Whether you don’t have enough points, can’t find any chain hotels in the area or you prefer to stay at a local boutique hotel, sometimes you need to pay cash for accommodations instead of using points. Whatever the reason, there are many ways to save money on hotel stays paid with cash.

Some of the smart ways to slash out-of-pocket expenses include using the right credit card that comes with a credit toward hotel stays, negotiating the rate directly with the property or using last-minute hotel booking apps. And remember to use the right credit card to maximize return on the cash hotel bookings.

American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts and The Hotel Collection Annual Credit

An image of the benefits describing how to save on hotels with the $200 annual credit on the Amex Platinum Card

The Platinum Card® from American Express (see rates & fees) offers cardholders a $200 annual credit on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts and The Hotel Collection stays.

The credit is easy to use—you just need to find a property that’s part of either of these programs and book a prepaid stay. The credit will be posted automatically a few days after making the hotel reservation.

To take advantage of this credit, search for hotels directly on Amex Travel website and filter out the results to include the properties where the $200 credit can be applied.

Narrow down hotels with Amex to save on hotels under $200

Some of the world’s best and most expensive hotels are part of the Fine Hotels + Resort collection, but it’s still possible to find some reasonably priced properties where $200 credit goes pretty far. If your travel companion also has the Platinum card, you can book two back to back stays at the same hotel or at two different properties.

If visiting France is on your bucket list, I’ve seen some sensible rates at the Waldorf Astoria Versaille – Trianon Palace.

I’ve also seen some decently priced properties that are part of The Hotel Collection, where one $200 credit can cover or get you close to a couple of nights (a minimum of two nights are required at The Hotel Collection properties for the credit to apply).

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card $250 Resort Credit

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card comes with a $250 Hilton resort statement credit each card membership year. You can get up to $250 in statement credits for eligible purchases made directly with participating Hilton Resorts.

The Hilton chain has a lot of resorts, and the $250 credit applies on room rate when booked directly with the resort, as well as most incidentals charges to the room.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card $50 Annual Hotel Credit

Chase has recently refreshed its Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and added a $50 annual hotel credit to the list of perks. The cardholders receive up to $50 credit each account anniversary year toward a hotel stay booked through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

All you need to do is book a hotel stay through the portal, and the $50 statement credit will be automatically applied to your account. Make sure to pay with cash rather than points during the checkout process.

Recently approved cardmembers get this benefit in their first cardmember year and in each subsequent year. If you opened the Sapphire Preferred before August 2021, you’ll get the credit after the next annual fee is due.

Keep in mind that portal bookings don’t earn elite credits or qualifying nights at chains, so it’s best to use this credit when booking independent or boutique hotels.

Save on Hotels with The Citi Premier Card $100 Annual Hotel Savings Benefit

The Citi Premier® Card holders can get $100 off a single hotel stay totaling $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees) booked through ThankYou.com, once per calendar year.

This is considered a third-party booking, so most likely you won’t get any elite benefits or earn elite qualifying nights at chain properties. Before you book your stay through the Citi ThankYou Rewards portal, make sure to shop around, and if the price is the same as booking through other means, this is a great way to save $100.

Log into your ThankYou account and navigate to Travel, then click on Hotels.

A screenshot of ThankYou.com hovering over

You’ll see the offer displayed prominently at the top of the screen.

Banner at the top of Citi's travel website where Citi will directly tell you that you have the hotel benefit with your Citi premier card to help save on hotels

This could be a great way to save on small, independent hotels if your travels take you to a place where there aren’t any chain hotels.

Negotiate Your Hotel Rate

This might be a good strategy for a longer stay or if you’re staying at a smaller local hotel. You might get a better price by contacting the owners or the general manager. They might even offer additional incentives and benefits for booking directly with the property.

I once negotiated a deal for my husband for a month-long stay at a Hyatt property by calling the head of sales for the hotel where he planned to stay. He got a better rate and a bigger room for making the reservation directly with the sales manager.

Check for Corporate and Other Discount Codes

Some professional or alumni associations offer various discounts to their members. You can also check with your employer or your travel companion’s employer for corporate discounts. Some organizations offer negotiated rates for their members and you could save 10% to 20% off published rates.

A word of caution: Never use a code that’s not intended for you or your travel partner. The hotels might ask for proof of affiliation, and if you can’t provide it, they can cancel your entire stay.

Save Money on Hotels by Staying at Unconventional Accommodations

If you want to kick it up a notch and go for something really unusual, look into booking unconventional accommodations, such as former (or current) monasteries and historic chateau and castles.

The Paradores of Spain website will help you locate some of the most unique accommodations in historic castles, palaces and monasteries. You can filter by region or by the type of accomodations. Staying in a fortress, especially when traveling with kids, would be extremely cool and a great way to bring history to life.

A map of Spain from the site Parador of Spain to help find unique places to stay to save on hotels

Also check out chateau and historic house rentals—these properties are available in many price ranges, come with hotel-like amenities and might be cheaper than a conventional hotel if you are traveling with a larger group.

Try to think outside the box, and you will get to enjoy a great travel experience and save some money in the process.

Use Online Travel Agencies’ Loyalty Programs Wisely

Although we often advocate for booking directly with hotels, sometimes using an online travel agency (OTA) makes a lot of sense. Some of the really small hotels don’t have their own booking mechanisms, so your only choice would be to use an OTA, such as Hotels.com or Booking.com.

Most online travel agencies offer rewards programs. For example, when you book 10 nights through Hotels.com, you’ll get a free reward night. The reward night is worth the average value of the 10 paid nights. Hotels.com often sells gift cards with a 10% discount, so you can save even more money by strategically leveraging the gift card discount with the 10th free night.

Booking.com offers discounts of 10% to 15% to its loyal members through its Genius program. The more you book, the better discounts you’ll get. Booking.com is perfect for booking hostels and small hotels in off-the-beaten track places.

Last-Minute Deals

Familiarize yourself with apps and sites that specialize in last-minute hotel bookings at a discounted price, such as HotelTonight and One:Night. So if you find yourself stranded somewhere overnight, check these to book your accommodations.

Checkout page showing that you can save on hotels like the Royal Sonesta in Chicago by using last minute travel aggregators. The price is around $200, much lower than normal

Book Private Rooms at Hostels

Hostels have come a long way in the last decade and many offer nice private rooms and hotel-like amenities. You might be able to save a lot of money by staying at a hostel and meet some fellow travelers in the process.

For example, the chic Casa Gracia hostel in Barcelona has double rooms with their own ensuite bathrooms, and some rooms even come with balconies.

An image of the cassava Gracia Barcelona hostel, a great way to save on hotels is by booking private rooms in hostels. This one has a great bed with private balcony which is atypical when you think of hostels

Casa Gracia Barcelona Hostel | Photo courtesy of Hostelworld

Use Timeshare Presentations and Timeshare Rentals to Save on Hotels

We don’t encourage anyone to buy a timeshare, but you often can book a highly discounted vacation by agreeing to attend a timeshare sales meeting. We’ve seen some attractive offers from major hotel chains, such as Marriott and Hilton, that often include not only the hotel stay, but also a car rental and might even throw in some bonus points.

To get targeted for one of these offers, you can call Hilton or Marriott directly and ask about their current timeshare preview packages.

Or if you just happen to be at a resort that offers timeshare presentations, you can get a nice gift card or other on-site perks if you agree to listen to the timeshare pitch.

Please note that if you think you can be easily persuaded to say yes to the sales pitch, then this is not the right way to save money on your hotel stay.

There are a few sites, such as Redweek, where timeshare owners rent out their units. If you’re traveling with a group, renting a whole unit could be cost-effective, and you’ll have a lot more space than in a hotel room.

Timeshare rentals are available all over the world, not just in the United States. We searched for Italy as an example on Redweek and found a few options in some of the most popular travel destinations.

Map of Italy with boxes showing hotels with available timeshare presentations or rentals to save on hotels

Check Hotel Rates After Booking and Use Best Rate Guarantee

If you booked a refundable rate, keep checking the rates a couple of times a week. Hotel rates fluctuate all the time, and if the rate drops, you can cancel and rebook.

Most hotel chains have the best rate guarantee, so if you find a lower rate for the same room through another channel, you can submit a claim. The hotel will match the lower rate and give you an additional discount.

Terms and conditions vary, and there are some pitfalls, such as the lower rate needs to be visible to everyone. It can’t be available on websites that require membership, like Costco Travel.

You’ll have to jump through some hoops to file a best rate guarantee claim, but it’s worth a try if you can save a substantial amount.

Keep checking the rates... if the rate drops, you can cancel and rebook.

Book Your Hotel on the Credit Card Portal

You can book a hotel stay on the Chase travel portal or the Capital One Travel portal using Ultimate Rewards points or Capital One Miles, respectively.

Although this method of booking hotels saves you money, beware of several drawbacks to portal bookings. First, the price could be higher via the portal than booking direct or through other channels. Yes, you can use points instead of cash, but if the price is higher, then you might be better off booking the hotel with cash somewhere else.

Second, you most likely won’t earn elite night credits and points or be able to use the elite status benefits when booking the chain hotels through a third-party booking site. So the portal bookings work best when you’re booking an independent hotel or a chain hotel where you don’t have elite status anyway.

Use Shopping Portals

We’re big fans of using shopping portals to earn cash back or additional points and miles on purchases we already make. Don’t forget to click through the portal when shopping for your hotel stay.

We recommend starting with Cashback Monitor to see which portal offers the best payout rates. Some portals, such as Rakuten or TopCashback, routinely offer increased payouts of 10% back or more on hotel stays.

An image of cash back monitor showing various shopping portals and their relevant rates to help you earn cash back to save on hotels

You can search by a chain name, such as IHG or Marriott, or by an individual brand, such as Courtyard or Holiday Inn. The payout rates change all the time, so always check both.

We’ve searched for IHG and found only one portal paying cash back. But when we searched for Holiday Inn, at least 10 different portals seemed to offer cash back.

You don’t have to book a prepaid stay to get the portal payout. The points don’t post until after your stay anyway, so booking the “pay at the property rate” should trigger the portal payout.

Buy Hotel Points

We don’t recommend buying points speculatively, but if you have a stay planned, then look into buying points. IHG and Hilton often sell their points for 0.5 cent apiece, so buying points instead of paying cash outright might be cheaper.

Hilton, Hyatt and Wyndham don’t charge resort fees on award stays, but if you book a paid stay, you’ll have to pay taxes and resort fees.

Buying points for hotel chains that offer fourth or fifth night free on award stays could be especially lucrative—you’re essentially getting a 20% to 25% discount.

And, of course, always check to make sure award rooms are available before buying points.

 

Book with a Luxury Travel Advisor

If you’re booking a luxury hotel and aren’t using points, it’s better to book it with a luxury travel advisor. Most luxury chain hotels work with travel advisors that can get you extra perks, such as free breakfast, room upgrade, property credit, VIP perks and more at no additional cost.

Luxury hotels can be affordable in countries where the cash prices are generally low. For example, the Park Hyatt Chennai can be booked for less than $100 dollars per night. Booking with a luxury travel advisor who can book this property via the Hyatt Privé program will get you a $100 property credit per room per stay, a room upgrade, daily full breakfast for two and a welcome gift.

The lobby of the Park Hyatt Chennai

Park Hyatt Chennai | Image courtesy of Hyatt

Check Amex Offers

It’s always a good practice to check Amex Offers on all of your American Express cards and add the ones you might use in the future.

These are just some of the hotel offers we recently found on The Platinum Card® from American Express. The offers change all the time, so check your Amex cards often.

Save money on hotels with Amex Offer. The two here are for Marriott that tell you that you can save $100 or $50 off.

Even if your room rate alone is below the threshold of a particular offer, most everything you charge to the room should trigger the offer.

It’s important to read the terms and conditions of each offer carefully. Some offers are valid on certain brands in the chain’s portfolio only or there might be geographic restrictions (for example, valid at U.S. properties only).

Use the Right Credit Cards

If you do have to pay for your hotel, which credit card is best? As always, our recommendation is to focus on the transferable credit card points, such as American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points.

The 10xTravel website has a handy guide for the best bonus category cards, but let’s review a couple here.

The cards that earn 3X on travel include the American Express® Green Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card. These cards will earn 3X points on hotels booked through third-party sites and on bookings made directly with the property.

The Citi Premier Card earns 3X on hotel purchases, so use it only when booking directly with the property.

If you’re going to stay at a Hilton hotel or resort, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has the highest earning rate on Hilton stays—14X points on eligible purchases made directly with a participating Hilton hotel or resort.

Final Thoughts

From staying at unconventional properties to taking advantage of last-minute deals to attending timeshare pitches, there are many ways to save on your hotel stays. If the goal is to save money, try to think outside the box and don’t be too concerned with hotel loyalty programs or elite benefits. And finally, make sure to use the right credit card to maximize your hotel spending.