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Extraordinary heat waves have already taken shape in pockets across the country — and it looks like more are coming this summer.
That’s bad news if you don’t have air conditioning or if you just don’t want to pay to keep it running during the extreme heat. But now for the good news: People who are fully vaccinated can travel safely within the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With that, consider a last-minute hotel getaway to escape the heat. And if you’ve been accumulating travel points over the past year, a heat wave might be a great time to use them.
Get out of the heat and use your travel points to pay for a hotel at a destination that’s a little cooler. Or maybe you stay at a hotel within driving distance of home, soaking up unlimited hotel room air conditioning without worrying about the bill and living it up in the hotel pool. Here are a few ways to beat the heat with your hotel points.
Use points or free night certificates for an air-conditioned room
If you already have a hotel credit card, then there’s a good chance you can stay for cheap, or even free.
Look for free night certificates
Many of our favorite hotel credit cards, including the World of Hyatt Credit Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card, the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, offer automatic free night certificates just for holding the card (usually awarded after your account anniversary).
You might even have a few free nights, thanks to the generous expiration date extensions most hotel loyalty programs offered for certificates that haven't been used during the pandemic. Check your account — you may be surprised to see a couple of free night certificates.
For example, Hilton loyalists can use their free night certificate to beat the heat by heading to the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach in Dana Point, California. Room rates typically start at $853 per night, making it easily one of the best values for using a certificate. Given its proximity to the beach, coastal breezes keep the resort cool, and July temperatures average a high of about 74 degrees.
This is just one example of many high-end Hilton hotels where you can use your free night certificates. Browse Hiton’s website for more options. Plus, you can use similar strategies with Hyatt and Marriott free night certificates.
Use your points now before inflation kicks in
Most travel experts agree that saving hotel points is a bad idea, as they generally lose value over time. Given how few travelers touched their stash in 2020, we’re seeing a period of increased rates for hotels and flights booked with points. Spend points to escape a heat wave now, as the points value will likely only decrease.
Transfer your credit card points to hotel programs
Even if you don’t have a hotel credit card — but you do hold another brand-agnostic, premium travel credit card — you can probably use points to book hotels. While most premium travel credit cards allow you to use points to book through travel portals, it’s almost always a better value to transfer your credit card points to specific hotel loyalty programs and to book from there.
Use points to (usually) avoid resort fees
Even if you’re not ready to get on an airplane quite yet, you can still beat the heat by staying at a nearby resort. When it's hot, you’ll likely spend a lot of time at the pool, enabling you to truly maximize the resort amenities.
For example, people in the Pacific Northwest might head to the Suncadia Resort, which is a Category 5 hotel in the World of Hyatt program. You’ll avoid the $38 resort fee, which covers amenities including the waterslide and s'mores at the fire pit, by booking on points.
If you’ve always been curious about staying at your local resort to check out the fancy amenities — but you felt you couldn’t justify a staycation when you can sleep in your own bed for free — this might be the time to reconsider and save some cash at the same time.
Find a low cash rate to earn extra elite night credits
Even if you don’t have hotel points, you might at least be able to find a last-minute hotel deal.
Ever since COVID-19, many hotel brands including Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton have been featuring special, work-from-anywhere hotel room rates designed for people who can work remotely. Even if you don’t want to take a full vacation, you might be able to snag a deal by working from a hotel for a week, enabling you to not just have a peaceful change of scenery, but also to get solid air conditioning that you don’t have to pay for (aside from the usual room rate).
Paying a cash rate on a travel credit card can earn points toward future free nights. Plus, when you join a hotel loyalty program, your cash rate will likely count as a qualifying night stay to help propel you toward earning elite status.
Even better is that most hotels have reduced earning requirements this year, meaning you need to stay fewer nights than usual to earn elite status for 2022. That makes now one of the best times to earn hotel elite status, especially if you’re nearing the threshold for the next tier.
The bottom line
A heat wave is brutal, but you can make the most of one by heading off for a stay at the fancy resort you’ve always been curious about or even the budget hotel down the street that has air conditioning. You’ll maximize your value if you spend a good chunk of your day at the hotel pool, and you can turn up the air conditioning without worrying about the bill.
Check your credit card points or hotel loyalty program account, as you may find you don’t even have to worry about paying for the hotel bill. If you haven’t traveled all year, you may find a healthy stash of points. And this latest heat wave may be the prime opportunity to spend them.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire 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:
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