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Discounts on the stuff you are going to buy anyway are a beautiful thing.
But time is precious. Even saving 90% on a low-cost item we will only buy once probably isn’t worth much effort. On the other hand, with frequent purchases or high cost items even a few percent savings can be significant.
For us, hotels are one of those frequent purchases, so I have put extra effort into maximizing our discounts. Of course the best discount is free, and it is fairly easy to get free hotel stays. For those nights that we purchase, we typically get 20%+ off (as explained here. This post expands on that content.)
This post reviews some of the nuances of maximizing our ROI on hotel spend. I couldn’t find a good summary elsewhere so I decided to write one myself.
Even if you aren’t interested in saving $ on hotels, the thought process may still be mildly entertaining. If not, come back next post for more good times!
Sometimes one travel website will have lower prices than another for a given hotel (it always pays to check)… but being the 21st century and all, I’ve found the majority of them to be much the same. Except Hotels.com. (“The Obvious Choice”?)
Hotels.com Free Nights
Stay at any one of the 285,000 or so hotels on Hotels.com and you earn free night credit. After 10 nights, you get a free night.
The value of the free night is the average price of the 10 nights you collected (sans taxes), or 10% off. We used 2 free nights while we were in Europe, and earned another one upon returning to Taipei.
A couple things to be aware of:
- Stays register 2-3 days post-checkout, so free nights don’t help with consecutive stays.
- A free night must be available at booking time. We can’t book an 11-night stay and automatically get the 11th night free.
- Booking via Hotels.com usually means no rewards points from the big hotel chains (e.g. Marriott, SPG, Hyatt, etc…) These can sometimes be more valuable (do the math) particularly if paired with a hotel credit card.
Bonus: if you’ve never booked with Hotels.com, you can get $50 off your first booking. Just in time for the holidays! (We would also get $50.)
Maximize Value of Free Nights
Of course, a night is only “free” if the hotel price is equal to the amount of credit we’ve built up. In practice, the hotel price is either higher, lower, or equal to the credit value.
- Higher – We lose the surplus. Don’t book a $50 room with a $100 free night credit.
- Lower – We lose future value. Don’t book a $300 room with a $100 free night. The $200 excess would have provided $20 off a future stay (10%.)
- Equal – Free Hotel! Yes!
For any multi-night reservation, the credit automatically applies to the most expensive night.
As an example, we stayed 3 nights at the Eurostars Hotel Plaza Mayor, Madrid (the location was great!) I had 2 free night credits when booking this hotel (~$65 each from our time in Thailand & Malaysia), but chose not to use them at this time.
Instead, I used the credit on lower cost hotels elsewhere in Spain.
For bonus points:
Booking 2 or more consecutive reservations may allow targeting the credit to a specific (best value) night. Upon check-in we just inform the front desk that we have multiple reservations. I’ve done this on multiple occasions.
(As an aside, having multiple reservations can also be nice when booking a long stay at a hotel you’ve never seen. We will sometimes make one reservation equal to the free cancellation window plus a day, and a second for the rest of our stay. This allows a night to experience the hotel before committing for the long term.)
Breakfast & Other Extras
If you are going to add breakfast or other services to a reservation, all else being equal it is best if these are included in the room rate.
Free nights are only earned on the room rate, not extras or taxes.
Hotels.com Gift Card Best Practices
In the post Never Pay Retail Again, I outlined how we use discounted Hotels.com gift cards to get additional savings on our hotel bookings. We are able to routinely purchase a dollar for 90 cents, sometimes less.
Now that you have a Hotels.com gift card (or 3… or 20…) how do we use them?
Making a Reservation
Using a Gift Card to book a reservation is as easy as using a credit card. Using my beloved Eurostars Hotel Plaza Mayor, Madrid as an example, the Gift Card payment option is front and center…
Combining Gift Cards
The booking interface only allows use of one Gift Card.
But I have $11 left over on one card… and I bought a $50 card for $10 off during a promotion (currently available)… and I got a $100 card for 10.2% off during a Raise.com bonus sale… none of these come close to paying for this reservation.
Don’t fret… we can combine the cards into one on the Hotels.com Gift Card portal. From here we can check a balance, combine multiple cards, or even exchange a coffee shop gift card for a shiny new Hotels.com GC.
Cash Back Portals
In the comments, it was correctly pointed out that I was remiss to not mention cash back portals in this post.
I’ve been using Ebates to automagically get 3% back on hotels.com bookings. You just click through a portal and cash back appears in your account. I’ve provided detailed examples of this in this post.
There are other portals, some/many of which offer even great savings. Cashback Monitor keeps track of which cash back portal currently offers the best savings. In the comments, befrugal was mentioned as offering 4-7% cash back. Sounds good to me!
Additionally, many of these cash back sites monitor all online coupons and discount codes. At present, there are coupons for up to 8% off select hotels, and $10 off an order of $50+.
In other words, it pays to reserve hotels through a cash back portal!
I couldn’t find a good summary of how to maximize hotel value, so I decided to write one to fill the void.
The overall goal is to get the maximum cash back and minimum prices on hotel stays. We get this by using rewards programs, discounted gift cards, and cash back shopping portals.
The Hotels.com Rewards program provides one free night after every 10 paid nights in the form of a credit on future stays. By booking hotels of similar or equal value, we can maximize the value of this credit. Sometimes this requires making multiple consecutive reservations.
Similarly, we can maximize the value of Hotels.com Gift cards by purchasing multiple cards at the deepest discount, then combining into one GC at time of booking. This way we get the lowest price and use every penny.
Finally, cash back portals offer a combination of cash back and online coupons, which result in even greater savings.
Since we spend a lot of nights in hotels, we’ve tested this strategy and done well with it. If you are interested in getting maximum hotel value in this way, these (affiliate) links will get you started (new customers only):
- $50 off your 1st Hotels.com reservation
- $5 off your 1st discounted Hotels.com gift card from Raise.com
- $10 off and 3% cash back from Ebates (more here.)
- $10 off and 4-7% cash back from befrugal