When you’re just a few stays or nights short of status, you may find yourself contemplating a mattress run. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s when you check in and out of a hotel just for the purpose of earning points and/or elite status. Why would you do this? Having elite status with a hotel entitles you to room upgrades, bonus points, and perks like complimentary breakfast, wifi and lounge access. Having status can help you improve your travel experience while saving you cash on meals and wifi. It’s easier to qualify for status based on stays rather than nights. For example, Hyatt requires 50 nights for top-tier diamond status, or just 25 stays. The same goes for Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum.
Some mattress runners will actually stay at the hotel, others will leave after checking in, and then there’s another group that will do a virtual check-in (i.e. have the front desk check them in and out without having to step foot in the hotel). Whichever way you decide to go, here are a few tips for scoring a cheap mattress run:
1. Mattress running with credit cards. I’ve covered this topic before. Several credit cards offer cardholders some level of status (often mid-tier) just for having the card. Some allow cardholders to earn additional nights towards status via credit card spending. For example, it’s possible to earn top-tier Marriott Platinum status by putting $180,000 of spending on co-branded credit cards. For more examples, check out this detailed guide I wrote for Frugal Travel Guy.
2. Sign up for a status challenge. Many hotels loyalty programs will offer members elite status if they provide proof of status with another program. Some programs will give you status outright, while others will offer a challenge. A great tool is statusmatcher.com, which has a large database of loyalty programs and the level of status one can obtain by providing proof of status with another program.
3. Location. Some of the cheapest hotel markets in the US are in Dallas (TX), Orlando (FL), and Norfolk (VA). You don’t need to live in or travel to these locations to benefit from their low rates. Some hotels will check you in and out without you having to step foot on the premises. I’ve done this successfully at several properties and for the most part, the front desk agents understand why. Simply call after making a reservation (if rates are non-refundable, call first) and provide your reservation number, then ask if they can check you in without you being present. The hotel gets paid, they don’t have to service the room, and you get your points/elite night credit. Everybody wins.
Hotels abroad often have lower rates than US hotels during low season, though whether you can pull off a virtual check-in abroad likely varies by hotel. I personally would’t do it because it’s much more difficult to communicate with hotel staff abroad, and they may not be as familiar with the concept of mattress running as their American counterparts.
4. Pick the right day. Airport hotels get plenty of business during the week, so rates tend to be lower on weekends. The same goes for hotels in big cities and those catering to business travelers (i.e. in the financial district or hotels near corporate centers). Sundays stays are usually the cheapest day of the week across the board.
5. Pick low-category hotels. This isn’t always the case, but usually the lowest category hotels are also the cheapest to book on cash. Location and average rates factor into a hotel’s category designation, so you can bypass some of your research from #3 and 4 by going straight to the hotel’s award chart and checking for the lowest category hotels. Doing this will also be useful for the next tip…
6. Book on points. Loyalty Traveler did a great post about hotels that count award stays towards elite status. If you’re mattress running with a program that counts award nights towards status, it may make sense to book award stays at low category hotels. Starwood Category 1 redemptions, for example, start at 2,000 points per night and the sign-up bonus from the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (a total of 30,000 points after $5,000 spent within 6 months) can get you to Gold status or halfway to Platinum stats.
A good alternative if you don’t want to unload your points on a mattress run is to book with cash + points. This may or may not be a good idea with Starwood, depending on cash rates.
At Hyatt, for example, you can book a Category 1 hotel for 2,500 points + $50 as opposed to 5,000 points per night. You can charge the $50 to the Arrival Plus World MasterCard, then redeem 4,500 Arrival Miles for a statement credit to cover the cost. A great trick with Hyatt is to book your stay at a hotel that has a lounge (Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt) on a weekend. If the lounge is closed on weekends, Diamond members get 2,500 bonus points as compensation. Pair this with the 1,000 point welcome amenity for Diamond members and you’ve largely covered the cost of your stay. This method, of course, only works if you’re on a Diamond trial or you have status and are looking to obtain it.
As a Hyatt Platinum and Diamond member (or as someone participating in the Diamond status challenge), you can also get 20% off standard rates with the My Elite rate, which can translate to substantial saving if you want to bypass cash + points.
These are just a few tips to help you save on your next mattress run and secure your hotel elite status. I’d love to get your feedback about how you maintain your hotel elite status each year.
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