Free First Class Next Month: Cheapskate Lodging with Hotel Promos, Hostels, airbnb, and CouchSurfing

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This is the thirty-first 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 flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go. Previously Status.

Yesterday I said that I was down on hotels and hotel status generally. Why? I am a:

  1. frequent traveler- I spend probably about three months a year outside 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

So I pursue a mixed lodging strategy. 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.

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 Reserve.

The Citi Hilton Reserve 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. Rookie Alli got the card on her last churn. The card has a $95 annual fee.

If you and a traveling companion both get it, that’s four nights.

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, Starwood recently 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 got a lot more value staying in Pasadena than a less nice area.) I will use my free night for a property in Europe that is over $300.

Radisson ran an even more lucrative promo last year, 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 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 current month lease in Buenos Aires.)

Recap

My lodging plan for three 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.

Continue to Name Your Own Price on Priceline to Save Hundreds on Hotels (Part 1).

7 Responses to Free First Class Next Month: Cheapskate Lodging with Hotel Promos, Hostels, airbnb, and CouchSurfing

  1. My husband and I have been traveling around the world using miles from various travel hacking techniques. Like you, we usually prefer smaller budget hotels for many reasons (and have couchsurfed with varying success) but I find many of the travel hacking sites focus on trips that include luxury stays at big resorts. Thanks for sharing your more low-key accommodation strategy!

  2. I also had a good experience with AirBnB, locating an available bedroom in a Hollywood home. The home turned out to be a gathering place for an eclectic group of locals, and the 3-night stay was very enjoyable.

  3. Great post! Totally agree with Allison. Other blogs’ emphasis on chain hotels and their loyalty programs is of little use to me. Partly because I find staying in those hotels and the touristy neighborhoods they are usually in boring. But also because the “perks” of status at hotel chains are often free at independent hotels (e.g. free wifi; breakfast; bigger rooms). Loving your blog’s focus on these techniques!

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