attention to the terms of the offers available and how they might work for your unique situation.
Earn a $100 Statement Credit + 100,000 Hilton Honors Bonus PointsEarn a $100 Statement Credit after your first purchase on the Hilton Honors American Express Card within your first 3 months.† Plus, earn 100,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership.†
Hilton Credit Cards & Rewards Structure
|American Express Hilton Honors||HH AmEx Ascend||HH AmEx Aspire||HH AmEx Business|
|No Annual Fee||$95 AF||$450 AF||$95|
|Spend $1000 in first 3 months, get 80,000 bonus points.||Spend $2000 in first 3 months, get 130,000 bonus points.||Spend $4000 in first 3 months, get 150,000 bonus points. *Plus annual free weekend night reward||Spend $3000 in first 3 months, get 130,000 bonus points.|
|Hilton Hotel stays earns 7X per $1||Hilton Hotel stays earns 12X per $1||Hilton Hotel stays earns 14X per $1||Hilton Hotel stays earns 12X per $1|
|Purchases at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations earn 5X per $1||Purchases at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations earn 6X per $1||Purchases at U.S. restaurants earn 7X per $1 *also for flights booked through AmEx Travel, and car rentals booked direct||Purchases at U.S. restaurants and gas stations earn 6X per $1 *also for flights booked through AmEx Travel, and car rentals booked direct, wireless phone service, and business shipping|
|Complimentary HH Status – Silver *Upgraded to Gold when you spend $20,000 in a calendar year||Complimentary HH Status – Gold *Upgraded to Diamond when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year||Complimentary HH Status – Diamond||Complimentary HH Status – Gold *Upgraded to Diamond when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year|
(as found on American Express Hilton card comparisons)
How will I get those points though???
Do you have bills that can be paid by credit card without a fee (utilities, cell phone, etc.)? What about groceries and gas? Assuming that you get the no annual fee card, if you spend $335 per month for the first 3 months, you will have 75,000 points that didn’t cost you anything extra or crazy to get it. Continue for another 9 months and by the end of the year, you should have an additional 15,075 points (335 for groceries and gas X 5 points for every $1 for 9 months).
Of course, if you’re spending $100 per month for each person and a family of 6, you’d spend a lot more and earn more. This reflects the minimum of what you could earn just from this one activity, it doesn’t consider your loyalty status which adds bonus points per level or any of the other things that can add more points for your spending.
The point here is to pay off that amount each month because it’s the same money you would’ve already been using at the grocery store and on gas anyway. You’re just making it work a little harder in your favor now. This is important, don’t get lazy and bargain with yourself about paying it. You’ll only disappoint yourself and rack up debt. Remember the goal is to make that money work for you and give you something back.
You can sign up and earn points as a member for free. But, once you hit the 75,000 points, you become a Gold Elite member which means more perks, more savings, and more points per $1.
We just figured out how you can do what you already do which is eat, feed your family and go to work to earn 90,000 points within a year. Let’s see how we can get a few more…
Easy ways to rack up more points:
Hilton Hotels (7pts per $1 spent) includes Canopy, Conrad, Curio, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton by Hilton, Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton Grand Vacations, Home2 Suites, Homewood Suites, LXR Hotels, Motto by Hilton, Tapestry Collection, Tru by Hilton, & Waldorf Astoria
Hilton Honors Dining (Bonus points at select restaurants, 2x – 8x per $1 depending on membership level)
Refer more members to joint. (20,000 points for me, 100,000 for you) Apply for an American Express Card with this link. We can both get rewarded if you’re approved! (Updated 02/14/2021)
If you’re going to get one for you and and another family member, you may as well refer them and get the points from it. Look in your account for your referral code. You can only earn it 4x per year but that could be an extra 80,000 points.
Shopping bonus points for restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations (5pts per $1 spent) but you also get regular purchases (3pts per $1 spent)
Shop to earn mall (varies)
Planning a wedding reception, conference, or meeting at a hotel? Earn 1 point per $1 for that too.
More Perks per Level
Bonus – Once you hit a certain level, you may be able to get your status matched at other hotels, car rental companies, or even cruise lines. I was able to get a status match at Best Western, Wyndham, and MSC. To see more possibilities for status matching, check out the Status Matcher.
The Proof is in the Pudding (or the Stays)
In the last 3-4 years, we’ve earned free stays at the following hotels:
Clearwater Beach, Courtyard Dallas, Doubletree Dallas, Embassy Suites Walnut Creek, Sand Key Sheraton, Doubletree Montreal, Ritz Carlton New Orleans, Waldorf Orlando (twice), Waldorf New Orleans, Courtyard Tampa Downtown, Doubletree Key West, Hilton Wolburn MA, Embassy Suites Napa Valley, Townplace Suites San Mateo, Embassy Suites Chicago, Embassy Suites O’hare (Chicago), Embassy Suites Miami Airport, Versailles Waldorf Astoria, Embassy Suites Jacksonville Baymeadows, Waterline Marina Bay Resort, Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo, Grand Bohemian Orlando, & Doubletree Asheville.
We used to let our points slip through our fingers because we thought we didn’t travel enough to ever be able to use them and they’d expire usually right before our next trip. As you can see, we’re loyal to Hilton and Marriott so there are some loyalty programs that we just don’t get to use as much so those points can and will expire but you can also transfer them before that happens.
Remember that peak time still matters when you’re booking, you use less points during off peak, so your points go further. Use the availability calendar on Hilton’s site to see when the best time to use your points is. Cheap travel means you always must be flexible.
Now, you know how to grab a free vacay once a year or at least a free weekend stay. Don’t be discouraged though if you have some credit challenges. It’s never too late to start improving your credit and working your way to a free night. Here’s some helpful tips that can get you on your way.
- Check your credit, know what you have on it and what you need to improve. Try Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Annual Credit Report for free.
- Pay bills on time, prepare a budget and stick to it. It’s just like a diet, plan a splurge every now and then so you don’t let yourself down in the end.
- We’re here to talk about travel so we’re not going too talk much about credit but there are some great resources out there that can help you improve your credit. Get a healthy obsession for fixing it and you will.
I’d love to hear about your success in getting some free nights so please come back and share.
You can also use points for experiences, concerts, foodie events, and more.
Okay now, go wander…