Understanding Hotel Hustle award alerts

I've written quite a few times about Seth Miller the Wandering Aramean and Hotel Hustle, his tool for searching for award space across hotel chains.

Like most (all?) his online tools, it's undocumented, which means it requires quite a few rounds of trial and error before you get the hang of its, shall we say, nuances.

Just yesterday I discovered another one of those nuances that I thought readers might appreciate.

A Hyatt property can have any of three flags — or none of them

As a newly-minted Hyatt Diamond, I've been doing a lot of searching for Points + Cash rates to fill out my travel schedule for the year, and to do so, I've spent a lot of time using Hotel Hustle.

To understand how Hotel Hustle views the universe, you have to treat every Hyatt property as having 3 possible "flags" in a true or false position:

  • Flag #1 asks, "is there a cash rate available?"
  • Flag #2 asks, "are there rooms available for all-points redemptions?"
  • Flag #3 asks, "are there rooms available for Points + Cash redemptions?"

If there are rooms available for all-points redemptions there should be cash rates available, but the same is not true for Flags #3 and #2; in the course of researching this post I discovered a property with Points + Cash availability but with no points-only redemptions available.

(As an aside, I'm sure I could call Hyatt and have them book me into an all-points redemption, but Hotel Hustle operates based on what's available on the website — no bargaining allowed.)

Hotel Hustle treats each combination of flags differently

Say I'm interested in visiting Philadelphia on July 25, 2016, which happens to be the first day of the Democratic National Convention. Here's what Hotel Hustle shows me when I narrow my search to Hyatt:

It looks like Hyatt doesn't have any properties in Philadelphia, so I'm out of luck.

But a bit earlier in the year, say, this Saturday, my results look different:

It turns out Hyatt has all sorts of properties in Philadelphia! That Hyatt Place in Mt. Laurel looks promising, but unfortunately it doesn't have any points-only or Points + Cash award availability.

Of course, if I arrive a few days earlier, I might be interested in spending some time up in Plymouth Meeting:

I'm in luck! Points + Cash rates are available, securing me a precious stay credit towards requalification.

Making sense of Hotel Hustle flags

Each of the above pictures illustrates a particular combination of flags, each of which you need to understand to get all the information you need from Hotel Hustle.

The first picture illustrates the situation when none of the flags are "true:" Hotel Hustle will not help you. You cannot configure any kind of alert for a property that does not have any rooms available for cash.

The second picture illustrates a situation where only Flag #1 is "true:" Hotel Hustle will allow you to set an alert for points-only award availability in the righthand sidebar or, if you can locate the property on the map and click on it, set an alert for Points + Cash award availability.

The third picture illustrates the (unusual) situation where Flag #1 and Flag #3 are "true," but Flag #2 is "false." Hotel Hustle does allow you to set a points-only alert in the righthand sidebar, but it only allows you to view Points + Cash availability by locating the property on the map and clicking on its icon.

Points-only and Points + Cash are different alert types

What if you're not interested in qualifying or requalifying for Diamond status with Hyatt and just want to save some money on your next Hyatt stay?

In the second picture above, you can see that you can create both points-only and Points + Cash award alerts through Hotel Hustle. But if you are indifferent between the two, you need to create both types of award alert.

If you select "Manage Alerts" you can see which kind of award alert you've created. If you want to be alerted when either a points-only or Points + Cash awards become available, your "Manage Alerts" page should look like this:

The "C&P Alert?" column designates whether the alert is for Points + Cash or a points-only award availability.


I poke fun at Seth for not documenting his web apps, but in all fairness, even if he did I wouldn't read the documentation.

At the same time, since I just figured out how this worked I suspect there's a chance it will be of value to some of my readers!

What revealed preferences have taught me about valuing miles and points

One fascination of the miles and points community is "valuing" their loyalty currencies. This should be, in principle, one of the most important aspects of an earning strategy: earn more valuable points before less valuable points is a mantra as obvious as it is useless.

But determining the value of points is vigorously disputed terrain.

Hotel Hustle can tell you the value other people are getting for their hotel points

I love Hotel Hustle, and write about it relatively often. It has two relevant features here: you can plug in your own points valuation and search by "Hustle Hotness:" what percentage of your assigned value you're getting at each property in your search destination.

But additionally, Hotel Hustle will show you the range of values other people using Hotel Hustle have found on their own, real-world searches.

For these purposes I've always like the median value, which has 50% of search results giving more value, and 50% of searches giving less value. So across all the tabulated Hotel Hustle search results, you can see that Hilton HHonors points are worth a median of 0.44 cents each.

That doesn't mean you'll get 0.44 cents per point, but it's a benchmark you can use to evaluate your earning and burning decisions, and it's based on real-world award search results.

Affiliate bloggers make up values depending on which way the wind is blowing

Bankrate.com employee Brian Kelly will tell you each month what cards have the biggest affiliate payouts.

Likewise Thought Leader from Behind Gary Leff will periodically post his updated points valuations.

And of course Rich Weirdo Ben Schlappig has a whole page devoted to valuing miles and points.

Here are the values revealed preferences show for the miles and points I earn

The concept of "revealed preferences" is a powerful one in behavioral economics. Rather than attempting to establish the value of goods in the abstract, or by measuring quanta of pleasure, revealed preferences allow you to determine a good's value to the consumer by the price they're actually willing to pay for it. Revolutionary, right?

So here are the values I actually put on my miles and points, determined strictly by what I do, in fact, pay for them each month:

  • 1.4 SkyMiles are worth about 2 cents. When buying cheap, PIN-enabled prepaid debit cards at unbonused merchants, I split my purchases between my American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum Business card and my 2% and 2.105% cash back cards. My indifference between earning 1.4 SkyMiles and 2% cash back means I value SkyMiles at about 1.43 cents each.
  • 6 Hilton HHonors points are worth up to 4 cents in airfare. I only have a single local grocery store that sells PIN-enabled prepaid debit cards, and I can choose between using my American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass card or my US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card. I use my Surpass card, valuing each HHonors point at up to 0.67 cents in paid airfare.
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards points are worth slightly less than up to 4 cents in airfare. As above, I have a single local merchant that codes as a gas station and sells PIN-enabled prepaid debit cards. I could use either my Chase Ink Plus or my US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card for purchases there, but lean towards the Flexperks card, valuing an Ultimate Rewards point at slightly less than up to 2 cents in paid airfare.

Conclusion: my values aren't yours

My situation is unique, as is yours. I travel all the time, and am dedicated to keeping my rewards balances as low as possible, meaning I'm not stockpiling millions of any one currency. Instead, I'm redeeming miles and points roughly as quickly as I redeem them, giving me lots of "gut-check" opportunities to see whether I'm getting enough value from my rewards currencies to justify earning more of them.

For example, in January I had decided to cancel my American Express Delta SkyMiles Business Platinum card, when a health emergency in the family caused me to redeem most of my SkyMiles balance at a value of over 5 cents per SkyMile. With an empty SkyMiles account, and the possibility of future urgent travel, I decided it made more sense to keep the card and pay 1.43 cents per SkyMile again this year.

Likewise, just this week I redeemed 20,000 US Bank Flexpoints for a first class flight that otherwise would have cost $343. Alternatively, I could have redeemed 27,440 Ultimate Rewards points (at 1.25 cents each), making me feel fantastic about earning 2 Flexpoints per dollar instead of 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar at my local gas station.

Fun with award mapper and Hotel Hustle

There are two free, online tools designed to help make it easier to find the best values when searching for paid or award stays at chain hotels: award mapper and Seth Miller's Hotel Hustle. I use them both all the time, and want to share my thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of each tool.

Award mapper cleanly shows all a city's loyalty program properties

There are two things I love about award mapper and one thing I hate about it.

First, what I love: the selection of hotel chains and range of points is persistent across searches, and it shows all the corresponding properties within your search area. That lets me select all the chains whose points I'm considering using, then plan a whole trip by simply changing the city being searched.

This is fantastic when you're planning something like our winter jaunt to Italy. I know which chains I have points in, so all I need to do is change the city being searched to see which cities have properties that are conveniently located and within my points budget.

What I hate about it is that it simply wasn't designed to show the actual points cost on a given night, so you end up with absurd results like this for the Hilton Prague:

All award mapper knows is that the Hilton Prague is in the Hilton category that ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 HHonors points per night; it's not interested in telling you the price you'll pay. To find that out, you'll have to use the HHonors Points Search Tool, or search for the dates you're actually interested in (only in June does the Hilton Prague cost 50,000 HHonors points; the rest of the year it costs 30,000).

Similarly, Category 1 and 2 Starwood Preferred Guest properties cost 1,000 fewer Starpoints during the weekend, but award mapper can't give you the actual points price on a given date.

Hotel Hustle shows your actual cost, but requires your actual nights

Before using Hotel Hustle, you should create a free account with Wandering Aramean Travel Tools. Then when you navigate to Hotel Hustle you'll be able to configure the value you assign to each hotel chain's rewards currency. Here are the values I use:

For Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott rewards I use 1 cent, since that's what my transferrable Ultimate Rewards points are worth when redeemed for cash, instead. Hilton's 0.35 cent value is based on a comparison of 6 HHonors points per dollar spent with the American Express Surpass card versus 2.105 cents per dollar spent with a Barclaycard Arrival+ card post-devaluation. The same logic applies to the Starwood American Express (1 Starpoint per dollar) and Barclaycard Wyndham Rewards (2 Wyndham Rewards points per dollar).

Once you've configured your values, you can search for the actual cash rates available at each property in a city, and the actual points cost of those same properties. You can also filter by rewards program (click the asterisk by a program to show only those properties), but those filters are not persistent across searches, unfortunately.

Finally, Hotel Hustle lets you filter your search by "Hustle Hotness." Seth is not fantastic about documentation, but here's how it works:

  • if you filter by 3 Hustle Hotness stars, you'll see all properties where a points redemption saves you more than 85% of the value you assigned to the points;
  • if you filter by 4 Hustle Hotness stars, you'll see all properties where a points redemption saves you more than 115% of the value you assigned to the points;
  • if you filter by 5 Hustle Hotness stars, you'll see all properties where a points redemption saves you more than 145% of the value you assigned to the points.

In other words, the more stars, the higher the revenue cost compared to the value of the points required for a redemption. Since I can usually bring down the revenue price by searching for AAA rates or using corporate codes, I always filter by 4 or 5 Hustle Hotness stars.


Award mapper and Hotel Hustle are complementary tools, and I use both many times each week, especially when I'm planning a trip to a new country or city.

I use award mapper to get a feel for what chains and properties are available in a city, then as my plans come together I use Hotel Hustle to narrow in on the specific dates and properties I'm interested in.

Finally, I go to the hotel's website to verify rates, see whether additional discounts are available, and to make my points reservations.

Quick hit: Hotel Hustle Hot Rates

I'm fond of saying that what travel hacking needs is more facts and less data. Much of affiliate blogging is taken up with listing transfer partners and earning rates, without concern for the ways that people actually earn and redeem their miles and points, and how to do so as lucratively as possible.

If there is a good argument for data over facts, it's the website of Seth Miller, the Wandering Aramean. He has developed a number of tools, some more and some less useful, but one I've been spending a lot of time on lately is Hotel Hustle. Hotel Hustle allows you to search, by airport or city, for properties in eight major hotel loyalty programs. It has a number of bugs which require it to be used in conjunction with another tool like AwardMapper, but it's a great resource.

The other day I noticed that Seth introduced what had the potential to be a very fun addition to Hotel Hustle: Hot Rates.

When I saw him post about Hot Rates on Twitter, I thought it might be an interesting way to see which hotel loyalty points are really worth earning for "aspirational" properties. My thought was that since cash prices have no upward bound (a hotel can theoretically charge any amount for a night), but award prices do have an upward bound (the top of the award chart), outsized per-point values would be most likely to occur at the most expensive properties.

Oddly, that proves to be not at all the case. Since the Hot Rates are powered by users' searches on Hotel Hustle, it's impossible to tell how representative they are, but the vast majority of Hot Rate properties are either airport properties or random mid- and low-tier properties in cities that happen to host one or more huge events each year.

Here's the entirety of the Club Carlson Hot Rate list. Besides the Radisson Blu in Beijing, these are not properties folks are sprinting to redeem their last-night-free benefit:

Anyway, this post isn't meant to be an endorsement or an indictment, just a quick hit making my readers aware of this potentially useful resource.

Hopefully Seth will continue to introduce new features that will eventually make it truly valuable to the working travel hacker, and prove me wrong once and for all about the usefulness of data in this hobby!