Free First Class 2014: Cheapskate Lodging

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This is the twenty-sixth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I probably spend fewer nights in hotels than any other miles and points blogger, despite traveling plenty. Why am I down on hotels?

  1. frequent traveler- I spend probably about three to nine months away from my apartment
  2. frugal traveler- $100 a night or more is never going to cut it for more than an occasional splurge
  3. social traveler- hotels are isolating
  4. anti-tourist- I don’t want to spend all my time in a touristy part of town, eating at touristy restaurants, and drinking with other Americans

I pursue a mixed lodging strategy when traveling.

I stay some nights at top-tier, fancy-pants, several-hundred-euros-per-night hotels. I stay the majority of my nights for free with friends or through CouchSurfing, and I round out the rest of my nights cheaply at hostels or through airbnb.

  • What is CouchSurfing?
  • What is airbnb?
  • When do I stay at fancy hotels, and how do I avoid paying for them?
  • Hostels? Really!?

Fancy Hotels

I have a taste for occasional luxury. It’s fun to indulge. And it’s pretty easy to stay at fancy hotels for several nights a year. My two main strategies are hotel credit cards and hotel promos.

On the cards front, the one I would currently recommend is the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card.

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card comes with two free weekend nights at almost any Hilton worldwide after $2,500 in purchases in the first four months plus Hilton Gold Status, which means free internet and breakfast.

If you and a traveling companion both get it, that’s four free nights at Hilton properties worldwide that can go for up to $1,000 per night.

Then there are free nights from hotel promos. Occasionally, hotel programs offer incredibly generous promos where staying a paid night at any of their hotels will mean a free nights later at a nicer hotel.

For example, last year Starwood had a promo where a paid night at any SPG property would earn a free weekend night at any category 1-6 property. I spent about $100 on a one night stay in Pasadena. (I could have found cheaper, but I actually needed that hotel stay.) I used my free night for a property in Uruguay that went for over $300 normally.

Radisson ran an even more lucrative promo in 2012, where you could earn up to three free nights through a stay-one-get-one promo.

Combining the best hotel promos of the year with the best credit card offers means seven to ten free luxury hotel nights per year, which is more than I need.

Free Lodging

I try to make the majority of my lodging on the road free by staying with friends and CouchSurfing.

For more information on CouchSurfing, see Everything You Need to Know about CouchSurfing. The basic gist is that is a safe, fun way to meet locals, see non-touristy residential areas, and save money that is suitable for all ages.

Cheap Stays

Most of my cheap stays are at hostels. I’ve written about How I Pick a Hostel. The gist is that hostels are a cheap, social place to stay that are ideal for solo travelers and groups of all ages. I pick hostels based on review sites to ensure that I consistently stay at great ones.

Recently I’ve added airbnb, a service that lets you rent a room in someone’s house or an entire apartment, to my repertoire for cheap stays. My brother and I used airbnb in an emergency situation when we arrived in Melbourne, Australia during the Aussie Open without a room booked. All the hostels were sold out, and hotels wanted $300+ per night.

We hopped onto airbnb and signed up. The sign up is full of security features. I had to upload a photo of my ID and give a credit card to identify myself. Then I could browse listings for spare bedrooms, apartments, and houses. Prices vary widely. We stayed in an empty bedroom in a house with a family for $182 total over four nights, which works out to about $22 per night per person.

The location was perfect for the tennis tournament and convenient to a cool string of Asian restaurants. One big variable with airbnb is the host if you don’t rent an entire apartment or house. Our hosts were really nice and offered to let us eat with them every meal if we wanted. My brother took advantage of breakfast with them, but we ate our other meals out because we were rarely at the house.

It’s very easy to have a good experience on airbnb because you can check other people’s reviews, choose the perfect location, and price for your trip.

(Airbnb is also convenient for finding long term furnished rentals. It’s how I located my five month lease in Buenos Aires last year.)

Recap

My lodging plan for three-to-nine months on the road per year is a mix of luxury hotels that I don’t pay for, cheap hostels and airbnb rentals, and free stays with friends and CouchSurfers.

This suits my budget, willingness to meet new people, and desire to get out of touristy areas. It also suits my comfort level, but I really think most people would love CouchSurfing and airbnb, and they should give them a try.

If you prefer hotels, I’ll have a great post tomorrow on using Priceline to save hundreds of dollars on hotel stays.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I envy you because I want to be that person who can backpack around, staying in hostels and cheap(er) hotels but every time I try I hate it — truly hate it. Perhaps I’m used to the bartering for upgrades, immediately calling for my slippers upon entering a room, or free made to order breakfasts so I cringe anytime I wake up in an unflattering room. Maybe I’ll get there someday and AirBnb may be good middle ground.

  2. Matt
    I got 4 free nites @ PERFECT Radisson on my May trip to EU so for 14 nites $1400 total 4 and 5 star hotels . Use the free ones to afford the better rooms on a trip.

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