MSing for Hotels

I don’t write about the details of MS. I write about using miles.

However, I do think about MS in terms of redemptions. Like when I hear how much a hotel costs in points, I tend to think, “that would be like x runs to the grocery store”.

Co-Brand Credit Card Category Bonus Transfers Category Bonuses Cost for Cat 1 (@1%) Cost for top Cat (1%)
Hyatt Hyatt 1x Chase Ink Bold 5x $10 $60
IHG IHG 2x Grocery, Gas Chase, Citi Ink Bold 5x $20 ($10 for PointBreaks) $100
Hilton HHonors Surpass 6x Grocery, Gas Amex 1:1.5, Citi 1:1.5 Citi ThankYo $6.66 $126.66
Club Carlson Club Carlson 5x everywhere Club Carlson 5x $9 $70
SPG SPG 1x Amex 0.33:1 SPG 1x $20 $350
Marriott Marriott 1x Chase Ink Bold 5x $10 $70
Best Western Best Western 1x Amex Amex Gold 2x $40 $180
Choice Choice 2x Everywhere Amex Amex Gold 2x $30 $175

Basically, there are 3 main banks that I’m talking about with transfers. And there are only a few cards that I’m talking about. But I figured I would go ahead and explain that there are a couple other options.

Chase Ink Bold/Plus 5x Office
Amex Gold Premier 2x Grocery, Gas
Citi Citi Forward 5x Bookstores

I figured I’d mention the Citi Forward (even though it’s dead) because it’s an awesome deal, plus a number of people have the Forward card or another deal that gives 5x. Citi transfers 1:1.5 just like Amex, and the math works out the same, for example shown for Hilton. Category 1 for $6.66.

Doing the math.

The math is simple.

[hotel points needed] ÷ [bonus given by card] x [net loss during MS] = actual cost of points via MS

Given that everyone has different MS strategies, I’ll go ahead and explain why I chose 1% as the net loss in the graphs above.

It seems like a safe assumption that most people could find $500 gift cards selling for $3.95 and can liquidate for $1 somewhere. That’s about $5 for about $500 in spend. 1%.


The reason I show the math is to say that to do anything not a top category or a category 1 at any of these chains, my math wouldn’t be relevant. So you can do it yourself.

You need to know: cost of desired hotel, biggest category spending on cards you have, and cost of MS (or assume 1%).

For example, let’s say I want to stay at the Hilton Prague Old Town, which is 40,000 points. But the best bonus I have is the HHonors Surpass 6x at Grocery.

40,000 ÷ 6 x .01 = $60

This is a lot of effort to pay (what for me is) a high amount. BUT it’s a heck of a lot better than paying the $150 to $300+ the hotel goes for.

How can I do better?

Since there are only 3 factors, you have three options to lower that price.

1) Stay at a cheaper hotel.

You could use another hotel’s currency for this trip and find cheaper destinations to use the points. Or stay at the Hilton Prague which is 30,000 points a night.

2) Get a bigger bonus.

Like the Citi Forward 5x with a 1:1.5 transfer. For the same hotel with the card, you would only need 26,666 Citi points. The math would have been:

26,666 ÷ 5 x .01 = $53

That wasn’t all that better… but it’s the right thought.

3) Find a cheaper MS.

You can learn new tricks, find cheaper giftcards, cheaper ways to liquidate, etc. Of course this is easier said than done, but I would start by reading Frequent Miler. Maybe by adding some category bonuses you can lower the cost (which I guess can also fall into step 2).

Let’s figure the new cost based on these three tips. Like staying at the slightly cheaper Hilton, using a better card, and assuming I found a way to get gift cards for $2.50 per $500 and a way to liquidate for free (bringing the cost down to .005%).

30,000 points after transferring from Citi would be 20,000 TY points. And with the Citi Forward, you’d do 5x and therefore need to spend $4,000. And now we’ve lowered our cost. It would look like this:

20,000 ÷ 5 x .005 = $20

That I can do.

If I were MSing for a hotel trip, I would do this…

I would make the same chart but with hotels. Actually, lets really run through an example.

Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Figure out what points you can earn.  Assess what credit cards you have… or be willing to get all of them and therefore do the first two steps after choosing hotels (step 3).
  2. Figure out the category bonuses.
  3. Write down every hotel and how many points it would cost.
  4. Do the math: [points] / [bonus] x [cost of ms]

I did an example with Prague, using some basic cards listed above. And the math would look like this (also assuming MS costs .01%).

Chain Hotel Points Needed Bonus X cost @.01
Club Carlson Radisson Blu 44,000 5 $88
Park Inn 28,000 5 $56
Hilton HHonors Hilton Prague 30,000 6 $50
Hilton Prague Old Town 40,000 6 $66.66
IHG InterContinental 35,000 5 $70
Holiday Inn 15,000 5 $30
Marriott Marriott 35,000 5 $70
Courtyard 20,000 5 $40
SPG Sheraton 10,000 1 $100



If you don’t do a lot of travel in general and/or you don’t have a ton of cards to start out with you may get more benefit from a signup bonus than the spend bonus. In other words, you might consider getting a card with a large signup bonus instead of getting a card with a small signup bonus just to do the spends.

That being said, if you’re good at MS, you have as much travel as us, and as many cards as us, try to have some goals for your travel. Now you don’t hear me advocate for goals often but MS is different. Because by default it’s easy to MS for cash, as it always seems profitable. But sometimes, you would actually do better MSing for points. But without a goal MSing could be an endless trail of expenses.

These are some things to think about when MSing for hotels. Which cards give bonuses, how to properly calculate for which hotels, and the general concept of looking at all the hotels you’re considering, or the regions you’re considering.

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  1. “Like the Old Amex Blue 5x with a 1:1.5 transfer. For the same hotel with the card, you would only need 26,666 Amex points. The math would have been:

    26,666 ÷ 5 x .01 = $53″

    Did you mean the Citi Forward/TY Points here? Or did I just not know that somehow the cashback earned from Old Amex Blue can somehow turn into Hilton points at 1:1.5?

    • Thanks. It doesn’t earn MR points lol.

  2. I don’t know what MS means….

    • Manufactured Spending

    • OY VEY

  3. Another really well done post Drew! I’ve been reading your posts for about a year and am really impressed. I have a lot of people that use me as a resource and I will forward them this post. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Smay.

  4. I like this chart. My only suggestion is that the 1% cost assumption does not reconcile with how the specific card bonuses can be accrued. I’m not aware of any 1% methods at office and bookstores. So for ex. the actual cost for Hyatt/IHG/Marriot top tier is closer to $200. The current chart makes top tier Hyatt look too cheap to MS. Please do let me know if I’m wrong :)

    • I wonder about Hyatt as well. It costs $4.88 per 1k points at Staples after VSE. So, top cat Hyatt would cost about $150 after including liquidation fees. I would love to be proven wrong :)

    • Well the reality is, there’s no one flat rate of 1%. It’s a huge assumption. And everyone, store, card will be different in that way.
      But the answer would be a portal bonus for a specific store. Check FM.

  5. I really like the approach of creating a chart specific to the destination your focusing on in order to compare all of your different options. Great post all around – highly informative.

    • Thanks. May have to try again with another destination.

  6. I really like how you did the charts. I would add just one more thing though.

    When I calculate what hotel redemptions will cost me, I always look at how much MS I have to do and what the fees will add up to, just like you pointed out. But I also have one extra step. I always check the nightly rates and calculate what my *actual* rate would be using my Arrival miles. If the rate is low enough, you can save a lot of money this way.

    It feels a bit awkward at first because I didn’t like the fact that I was putting an actual charge on my credit card instead of using points. But when you do the math, it can make sense. I mean you’re paying yourself back through MS anyway.

    There’s also an added bonus to this too. You don’t have to worry about transfer partners or redemption sweet spots with Arrival miles. If your net cost ends up being cheaper than a points redemption, you’ve done well. It’s a great catch-all card for hotel/air bookings IMO.

    • Sure, you earn points, can choose any hotel, etc…
      Yea, I’d agree there’s a point where cash is better, and this doesn’t begin to address that.

  7. How did you ms $30k and then liquidate all of it in one day?

  8. I also want to know the answer for Jack’s question, too. How did you liquidate $30k in one day?

    • Made a deposit.

    • can u email details, thanks

  9. Was just in Prague. Moved between Park Inn, Intercontinental, and Hiltons, all on BRGs. Spent way less than these MS charts. AND I didn’t have to wait in line at Wal-Mart. PASS

    • Well, I too have not been in a walmart line in a year. But some would argue scoring a BRG with IHG has harder than standing inline at WM (not that I do that).

  10. I’m new to frequent flyer programs, but not to travel. And I don’t often travel to expensive places, so I’m much less interested in hotel rewards than in air rewards. If you’re travelling 8,000 or 10,000 miles, an airline ticket has no substitute. But in the inexpensive countries where I like to go, there are always good comfortable rooms for rent at rates far below those charged by the big North American and European chains, which means I’m collecting a low hourly payrate for the MSing necessary to invent the required points. But hey, YMMV, and I do like the BRG. It appeals to the buccaneer in me.

  11. I always factor in the Carlson last award night free when booking my nights and try to book those whenever possible.

  12. Great info. Really debating between the Barclay’s arrival card vs MS for points.


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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
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