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A good historic hotel can make your whole trip. Historic hotels speak to one of the core reasons so many of us love to travel. They can connect us to a location, to a culture, and to stories in a way cookie-cutter chains simply cannot aspire. While I love the value proposition offered by brands like Hampton Inn – a reliable place to sleep between adventure and exploration. But a historic hotel can be PART of the adventure and exploration, immersing you in the story and uniqueness of your destination.
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Good historic hotels can be difficult, however, for a budget-conscious traveler to find. The grand castles and mansions and repurposed stately structures always seem so expensive, while the affordable options can seem more old and tired than storied and engaging.
Luckily, there’s a third option: you can book some great historic hotels on points. The tricky part can be finding them.
A good place to start is in the “soft brands” of major hotel families–brands with high standards but which don’t impose many requirements, thus allowing unique properties to maintain more of their character (without feeling like “just another [insert chain brand here]”). Starwood’s Luxury Collection and Marriott’s Autograph Collection are full of great examples, while Hilton’s Curio Collection and Hyatt’s Unbound Collection are showing extraordinary promise with some awesome hotels.
But what many people I talk to don’t realize is that the standard brands also include some amazing historic hotels. In this post, I want to show you some examples of hotels which you can book on points and what credit card you might consider for earning free nights there the fastest. I’m also not going to take the easy way out: none of my examples will be from the soft brands. And they’ll all be from the United States, just to prove how surprisingly common and close these hotels can be (though there are great historic hotels abroad too).
Hilton has a surprisingly rich portfolio of historic hotels. Some, like the Tudor-style Hilton NYC Grand Central or the Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue, were early residential skyscrapers of yesteryear converted into modern hotels. Others, like the Arizona Biltmore Waldorf Astoria property, have been phenomenal hotels since the day they opened. I’ve had my eye on that Arizona resort ever since I learned the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright consulted on the design. It first opened to guests in 1929, but its history doesn’t stop at its age and pedigree. From vacations taken by Marilyn Monroe to hosting John McCain’s 2008 election night, this hotel has seen more than its fair share of history. For those of you worried about this summer’s heat wave in Arizona, you’ll be relieved to learn that the hotel has had air conditioning since 1962.
The Citi HHonors card offers two free weekend night, which is the most straightforward strategy. But with the Citi Hilton cards on their way out, the Amex Hilton Surpass card is going to be the best way to earn points, from both the signup bonus and the ongoing spend (plus, I argue it’s a good card to have anyway as the cheapest way to maintain Gold status with Hilton).
With Hyatt’s smaller footprint, more recent expansions, and tendency to focus on airports and convention areas, it can be a little harder to find a great historic Hyatt. But it’s not impossible. In fact, one of my favorite historic hotels I’ve ever stayed at is a Hyatt Regency…in Cleveland, of all places.
I present the Hyatt Regency Cleveland at the Arcade, and it’s that last bit which makes it really special. The Arcade is one of America’s oldest indoor shopping malls, dating back to the 1890s. The bottom two floors still have stores in them today (along with a post office and a couple restaurant options). The upper floors, however, along with a connected tower are hotel rooms. I learned that people will request specific room numbers so they can stay in a location special to their family. For example, they may request the room which once held their great grandfather’s old shop. Stepping into the middle of this building is like stepping back a hundred years, and staying here made my weekend trip to Cleveland one of my most memorable, enjoyable and–yeah, I’ll say it–enchanting vacations (and not to put too fine a point on it, but those aren’t words often associated with someone’s weekend in Cleveland).
What credit card would you use to score free nights here? You’d think the Hyatt card, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is actually the better option here. The Hyatt card offers a 40,000-point bonus, while the Sapphire Preferred offers 50,000 points. As a Category 2 property, this hotel only requires 8,000 points per night – quite the bargain! So the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s signup bonus, which can be transferred 1:1 to Hyatt would give you 6 free nights (7 after meeting the minimum spend), whereas the Hyatt card’s signup bonus would only give you at most 5 nights with some points left over after meeting the minimum spend. (Both cards offer 5,000 points for adding an authorized user who makes a purchase within the first 3 months.)
With IHG, it can be tough to find historic hotels. The Holiday Inn brands, which make up the majority of the portfolio, tend to be cookie-cutter mid-scale offerings. The Crowne Plaza brand has a reputation for being dated, but not in a particularly historic or charming way. There are exceptions, of course–New Orleans interestingly has both a historic Holiday Inn (Chateau LeMoyne in the French Quarter) and a historic Crowne Plaza (the Astor on Canal Street).
The best historic IHG property I’ve ever been to, however, is easily the InterContinental Willard in Washington DC. The hotel has far too much history to even summarize here. It’s almost 200 years old and the birthplace of the term “lobbyist”–referring to people who would wait in the lobby for the chance to talk to then-President Ulysses S. Grant, who frequented the hotel. To really immerse yourself, visit the room by the north entrance. You will find a mini-museum dedicated to the hotel’s history. You can also sample some historically accurate cocktails at the bar.
I was only in town for a very quick trip, so my free night strategy here was simple. I used the annual free night certificate that comes with the IHG credit card for its $49 annual fee. Rooms here can easily go for ten times that amount, depending on the night!
Marriott has a huge number of brands in its rewards program, which means there’s a lot of variety beyond the thousand or so Courtyards that scatter the countryside. In this case, I want to call your attention to the Renaissance brand of hotels, which actually maintains a list of suggested historic properties! This makes my work for this section much easier. You may notice the Mayflower hotel on the list. Without getting political, that hotel seems to attract scandals, from secret meetings with the Russians to alleged presidential mistresses.
One from that list which might otherwise slip under your radar is the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel. Providence is an interesting, often-overlooked city, and two of its top hotels are both historic and bookable on points. The Providence Renaissance made the National Register of Historic Places not as a hotel, but as a Masonic Temple.
If you’re looking for a credit card strategy to earn free nights at Marriotts, I strongly suggest going for one of the Starwood cards instead of Marriott’s own credit cards. Starpoints transfer to Marriott at a 1:3 rate. Therefore, after meeting the minimum spend, you’ll have more Marriott points than you would have from Marriott’s own card. The Starwood card also earns more Marriott points per dollar than the Marriott card literally everywhere you can use it. You can get a personal Starwood card or the business version; they’re very similar. The business version requires a higher minimum spend.
Yeah, yeah, it’s the St. Regis.
THE St. Regis, the one after which the brand is named, the one which, every time it gets an update, instantly becomes “one of the most luxurious hotels in the world” once more. It’s been an iconic New York hotel since 1904 when John Jacob Astor IV himself founded it. Today it’s the flagship of the global St. Regis brand which bears its name. This hotel celebrated the end of prohibition by inventing the Bloody Mary. A different version of that cocktail can be found at every St. Regis location worldwide. Guest have included presidents and royalty, artists and billionaires. It’s a piece of New York and American history! Many of the men and women who shaped the world in which we live walked through the same doors you can access with points alone.
How do you start earning those points? Like any Starwood or Marriott property, your best bet is the Starwood cards. Both the personal Starwood card and the business version would work for you, depending on your situation, and I find both preferable to paying over $1,000/night as is often the going rate.
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