In a lot of ways, vacations can be as cheap or as expensive as you make them.
If you want to stay only in high-end resorts, for example, you should expect to shell out a ton of cash for the experience. Meanwhile, if you’ll stay almost anywhere, you can save a ton by shopping around for the best hotel rates and booking something cheap.
If you’re willing to think outside of the box, that’s even better. Truth be told, there are a ton of ways you can whittle down your vacation tab – and even get part of it for free.
One of the easiest ways to score free hotel nights is, and always has been, taking advantage of hotel loyalty programs. And one of the most popular programs for domestic and overseas stays is Marriott Rewards and its partner program – Ritz Carlton Rewards. Although these programs stand on their own, the points you earn in either program are redeemable for travel in both. Since this post is focused on frugal travel, let’s talk about how Marriott Rewards points work.
How to Earn Marriott Rewards points
You can earn Marriott points for completing paid stays at Marriott properties worldwide — or you can take the easy route. With the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card, you can start building a stash of points without completing any hotel stays at all. Here are the details:
Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Earn 80,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Plus, Earn 7,500 bonus points when you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Enjoy 1 Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date!
- Earn unlimited Marriott Rewards points and get free stays faster
- Earn 5 points per $1 spent at participating Marriott locations & 2 points per $1 spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants
- Earn 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else
- The fastest way to earn Marriott Rewards Elite Status. Receive 15 Elite Credits guaranteeing Silver Elite Status or better. Plus, Earn 1 Elite Credit for every $3,000 spent on purchases
- All for an $85 Annual Fee
Whether you earn points on paid stays or take the easy way out — or both – Marriott points are pretty easy to stretch. This chart summarizes how many points you will need for each free hotel stay:
|Hotel Category||Points Per Night||PointSavers Reward|
As you can see, Marriott offers a “PointSavers” option that may be available for certain hotels on certain dates. It is never guaranteed, but it is always good to check to see if it’s available before you book your free nights.
And don’t forget, with Marriott Rewards, your fifth consecutive night paid with points is free. In other words, you only need to fork over enough points for four nights in order to stay five. If you want to browse through various Marriott properties to see which category your favorites fall into, you can do so here.
How to Use Marriott Points for a Cheap Vacation
Now that you know what Marriott points are worth and how to earn them, it’s time to explore how to get the most out of them. Here are five easy ways:
Strategy No. 1: Stick to Category 1 or 2 Properties
If you want to stretch your Marriott points as far as they can go, you’re better off sticking to the lowest-tier properties. Spending six nights in a Category 2 property, for example, would only cost you 50,000 Marriott points after you get your fifth night free. Lower-category properties are generally farther away from big tourist destinations and cities, but driving a few extra miles each day could be worth it for several free nights near your favorite spot.
Strategy No. 2: Talk Your Spouse Into a Card
What’s better than one sign-up bonus? Two, of course. If you want to earn as many points as possible, you and your spouse can sign up and pool your points for either a long stay or a shorter stay at a higher-end property. The choice is yours.
Strategy No. 3: Opt for a Shorter, Fancier Stay
If you’re not looking for a weeklong vacation, it will be much easier to rack up enough points for a weekend (or even a long weekend) at a mid-tier property. For example, one signup bonus is enough for three nights at a Category 3 property … and almost three nights at a Category 4 property.
Strategy No. 4: Tack Your Free Stays on the End of Your Regular Vacation
Already going somewhere? Check the area for Marriott properties and consider tacking your free nights onto the beginning or end of the stay you already have planned. Since simply getting somewhere is often a major chunk of your vacation expense, I can’t think of a better way to prolong your trip than by earning a few more free nights.
Strategy No. 5: Wait 12 Months to Redeem Your Free Night
The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card comes with a free night at a Category 1-5 property after your first year of card ownership. If you accrue points for 12 months and wait it out, you could score yet another free night to use in conjunction with the nights you book with points.
The bottom line: It’s easy to earn Marriott Rewards points and even easier to use them to cut down on the costs of your trip. And if you can get part of your trip for free, that just leaves more money to spend on the things that matter most.