If you’ve been good about racking up airline miles and hotel points through co-branded cards and their bonuses, then chances are you plan on redeeming them to pay for most or all of your trip. Most major airline miles can be redeemed for other rewards other than flights such as hotel stays, rental cards, and gift cards–but not all points are created equal. With some airline credit cards vs. hotel branded credit cards, redemption from one or the other can be significantly better and surprisingly the hotel co-branded credit card is not necessarily always the winner.

Last week I used up most of my Club Carlson points for an upcoming trip to Turkey (eek!), Montenegro, and Croatia, and wanted to see whether using airline miles would give me as many free nights. Since airline miles have been my bread and butter in the past and now more recently hotel points, I thought it would be interesting to run the numbers on which bonus–an airline or hotel card–gives you the most free awards nights at a hotel. In my search, I didn’t limit my options to areas I would be visiting, but did search for dates in September because that is when the majority of the trip will take place.

We valued the worth of the redemption by analyzing current bonuses for the credit cards, the amount of points it would cost for a free night within the bonus, the amount of free nights and hotel rating based on credible reviews.

Of course the price per night and availability will differ from city to city and by date. Here is a smattering of what to expect as far as value goes for redeeming airline miles vs. hotel points for hotel stays. Since we found that the points per night can differ by up to 100% depending on the date, always check a couple different options to determine the best deal.

Paris, France

Priority Club: Holiday Inn Bastille

United Explorer: 2 free nights at 22,850 points per night
Delta SkyMiles: Not available, but other Holiday Inn location are available starting at 24,673 per night
Priority Club: 2 free nights at 35,000 per night
Lufthansa Miles and More: 0 free nights at 72,244 per night
AAdvantage: Not available

Best value: Tie with Priority Club Visa and United Explorer

holiday-inn-paris-bastille-paris-12-reuilly_big

Marriott Rewards: Courtyard by Marriott Paris Arcueil

Marriott rewards: 1 free night at 50,000 points per night
Delta SkyMiles: No free nights at 30,679 per night
United Explorer: 2 free nights at  23,700 per night
Lufthansa Miles and More: 1 free night at 39,888 per night
AAdvantage: 1 free night at 28,850 per night

Best value: United Explorer

CourtyardPune

Istanbul, Turkey

Club Carlson: Radisson Blu Hotel, Istanbul Asia

Club Carlson: 1 free night at 44,000 per night (2 free nights with a bonus award night when redeeming a 2 night stay)
Delta SkyMiles: Not Available
United Explorer: 2 free nights at 23,416 points per night
Lufthansa Miles and More: Not Available
AAdvantage: No free nights at 32,655 per night

Best value: United Explorer

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Priority Club: Crowne Plaza, Old City Istanbul

Priority Club: 2 free nights at  35,000 per night
Delta SkyMiles: No free nights at 37,216 per night
United Explorer: 1 free night at 26,217 per night
Lufthansa Miles and More: 1 free night at 48,569 per night
AAdvantage: Just under 1 free night at 30,100 per night

Best value: Priority Club Visa

2631759-Crowne-Plaza-ISTANBUL-OLD-CITY-Hotel-Exterior-12

San Jose, Costa Rica

Hilton Hhonors: Hilton Doubletree Caricari

Hilton American Express: 1 free night at 30,000 points per night
Delta SkyMiles: 1 free night at 22,827 points per night
United Explorer: 2 free nights at 19,950 points per night
Lufthansa Miles and More: 1 free night at 29,853 per night
AAdvantage: 1 free night at 20,500

Best value: United Explorer

Outdoor Swiming Pool

Hyatt: Hyatt Pinares

Hyatt Visa: 2 free nights
Delta SkyMiles: 1 free night at 22,129 Miles per night
United Explorer: Not available
Lufthansa Miles and More: 1 free night at 28,070 per night
AAdvantage: 1 free night at 19,525 per night

Best value: Hyatt Visa

costaricahyat

Milan, Italy

Club Carlson: Radisson Blu Milan

Club Carlson: 1 free night at 44,000 per night (2 free nights with a bonus award night when redeeming a 2 night stay)
Delta SkyMiles: 1 free night at 20,091 points per night
United Explorer: 3 free nights at 13,066 points per night
Lufthansa Miles and More: 1 free night at 26,121 per night
AAdvantage: 1 free night at 19,075 per night

Best value: United Explorer

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Marriott Rewards: Marriott Milan

Marriott Rewards: 1 free night at 30,000 per night
Delta SkyMiles: No free nights at 47,371 per night
United Explorer: 2 free nights at 22,950 per night
Lufthansa Miles and More: 1 free night at 49,505 per night
AAdvantage: No free nights at 37,950 per night

Best Value: United explorer

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The Bottom Line

Surprisingly the United Explorer card came out on top more than any of the other offers out there, even ahead of the credit cards that are hotel co-branded. It consistently had the best value for redemption per the ratio of the signup bonus–giving you the most free hotel stays at almost all of the locations we looked at.

However, we found that the rates per night differed greatly by date and season, almost by double, so it always pays off to check all of your options and find the best value for you. Personally I value United miles as the most valuable airline mile because it’s a member of Star Alliance, has great award availability, and does not have fuel surcharges. Since I value the miles so highly and prefer to use them on business class international award tickets I don’t know how often I would book a hotel night with my miles–but it is nice to know that it is always an option. This analysis just reaffirms that United miles are some of the most valuable miles out there for either flights or hotel redemption.

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6 Comments

  • All of these are really amazing! You give us an idea if we decided to travel. Me and my wife are thinking of what we gonna go first because we go to all of listed here. It is hard for us to choose. But anyway, Thanks for posting!

  • Using Hyatt points at Carlson Milan?
    Great post. I’ve found huge value in using United miles for rental cars. Saved $300/week on late bookings in Hawaii.
    Also on the earning side Uniteds cruise desk has been good to great …competitive prices. With 4 to 8 miles/$

  • This is a helpful post- thank you! I’m 6 months-new to this whole concept and I didn’t even think to consider using United points for future hotel stays.

    • @ Cindy – Glad you find it useful! Hopefully you can use it to your advantage for free hotel stays!