Travel is expensive, with airfare and lodging often being the two largest expenses.  They add up even more quickly when you are traveling with family.  When it comes to airfare, there are limited options when you have fixed plans.  Fortunately, there are far more choices when it comes to lodging. Since I love traveling with my family, I often have to budget for 2 rooms whenever we travel together.  As a result, I’m always on the lookout for ways to save on hotel costs.

1. Book with Points or “Free Nights” (Cheapest)

Assuming you have hotel points or free night certificates, the cheapest option is to book using those instruments.  I am of the camp that points should not be hoarded as they depreciate over time.  To make the redemption more valuable, check to see if you can make use of 5th night free redemption offers (i.e. Hilton or Starwood)

2. Book with “Cash + Points”

If you don’t have enough points for a full redemption, many hotel programs offer a “cash + points” redemption.   It works just as the name implies — you can redeem for a night at a reduced points rate plus a cash portion.  You can sometimes get a good value with this option, especially if you have leftover hotel points and wanted to reduce your cash outlay.

I’d still do a quick calculation to see if you would be better off paying the nightly rate.  Valuation differs across programs, but I’ve seen a cash + points redemption ($120 + 20,000 points) for a room that has a nightly rate of $200.  The cash and points would not be a good deal to me if I value the 20,000 points to be worth more than $80.

3. Book with “Cash” and “Points”

Your eyes are not playing tricks on you.  You can save using “Cash” and “Points”.  Unlike the previous option, the points are not hotel-specific and can include other flexible programs like Citi’s thankyou points, Amex’s membership rewards points, or Chase’s ultimate rewards points. You can mix and match.

For example, let’s assume you need 5 nights and the rate is $200 per night (or $1000 total).  If you can mix and match and cover 2 nights with other programs (whether that’s booking directly with the hotel or transferring to the hotel program), then you total cash outlay is $600.  It’s still savings and best of all, the paid portion is elite qualifying as well!

4. Cash is King, but bundle with other Benefits

If you have no points, that’s okay. Cash is still king, though you could benefit by bundling paid reservations with other available perks. For example, the Citi Prestige card offers a 4th free night benefit,  which potentially means hundreds of dollars in savings.  The card comes with a hefty annual fee, but I find that the 4th night free benefit, the lounge access, and $250 travel credit makes up for the fee.

5.  Non-hotel options: Airbnb

Last but not least, rental options such as airbnb is a good alternative if the size of your party does not work out with the maximum number of guests per room at a hotel.  You would be able to save by not having to book multiple rooms, but by renting one apartment or house that could accomodate your party.


Having these options means you’ll need to spend more time researching the options and crunching numbers to figure out which is the best deal.  Still, I’d much prefer to spend more time looking into various ways to save on expenses (the fun part!) than to have no options at all.