Required Reading for Frequent Flyers
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Hotel Points & Cash
[Jun 2014 Issue]
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We survey offers from hotel loyalty programs that combine points and cash for award redemption


Hotel awards using cash and points are an option for loyalty members with six major hotel groups. Hotel programs that offer cash and points awards all provide one major benefit - the opportunity to conserve points in your account compared to the standard award rate by paying a reduced amount of points and part cash when booking a hotel award stay. The six hotel loyalty programs with some type of cash and points award option include Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), Hilton HHonors, Hyatt Gold Passport, Club Carlson, IHG Rewards Club and Marriott Rewards.

The real questions for hotel loyalty members are, "Do cash and points awards offer better value than standard, points-only awards on hotel stays?" and, "How available are cash and points awards?"

Standard awards might be the better choice for hotel loyalty members with more points than they can spend, earned through frequent travel or credit card spend. But for travelers who wish to conserve points for hotel awards, cash and points awards offer an alternative to paying the full published price for a hotel room or the full standard points rate. In the best circumstances, cash and points awards will offer a more affordable rate with fewer points needed for a hotel award stay. At their worst, cash and points award nights will not be available for your hotel dates or the award option is not a good value compared to the published room rate or standard points rate.

Going beyond award rules and differences between the types of awards, below, we survey the availability of cash and points awards across different programs.

The six major hotel loyalty programs with cash and points award options use different names for these types of awards. The term "cash and points" is used generically for the award type and the individual program's name, like HHonors' "Points & Money" is used in context for each hotel loyalty program.

Cash and Points Options
  • Club Carlson Points + Cash
  • Hilton HHonors Points & Money
  • Hyatt Gold Passport Points + Cash
  • IHG Rewards Club Points & Cash
  • Marriott Rewards Cash + Points
  • Starwood Preferred Guest Cash & Points

Cash and points award rules vary between hotel programs. The main restriction is these awards have capacity controls in most programs. Cash and points awards generally have far less availability than standard awards. In several programs, only a fraction of hotels offer cash and points awards - even when standard points-only awards are available.

Our award availability survey examined similar dates for standard awards and Cash & Points awards. A city with 10 hotels has the potential to have 40 standard awards if every hotel is available on each of the four dates checked. The availability of Cash & Points awards compared to standard awards is a useful measure. Surveys using these four dates were conducted for each hotel program examined in this article.

Traveler Tip:
Assume you will redeem points for several hotel nights in several cities over several years - spend points frequently, yet spend points wisely. Cash and points awards are a useful conservation strategy to maintain points in your hotel loyalty account.

Club Carlson - Points + Cash
Club Carlson operates Points + Cash awards similarly to Starwood, Hyatt and Hilton with one major difference.

How it works:
The cash portion is 60 percent of the Best Available Rate (BAR) for the hotel at the time of booking the award. This is the unrestricted rate at hotels, usually with flexible cancellation policies. Club Carlson is unique among the hotel programs offering cash and points awards, because it is the only program to tie the cash portion to the hotel's room rate for the date of the stay.

CLUB CARLSON POINTS + CASH
Hotel Category Standard AwardPoints + Cash
1 9,000 5,000 + 60% BAR*
2 15,000 5,000 + 60% BAR
3 28,000 5,000 + 60% BAR
4 38,000 10,000 + 60% BAR
5 44,000 10,000 + 60% BAR
6 50,000 10,000 + 60% BAR
7 70,000 30,000 + 60% BAR
*Best Available Rate


Rate discounts available through AAA, corporate and advance purchase rates are also based on the Best Available Rate. This means a deep discount rate of 25 to 35 percent may approach the Points + Cash rate and diminish the value of this award option.

The primary value of Points + Cash awards, besides conserving points, is that the cash payment earns Club Carlson points at the normal rate.

Good Value Award:
Country Inn & Suites, Elk River, Minn. July 15, 2014 had $95 paid rate ($102 after tax); or 28,000 points standard award. Redemption value = $3.64 per 1,000 points. This is a poor value award.

Points + Cash rate = 5,000 points + $57 ($61 after tax).

Redemption value = $8.20 per 1,000 points.

Poor Value Award:
Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees, Paris, France, July 15, 2014 had $504 room rate. Points + Cash is 20,000 Points + $303. While redemption value is high at $10 per 1,000 points, this hotel shows the limitation of Points + Cash awards when paying 60 percent standard room rate. A high-priced hotel will be less expensive, but still expensive.

Recommendation:
The key to Club Carlson award value is the Club Carlson Visa with the benefit of one night free on any award stay of two nights or longer. This is a benefit that doubles the redemption value for any two-night standard award stay. However, the free night benefit does not apply for Points + Cash stays. Club Carlson Visa card members also receive complimentary Gold elite status. Club Carlson offers 2-for-1 weekend and 4-for-2 paid rates at hotels in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region for Gold elites. The Club Carlson Visa card benefits are huge.

A Tale of Two Awards: Radisson Blu Champs Elysees Paris gives a fine example of how valuable the Club Carlson Visa card is with its free night on an award stay compared to the Points + Cash award. One rate search priced $523 per night on a prepaid, nonrefundable rate or standard award at 50,000 points - or Points + Cash at 15,000 points + $392. Standard award redemption value is $10.46 per 1,000 points. Points + Cash requires $784 cash and 30,000 points with a redemption value of $8.73 per 1,000 points. This is an example where the standard award has higher redemption value than a Points + Cash award. Club Carlson Visa cardmembers can buy two award nights priced at $1,046 for 50,000 points. That is an amazing redemption value at $20.92 per 1,000 points.

Availability:
London metro: 26 hotels; 99 standard awards (95 percent); 58 Points + Cash awards (56 percent with 28 in London, 30 metro); two premium awards at 50 percent higher rate than standard award.

Paris metro: Seven hotels; 26 standard awards (93 percent); 23 Points + Cash awards (82 percent); one premium award.

Minneapolis metro: 22 hotels; 84 standard awards (95 percent); 69 Points + Cash awards (78 percent).

Club Carlson Points + Cash Fast Facts:
  • Points are earned on cash portion of a Points + Cash award.
  • Elite credit is earned on award nights and stays.
  • Points + Cash award stays generally have the same cancellation policy as Best Available Rate stays.
  • Members may purchase 40,000 points per year. Cost of points is $7 per 1,000 points.
  • Points + Cash rates are displayed in Club Carlson website's default search mode.
  • Club Carlson offers a high percentage of Points + Cash awards; however, there is less opportunity for great savings since you'll be paying 60 percent of the Best Available Room rate.

Hilton HHonors - Points & Money

Hilton HHonors introduced Points & Money award nights in April 2011 when the program also added Premium room awards and Upgrade room awards.

In April 2013, Hilton HHonors adjusted its hotel award categories, changing from seven to 10 categories while adding seasonal award rates.

Seasonal award rates allow many hotels to change standard award rates by month throughout the year. HHonors Category 7 hotels might be 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 or 60,000 points depending on the month of the year.

How it works:
Points and Money awards cost 40 percent of the points of the standard award rate for the date, combined with a fixed cash portion.

Hilton HHonors does not publish a table for Points & Money award rates. Award rates are based on the standard award rate for the date of the stay and do not correspond to the HHonors hotel category.

In the table below, use the highest points value in each row for standard rooms to determine the Points & Money award rate. For example, a Category 9 hotel at 80,000 points will have a Points & Money award rate of 32,000 points + $150. If the Category 9 hotel has a low season rate of 50,000 points for a standard award, then Points & Money award is 20,000 points + $85 (Category 6 row in table).

HILTON HHONORS POINTS & MONEY
Hotel Category Points Required for Standard RoomsPoints + Cash Required for Standard Rooms
1 5, 000 2,000 points + $30
2 10,000 4,000 + $35
3 20,000 8,000 + $40
4 20,000 - 30,000 12,000 + $50
5 30,000 - 40,000 16,000 + $65
6 30,000 - 50,000 20,000 + $85
7 30,000 - 60,000 24,000 + $100
8 40,000 - 70,000 28,000 + $125
9 50,000 - 80,000 32,000 + $150
10 70,000 - 95,000 38,000 + $200


Good Value Award:
Hilton London Syon Park is listed as a Category 9 HHonors hotel award. Here is an example of how seasonal award rates effect Hilton Points & Money awards. Hilton Syon Park is 60,000 points per night for a standard award in every month, except July and August 2014 when it rises to 80,000 points. On Sept. 4, the room rate is £167 ($277), and the Points & Money rate is based on the 60,000 points standard award at 24,000 + £65 ($108). Redemption value is $169 saved with 24,000 points.

Poor Value Award:
Hilton Syon Park Points & Money award rate for Aug. 28 prices at 32,000 points + £98 ($162) when the room rate is £133 ($220). Redemption value is $58 saved with 32,000 points. Same hotel offers far higher Points & Money value for an award stay one week later.

Recommendation:
The Hilton HHonors website has a "use flexible dates" calendar with a drop-down menu to search for Points & Money availability at the individual hotel level.

Hilton HHonors is one of the three programs (Hilton, Hyatt, SPG) with a fixed points and fixed cash rate tied to the standard award rate. This means the higher the room rate for hotels in each hotel award category, the higher the redemption value of a Points & Money award.

Availability:
New York City: 30 hotels; 101 standard awards (84 percent); five Points & Money (four percent).

London Metro: 35 hotels; 125 standard awards (89 percent); 27 Points & Money (19 percent).

Hilton HHonors Points & Money Fast Facts:
  • No points are earned on cash portion of Points & Money awards.
  • Elite credit is earned on Points & Money stays.
  • HHonors members can purchase an unlimited number of points, up to the total number of points required to redeem award stay, at time of booking award stay at $10 per 1,000 points ($12.50 per 1,000 ponts when buying less than 10,000 points).
  • Points & Money awards are capacity controlled.
  • International cash portion may be slightly less than in the U.S. due to currency differences.
  • In the U.S., the Points & Money cash portion is taxed. Points & Money cash portion is not taxed at many international hotels.
  • Points & Money awards are only displayed on website if "Use HHonors Points" box is checked.

Hyatt Gold Passport - Points + Cash
Hyatt Gold Passport is the hotel program to most recently announce a cash and points award option in January 2014.

How it Works:
Hyatt's Points + Cash awards do not have an online search or booking application. These awards must be booked through telephone reservations.

HYATT GOLD PASSPORT
Hotel Category Points Required for Standard Rooms Points + Cash Required for Standard Rooms
1 5,000 2,500 + $50
2 8,000 4,000 + $55
3 12,000 6,000 + $75
4 15,000 7,500 + $100
5 20,000 10,000 + $125
6 25,000 12,500 + $150
7 30,000 15,000 + $300


The lack of an online search function is a major drawback for the Hyatt Points + Cash award option.

Good Value Award:
Andaz 5th Avenue Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014.
$395 King bed or 25,000 points or 12,500 points + $150.

Standard award redemption value = $457/25 = $18.28 per 1,000 points.

Points + Cash award redemption value = $457 - $175 (taxed cash portion) = $22.56 per 1,000 points.

Hyatt Gold Passport sells points at $24 per 1,000 points and sometimes offers a limited-time 20 percent discount on points purchases.

Poor Value Award:
Grand Hyatt New York Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014.
$219 King Bed; or 25,000 points; or 12,500 points + $150.

Standard award redemption value = $10.20 per 1,000 points.

Points + Cash award redemption value = less than $4 per 1,000 points. Points + Cash awards can have even lower redemption value than standard points-only awards when high category hotels have relatively low room rates.

Recommendation:
Points + Cash stays earn elite qualification credit and are eligible for promotion credit, whereas Hyatt standard award stays do not. Earn points on Points + Cash award stays and conserve points compared to standard awards.

Availability:
We surveyed New York City Points + Cash rates. There are six Hyatt Gold Passport Category 6 hotels in Manhattan. There was good availability of Points + Cash awards for 15 out of 18 hotel dates (83 percent) on weekends and weekdays. Points + Cash awards are a great deal in New York even with the high cash component on Category 6 Points + Cash awards when rates are $400+ per night. Astronomical hotel rates are not uncommon in New York.

Hyatt Points + Cash Fast Facts:
  • Points are earned on cash portion paid for Points + Cash awards.
  • Elite credit is earned on Points + Cash award stays. This is an important benefit in the Hyatt Gold Passport program since standard award nights do not earn elite credit.
  • Points + Cash awards require 50 percent points of a standard points-only award.
  • Cash portion ranges from $50 to $300 dependent on hotel award Category 1-7.
  • Points + Cash stays are eligible stays and earn promotion bonuses.
  • Diamond members may use confirmed suite upgrade certificates on Points + Cash awards.
  • The cancellation penalty on Cash & Points awards generally match the flexible rate cancellation penalty.
  • U.S. hotels charge tax on cash portion.
  • No additional tax on cash portion in Europe and many other countries.

IHG Rewards Club Points and Cash
Points and Cash with IHG Rewards Club has a significantly different model from the other hotel loyalty programs' cash and points awards.

How it works:
There is no discount on the standard award number of points required for a stay with Points and Cash awards. Loyalty members simply have the option to buy 5,000 or 10,000 points at a discount rate for each night of the award stay at time of booking.

The ability to pay $70 for 10,000 points per night with Points and Cash reservations makes this one of the best offers around for conserving points.

IHG REWARDS CLUB
Hotel Category Points Required for Standard Rooms Points + $40Points + $70
PointsBreaks 5,000N/AN/A
1 10,000 5,000 N/A
2 15,000 10,000 5,000
3 20,000 15,000 10,000
4 25,000 20,000 15,000
5 30,000 25,000 20,000
6 35,000 30,000 25,000
7 40,000 35,000 30,000
845,00040,00035,000
9 50,00045,00040,000
*Best Available Rate


At time of booking an IHG hotel award, there is the option to buy 5,000 points for $40 or 10,000 points for $70 per award night. When there is standard award availability, say at 30,000 points per night, there is the option to redeem 25,000 points from your account and pay $40 for 5,000 points per award night or redeem 20,000 points and pay $70 for 10,000 points per award night.

The member must have points to book Points and Cash awards. If a standard award is 30,000 points, then a member needs to have at least 20,000 points in their account for the option to buy 10,000 additional points for $70 for the Points and Cash award night. There is a $280 limit per day in points purchases. Purchased points are nonrefundable.

Good Value Award:
Holiday Inn Express New York - Brooklyn. The standard award is 25,000 points per night for dates with room rate at $278 after tax. A Points and Cash award allows a member to redeem 15,000 points per night and purchase 10,000 points per night for $70. A four-night stay is $1,112 or 100,000 points with a standard award or 60,000 points + $280 with a Points and Cash award. Redemption value for a standard award is $11.12 per 1,000 points. The Points and Cash redemption value is $13.87 per 1,000 points. Buying points at $7 per 1,000 allows for an instant redemption value of $13.87 per 1,000.

The Points and Cash option allows members to buy points at a discount rate of $7 per 1,000 points compared to the normal rate of $11.50 to $13.50 per 1,000 points. This award option is useful for members short on points needed for an award stay or as a way to conserve points.

Poor Value Award:
Holiday Inn Express London Heathrow T-5. March 15, 2014. The standard award was 20,000 points per night for $97.55 flexible room rate. The redemption value is $4.88 per 1,000 points. It makes no sense to pay $7 or $8 per 1,000 points for an award night to save $4.88 per 1,000 points.

Recommendation:
The Points and Cash award option is a good way to save IHG Rewards Club points. Any standard award redemption value more than $7 per 1,000 points will be even better value buying 10,000 points per night for a Points and Cash award.

IHG Points and Cash Trick: Points purchased for a Points and Cash award stay are nonrefundable. Upon an award stay cancellation, the purchased points are deposited instantly back into the member's account. This is an opportunity to buy IHG Rewards Club points at the discount rate of $7 per 1,000 points compared to the regular rate of $11.50 to $13.50 per 1,000 points.

Availability:
IHG Points and Cash awards are available for any hotel with standard award availability when award nights are more than 5,000 points per night. Flash sales and Last Minute Reward Nights offer Points and Cash award option. PointBreaks awards at 5,000 points per night do not allow Points and Cash award option.

IHG Rewards Club Points and Cash Fast Facts:
  • Points and Cash award nights count toward elite status.
  • Points and Cash awards are available for any standard award that is more than 5,000 points per night.
  • Purchased points for Points and Cash award nights do not count toward the 60,000 points per calendar year purchase limit for buying points through IHG Rewards Club.

Marriott Rewards Cash + Points
When Marriott Rewards introduced Cash + Points in July 2012, there was little fanfare from members. Marriott's version of Cash + Points is unique. There is no discount on points compared to standard award rates and there is no cash component comparable to the other five hotel programs' awards.
Yet, there is a unique value proposition with Marriott's Cash + Points not offered by any of the other programs.

How it works:
Cash + Points with Marriott Rewards allows the member to combine paid nights and award nights in the same reservation. The primary value in a Cash + Points award stay is the opportunity to book a fifth night free award stay using non-consecutive award nights for a stay of six nights or more.


MARRIOTT REWARDS
Hotel Category Standard Award Points
17,500
210,000
3 15,000
4 20,000
5 25,000
6 30,000
7 35,000
8 40,000
9 45,000


Good Value Award:
There is no discount on either points or cash for a Marriott Cash + Points award stay. This is a cash and points award option with limited opportunity to save points or money. There can be cash savings in Marriott Cash + Points award stays when you stay six or more nights and get a fifth night free award for non-consecutive nights. The savings opportunity is paying cash for nights when room rates are lower.

The Algonquin Hotel, Times Square, Autograph Collection - Marriott Rewards Category 8 March 15-21, 2014, six nights. The room rate for five of six nights was $339.15. The second night of the stay, March 16, had a reduced room rate at $259. The Algonquin New York room rate after tax was $2,204.64 for March 15-21.

Category 8 standard award for six nights = 195,000 points. The fifth night free award is 160,000 points. The date with the $259 rate was also a PointSavers date, reducing the standard award rate from 40,000 to 35,000 points for that one night.

Cash + Points award = 160,000 points (five nonconsecutive award nights, March 15 and 17-20) + $300.70 (after tax) for March 16. Redemption value for 160,000 points = $11.90 per 1,000 points. The standard award value for six nights was $2,205/195,000 points = $11.31 per 1,000 points.

Recommendation:
On Cash + Point stays of six nights or more, pay for nights on dates when rates are lowest and get fifth night free award using five non-consecutive nights for higher rate dates.

Marriott Rewards Cash + Points Fast Facts:
  • Cash + Points stays combine paid nights and award nights into one reservation.
  • Paid nights in Cash + Points award stays qualify for points, elite status and promotion credit.
  • Award nights in a Cash + Points stay do not earn elite or promotion credit.
  • Cash + Points award allows fifth night free benefit using non-consecutive award nights.

Starwood Preferred Guest - Cash & Points
In 2013, SPG introduced a major change to Cash & Points award rates by increasing the points portion from 40 percent to 50 percent of the standard award rate and increasing the cash payment in each category by about 20 percent. This was the most significant adjustment to the program since it launched. SPG also introduced Cash & Points for its highest hotel award, Category 7. Before this change, SPG members could not redeem cash and points for Category 7 hotels. SPG has offered the Cash & Points award type since 2002 and is the simplest program for Cash & Points awards.

How it Works:
Each SPG hotel award category has a fixed Cash & Points rate.

STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST CASH & POINTS
Hotel Category Points Required for Standard Rooms Cash & Points Required for Standard Rooms
1 2,000 Fri-Sat; 3,000 Sun-Thu 1,500 + $30
2 3,000 Fri-Sat; 4,000 Sun-Thu2,000 + $35
3 7,000 3,500 + $55
4 10,000 5,000 + $75
512,000; 16,000 (peak) 6,000 + $110
6 20,000; 25,000 (peak) 10,000 + $180
7 30,000; 35,000 (peak) 15,000 + $275


Good Value Award:
W London - Leicester Square. Published rate $448 per night; or Standard award 20,000 points per night; or Cash & Points 10,000 points + $180.

Standard award redemption value is $22.40 per 1,000 points; Cash & Points redemption value is $448-$180/10 = $36.80 per 1,000 points.

Or you can view Cash & Points as similar to buying 10,000 points for $180. Cash & Points award nights conserve points for future more expensive award stays.

Recommendation:
If planning an award stay and you can afford the cash portion, then Cash & Points will usually be a better alternative to the SPG standard points rate. One exception is SPG Category 1 and 2 hotels on weekend nights when the standard award is better value at only 500 to 1,000 points more than the Cash & Points rate.

Availability:
New York: 33 metro hotels with 21 in city; 131 standard award dates (99 percent) with 21 Cash & Points dates (16 percent) and most of the hotels with Cash & Points availability were outside of Manhattan.

San Francisco: 23 metro hotels with seven city hotels; 79 standard award dates (86 percent); seven Cash & Points awards (eight percent) with only three in downtown San Francisco.

London: Eight city and London Heathrow airport hotels; 25 standard awards (78 percent); two Cash & Points awards (six percent).

Cash & Points award availability in these three popular tourist and business locations is relatively low at six to 16 percent for the dates checked.

Results were better for Starwood Hotels in the Middle East and Asia.
Dubai: 10 hotels; 39 standard awards (98 percent); 24 Cash & Points awards (60 percent).

Tokyo: Four hotels, 14 standard awards (88 percent); eight Cash & Points awards (50 percent).

Phuket, Thailand: Four hotels, 12 standard awards (75 percent); 10 Cash & Points (63 percent).

Availability of SPG Cash & Points mostly exceeds 50 percent in these business and resort cities on four sample dates in 2014.

SPG Cash & Points Awards Fast Facts:
  • No points are earned on cash portion paid.
  • Elite credit is earned on Cash & Points nights and stays.
  • Cash & Points awards require 50 percent points of standard points-only awards.
  • Cash portion ranges from $30 to $275 dependent on hotel award Category 1-7.
  • Cash & Points use the lower points standard award non-peak rate at Category 5, 6 and 7 hotels and higher points standard award weekday rate for Category 1 and 2 hotels. This makes Cash & Points awards at high category hotels during peak season dates even more valuable.
  • Fifth night free does not apply to Cash & Points award stays.
  • Cash & Points stays are award stays and not eligible for earning promotion bonuses.
  • Members can buy 20,000 points in a calendar year. Regular purchase price is $35 per 1,000 points. Periodic sales reduce the cost by 20 percent to $28 per 1,000 points
  • Browse Dates/Rates monthly calendar on website for searching Cash & Points awards.
  • Cancellation penalty on Cash & Points award generally matches flexible rate cancellation penalty.
  • U.S. hotels charge tax on cash portion.
  • No additional tax on cash portion in Europe and many other countries.

Conclusion
Cash and Points awards can offer significant hotel-rate savings compared to paid room rates and standard award rates. In some programs, sparse availability of capacity-controlled Cash and Points awards is an issue compared to standard awards with no blackout dates.

This article compared the value of points redeemed for a standard award to a Cash and Points award at specific hotels in different hotel programs using simple redemption value calculations. A more precise analysis would include points earned when paying for a hotel stay.

Loyalty members have different acquisition costs for hotel points. Some members earn more points from hotel stays than they can use and prefer standard award stays only with no additional cash spending, even when Cash and Points awards offer a better redemption value. Some loyalty members who earn points inexpensively through credit card spend may find less value in Cash & Points awards compared to standard awards.

Still, for most hotel travelers, Cash and Points offer an award option that frequently reduces the cost of hotel stays while conserving points in your account for future hotel award stays.


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