Most products on this page are from partners who may compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how they appear on the page. However, opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain.

Do you have plans to travel to a big game, a major concert, a large festival or a convention? How about celebrating the New Year or attending a college graduation out of town?

Sometimes, scoring tickets to a popular event can actually be the easy part. The hard part comes when you’re trying to find an affordable place to stay. Hotel owners and lodging hosts look forward to big events, and can raise their prices as high as the market will bear.

I recently stayed at the La Quinta Inn in Oshkosh, WI during the EAA AirVenture. This massive airshow, industry convention and aviation festival drew approximately 677,000 visitors over seven days to a small town in rural Wisconsin.

The budget hotel by the highway is nice enough, but it’s certainly not anything fancy. Yet it was selling rooms for approximately $600 a night, including taxes. Thankfully, I was able to stay three nights there for free by using travel rewards. 

The Best Hotel Loyalty Programs for Award Stays During Big Events

La Quinta Inn by Wyndham Oshkosh

La Quinta Inn by Wyndham Oshkosh

There are many hotel loyalty programs, and some seem to be designed to make it impossible to book free nights during peak occupancy periods. Thankfully, there are other loyalty programs that don’t seem to take into account local events when offering award nights, and may (unintentionally) make it easier to use your points to stay for free

The Wyndham Rewards® program is the best example of a big event-friendly loyalty program. Wyndham covers numerous budget brands including Days Inn, Super 8, Microtel, Howard Johnson, Travelodge, Ramada and La Quinta. The Wyndham Rewards program offers any unsold room available for one of their Go Free® awards, which are offered at three free night tiers at 7,500, 15,000 or 30,000 points per bedroom. 

And since the La Quinta Inn in Oshkosh, WI was charging such a high nightly rate, their rooms didn’t sell out that quickly, leaving me the opportunity to scoop one up. I earn plenty of Wyndham points from my Wyndham Rewards Earner® Business card, as well as the consumer version. You can also transfer points from Citi ThankYou® Rewards or Capital One® miles to the Wyndham program. 

Hilton Honors is another worthwhile program. I’m staying at a Hilton Garden Inn for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta this October. The annual Balloon Fiesta is a ton of fun, and it’s not just the biggest thing to happen each year in Albuquerque, it appears to be the only thing. In fact, you’ll find room rates soaring to even higher levels than the colorful hot-air ships that bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. I attribute my success in booking a Hilton property with points to the sheer size of the Hilton program, as well as their policy of making unsold rooms available on points. 

World of Hyatt® is normally one of my favorite programs, but sadly, they tend to let me down during peak seasons and big events. That’s because they let hotels flagrantly manipulate the inventory that they offer as awards. While their policy is to offer any unsold standard room, their hotels find all sorts of creative ways to classify rooms as non-standard in some trivial way, exempting them from offering most of their rooms as awards. As a result, you’ll rarely find awards available during peak periods, even as the hotel continues to sell rooms that are standard in every way, save for a slight difference in its description. 

IHG® One Rewards, the program for Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza and others, can also offer some award availability during peak events. I checked Albuquerque for rooms during the Balloon Fiesta two months beforehand and was surprised to find plenty of hotels available on points. That could be because IHG has so many properties, but it’s otherwise not a tremendously popular loyalty program. 

However, don’t even bother looking at Marriott Bonvoy™. Although it's a very large and popular program, it seems to allow properties to black out award nights during peak times. The Choice Privileges® program isn’t likely to be a good option either as they only allow award bookings within 100 days of an event. But it can be worth setting a reminder 100 days out, just in case the properties have increased their rates so high that there are still some rooms left. And thankfully, Citi ThankYou Rewards points transfer at a fantastic 1:2 ratio for points in the Choice Privileges program. That means that 10,000 Citi points become 20,000 Choice points. 

couple scuba diving at W Maldives Related Article

The 5 Best Hotel Loyalty Rewards Programs

Read More

Other Tips and Tricks for Getting a Hotel Room During a Big Event

crowd at a concert


The first and most important thing to know about attending large events is to book your rooms as early as possible. Most hotels allow you to book rooms about a year in advance. So, if you’re attending an annual event, it means that you’ll want to book next year’s rooms around the time you go to this year’s event. 

You should also book speculatively, as hotel awards can typically be canceled without any penalty (and hotels will be thrilled to sell them for top dollar). So, if you’re angling for tickets to a big concert, or hoping to see your team in the playoffs, book your hotel before the event even goes on sale or your team has advanced. 

And if you find available award nights, consider booking a second room just in case you have other family or friends that want to join you. You can always cancel it later, but offering that room to someone will make you a hero!

Another trick is to keep looking. Before big events, hotels will often block out rooms for large groups that are attending. But they will often release any unused rooms as the event approaches. To find out when these rooms are released, simply call the property and ask to speak with a manager. Tell them that you really want to stay there, and ask them if they know when or if they’ll be releasing rooms from an unsold block. 

Bottom Line

Concerts, sporting events, festivals and graduations can be great fun to attend, but not if you have to pay outrageous amounts for nearby lodging. By using the best hotel loyalty programs and understanding how to maximize them, you could find yourself staying for free, even as others are paying top dollar.

family playing on beach near sailboats at Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana Related Article

6 Ways to Make Your Points Go Further When Redeeming for Travel

Read More

Jason Steele

Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel and other areas of personal finance. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at mainstream outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money and Business Insider.