Good morning from Burgas, Bulgaria. I flew here yesterday just for one night and will be heading back to Poland in about an hour.
Is my body destroyed from all this travel? YEP. Did I really fly halfway across Europe just to have dinner in a random town? YEP. Is there enough coffee in the world to keep me awake at this point? I HOPE SO.
Today’s newsletter is jam-packed with juicy travel tips, so let’s jump in before the airport lounge staff kick me out for eating all of their sandwiches:
✈️ Travel hacking 101 (Nate’s book)
🤓 Free night awards: Explained
🏨 Choice Hotels’ new “sweet spots”
✈️ Travel Hacking 101 (Nate's book)
I saw this really cool video on the Youtube this weekend. You might’ve seen it, too.
I’m talking about the Kara & Nate video where Nate shared the travel hacking book that he wrote and posted on the Daily Drop website for FREE.
I also supplemented Nate’s thorough writing with some travel hacking tips of my own, though I only played a small part in the whole work. I’m like Yoko Ono of travel hacking.
Anyway, I recommend checking out the page. I’ll be touching on various sections of the book here in the newsletter, but it’s a great way to get a head start on your travel hacking journey, and will definitely help you understand some of the concepts and terminology I discuss here in the newsletter.
One thing that we don’t go too far in-depth on in the aforementioned book is Hotel Free night awards. Since I’ve been dealing with these a lot recently (including some amazing uses of them on my current trip), I thought I’d explain how they work, how to get them, and which ones are the best.
I’m not going to cover every single example of these (there are a lot) but rather give you an idea of what they are, how to get them, and some examples of the most valuable ones.
What are Free Night Awards (FNAs)?
FNAs are certificates that allow you to book free nights with various hotel chains. There are many types of FNAs, sometimes within the same hotel program.
For example, Marriott has FNAs that vary from being worth 35,000 points all the way up to 85,000 or 100,000 points. The value of the certificate depends on how you earned it.
How do you earn FNAs?
There are a few ways:
1. Credit cards: Many credit cards offer free night awards in one of the following ways:
Part of a signup bonus
Annual free night for renewing the card
Meeting certain annual spending requirements
I recently earned a free night award on a Hilton co-branded credit card after completing the spending requirements. My strategy is to put a lot of my miscellaneous expenses on this card because of the ability to earn a free night award.
I also have a number of different Marriott cards that offer annual free night awards just for holding the cards, so every year I end up with a nice stack of free nights.
101% of the time (rough estimate), the value I get from these awards far outweighs the annual fees I pay to hold the cards. This is a great way to stretch a $95 annual card fee into hundreds (or thousands) of dollars of value.
For example, one of my Marriott cards gives me an annual free night award worth 35,000 points and only costs $95 per year.
Earlier this year I used this award to book a night in an ocean-view Executive Suite at the Ritz-Carlton Al Bustan Palace in Muscat, Oman - a room that otherwise would’ve cost around $2,000 per night. To this day that is the nicest hotel I've stayed in, and I got it from my $95 per year credit card.
So as you might imagine, I’m VERY happy to pay $95 per year to unlock value like this, especially when you consider the other perks that come with most of these cards.
2. Milestone Rewards: Many hotel programs like Marriott and Hyatt have some variation of this. Basically, when you stay a certain number of nights in a year, you unlock rewards.
Sometimes it’s bonus points, sometimes it’s lounge passes or upgrade certificates, and sometimes it’s free night awards.
For example, Marriott offers a free night award worth 40,000 points when you hit 75 nights in a year as part of earning Titanium status.
Hyatt offers free night awards when you hit both 30 and 60 nights in a year, each with a different value. 👇
Which free night awards are the best?
That’s an easy one. Hilton.
Wow, that was a pretty fast response… how am I so confident in that answer, you ask?
Because Hilton free night awards have no cap or limit on where you can use them.
Hilton awards are also pretty easy to earn. They have numerous credit cards that offer awards either as an annual perk or for spending a certain amount of money in a year. To make things even better, they frequently include free night awards as part of signup bonuses on these cards as well.
In fact, I signed up for a card earlier this year that has a $0 annual fee but came with a signup bonus of 100,000 points and a free night award (the bonus has changed since then, but it's still pretty good).
I used the 100,000 points to book a 5-night stay in Dubai (at a lower-tier property) and then used the free night award to stay at the Waldorf Astoria Palm Jumeirah in a room that was priced at over $2,000 on that particular night.
So let me reiterate. I signed up for a FREE credit card that will never cost me a penny to hold and ended up getting 6 FREE nights in Dubai, one of which was at one of the most expensive hotels in the Middle East.
Can I get an appropriate reaction, please?
Free night awards are a core part of my travel hacking strategy, but I want to give a quick disclaimer. These free night awards are not exactly “free.” To get them, you need to either pay annual fees or spend money at hotel chains.
However, I am a travel-hacking psycho and put a TON of effort into milking every last ounce of value out of my cards.
I get so much value from my cards every year that to me, these awards really are free. But you should always be conservative about just how much value you place on credit card perks like this.
If you really put in the time and effort to take advantage of the things I share with you here in the newsletter, you can start to rack up stacks of free nights too.
Check out our Top Credit Cards page where we have a few examples of cards in this category.
🏨 Choice Hotels new "sweet spots"
One of the hotel chains we didn’t discuss in the previous section is Choice Hotels. You might not hear about this program very often, but you’ve probably heard of some of its brands like EconoLodge, Comfort Suites, and more.
The reason this is confusing is that the promotion doesn’t involve free nights, only discounted nights…
Still, I think this is worth looking into since you can book nights for as little as 6,000 points, which is pretty amazing.
Now if you’re wondering how the heck you can even get Choice Hotel points in the first place, that’s the easy part.
You can transfer points from Capital One, American Express, or Citi.
The best option here is Citi because they let you transfer points at a 1:2 ratio. That means you would only need to transfer 3,000 Citi ThankYou points for the nights that cost 6,000 Choice points.
3,000 points per night for ANY hotel booking is almost unheard of, so this is a great deal for anybody with points lying around who may be looking to get maximum value out of them.
Well, that’s gonna do it for today y’all.
I’ll be staying put in Poland for the next 6 days for some much-needed rest before hopping over to the Middle East to begin what will be one of the greatest adventures of my life that will take me to Doha, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Dhaka, and Kathmandu before I move down to Southeast Asia in a few weeks.
Have you ever redeemed a hotel free night award? Have you read through Nate’s “Travel Hacking 101” book? (bonus points if you did it all in one sitting).Let me know by replying to this email or reaching out on social media.