New Year's Eve and Other Events that Make Hotel Points More Valuable

When valuing hotel points, it's often easy to accept that you won't be getting anywhere near the same redemption numbers as with airline miles. Hilton points are mostly redeemed at 0.4-0.6 cents-per-point and IHG at 0.5-0.7cpp, and so on. Where these values tend to skew favorably is when the hotel's rates are abnormally high because of special events occurring in the area. Today, we'll take a look at this opportunity for point-value maximization by sampling New Year's Eve options and list other potential event opportunities.

New Year's Eve Redemptions by Hotel Group

For our NYE sample, we'll look at a two-night stay from December 30th-January 1st and compare it to a January 20th-22nd stay. While this is by no means a perfect method for comparing the price-difference between a normal stay and a popular event stay, it's a decent starting point. Rather than follow a strict formula for picking properties, I'll try to use examples that best assess each hotel group's sweet spots and shortcomings.

Hilton Hotels

Hilton Hotels in New York City: NYC has the most notable, if not the best NYE celebration in the United States, and less than a month out, many Hilton properties are still available on points, even for our short stay of two nights (sometimes thanks to my Hilton Diamond status). For example, Hilton Time Square quoted me $2200 for our two-night sample stay or 160,000 Hilton Honors points. That may sound like a lot of points, but they're not really that hard to come by and this reflects a redemption value of 1.38cpp instead of the paltry 0.29cpp ($400/140k) offered three weeks later. It is hard to create a higher redemption value than that with Hilton points. There are half-a-dozen Manhattan Hilton properties still available on points.

Hampton Inn & Suites Mexico City: Okay, so I said it would be hard to create a higher cents-per-point valuation than the NYC redemption, but this hotel is always a sweet spot on the Hilton award chart. For 10k HHonors points per night, you can locate yourself right in the center of the action, next to the main square of the largest city in the world. Price for our two sample dates were $300 (1.5cpp) for New Years and for the January dates, making this a great opportunity any time!

In the event that you need Diamond elite status to override minimum stay lengths for busy travel dates, know that it's pretty easy to status-match from another program. I did it through this method, although currently the offer is only for 90 days of status. Hilton seems to offer a few good opportunities per year, so keep your ear to the ground for those moments!

Hyatt Hotels

Cartagena Hyatt Regency: It's no secret I'm coveting a visit to this brand new property, since I wrote about it last month. At $696 or 16k Hyatt points, this hotel is an impressive 4.3cpp redemption for NYE! Even though Colombia is still in its summer high season, moving that stay three weeks into January reduces the price to $418/16k points or 2.6cpp, which is more in-line with typical Hyatt redemptions.

Hyatt Hotels in New Orleans: Both the Hyatt Regency and Hyatt House were going for more than $400 per night, but point redemptions were not available on those dates. It's not clear whether this is because we are so late to the game, or if they blackout those dates. I would guess the latter, since Hyatt Regency houses Big Night New Orleans (which I attended last year!). Hyatt Place was available on points when I searched, but is poorly located for festivities and isn't a great redemption value.

Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG)

IHG Hotels in San Francisco: It seems IHG hotels are not quite the NYE value that other hotel groups can be, with Holiday Inn Express & Suites Fisherman's Wharf coming in at $610/80k points (0.76cpp) for our NYE stay or $450/80k points (0.56cpp) in January. Both Intercontinental San Francisco and Mark Hopkins Intercontinental were going for just better than 0.5cpp, which I wouldn't even do as a normal redemption, although there's over $300 value to be had in using a free night certificate for one of those properties. In fact, the free night at any IHG property worldwide that every Chase IHG cardholder receives as an anniversary bonus is probably the best way to leverage any higher-end IHG property NYE award redemption.

One thing to note about IHG hotels, particularly the Intercontinental properties, is that I often found New Year's Eve to be sold out of points stays in multiple cities, while the days around it never were. This was not the case in our San Francisco example, but the general trend leads me to believe that these properties just capacity-controlled NYE to where very few people could take advantage of a points stay.

Marriott Hotels & Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)

Sheraton Times Square Hotel: This hotel, as is the case with a number of other SPG hotels in NYC is going for about 5cpp for our NYE sample dates. Normally, I'd expect 2-3cpp for SPG points, so this is definitely a good opportunity if you don't have a better use for those points (more on that later). Our January price-check saw the same properties, such as this Sheraton, going for about 1/3 the NYE rate, but then again, it is January in the Northeast!

New York Marriott Marquis: I went straight to the best redemption rate I could find, and it certainly is a good one for this NYE booking. At $2,200/90k points for our two-night NYE stay, this hotel is offers us more than 2.4cpp redeeming Marriott rewards points. Since Marriott has recently purchased Starwood and is offering 3:1 exchange for SPG points, you can directly compare the valuation of this Marriott hotel to the Sheraton Times Square. By transferring SPG to Marriott, you'd get $2,200/30k for a valuation of approximately 7.3cpp in SPG points and the Marriott Marquis also gets the better reviews online for what that's worth.

By using Marriott or SPG points, you could achieve 3x their normal value, but there may be an even better redemption. If you've been following along here at Thorpe Travel, you'll remember that I find Marriott Hotel + Air Packages to be just about the best deal in town. If not, go have a look at this post, where you'll learn how to parlay your hotel points into airline miles and still get yourself a nice week-long stay.

Wyndham Hotels

Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront: This hotel would make a strong 1.5cpp redemption at NYE prices ($450/30k points for our two nights), but the date is blacked out. It's quite possible that some people managed to snag the booking by planning further ahead, as 2 nights tied into 4th of July are readily available for $620/30k points for a redemption value of nearly 2.1cpp. That's a tremendous redemption value and one could argue that date is a better time to be in Chicago anyway! Just for kicks, I checked our January 20-22 dates and the property was bookable for $250/30k points, or a little bit less than 1cpp, so that 4th of July booking creates double the average value.

Wyndham International Properties: I looked at both all-inclusive properties in Cancun and several other locations without finding availability on NYE, so my guess is that the availability was probably there at some point, but is less than what these properties would make bookable on a run-of-the-mill evening. In general, it seems the key to maxing value on your Wyndham redemptions involves planning ahead.

For those of you not as familiar with Wyndham Rewards, it's a newer program, whereby most any property held by Wyndham is available for a flat rate of 15k points per night. Translation: great values at the higher end properties and terrible values at their lower brands like Days Inn or Super8. You can currently get enough points for three nights by signing up for the Barclay Wyndham Rewards credit card and if you need some inspiration, here's the DOC's list of Wyndham Properties.

Other ideas for high-value hotel award redemption opportunities

  • Major sporting events
  • Location-specific festivals
  • High-season tourism destinations
  • National holidays
  • Conventions and other shared-interest gatherings

The Bottom Line

While we've only just scratched the surface of maximizing our hotel point values by booking during high-occupancy occasions such as New Year's Eve, I think it's quite clear that there are some major opportunities to be found. Even with just 3 weeks until NYE, I was able to find award space at most of the major hotel groups for stays in high-interest NYE destinations and unearthed stays that would triple the value of your points.

Given this data, it seems prudent to consider booking cash on low-occupancy dates if you know you'll need a hotel during a big event. Of course, your valuations will change if you hang onto your points through a program devaluation, so keep that in mind, too.


Travel Together: A Ridiculous Hyatt Points + Cash Redemption in Cartagena

Cartagena City View from Bocagrande

Cartagena City View from Bocagrande

Recently, a group of old friends and I headed to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for some sun. We had such a good time that there has been talk of taking another trip together. While I would have no problem heading back to Cabo with this awesome group, I thought it might be fun to explore other options for next time. I've also been spending some time researching the Hyatt Gold Passport Rewards Program and How to Always Get 10-15% off Hyatt Hotels. This post will explain how to stack both opportunities for a ridiculously good deal in Cartagena, Colombia!

Why Cartagena for the Next Trip?

Cartagena is an obvious candidate for a future trip for many reasons. The main argument against it is that it's a bit farther away than tropical destinations in Mexico, but in it's favor:

  1. Flights on Avianca (read: nice, new airplanes) from LAX, often for similar prices to other places with tropical weather like Cabo or Cancun in Mexico.
  2. Cartagena feels adventurous compared to more typical US leisure destinations, but enough Americans go that it sufficiently caters to that crowd, too.
  3. Colombia is a discount destination, where most things cost half what they'd cost in the United States. A 15-20 minutes taxi ride costs about $5 and a full meal with drinks at a restaurant can be had for $5-15 per person. Even drinks at trendy nightclubs will only set you back a couple bucks!
  4. Speaking of clubs, Cartagena has a great nightlife scene, whether you want to dance or chill on a rooftop with some beers. There's enough to explore during the day, too, so no need to hang by the pool the whole time (though that sounds good!).
  5. Right now, there is an absolute steal of a hotel award redemption at the Hyatt Regency!

The Hotel: Hyatt Regency Cartagena

This hotel is so new, it isn't even open yet! The Hyatt Regency Cartagena in Barrio Bocagrande is currently taking reservations for December 19th, 2016 and on. From the photos available and information I was able to gather from the website, this is a premium hotel, but somehow it's only a Category 2 redemption for Hyatt Gold Passport members (more on why this is awesome later).

The Hyatt Regency is located just a three minute taxi ride from the main Cartagena action (Centro & Getsemani Neighborhoods) in an area populated by long strands of beach-front, high-rise hotels. Bocagrande is often spoken of as the "Colombian Miami Beach," although the beaches themselves aren't quite as nice.

Getting There: Flights on Avianca and Comparing Destination

First off, I'll make a few assumptions about trip length and appropriate travel dates:

  1. Colombia is a little farther than Caribbean destinations and significantly farther than Pacific Mexican resort towns, so I think 5 days (including the travel days) is the minimum.
  2. Since 5 days is the minimum optimal trip length, I decided to focus on weekends that also fall on US national holidays to reduce time-off work.

What I found is that typical Los Angeles-Cartagena roundtrip prices for dates associated with US three-day weekends are approximately $525-$550. Both sample dates involve the same flights from LAX to Bogota, but I changed the leg from Bogota to Cartagena in the second to show what's possible with an overnight in Bogota. Basically, by continuing to Cartagena the following day, we'd have time to go out and see the nightlife in Bogota instead of arriving in Cartagena at midnight and trying to force a late start to the evening there. This is effectively a two-for-one deal on Colombian cities!

As points of comparison, I checked the Memorial Day Weekend dates for flights to Cabo and Cancun and here's what I found:

The cheapest flight currently available to Cabo on an airline that is not known for crazy add-on fees and screwing up people's travel plans (I'm looking at you, Frontier!) is this Delta flight for $570 roundtrip. Basically, three-day US holiday weekends are out, since Cabo is priced for these...they know when we want to come.

Interjet will fly to Cancun for $460, which is a pretty good fare, considering that's nearly 5 hours of flying. However, at that point, the difference in cost between Cancun and Cartagena is less than $100, so Mexico really isn't that much of a flight bargain compared to Colombia. At that point, getting to visit the more exotic destination is probably worth the extra money.

Screen Shot 2016-11-01 at 10.54.12 AM.png

Back to the Good Stuff: Insanely Good Hyatt Award Redemption Values

As I mentioned before, I've been studying Hyatt Hotels for ways to travel hack my stays there. You already know from my previous post that you can always get 10-15% off about 500 Hyatt brand hotels throughout North and South America (Hyatt Regency Cartagena is included in this list). In addition, being a Category 2 hotel makes this particular Hyatt a great option for receiving luxury at a low price. I'm just going to leave the Bogota night out of the equation to make things easier to follow (it's easy to find a nice hotel room in Bogota for $50-$60 per night). Here's how I see it on a per-room basis and assuming a 3-night stay:

Option 1: 3 nights X 8,000 Hyatt points per night = 24,000 Hyatt points per room (two people)

Option 2: 3 nights X 4,000 Hyatt points + $55 = 12,000 Hyatt points + $165 per room (two people)

Option 3: 3 nights X 7,000 Hyatt points + $55 = 21,000 Hyatt points + $165 per room (two people)

At this point, you may be wondering where Options 2 and Option 3 came from, so now have a look at these charts below:

Screen Shot 2016-11-01 at 12.20.28 PM.png

Hyatt allows members to book award stays with a combination of points and cash, which is what was going on in Option 2. This keeps the hotel cost very minimal at $27.50 per person, per day while requiring half as many Hyatt points to execute.

Option 3 is just a variation of the previous option that adds a 3,000-point upgrade to "Club Level." The Club Level rooms are bigger, with better views and on higher floors, but perhaps the most significant benefit is free continental breakfast and "social hour" in the club lounge (read: free booze every afternoon). In Cabo, we really appreciated not having to go out to get breakfast and it was nice to get a good buzz "on the house." The big difference here is that each day we paid about $125 per person for those privileges plus the room in Cabo, whereas here it costs only $27.50 + 3,500 Hyatt points per person.

How good a deal is this? Best available room rates for this hotel start at $160 per night ($200 for club-level) and head north of $350 in high season and popular weekends.

Putting it All Together: Stacking the Hyatt Travel Hacks for Massive Group Savings

Let's just assume that we wanted to get 10 hotel rooms in Cartagena as simply and affordably as possible. Let's see what Option 2 would look like for 20 travelers:

  • 10 rooms X 3 nights = 30 nights
  • 30 nights X 4,000 points + $55 = 120,000 Hyatt points + $1,650

then, utilize the Hyatt gift card trick to reduce the cash part by at least 10%

  • $1,650 - 10% discount = $1,500

If just one of us picked up the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, the sign-up bonus plus a little spend would earn enough Chase points to transfer to 120,000 Hyatt points. That man would be an absolute hero and the group could take care of him by buying his food and drinks when we go out! That would leave us with a $1,500 hotel bill, split 20 ways.

Altogether, each person's flight + lodging expenses might look like this:

  • $540 for roundtrip airfare on Avianca
  • $75 for a 3-night stay in a brand-new luxury hotel
  • $60 for a 1-night stay in an excellent Bogota hotel like the B3 Virrey
Hotel B3 Virrey, located  walking distance from Zona T and Parque 93, Two of the hottest nightlife spots in Bogota

Hotel B3 Virrey, located  walking distance from Zona T and Parque 93, Two of the hottest nightlife spots in Bogota

Bogota Party Bus Tours could be fun for a group!

Bogota Party Bus Tours could be fun for a group!

The Bottom Line

For about $675, airfare and lodging for a 5-day trip to Colombia would be covered. Those who made Cabo a 5-day trip spent about $850 ($500+ for lodging, $350+ for airfare, not including a canceled flight fiasco that left several folks stranded another night). Since our hotel in Cabo was all-inclusive, we have to factor in several days of food/drink expenses, but we'd have an extra $175 each to work with and it would be easy to eat and drink lavishly for less than that amount in Colombia.

In short, a trip to Cartagena would be equally affordable to a return to Cabo or another Mexican destination, while providing the opportunity to experience something new together!

Do you want to take a vacation like this with your friends, but need some help planning the trip? Click the Travel Consulting tab at the top of this site to learn how I can be of service!

Redeeming a Marriott Hotel + Air Package in New Orleans!

AC Hotel New Orleans - Bourbon/French Quarter Area

AC Hotel New Orleans - Bourbon/French Quarter Area

A while back, I wrote about one of the most lucrative credit card sign-up bonus plays out there. I was able to leverage the Ritz Carlton Rewards card and some Chase Ultimate Rewards points into a Marriott Hotel + Air Package, which granted me 70,000 Southwest miles. By combining a Southwest Premier Rewards card (50,000-mile sign-up bonus) with this haul, I earned the coveted Southwest Companion Pass, making all our domestic travel effectively two-for-one in 2015 and 2016.

The main goal of this complicated strategy was to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, but a pleasant side-benefit was a 7-night stay at a Category 6 Marriott hotel. Now that award space is available through the holidays on Southwest, I've successfully booked our flights to New Orleans and applied the 7-night award certificate to the AC Hotel New Orleans in the Bourbon/French Quarter Area.

Our stay in "the Big Easy" coincides with New Year's Eve, which was no accident. Look no further than this Travel+Leisure article for evidence as to why this will be a great award redemption. For a number of years now, the popular travel publication has rated New Orleans the #1 place in the United States to ring in the new year and we will be doing it in style and on a budget!

The Ritz Carlton Rewards card grants Gold Elite status, and therefore, free breakfast every day!

The Ritz Carlton Rewards card grants Gold Elite status, and therefore, free breakfast every day!