Want a FREE hotel stay hack? Did you know you can stay in hotels for free? We do it all the time! (Yes, even in 2022!!)
We are always on the hunt for some of the best places to travel in the US and we love to do it on the cheap whenever we can!
In this article, I’m going to teach you how to stay in hotels for free and other hotel hacks for getting perks and freebies.
Keep scrolling to discover how you, too, can stay in a hotel for free!
How to Stay in Hotels for Free!
I’ll be upfront and admit that I don’t like to stay in cheap hotels.
When I begin researching a trip and making hotel reservations, I want to find the best hotel for the least amount of money and, if possible, I want to be pampered. Who doesn’t, right?
Since I have champagne taste on a beer budget, I have to do a little bit of leg work if I’m going to be pampered without breaking the bank!
We are always on the hunt for some of the best places to travel in the US and we love to do it on the cheap whenever we can!
Snagging a great deal or getting an upgrade is half the fun in my opinion. Some people fish, I search for deals on hotel stays…it’s my thing. 🙂
We generally take two long road trips per year between 10-18 days each, and I rarely pay for more than seven of those nights out of pocket. When I do pay, I either get a substantial discount, earn points toward my next free hotel stay, or pay for a standard room but sleep in a suite.
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If you answered YES to any of these questions, then The Travel Expense Tracker™️ can help you.
Hotel Stay Hack #1: Sign Up and Earn Hotel Loyalty Points
The #1 hotel hack to stay in hotels for FREE is to earn loyalty points!
If you aren’t a member of a loyalty program, you should be! I recommend you sign up for any and all loyalty hotel programs that you know you stay in regularly.
Then sign up for a few more just in case.
We are members of all the major hotel chains because there are generally rewards even at the lowest tier levels and many hotel chains will match the level of their competitors. Yay, more chances to earn free hotel rooms!
I’m currently signed up for these loyalty programs, in order of most used.
We have been members of the Marriott Bonvoy Loyalty Program (formerly Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest, or SPG) for over seven years, and booking directly through Marriott is almost always the cheapest way to book hotels and get free hotel stays.
Bonus Hotel Hack: ALWAYS compare the total cost of your stay with the free nights against the rate on popular booking sites like Booking.com or Expedia because hotels will match their rates.
Hotel Stay Hack #2: Book Hotels Directly
The cheapest way to book hotels is always directly. All the major hotel chains have the Best Rate Guarantee ensuring that you can’t overpay by booking directly.
- Marriott Bonvoy™ – Travel with Peace of Mind Thanks to Our Best Rate Guarantee, Flexible Cancellation Policy, and Commitment to Clean Standards.
- Hilton Hotels promises: Book on Hilton.com – Best price, best perks and price match guarantee: If you find a lower rate, we will match it, plus give you 25% off. Expect better, expect Hilton!
- IHG: IHG|Best Price Guarantee
- Choice Hotels Promises: If you happen to find a lower published price for the same date and terms on any other qualified online source, we’ll not only match that rate—we’ll also give U.S. and Canada residents a $50 Reward Card (in USD or CAD respectively) to spend any way you want.
I once called the hotel reservation line directly to verify if booking through the third party booking site would eliminate my ability to earn points on my stay and, instead of answering my question, they booked my room directly for the same rate at the third party site and I earned points on my stay.
It pays to always do your homework, but more often than not, booking directly with the hotel is the cheapest way to book.
I reserve online travel agencies like Booking.com, Expedia, and Hotels.com for last-minute hotel deals only if my hotel of choice is already booked.
Related Reading: Is It Cheaper to RV Camp or Stay in a Hotel?
Hotel Stay Hack #3: Sign Up For Co-Branded Loyalty Credit Cards
This one is the bread and butter of my free week’s vacation every year. Having co-branded American Express cards with Hilton Honors AND Marriott Bonvoy enables us to rack up points.
We also keep the Chase Sapphire card and a Visa Co-branded Marriot Card for those times when we can’t use our American Express.
Few people realize just how powerful the combination of a loyalty program and the right credit card can be. This is because holding one of these credit cards moves you up the loyalty status chain faster than otherwise possible.
We combine those points with the points we earn through the loyalty programs and that is how we usually manage to get at least 7-14 days of FREE HOTEL STAYS per year.
It probably comes as no surprise that you can earn points for discounts and free hotel stays through hotel loyalty programs, but the key to unlocking the best rates and perks on hotel stays is combining a loyalty program matched credit card, like the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express card with a membership in the Marriott Bonvoy Loyalty program.
Ways To Earn Points With Co-Branded Loyalty Cards
- HUGE SIGN ON POINT BONUS: They generally offer a huge sign on bonus of points for applying. Be sure to check your emails and online in several places because the offers can vary widely and be much larger at some times than others. I’ve noticed huge offers come just after the holidays in my email.
- BOOK HOTEL WITH BRAND SPECIFIC CARD: Use the specific branded card when booking the brand hotel for double, triple, sometimes as high as 12-14x the bonus points per dollar spent. That means for every dollar you spend on that card with your hotel, they give you 12-14 points. Guess what? If you are signed up for the loyalty program this is in addition to the points you get with the program. We have received as high as 10,000-12,000 points on a $1000 stay before. To put that into perspective, most hotel stays cost between 35K-80K points per night depending on hotel brand. That means that your paid booking alone has earned you 1/3 of a free night just with the points. Once that is added to all your other spending and travel point bonuses, it is pretty easy in a year’s time to earn at least 2-3 nights if you travel much throughout the year.
- REFER A FRIEND FOR EVEN MORE BONUS: Another great way to rack up some extra points and help your friends and family is to use the refer a freind links on your social channels and via email. Most credit cards will give you 20K-40K extra points for each referral and your friends can get as much as 100K-130K points. Again, that is on the order of 1-2 hotel nights per referral for you and 3-4 nights for your friends for a standard hotel room.
- WATCH EMAILS FOR SPECIAL DOUBLE AND TRIPPLE BOOKING TIMES: Once you get these cards (and loyalty programs), don’t ignore your emails. There are so many promotions that go out each month on both and numerous opportunities to earn extra points by shopping with promotional merchants or booking during certain promotional periods.
Besides receiving multiple free hotel room stays per year, we also receive numerous suite upgrades. We always ask for these even if we aren’t loyalty members, but becoming loyal to one particular hotel chain certainly has increased our odds.
You can imagine our excitement in Toronto, Canada when our Platinum Elite status earned us an upgrade to the Penthouse Suite at the Westin in downtown Toronto and it was PAID FOR WITH REWARD POINTS!
I told you I would show you how to get a free hotel room! Membership CERTAINLY has its BENEFITS!!
Hotel Stay Hack #4- Refer a Friend Links to Earn MORE Bonus Points
I know I already mentioned this one above, but I felt it also deserved its own bullet point because these programs often offer tons of extra bonus points. I also wanted to share with you the cards I currently keep.
- American Express Platinium– This one is only going to be in my wallet a few more months becuase the annual fee has not earned it’s keep for us. The primary means of earning points on this card is via air travel and we just don’t travel that way enough to justify the expense. However, if you are an avid airline traveler, you may wish to consider it because it does come with a nice perk of transferring points between airlines and hotel programs.
- American Express Marriott Bonvoy- Read a detailed description of this program below.
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card– This one costs $95 per year, but comes with higher points per $1 spent. Up to 12x points for every dolloar spent on a Hilton Hotel, plus 6x points on restaurants, grocery, and gas and 3x points on all other purchases. It doesn’t take long to rack up the points and it usually comes with a nice sign on point bonus. You also earn immediate Gold Status with Hilton which earns you more perks and free stays
- Hilton Honors American Express– The free Hilton Honors card. It comes with a bonus sign on that is usually smaller than the Surpass card, but not bad for free card. You also get Silver status and earn 7x points on Hilton stays, 5x on restaurants, gas, and grocery, and 3x on other purchases.
- Marriott Bonvoy Visa- We keep this one so we can earn double the points with Marrriott even if we can’t use our American Express
- Chase Saphire Visa– The Chase Sappire works for all those times we can’t book our preferred brands or when we stay at Campgrounds and in Houses. The bonus to this card is that the points you earn can then be transferred out to other loyalty programs. They can be used for airlines and cars, but we love it because they can be transferred to IHG, Hyatt, and, you guessed it: Marriott! So as you can see, we triple up on our Marriott points and with them having the largest selection of hotels, we can stretch these points for our road trips pretty easily.
*A thorough comparison of every hotel loyalty program and matched hotel credit card goes beyond the scope of this article. Our favorite go to site to compare current credit card offers and hotel loyalty programs is The Points Guy.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Perks
- Free Night Award– Right out of the gate, owning the the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant AMEX card gets you a free night in a hotel. Cardholders receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary.
- EARN 6X MARRIOTT BONVOY POINTS on hotel stays- For every dollar spent on a Marriott hotel you earn 6 points. (NOTE: 4 OF THOSE POINTS COME FROM BOOKING DIRECT WITH THE HOTEL so once again this is the best option for loyalty cardholders)
- EARN 3X MARRIOTT BONVOY POINTS on restaurants and airlines- as you can see, for the traveler, it doesn’t take long to rack up points both at home and while traveling using this card.
- Automatic placement in an elite status category- While simply owning a loyalty credit card won’t move you to the highest tier, it will bump you to the next level above entry membership. With the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express you are automatically placed into the Gold Elite Status which earns you all the benefits of the entry level Silver Elite PLUS a 25% bonus on points earned per night, enhanced room upgrade when available, 2pm late check out, and a loyalty guest gift at check in. (This is usually 500 extra points or a market item)
- Elite Night Credit Award– Owning this card will get you a credit with the loyalty program of 15 nights. Combining these 15 awarded nights with your travel will quickly bump you into the Platinum Elite category earning you even more perks and a 50% bonus on every point you earn. As you can see, it’s a snowball effect once you achieve an elite status.
- Statement Credit of $300– I should probably mention that the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express does cost $450 per year, HOWEVER, before you roll your eyes and say you can’t afford that, recognize that you receive a $300 statement credit back, plus the added 15 night credit and the free hotel night award brings more than the $450 annual fee right back to you.
Hotel Stay Hack #5: Book Hotel Convention Rates
You can save a significant amount of money on hotels by booking conventions and extending your stay beyond the actual convention for the same nightly discounted rate. We often turn work into a “mini-vacation” by attending conventions related to my or my husband’s field of work. Even if you aren’t in a field that requires continuing education, you may still be able to find a convention that suits you or your spouse’s particular work or interests.
Think outside the box for a minute while I help you brainstorm.
- Are you a professional by trade who needs continuing education?
- Do you homeschool your children?
- Are you interested in learning more about online business?
- Are you a teacher?
- Do you work in a service industry?
- Do you have a child with special needs? (I have researched food allergy conventions to learn more about helping my kids navigate life with multiple food allergies.)
- Do you have a cheerleader, dancer, ball player, or band member in your family?
All of these are legitimate reasons to attend a convention.
Full Disclosure: There will be a fee to attend the convention, and I am not advocating that you sign up and not attend, but if the convention is in line with your work or interests and you can book a few extra nights on the convention rate (which is often the case), then why not turn work into pleasure?
How Do You Find Conventions To Attend?
- First, check the trade journals you receive to see if there are any conventions in places you would like to attend.
- Second, you can try a simple google search.
For example: “Pharmacy Continuing Education Marriott” returned the following results:
Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa … 129th Annual Meeting and Convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida July 10, 2019- July 13, 2019.
Here is a comparison of how the rates for the convention stacked up against the regular rates for a Marriott member.
- Run of the House: $189
- Intracoastal View: $199
- Ocean View: $219
- Ocean Front: $249
Marriott Member Rate:
- Standard Guest Room: $193
- Intracoastal View: $284
- Ocean View: $310
- Ocean Front: $304
The convention runs from July 10-July 13th, but the booking window for the resort is from July 7th-July 17th. As you can see, you could easily turn a work weekend into nearly a week of vacation to the tune of a $50 -85 per night discount.
Disney Resort Discounts
Did you know you can attend conventions at Disney Resorts and stay on Disney property for a 65% discount off the hotel rack rates? If you know anything about Disney Hotels, you know the rates can be quite astronomical.
Convention attendees also receive discounts on Disney tickets and bonus water park days which equal approximately 10-15% off the published ticket prices. (We also upgraded these tickets for annual passes one year at the FULL GATE PRICE for additional savings, but that is another tip for another time.)
When we can’t find a convention to attend, we have also saved a significant amount on Disney Resorts by booking through David’s DVC Rentals.
Hotel Stay Hack #6: Use Your Affiliations & Online Travel Agencies
If you choose not to join a hotel rewards program, reread this article! 😉 Just kiddin.
Don’t forget to mention if you are a AAA, AARP, in the Military, or Government employee to receive a discount. Sometimes these rates will be lower than the direct hotel rate; however, not often.
State employees and homeschool teachers can also receive discounts in some locations. The general rule of thumb is it never hurts to ask!
Hotels.com also has a rewards program that gives you a free night after 10 nights booked.
Hotel Stay Hack #7: Book Last Minute Hotels
Despite the fact that most articles online recommend getting a last-minute hotel deal, in my experience, hotel rooms are not cheaper last minute.
Sure, using an app like Hotels Tonight might find you a cheaper hotel or a room when everyone else is booked, but I find using Hotel Tonight difficult for last-minute hotel reservations because they always offer the caveat that the hotel rooms are for 2 people with no way to guarantee the number of beds. Unless you are traveling solo or as a couple, booking a room without knowing the number of beds is pretty risky in my opinion.
If my hotel choice is sold out, using Booking.com can save money and headaches on a last-minute deal, but most often it is better to book the advance no refund rate directly with the hotel for the absolute bottom dollar.
When Is the Perfect Time To Book A Hotel Room?
In my experience, booking between 75-90 days out is the best time to book a refundable room. Then, as the time draws near, begin double-checking the rates for last-minute stays when you are within 30 days of departure. However, the rates drop most dramatically within 7 days of departure.
What Day Of The Week Is Best To Book Your Hotel?
According to Kayak’s Global Hotel Study, the best day of the week to book a hotel is Friday or Saturday. Rates are generally higher Monday through Wednesday.
Check-in days, however, are cheapest on Sundays with rates rising significantly on Friday and Saturdays.
So book your hotel room on a Friday or Saturday, but book the stay for a Sunday-Thursday for the lowest possible rates.
Do you have some tips for saving on hotel stays that I missed? Leave me a comment and let me know.
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