After a prominent miles-and-points blogger cast off the chains of the rental housing market I wrote a light-hearted piece about manufacturing enough spend to, with the help of the Club Carlson last-night-free benefit, spend 30 days in one of their Category 1 properties.
Since that benefit can no longer be used on new reservations, I thought I'd revisit the topic, but cast a wider net this time: how many points would be needed to live in each chain's cheapest properties year-round? In other words, should you retire to hotels?
Starwood Preferred Guest
As a rule I don't find Starwood Preferred Guest's co-branded American Express card to be a great way to manufacture points for hotel stays (it's great for manufacturing Alaska Mileage Plan and American AAdvantage miles). The exception is Category 1 and 2 hotels, where weekday nights cost 3,000 and 4,000 Starpoints and weekend nights cost 2,000 and 3,000 Starpoints, respectively.
That puts the weekly cost of a Category 1 stay at 19,000 Starpoints. Manufacturing those Starpoints has an opportunity cost of $380 — that's how much you'd earn using a 2% cash back card, instead. So what can we get for a little over $1,520 in monthly rent?
Well, there are a lot of Category 1 properties in China and India. Since we're retiring, beaches should be considered, like the Four Points by Sheraton Puntacana Village in the Dominican Republic, where $1,520 is little over a 50% discount for the dates I checked in September. The Sheraton Ambassador Hotel in Monterrey is "within walking distance of the city center." But the winner for me is the Sheraton Catania Hotel & Conference Center in Sicily, which actually looks extremely comfortable. It's a bit of a hike to the city center, but it's important to stay active in retirement.
Retirement savings: 912,000 Starpoints annually ($18,240 in imputed redemption value).
Unlike Starwood Preferred Guest, Hilton HHonors their elites the fifth night free on all award stays — including Category 1 stays. That makes five-night stays at Category 1 properties cost just 20,000 HHonors points, or $3,333 in manufactured spend at gas stations or grocery stores.
With 5-night Category 1 redemptions having an imputed redemption value of $66, our monthly rent will be 120,000 HHonors points or $400 in foregone cash back. But what does that get us?
Hilton's Category 1 properties actually include a few Hiltons, like the Hilton Alexandria King's Ranch and Hilton Hurghada Resort, so if you're really committed to Peter Thomas Roth bath products those are options. In Poland you have your choice of the Hampton by Hilton Krakow and Hilton Garden Inn Rzeszow, while over the border in Russia you can stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Ufa Riverside or Hampton by Hilton Samara. Personally, I'm leaning towards the Hampton by Hilton Panama, which seems to have a pretty good location in downtown Panama City. $400 per month is a roughly 85% discount off retail for the dates I checked, and in fact on the dates I checked HHonors redemptions gave an astonishing 2.17 cents per HHonors point.
Retirement savings: 1,440,000 HHonors points annually ($4,800 in imputed redemption value).
Marriott offers the fifth night free on all redemptions, even for non-elites, so five-night Category 1 stays cost 30,000 Marriott Rewards points.
Since Marriott Rewards points cost one cent each when purchased with flexible Ultimate Rewards points, but 2 cents each in foregone cash back when manufactured using a Marriott Rewards co-branded credit card, we're realistically looking at 180,000 Ultimate Rewards points per month, or $1,800 in monthly rent. Are there any properties that would make that redemption worthwhile?
The Courtyard Kazan Kremlin has a nice location right on Karl Marx Street, but $1,800 will rent you a lot of house in Kazan, and I suspect that's true of most of Marriott's Category 1 properties.
Retirement savings: 2,160,000 Marriott Rewards points annually ($21,600 in Ultimate Rewards points).
Hyatt Gold Passport
While Hyatt redemptions start at 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points, they don't offer a fifth night free, so it'll cost us 150,000 Ultimate Rewards points per month to live in a Category 1 property — a $1,500 value.
The Hyatt Regency Kuantan Resort in Malaysia looks superb, as does the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu, and neither is so isolated that you'd be stuck buying food in the hotel, plus Hyatt Diamond elites would receive free breakfast at either property. The Hyatt Regency Bali is currently being renovated, but when it reopens it should be beautiful — if it's still a Category 1 property!
Retirement savings: 1,800,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points annually ($18,000 in Ultimate Rewards points).
Here the situation is even bleaker, since Category 1 properties cost 10,000 IHG Rewards points per night, and there's no fifth night free benefit. Instead you can chase the 5,000-point PointsBreaks list around the world, in which case the math is the same as above, since IHG Rewards is also a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Retirement savings: 3,600,000/1,800,000 IHG Rewards points annually ($36,000/$18,000 in Ultimate Rewards points).
Category 1 Club Carlson nights cost 9,000 Gold Points, or $1,800 in manufactured spend per night. At a $36 nightly imputed redemption value, our monthly rent will be a little over $1,000. Not as bad as Marriott, Hyatt, or IHG, but also not great.
The Park Inn by Radisson Budapest (where I have a reservation next June) has a great location, and I've enjoyed all the Park Inns I've stayed at so far. There are two Radisson Blu properties, the Radisson Blu Resort, El Quseir in Egypt and Radisson Blu Hotel, Mersin in Turkey. Both are great deals at $36 per night. I like the Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, San Jose, Costa Rica, since it includes breakfast, but it's not terribly close to downtown San Jose.
Retirement savings: 3,240,000 Gold Points annually ($12,960 in imputed redemption value).
Choice Privileges hotels start at 6,000 points, which can theoretically be earned for as little as 2,000 Ultimate Rewards points if you're able to transfer Amtrak Guest Rewards points to Choice Privileges. At $20 per night we can figure $600 in monthly rent, the second-lowest value so far, after Hilton HHonors. To get that value month after month, however, you'd need to first rail run your Amtrak elite status up to Select Executive status, which allows you to transfer an unlimited number of Amtrak Guest Rewards points to their hotel partners.
Choice Privileges doesn't share a consolidated list of their properties by point cost, so it takes a little bit of work on AwardMapper to find 6000-point properties.
In Sweden, the Quality Inn Hotel Prince Philip offers a free buffet breakfast, and $600 is a steal in famously-expensive Scandinavia. The Clarion Suites Roatan at Pineapple Villas seems like a lovely resort in Honduras, although close-in availability was spotty for the dates I checked. Personally, I'd probably splurge the extra $200 monthly and move into the Clarion Congress Hotel Prague, an 8,000-point property.
Retirement savings: 2,160,000 Choice Privileges points ($7,200 in Ultimate Rewards points, with Amtrak Select Executive status).
This was a fun exercise, but there are a few problems which make it impractical to permanently retire to hotels, as opposed to moving into one for a month or two. First, you face the problem of award availability: at chains that don't guarantee standard room availability, you might be stuck paying cash for a hotel room if award availability suddenly dries up. Second, over the longer term you face the risk of devaluations: properties themselves can move up or down in award categories and new categories can be introduced, but rewards programs also sometimes go through wholesale devaluations, for example shifting to a revenue-based redemption model that would leave you stuck with much less valuable points.
Still, if I ever need to spend a month in Krakow, I know where I'll be spending it!