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- I didn’t travel during the pandemic but I earned hundreds of thousands of points with credit cards.
- I’ll use these rewards for nice hotel stays in the US and abroad now that I’m fully vaccinated.
- I’ll stay for free in California, Yellowstone, and Mexico in rooms that go for $1,000 per night or more.
- Read Insider’s guide to the best rewards credit cards.
I’m a hotel person, through and through. While some people are all about using their credit card points for business- and first-class flights to ease the transit experience, for me, it’s all about where I’m staying once I reach my destination. I love studying the differences in the way hotels design their interiors, curate their menus, and fashion their customer experiences, and you’ll constantly find me researching new properties, even though my “to-stay” list is already a mile long.
But while many of my friends and family members stayed at hotels throughout 2020, I knew I wanted to wait — not just until things were safer from a COVID perspective, but also until I felt I could get the full experience from a property without pandemic-related closures and restrictions.
Now that those restrictions are beginning to relax and I’m fully vaccinated, though, I’m making up for lost time. My hotel credit cards each come with free night certificates that I’m excited to finally put to good use, and the points I’ve saved up during the pandemic are burning a hole in my pocket.
Here’s a look at my latest redemptions and how I earned the points to make them happen.
Bay Area and Napa
15.74% to 24.74% variable APR
Good to Excellent
Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months, plus up to $200 in Statement Credits for eligible purchases at U.S. Restaurants within the first 6 months of Card Membership
One of my first travel objectives post-vaccination was finding a place I could get my family together after way too much time apart. We settled on the Bay Area and Napa — particularly, the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, part of Marriott Bonvoy’s portfolio, and Alila Napa, which is bookable with World of Hyatt points.
For the Ritz stay, I used 70,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night, which I earned with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. Though I normally only use the card on Marriott stays and on-property charges, Marriott offered some temporary incentives during the pandemic that pushed the card to the front of my wallet —particularly, a 6x points per dollar bonus on Amazon purchases (no longer available).
Read more: The best Marriott credit cards
The result? Savings of about $1,200 per night.
World of Hyatt, meanwhile, is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, of which I racked up close to 200,000 during my time at home. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® got a workout thanks to its 3x points per dollar on dining, including takeout and delivery. And I spent heavily on my Chase Freedom Unlimited®, which earns at least 1.5x points per dollar on all purchases, making it a great card for retail purchases that don’t usually earn a category bonus.
World of Hyatt’s top-tier awards currently top out at 30,000 points per night, so even though the Alila Napa would have cost about $1,000 per night in cash, we were able to lock in a three-night stay for a super reasonable points tally.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton
I’ve had my eye on the just-opened Cloudveil, a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection in Jackson, Wyoming, for nearly a year now, so I was quick to book it as part of a national parks trip this summer. With cash rates sky-high, I again turned to my rewards stash for 70,000 points per night, which saved about $1,000 per night.
Unfortunately, for our first night, there was no award availability, and for a Friday night at a brand new hotel during what’s projected to be the busiest summer ever for the US National Parks Service, I can understand why. But luckily, I’ll be able to lop $300 off the room rate by paying with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, which offers up a $300 credit annually for purchases at Marriott properties.
We’ll spend the second portion of the trip in Bozeman, Montana, where I’ve booked two nights at the Kimpton Armory, a hotel that sits under IHG Rewards Club’s umbrella. While I don’t currently have IHG points, I’m considering taking out the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, which is currently offering the opportunity to earn 150,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
I’ll be driving from Bozeman home to Portland, Oregon, and that’s where a free night certificate earned through the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card will come in handy. It’s good for rooms costing 35,000 points for less, which will be enough to secure a night in Spokane, Washington at one of Marriott’s Autograph Collection properties.
$89 (waived the first year)
15.99% – 22.99% Variable
Good to Excellent
150,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
Until 2020, my tradition over the holidays was to head to Mexico, which is an ultra-pricey time to visit. I nearly always end up redeeming points for five nights at a Hilton property since Hilton Honors members get the fifth night free, and I pair those nights with the free weekend night certificate that comes annually with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
While I didn’t accrue many Hilton points throughout the pandemic — I really only use my Aspire card for Hilton spending, unless a really good deal comes along through Amex Offers — I was already sitting on 383,000 Honors points, which is just a shade more than what I needed to book five nights at the Conrad Punta de Mita at 95,000 apiece (again, with that fifth night free).
I’ll tack on two Hilton weekend night certificates — one from my card, one from my fiancé’s card —to turn it into a free week-long stay during a time when rooms go for about $1,200 per night.
Carly Helfand is a points and miles blogger and coach who’s been using points to travel to 52 cities in every calendar year since 2011. She’s also a full-time financial journalist who got her start in the business reporting world while earning her master’s at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
15.74% to 24.74% variable APR on purchases
Good to Excellent
150,000 points after you spend at least $4,000 in your first 3 months of account opening
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