Miles and points have played a huge part in my life since I first started collecting them back in 2013. They’ve allowed my family of eight to travel more than I ever would have thought possible. Because we are still somewhat constrained by work and school schedules, we try to use points to pay for our travels as much as possible. Unlike people who travel regularly for work or other reasons, I don’t have a lot of stays where I pay cash — I prefer to use points whenever possible.
Millions of hotel points
Still, I have managed to end up with hundreds of thousands of hotel points. Between my wife and I, we have the following approximate balances:
IHG Rewards: 330,000.
Hilton Honors: 329,000.
Radisson Rewards: 131,000.
Best Western Rewards: 112,000.
Marriott Bonvoy: 92,000.
Wyndham Rewards: 66,000.
World of Hyatt: 35,000.
Choice Privileges: 14,000.
Over a million hotel points — though admittedly they would be more useful if they were concentrated in one or two different programs instead of spread out like they are. I do subscribe to the belief that you should "earn 'em and burn 'em" and not hold on to your hotel points, but sometimes the points just come in faster than I have actual time and opportunity to use them.
Where did I get all these hotel points?
As I mentioned, I don’t travel for work, so I don’t get to rack up tons of miles and points while traveling on someone else's dime. Generally, I try not to book cash rates, but sometimes the cash fares are just so low or the particular promotions are so good that it makes sense.
The overwhelming majority of my points have come from welcome offers on new credit cards. Here are a few of the credit cards that I have applied for over the years that have helped add to my hotel point balances:
» Learn more: Should I pay for my hotel using points, cash … or both?
Booking a trip to Hawaii
My family and I decided that we wanted to spend a week or so in Hawaii this spring. It took a bit of coordination, but we were able to get the flights booked using the Turkish Airlines sweet spot. It didn’t work out for one of my kids to come with us, so we booked seven round-trip tickets to Hawaii for 105,000 Turkish Miles&Smiles miles, transferred from Citi ThankYou points.
Then, it was time to look for lodging and put those hotel points to work! I’m not necessarily opposed to changing hotels every other night, but I wanted to minimize the disruption on our family trip. Still, I had a basic plan of using our Hilton points to book five nights at one of the many Oahu Hiltons (to get the 5th night free), then making alternate plans for the other three nights. I knew it would be expensive, but I had no idea how expensive it would be.
Those figures don’t even account for the fact that at many of these properties we would need two rooms to fit our family of seven people. We tried various combinations of different hotels, dates and chains, but didn’t really find anything that would fit our needs.
» Learn more: Your guide to booking award nights with Hilton Honors
Turning to Airbnb instead
After striking out with hotels, we decided to look at Airbnb. Many of the Airbnbs or other vacation rental homes we looked at were pretty expensive as well, especially outside Honolulu. There were many vacation rentals and other places near Waikiki Beach that were well out of our price range. On the other end of the price spectrum, we gave a hard pass to the listings where we could pick up camping supplies to camp in the woods or the listing on a sailboat outside of town.
We ended up finding a 600-square-foot condo near downtown Honolulu that listed its capacity as six people. Looking around at the bedrooms, I thought it would work for the seven of us, so I messaged the host and he had no problem with us fitting two adults and five kids there. For eight nights, our total came to about $1,500, which I thought was fairly reasonable for spring break in Hawaii.
Nerd tip: One other thing to remember when booking with Airbnb is that you can earn Delta miles. If you book through Delta’s Airbnb site, you can get 1 Delta SkyMile for each dollar spent on your Airbnb.
How did the trip turn out?
After all of that work and planning, there was definitely a bit of a letdown when due to the coronavirus pandemic, we ended up having to cancel the entire trip.
Everyone was disappointed about not being able to spend a week in Hawaii. Hawaii was (and still is) my 50th state to visit, but I'll have to wait to cross off that travel bucket list milestone.
Still, I think the planning we did can be helpful as you look to book lodging for your trips. Hotel points are great, and they have definitely saved me thousands of dollars over the course of the past few years, but don’t be afraid to consider alternatives.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Best hotel credit cards Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal 5 things to know about Hawaiian Airlines lounges