How to Earn Free or Heavily Discounted Hotel Stays as a Canadian

by | Published Mar 23, 2020 | Edited Sep 25, 2022


So, you’ve followed our introduction to credit card points and perhaps fallen down the rabbit hole of the r/churningcanada resources page. That means you should be well on your way to, or have already earned, some sweet frequent flyer miles which you plan to use soon to fly in comfort to your favourite destination. 

Wouldn’t it be sweet if you could supplement your new frugal flying habits by also saving money on your hotel/accommodation? 

Well, as it turns out, you can! There are a modest number of rewards programs in Canada that offer bonuses through credit cards and other promotional offers. These rewards are available for the taking simply by applying a similar methodology we’ve used for earning airline points. 

In this post, I will provide an overview of the primary programs that are available to Canadian residents. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many compared with our southern neighbors in the United States. 

Nevertheless, it’s important to be aware of these programs and the best methods currently available for earning their points. In other posts, we talk about ways to optimize the use of these hotel programs, including things such as earning status and status matching, redemption strategies, and also other global hotel programs you can take advantage of if you decide to take the plunge into the US market.

What are the Primary Hotel Programs available in Canada? 

The most accessible rewards programs available to Canadians are Marriott Bonvoy and Best Western Rewards. Another program worthy of mention is Hilton Honors. You can also utilize Hotels.com which has a rewards program, or redeem points issued by bank rewards programs for hotel stays. For this post however, we’ll just focus on hotel chains with loyalty programs, and save discussion on the merit of using Hotels.com or bank-issued rewards points (aka monopoly money) for another time.

Marriott Bonvoy

Marriott Bonvoy is the preeminent hotel conglomerate and rewards program available to Canadians (and arguably the US as well). You may have heard of the Starwood program which was very popular previously and eventually merged with Marriott to become Marriott Bonvoy. Under their umbrella are more than 30 hotel brands and 6700 hotels worldwide.  

Participating Brands

marriott bonvoy portfolio of brands

Earn points at St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, Le Méridien, Westin, Sheraton, Aloft, Elements, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels, Element, Four Points, The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts, EDITION, Autograph Collection, AC Hotels, Marriott, Gaylord Hotel, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn & Suites, SpringHill Suites, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Executive Apartments, Protea Hotels and Delta Hotels. 

Benefits of Membership

All members get free WiFi and exclusive member rates. Reward points can be redeemed for hotel rooms, flights, cocktails, meals, spa experiences, gift cards, and more.

marriott bonvoy table of status benefits

Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Titanium members get additional perks including larger discounts, bonus points, free meals, and complimentary room upgrades. The most useful status level for Bonvoy is Platinum and above which secures suite upgrades and breakfast (although Gold can sometimes score suite upgrades too, and standard room upgrades otherwise).

Related: Fast Track Your Way to Marriott Platinum Status & How I Earned Marriott Platinum Status with a Local Promotion

Anecdotally, we have had great success in being upgraded as Marriott Platinum members, including at the JW Marriott Edmonton, Delta Burnaby, and St. Regis Rome.

How to Earn Marriott Bonvoy Points

1a. Canadian Credit Card Signup Bonuses

American Express Marriott Bonvoy Personal

The American Express Marriott Bonvoy Personal card earns Bonvoy points and offers cardholders benefits including an annual free night and 15 qualifying nights towards elite status.

BONUS
50,000 Marriott Bonvoy
MINSPEND
$1,500
NET VALUE
$330+
ANNUAL FEE
$120
FOREX FEES
Yes
American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business

The American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business card earns Bonvoy points and offers cardholders benefits including an annual free night and 15 qualifying nights towards elite status.

BONUS
50,000 Marriott Bonvoy
MINSPEND
$1,500
NET VALUE
$300+
ANNUAL FEE
$150
FOREX FEES
Yes

1b. US Credit Signup Bonuses

Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold

The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold credit card earns Marriott Bonvoy points on all purchases and is available to individuals in the United States.

This card grants an annual 15 elite qualifying nights towards Marriott Bonvoy status.

BONUS
30,000 Marriott Bonvoy
MINSPEND
$1,000
NET VALUE
$270+
ANNUAL FEE
$0
FOREX FEES
No
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless

The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card earns Marriott Bonvoy points on all purchases and is available to individuals in the United States.

BONUS
150,000 Marriott Bonvoy
MINSPEND
$3,000
NET VALUE
$1,255+
ANNUAL FEE
$95
FOREX FEES
No
American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant

The American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card earns Marriott Bonvoy points and offers cardholders instant Bonvoy platinum status, an annual $300 restaurant credit, an annual free night, 25 annual elite qualifying nights, and Priority Pass Select membership.

Check out our American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant review for more details about this card.

BONUS
95,000 Marriott Bonvoy
MINSPEND
$5,000
NET VALUE
$205+
ANNUAL FEE
$450
FOREX FEES
No
American Express US Marriott Bonvoy Business

The American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business card earns Marriott Bonvoy points and offers cardholders benefits such as an annual free night and 15 elite qualifying nights to work towards Bonvoy status.

BONUS
75,000 Marriott Bonvoy
MINSPEND
$3,000
NET VALUE
$550+
ANNUAL FEE
$125
FOREX FEES
No

2. Transfer Points from Other Programs

Transfer Canadian Amex MR → Marriott Bonvoy 

  • Transfers at a 1:1.2 ratio in increments of 100 points and a minimum of 1000 points (ie. 1000 MR → 1200 Bonvoy)
  • You can transfer regular MR or the special MR (MR-S) earned from Amex Cobalt or Business Edge cards.

Transfer American Points 

  • You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) or US Amex MR at a rate of 1:1.  

3. Refer a Friend or Colleague 

If you have a Bonvoy credit card you can refer others to it, and you both earn a bonus. 

You can also refer friends to the Bonvoy membership program

4. Stay at Bonvoy hotels

Marriott members earn a base of 10 award points per dollar spent on qualifying charges for stays at a majority of Marriott hotel brands. This bonus increases further if you use a Bonvoy credit card to make your purchases. 

5. Organize a Meeting or Event at a Marriott Property

You can earn 2 points per dollar for any qualifying event held at a Marriott property, up to a maximum base earning of 60,000 points per event. Marriott elite members also get a bonus on these earnings. 

Additionally, you’ll earn an Elite Night Credit for every additional 20 rooms you book as part of your event.

Points Expiry

Your Marriott Bonvoy membership will expire after 24 consecutive months of inactivity. ie. no redeeming or earning activities. The simplest way to keep your points from expiring is to make any purchase with your Bonvoy branded credit card. Otherwise you could book a stay at a Bonvoy hotel, or redeem a small portion of your points for a very low category hotel.

FAQs

Marriott Bonvoy’s website has a good knowledge base with search functionality and lots of FAQs. If that doesn’t have what you’re looking for, try the FlyerTalk Forums Marriott Bonvoy Master Thread.

Best Western

There are two facts that make this hotel chain, and the Best Western Rewards program, worth mentioning. 

For one, they have a credit card offered through MBNA which can, from time to time, be a good card to pick up. 

Why do I say from time to time?  Because as I write this, the MBNA Best Western credit card welcome offer is a measly 20,000 BW points. That’s barely enough for a single night at a BW, which is worth about $100, give or take. However, I picked up the card in 2019 when it had a 40,000 welcome bonus, and paired it with a cash back rebate from GreatCanadianRebates for $100. That’s right, I got paid $100 to pick up this no annual fee card and simultaneously collect points worth 2-3 free nights hotel stay. That’s a good use of a hard pull.  In the past, this card has had 50,000 and even 60,00 welcome bonuses. Keep an eye on the Frugal Flyer credit card comparison tool for the latest and greatest offers.   

Reason number two for why this chain can be valuable is their ‘No Catch Status Match’ program which allows you to achieve elite status (up to Diamond Select) with the Best Western rewards chain relatively easily. 

Best Western (BW) has relatively cheap hotels. You may find yourself staying at these locations a few times a year already. If that’s the case, why not take advantage of their program and its promotional offers to reap cheaper stays and better perks during your stays? 

Benefits of Membership

best western rewards table of status benefits

Compared to Marriott or Hilton, the Best Western status program is quite modest. The room upgrade for Gold status and above is quite nice, and as mentioned, if you already stay here from time to time, earning 50% bonus points and welcome points on arrival can be a nice supplement to your points balance.    

A small note on the room upgrade. Unlike Marriott and Hilton, room upgrades are not handled as well, or as systematically. Some experiences on Flyertalk show that it can be hotel-dependent whether they decide to honor your request, or ignore you completely. The best practice is to call or email the hotel beforehand and make the request to a manager. 

How to Earn Best Western Rewards Points

1. Credit Card Signup Bonus

MBNA Best Western

The MBNA Best Western card earns Best Western Rewards points and gives cardholders the opportunity to earn 5x Best Western Rewards on purchases at Best Western properties.

This card is currently discontinued and is unable to be applied for.

BONUS
20,000 Best Western Rewards
MINSPEND
$0
NET VALUE
$140+
ANNUAL FEE
$0
FOREX FEES
Yes

As mentioned, the MBNA Best Western credit card has no annual fee, and gives you 20,000-60,000 Best Western rewards points on first purchase (no MSR).   With it, you earn 1 BW reward per $1 spent, (5 BW rewards per $1 at BW properties). You will also get complimentary Gold status for as long as you hold the card. 

American Firstbank Best Western Premium Mastercard
American Firstbank Best Western Premium Mastercard

Worth mentioning, if you’re in the US or a Canadian who plays the US credit card game, the American BW card is much more lucrative, earning 50,000 ($1000 MSR in 3 months) – 75,000 ($5000 MSR in 12 months) points at the time of writing. With it, you also earn 10 points per $1 spent at BW properties (this stacks with the regular earn rate for BW membership). It has a $59 annual fee. Learn more about the American First Bank Best Western Mastercard(s) here.

2. Transfer from Diners Club Rewards

If you have a Diners Club card that earns reward points, you can transfer them to Best Western Rewards. Moving the minimum of 7,576 Club Rewards points will earn 20,000 Best Western Rewards points at a transfer rate of 1:2.64

3. Earn on Car Rentals

Best Western Rewards members can earn points for renting a car from Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, National and Sixt. Offers range from 3 points per $1 spent at participating locations, to a flat 1,000 points on every rental. To learn more about rental car partners, visit the Best Western Rewards website

Points Expiry

Best Western Rewards points never expire. Ever!

FAQs

  1. How many points do you need to get a free night at Best Western?

    Pricing is based on the tiers and room type, but can range from 8,000 to as high as 36,000 per night.

  2. What can Best Western Rewards points be redeemed for?

    You can redeem points free nights at Best Western hotels, gas cards, dining, shopping, and more. In general, the best value comes from redeeming for hotels at  Best Western, and the worst comes from dining, shopping or retail products.

  3. What are BW rewards points worth? 

    On average, BW points are worth 0.7 cents each when redeemed for hotels. Because this is the average, you should always strive for redeeming points at or above 0.7 cents per point.  

  4. Can I book free nights for other people?

    Yes. You can gift free nights to friends and family. You’ll buy a free night certificate and give it to your recipient. Then, they’ll call customer service to book their stay. 

  5. Can I book a Best Western room for someone else using my credit card?

    Yes, but the process is a bit more involved – see this post by WalletHub for details

  6. Can I transfer Best Western points to airlines?

    Yes. Travel is one option to redeem your points, at one of Best Western’s 16+ partner airlines, available through the Best Western redemption mall.

  7. Can I earn Airline points instead of Best Western points at eligible hotel stays?

    Yes. You can earn around 250 airline miles per stay at one of Best Western’s 16+ partner airlines. 

  8. Can I buy Best Western points?

    Yes. You can buy BW points for 1000 points per $10, up to 20,000 points per transaction. There is a minimum purchase amount of 1,000 points.

  9. Can Best Western points be transferred?

    Yes. You can transfer points to anyone who shares the same physical address as you. To transfer points, contact the Best Western customer service team.

Hilton Honors

This program really deserves a mention, even though they are only a partner of American Express in the USA and not in Canada.

Hilton is a large conglomerate of hotels, like Marriott Bonvoy. They are smaller by a fraction, at 5500+ hotels worldwide. 

Related: Hilton Grand Vacations: How To Save on Hotel Costs

The Hilton loyalty program, coined ‘Hilton Honors’ or ‘HHonors’ for short, is also fairly similar to Bonvoy’s, both having several tiers or categories of hotels, and several tiers of status, offering promotions like ‘5th Night Free’ on award bookings, and so on.

Participating Brands

Participating brands include: Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Canopy by Hilton, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton, Embassy Suites Hotels, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Home2 Suites by Hilton, Hilton Grand Vacations, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Tru by Hilton, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, and Motto by Hilton

Benefits of Membership

As with Bonvoy, status with the Hilton loyalty program can net you complimentary breakfast, suite upgrades, late checkout, and access to lounges (when available). Hilton status is more easily attained than Bonvoy, with several credit cards giving you Gold status, including the Hilton Honors Surpass card and The Platinum Card from American Express

Hilton Gold status itself is more valuable than Bonvoy Gold status as the former gets you complimentary breakfast/lounge access, whereas those benefits are only available at the Bonvoy Platinum level.  Furthermore, you can actually achieve the highest Hilton tier, Diamond status, just by holding their top tier card, the Hilton Honors Aspire.   

hilton honors table of status benefits

How to Earn Hilton Honors Points

1. Credit Card Signup Bonuses

As mentioned, Hilton Honors doesn’t have a co-branded product in Canada. However, if you have access to the US market, you can take advantage of the following products: 

American Express Hilton Honors

The American Express Hilton Honors card earns Hilton Honors points and grants cardholders instant Hilton Honors Silver elite status.

BONUS
80,000 Hilton Honors
MINSPEND
$1,000
NET VALUE
$480+
ANNUAL FEE
$0
FOREX FEES
No
American Express Hilton Honors Surpass

The American Express Hilton Honors Surpass card earns Hilton Honors points and offers cardholders benefits such as instant Hilton Gold elite status and ten complimentary airport lounge passes per year.

BONUS
130,000 Hilton Honors
MINSPEND
$2,000
NET VALUE
$780+
ANNUAL FEE
$95 (FYF)
FOREX FEES
No
American Express Hilton Honors Aspire

The American Express Hilton Honors Aspire card earns Hilton Honors points and offers cardholders an annual $250 Hilton Resort credit, a $200 airline fee credit, instant Hilton Diamond Elite status, an annual free night, and more.

BONUS
150,000 Hilton Honors
MINSPEND
$4,000
NET VALUE
$450+
ANNUAL FEE
$450
FOREX FEES
No
American Express Hilton Honors Business

The American Express Hilton Honors Business card earns Hilton Honors points and offers cardholders benefits such as instant Hilton Gold elite status and ten complimentary airport lounge passes per year.

BONUS
130,000 Hilton Honors
MINSPEND
$3,000
NET VALUE
$685+
ANNUAL FEE
$95
FOREX FEES
No

2. Transfer Points from Other Programs

Transfer Canadian Amex Membership Rewards → Hilton Honors 

  • Transfers at a 1:1 ratio in increments of 100 points and a minimum of 1000 points (ie. 1000 MR → 1000 HHonors). There have been 50% bonuses for this in the past (usually August), and this is really the only time it is worth doing. 
  • You can transfer regular MR or the special MR (MR-S) earned from Amex Cobalt or Business Edge cards.

Transfer American Credit Card Rewards Points 

  • You can transfer US Amex MR to HHonors at a rate of 1:2, in increments of 1000 (ie. 1000 MR → 2000 HHonors).  
  • You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) at a rate of 1:1.5, in increments of 10,000 (ie. 10,000 UR → 15,000 HHonors). Note: this involves a backdoor method where you transfer your UR first to Virgin Atlantic and then to HHonors (as they are not direct partners). See here for a tutorial.  

Transfer from Airline Partners

  • You can transfer from Amtrak (1:2, increments of 5,000), Hawaiian Airlines (1:1.5, increments of 10,000) or Virgin Atlantic (1:1.5, increments of 10,000). See Hilton’s ‘Exchange Points’ page for further details.  

3. Other Methods to Earn Hilton Honors

Stay at Hilton Hotels: Earn 10 points per $1 spent on stays at Hilton properties, coupled with 7-12 additional points if using a Hilton Honors credit card.  

Hilton Dining Rewards Program: You can earn up to 5 points per $1 spent at select bars/restaurants, by signing up for this free program. Only applicable to restaurants in the USA. 

Rent a car or rideshare: Hilton has partnerships with Alamo, Enterprise, National, and Lyft. The bonuses are peanuts, but if you’re already renting from these partners anyways, might as well pick up the points. 

Points Expiry 

The official policy straight from Hilton:

“Hilton Honors Points do not expire as long as members remain active in the program. To keep an account active, Members can stay at one of Hilton’s hotels, or earn or redeem Hilton Honors Points within 12 months.”

FAQs

A great living post on FAQs pertaining to Hilton Honors can be found at Flyertalk

So, what should be your strategy going forward?

Most people will advocate for joining one program and pushing to stay at that program’s hotels primarily on your trips. This is feasible because most programs comprise large loyalty groups which own several chains of hotels worldwide. The goal is twofold: (1) you will want to maximize your earn rate with that program so you can redeem stays faster, and (2) by staying more frequently with that program you have a better chance of earning ‘elite status’ (I’m hoping that by putting it in quotations, it doesn’t sound as pretentious).  

Of course, don’t let this deter you from signing up for promotions and staying at other hotels when it makes sense. Once you have status with one program, you can sometimes utilize that status to hop around to other programs. More on this later 😉

Ultimately, your primary option as a Canadian with access to only Canadian credit cards, is to collect Marriott Bonvoy points. We strongly suggest that once you’ve maximized your game with this program and the two cards discussed, you consider getting a US card – this is when you’ll really start to have some more choices to make. 

And finally, don’t lose sight of your personal finance goals with this hobby, which are individual to you. For example, if your goal is to stay in luxury for a discount, your hotel strategy may be different than one whose goal is to save as much money on accommodation as possible. In the latter case, some trips may make more sense value-wise to pay cash for your hotel, or stay at an AirBNB. In these cases, remember that there are other avenues for getting discounts and earning points, such as booking through Hotels.com at discount, or using services like Rocketmiles or PointsHound to book. You can even earn Delta SkyMiles for an AirBNB stay by booking directly through Delta.   

This will be a continuing topic of coverage for Frugal Flyer, as hotel programs evolve (and devolve) quickly just like airline programs, so stay tuned! And as always, happy frugal flying!

Reed Sutton

Reed Sutton

Founder at Frugal Flyer
Reed is addicted to the science (and art) of earning and redeeming travel points, and frequently pairs his trips with his other hobby: photography. Through Frugal Flyer, Reed aims to distill some of the complex and esoteric points strategies into digestible information. Furthermore, he hopes to use his technical expertise to develop invaluable applications and tools for the travel community.

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