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So much has changed in the hotel industry during the pandemic, like cleaning protocols and booking flexibility. Yet one element has been especially volatile and difficult to track — prices. The cost of booking a hotel room plummeted in the early stages of the pandemic when nobody was traveling, then inched back up, and now?
We ran the numbers to see how hotel prices, on average, have changed throughout the pandemic. We compared prices at over 200 U.S. hotels across seven major brands with the same data we collected at the same time each year from 2019 through 2021. That is, we compared the room prices at the exact same hotels for each year. This approach gives us an apples-to-apples comparison of how prices have changed across the country.
So, how much is a hotel room these days compared with years prior?
Prices have dropped, but it’s complicated
What’s happening? The short answer is that hotel prices dropped significantly and, for the most part, stayed low. Prices fell from an average of $255 per night in 2019 to $186 in 2020, then edged back up to $194 in 2021.
However, the difference was more pronounced for bookings made within 15 days of check-in compared with those made four months in advance. Closer-in bookings were cheaper overall, and much cheaper compared with the same booking timing from 2019. This number reverted closer to the 2019 average by 2021, while bookings made further in advance actually got slightly cheaper.
That said, close-in bookings are significantly cheaper than ones made further in advance, so while the same huge discounts aren't available for these bookings, they’re still the better option for most travelers.
» Learn more: How much cheaper are flights and hotels this summer?
What about points?
Since the cash price of hotel rooms plummeted in 2020, you might expect award bookings (those made with hotel points) to follow suit. But that’s not what we found.
The cost of award nights booked with points did drop in 2020 and rebound somewhat in 2021, but the differences were much smaller than the cash prices described above.
This consistency is somewhat unsurprising since many hotel programs use “award charts,” which set specific nightly point rates for each property regardless of demand. Notably, the Holiday Inn brand IHG, which has eliminated award charts, was the only major brand with a significant reduction in award pricing.
Other brands remained mostly flat or — in the case of Radisson — actually increased their award night rates in 2020. We usually decry such “dynamic” award pricing, as it renders point maximization difficult. But these are strange times, and IHG’s fluid award prices have proved beneficial to customers.
Takeaways on hotel prices
We compared prices for the exact same hotels throughout the pandemic to see how they've changed. In general, we found what you’d expect: lower overall prices.
Yet there were two important learnings from diving deeper into the data:
Cash prices have fallen more than award prices; points are effectively worth less than they were before the pandemic for most brands.
Booking at the last minute (within 15 days) remains a good bet for low prices.
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 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card