5 New Starwood Hotels You Can Visit for Free

Planning your spring break vacation? Be sure to factor in these Starwood hotels you can stay at for free.

As we move into spring break season, a lot of you may have vacation plans. If not, then it might be time to start planning a trip. Deciding where to go can be the hardest part of all, as your bucket list of locations may be pretty long. However, if you have credit card rewards, your travel plans will probably be made based on your points and rewards. (You may also consider these 28 ways to save for this years big adventure.)

If you have a large balance of Starwood Points, you might want to consider one of these five Starwood properties that have recently opened around the world. Take a look.

1. Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel

Located in California’s Napa Valley, this new Luxury Collection hotel is perfect for any wine lover. Most of the hotels’ rooms come with spacious balconies overlooking the vineyards. When not taking advantage of the complementary shuttle, you can indulge yourself at the hotels’ luxury spa. Or you might choose to dine at The Acacia House, the restaurant by Top Chef alum Chris Cosentino.

This is a Category seven property, so it will set you back 30,000 to 35,000 points a night.

2. W Las Vegas

If Las Vegas is more your scene, make sure you check out the new W Las Vegas. Located on the northern end of the Strip, you will find this new property in one of the SLS towers. You will have access to seven different restaurants as well as three entertainment venues and a bar to wind down with a drink. If you want to get out and explore the Las Vegas area, Enterprise Rent-a-Car service is available.

The W Las Vegas is a Category five property, so it will cost 12,000 to 16,000 points a night.

3. Le Méridien Visconti Rome

If you are looking to get out of the U.S., then Rome might be the perfect place to visit this year. This new Starwood property is located in a prime location near the Vatican. If you have ever been to Rome, then you know that most of the city’s hotels were decorated with the renaissance style in mind. The Le Méridien Visconti Rome chose to do things a little differently, going for a sleek contemporary look. Not only does this hotel have the perfect location, you will enjoy its rooftop terrace while you relax after a long day of sightseeing.

The Le Méridien Visconti Rome is a Category five property, meaning rooms cost 12,000 to 16,000 points a night.

4. The St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club

Polo is one of the most popular sports in the United Arab Emirates, and this property sits on a massive equestrian complex. In fact, the St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club is host to the Dubai Polo Gold Cup.

The St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club is a Category six property, so rooms will cost 20,000 to 25,000 points a night.

5. Four Points by Sheraton Kolasin

If you are looking to hit the slopes this spring, you might want to check out the Four Points by Sheraton Kolasin. This chalet-style hotel, situated near Montenegro’s northern city, Kolašin, feels just like you are in the Rocky Mountains or Swiss Alps. And it has the services you require. You will find two on-site restaurants, a rental car counter, and a spa where you can relax after a long day on the slopes.

The Four Points by Sheraton Kolasin is a Category four hotel, which means rooms will cost 10,000 points a night.

How to Earn Starwood Points With Your Credit Card

The easiest way to earn Starwood points fast is by using the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. When you sign up for this card, you will earn up to 35,000 points. You will earn 25,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You will then earn an additional 10,000 points after spending another $2,000 in the first six months. (This offer expires April 5, 2017.)

When you use the card at Starwood properties, you can earn up to five points. You can also earn two points when you use the card at participating Marriott properties. All other purchases with the card will earn one point. As a cardholder, you will receive a credit for two stays and five nights that count toward SPG Elite status. (You can read more about this card in our American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card review.)

You can choose to redeem your points at any of the 1,000+ Starwood properties, including the five mentioned above. You can also choose to transfer your points to one of many different airlines. When you do this, you will receive a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. This card has an annual fee of $95 that’s waived the first year. It carries a variable APR of 15.74% to 19.74%, based on your creditworthiness. (Not sure where your credit stands? You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

Note: Marriott bought Starwood hotels last year — You can go here to read about how this will impact your credit card rewards.

How to Earn Starwood Points for Your Business

If you are a business owner, then you will have even more options for earning Starwood points. In addition to the personal credit card, you will also be able to get the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. With this card, you will have the chance to earn 35,000 points. You will receive 25,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. You will then earn another 10,000 points after spending an additional $3,000 in the first six months. (This offer ends April 5, 2017.)

With this card, you will be able to earn Starwood points the same way you can with the personal card. The business card also comes with a few extra benefits. You will receive unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi at any Boingo hotspot, and you will receive access to Sheraton Club lounges. The Starwood Preferred Guest Business card has a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year. Its variable APR is 15.74%, 17.74% or 19.74% based on your creditworthiness when you apply.

At publishing time, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer. Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

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Is It Really Cheaper to Use a Travel Site?

travel credit cards

Unless you’re living large and traveling first class wherever you go, chances are you’re looking to score the best possible airfare, hotel and car rental deals whenever you need or want to travel.

But finding these travel deals can be daunting. You can spend hours searching airfares posted on aggregators, like Kayak, and online travel agent sites, like Travelocity and Orbitz, then comparing them to prices listed on airline and hotel websites, all the while wondering if the deal notification emails you’ve signed up for will send you an even lower rate tomorrow or next week.

Really, it’s enough to make you need a vacation.

While you’re probably never going to know whether you got the absolute cheapest deal available (though our anecdotal research showed that you almost always get a deep discount on hotel-and-airfare combos through online travel agent sites compared to booking them separately through individual hotels and airlines), there are some tricks you can use that can help ensure you get a deal that fits your own personal needs.

If you want to earn maximum airline miles and hotel points…

You can almost always use your airline’s frequent flier or loyalty number when booking on an online travel site, but you’re less likely to be able to use your loyalty number for hotel bookings. So, if that free upgrade to a luxury suite in Istanbul is on your radar, booking directly with the hotel to get those points might be your best bet. One way to work around this is if you have hotel rewards credit card or an airline miles credit card. You might not earn as many points as booking directly with the hotel or airline, but it can help you earn points for future travel. (You can check out the winners of our recent ranking of the best travel credit cards in America.)

If you want maximum flexibility…

If you’re the kind of traveler who wants to change rooms or even hotels midway through your stay — whether because of a problem or just on a whim — booking through a travel site might make things trickier.

Some hotels don’t allow changes on bookings made through a third party, so it’s a good idea to check to see if your chosen booking site will help you.

“Certainly we have heard … from time to time that’s an issue,” Travelocity spokesman Keith Nowak said. “That’s why we put into place our customer first guarantee.” If there’s a challenge at the hotel, Travelocity guarantees they’ll make it right, Nowak said, whether it’s finding a new hotel or correcting a situation at the current hotel.

If you need to travel to specific places on specific dates…

Say you’re booking your own business travel and need to be in downtown Dayton, Ohio, on a specific date and within a two-block radius of your client’s offices. In this case, a tool like Name Your Own Price from Priceline, which lets you choose your price and then finds the cheapest, closest match, but not necessarily on preferred days, may not your best option. Comparison shopping on travel booking sites and your favorite airlines is probably the best way to find what you’re looking for.

If you’re flexible and want a good deal…

This situation is where a site like AirFareWatchdog.com can be your wallet’s best friend. AirFareWatchdog gathers deals and sends you alerts, so if you see something you like you can book it.

“We have a staff of people who look at very many websites and when we find a low airfare we let people know about it,” George Hobica, president and founder of AirFareWatchdog, said. The deals can be so good — like a recent $65 cross-country flight, he noted as an example — you might be enticed to take a vacation you hadn’t planned before.

“Sometimes you didn’t know you needed it, but you see a crazy-low fare like that and you think ‘Well, now I need that,’” Hobica said.

If you find the whole thing daunting…

If you don’t know exactly where or when you want to travel, or if you just find the whole idea of sifting through numerous deals and options too daunting a task, there’s always the option of the old-fashioned travel agent, which really isn’t that bad a deal.

Travel agents by and large have access to the same rates as the online booking sites (sometimes better) and will take care of the booking and planning for you. This may come with a fee, typically $20-$50, but you may find that the convenience of using a travel agent is worth it, and you can make up the expense in other ways. And if you run into any problems before or during your trip they can often help you out with those as well.

More Money-Saving Reads:

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5 Travel Costs Frugal People Don’t Pay

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Most people shy away from the idea of traveling because they think it’ll be expensive.

In reality, traveling doesn’t have to be. If you make it a priority, if you are smart with where and how you spend your money, even the most extravagant-looking trip is within the realm of possibility. It can be even cheaper if you know what upsells and traps to avoid.

Here are five travel expenses frugal people don’t pay so you can make your next vacation more affordable.

1. Luggage Fees

Frugal people are typically practical people and as such, they tend to pack accordingly. Bring only what you need and no more.

This helps you avoid any extra luggage fees, whether it’s spending extra to bring two cases instead of one, or over-packing one to the point of paying extra for each pound over the limit.

Be sure to check the restrictions beforehand so you’re not hit with any surprises. Some airlines are very strict about carry-on dimensions!

Also, when you price flights, remember the luggage rules because one bag fee can turn the cheapest flight into the most expensive one.

2. Convenience Food

We all need to eat! One of the biggest expenses on any trip is food. You can save a lot by living like a local and going to the grocery store instead of restaurants every meal.

Get lodging that has a full kitchen, or at least a microwave or toaster oven, and a fridge. This can save you a ton if you’re staying at a place for a week or more. Bonus points if you’re staying with a group of people and can split the grocery bill and cooking duties.

If a kitchen isn’t possible, look for lodging that offers complimentary breakfast, or at least a cocktail hour.

Additionally, whether you’re traveling by air or by car, packing snacks is always a good idea. Airlines charge a pretty penny for food outside of what’s complimentary on the plane and buying food at the airport comes at a high premium.

3. Full-Price Airline Tickets & Hotel Stays

The ultimate way to be frugal with travel is by not paying for airline tickets or hotel stays. Seasoned “travel hackers” take advantage of travel credit cards and their big sign-up bonuses to travel the world for free. These points and miles translate into free flights and hotel stays. (You can check out our recent ranking of the best travel credit cards in America here.)

This technique isn’t for those currently in debt, or those who can’t trust themselves to stay within their budget when using a credit card. Purchasing things on credit and then letting interest accrue will negate any rewards. (You should also check your credit before applying since good credit scores will net you better terms and conditions. You can do so by viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.)

If you’re responsible with credit, look into the various rewards programs out there, especially with your favorite airline or hotel chain. You can potentially save hundreds of dollars on the two biggest expenses associated with travel by signing up. Many loyalty cards and programs come with additional perks like free luggage and priority boarding, too.

Taking advantage of these types of rewards can offer big savings on any vacation. It could even get you to Disney World for free if you coordinate it properly.

4. Small Incidentals

How many times have you gone on vacation, only to realize you forgot a phone charger, toothpaste, razor or even worse, clothing or shoes?

What if the hotel is out of toiletries? Then you’re running to the nearest store to find what you forgot. That’s an extra expense you didn’t account for, plus possibly having to pay for transportation.

The best solution to this is to create a checklist of everything you need to take with you on trips. Review the list as you’re packing and you won’t forget anything.

If you do, ask if the hotel provides any complimentary items for forgetful travelers. I’ve often forgotten a razor and most hotels will provide one free of charge. It’ll be a single blade disposable razor, but it’s better than nothing.

5. Upsells & Upgrades

Unless rewards points can cover an upgrade, most frugal travelers opt for the cheapest seats. They avoid all the upsells as they’re booking their flight and select only what they need.

Beware of airlines that sell cheaper tickets but make up for it with fees on everything from bags to peanuts. You could end up tacking another $50 to $75 worth of charges on top of your ticket price.

The Rule of Thumb for Traveling Frugally

Being frugal involves practicality and focusing on the big picture. What’s the purpose of your travel? Is what you’re considering buying adding to the overall value of your trip? Is it a make it or break it situation?

If the answer is no, consider skipping it. The best thing you can do to ensure your travels are frugal is to prepare beforehand. You’re already halfway there!

More Money-Saving Reads:

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How We’re Hacking Our Summer Travel

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We climbed out of $51,000 in credit card debt. We credit this achievement to one thing — discovering our why. (We learned from incomparable motivational speaker John Rohn that anything is achievable as long as we first know “why” we want to achieve it. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t get this memo until well after we paid off our credit card debt, but it’s still a great quote to fall back on.)

One of Our ‘Whys’ – Travel

We can’t travel enough. Travel expands our world and gives us with new experiences. We’ve traveled at length both nationally and internationally. Two years ago, to focus on growing the Debt Free Guys, we made the decision to limit ourselves to domestic travel only, mostly to visit family and for work. We can’t not visit mom for three years!

Our three-year international travel hiatus is almost up. That said, we’ve planned, documented and are financially preparing for our 2016 contiguous-48 travel. This year’s travel theme is “family milestones” — a 50th wedding anniversary and a 100th birthday.

First, we’re taking a much-needed vacation in May. This go-round, we’re visiting both Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Calif. As much as we’ve traveled California, John’s never been to LA and neither of us have been to Palm Springs. We both love the mid-century modern architecture and are excited about the latter leg of this trip.

Making Our Travel Cheaper

In June, we’re flying to Dickinson, N.D., to celebrate David’s grandmother’s 100th birthday! We visit Dickinson annually and it’s a nice change of pace from our normal and David’s grandmother has a lot to teach us about life and even money. She’s wise and sharp as a tack.

John hopes to someday beat David’s grandmother in pinochle, which he has yet to do. Despite being 100 years old, she can still count cards. For her 101st birthday, we may take her to Vegas.

When we visit David’s grandmother, our strategy for keeping costs down typically is staying with her. This visit will be different. David’s grandmother has nine children and countless grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Hers will be a full house (no pun intended — that’s a different game).

DFG Summar TravelTo avoid stress, contain costs and maximize our rewards, we’re using our hotel points in Dickinson rather than in bigger cities where hotel points won’t go as far. We can stay at a hotel in Dickinson for half the number of hotel points it costs to stay in Philadelphia. Such is the economics of supply and demand.

When we stay at hotels, we’re prone to use room service to satiate midnight hunger. Several years ago we learned to avoid the excessive room service costs with delivery from nearby restaurants. The same food costs half as much, even with a hefty tip. We search online for restaurants within one mile of our hotel.

In July, we’re flying to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to first visit John’s friends in the City of Brotherly Love, after which we’ll drive to Hershey, Penn., otherwise known as Chocolate Town USA, to visit John’s family. This trip is to celebrate John’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

The round-trip flight will be sponsored by airline miles acquired from travel hacking. We’ve mastered the art of using our credit cards and paying them off each month, so we don’t pay credit card interest. (High credit card balances can also hurt your credit score. You can see how your credit card balances are impacting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.) Paying our balances off in full has helped us accrue points and travel cheaply on our numerous trips. (You can see what some of the best travel credit cards in America offer here.)

Finally, in September, we’re flying to San Diego, Calif., for a personal finance conference. Since the trip is part of our work as the Debt Free Guys, we’ll be sure to deduct our flight as a travel expense when it comes time to do our taxes next year. And we’ll be sure to enjoy the city during our stay.

So, to recap, here are our Debt Free Guys’ travel saving tips.

  1. Use hotel points in smaller cities to stretch hotel points further.
  2. Use restaurant delivery rather than room service.
  3. Use credit cards to acquire airline miles, not credit card debt.
  4. Get a tax deduction on business travel expenses each year.

Try using some of our strategies for planning your summer travel. Every bit of savings helps and, for us, goes towards our investments for maximum return.

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Image: BeylaBalla; Inset Image Courtesy of David Auten and John Schneider

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