After months of stay-at-home orders in various locations, states are now in different stages of loosening restrictions. Now that summer is here, many Americans are desperate to take a summer vacation. But they’re also worried about pandemic safety, with many hesitant to travel by air, visit major cities or go to the usual attractions. There’s a uniquely American way to take a vacation that can be especially appealing in the age of social distancing: motels.
Why you should consider a road trip to a motel
I won’t pretend that staying in a motel is the glamorous vacation that you’ve always dreamed about. But like so many other things in 2020, we’ve had to adapt and appreciate what’s available. A motel differs from a traditional hotel in ways that can help you socially distance. Motels usually have:
Direct access to your room from the outdoors.
No large lobbies.
No fitness center.
No sit-down restaurants.
No inside corridors.
When you arrive at a motel, you usually just have to make a brief stop to pick up your keys before entering your room from a separate exterior entrance. So a motel might be the perfect choice for vacationers determined to avoid sharing indoor spaces with strangers in the age of the coronavirus. And as an added bonus, motels are typically less expensive than full-service hotels and resorts.
And while you probably won’t want to spend your vacation lounging around a motel as you might at a luxury resort, that’s just as well. When your goal is to get out of the house while remaining socially distant, a motel in a rural destination makes for a great base for hiking, bicycling and visiting state and national parks.
How to use your travel rewards at motels
Though motels are usually one of the most affordable forms of lodging, redeeming points for free nights is, obviously, even more affordable. Unfortunately, many major hotel chains like Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott have few, if any, motels. So look for other lodging companies. Thankfully, there are several rewards programs that offer award night stays at motels.
It might surprise you to learn that Wyndham is the largest hotel chain in the world measured by the number of properties. That’s because Wyndham operates numerous brands, including many motels with rooms that have exterior access. Days Inn, Super 8, Howard Johnson and Travelodge are all Wyndham brands, and many (but not all) of these branded properties are motels. La Quinta is another Wyndham brand that includes some motels. According to Robert Myers, senior director of global communications at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, about 90% of their properties are in secondary markets, so this is a good place to look if you want to avoid big cities.
Wyndham Rewards is a relatively simple loyalty program that offers rooms at 7,500, 15,000 and 30,000 points per night, depending on the property. However, the majority of the motels offered are at the lowest level of 7,500 points per night.
You can earn Wyndham Rewards points several ways, including staying at their properties and using the Wyndham Rewards® Visa® With No Annual Fee card from Barclays. You can also transfer Capital One miles to Wyndham Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. And you can now earn 500 Wyndham points for every DoorDash food delivery order, as well as discounts and rewards for gas and convenience store purchases at Marathon.
Wyndham also allows you to redeem points for free night stays at vacation rental properties — the ones that are often sold as timeshares. Rooms at these properties likely will include kitchen and laundry facilities, which can help you save money and maintain social distancing at the same time.
» Learn more: Complete guide to earning Wyndham Rewards points
Choice Hotels offers both a strong rewards program, Choice Privileges, and many motel options. Brands that have motel properties include Econolodge, Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Clarion and Rodeway Inn. You can earn points in their rewards program by using the Choice Privileges® Visa Signature® Card, and you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points and Amtrak Guest Rewards points to your account at a 1:1 ratio.
» Learn more: Complete guide to earning Choice Privileges points
Other credit card rewards that you can redeem for motel stays
Another way to use your rewards to stay at a motel is to redeem points directly for travel reservations. For example, if you have the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you earn double miles on all purchases, and miles are worth 1 cent each toward any travel purchase you make with your card (including motels).
The Chase Ultimate Rewards® program also lets you redeem points through its travel center that’s powered by Expedia. So you can redeem your points for any motel that participates in that network. Points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are worth 1.25 cents toward travel reservations, while Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders receive 1.5 cents per point redeemed.
The bottom line
This year is like no other in our lifetime. If you really need to take a vacation this summer, it probably won’t look like any you’ve taken in the past. If you think a road trip to a motel is the safest way to get out of the house for a while, there are plenty of options to do so by using your reward points.
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