Category 1 Hotel Properties
Updated: Jul 20, 2022
https://www.ihg.com/intercontinental/hotels/us/en/kuala-lumpur/kulha/hoteldetail?qDest=Kuala%20Lumpur,%20MYS&qPt=POINTS&qCiD=8&qCoD=9&qCiMy=02022&qCoMy=02022&qAdlt=1&qChld=0&qRms=1&qRtP=IVANI&qAAR=IVANI&srb_u=1&qSrt=sAV&qBrs=6c.hi.ex.sb.ul.ic.cp.cw.in.vn.cv.rs.ki.ma.sp.va.sp.re.vx.nd.ii.sx.we.lx&qWch=0&qSmP=0&qRad=30&qRdU=mi&setPMCookies=false&qpMn=1#scmisc=nav_hoteldetail_icWhile it's possible to book free nights at properties that cost many more points than category 1 properties, which are the lowest tier of properties, you'll find that there are many well rated options even among category 1. By focusing on category 1 here, it's beneficial for anyone who has a low travel budget, wants to travel for awhile, and wants to stay at some decent to nice properties.
One critical element of the map I made that distinguishes it from others like it that I've seen in the past, in addition to including multiple hotel brands & exclusively focusing on category 1, is that I aimed for a 4 rating or close to it or higher. I typically don't include properties where the location where I found it had below a 4, and typically compared the ratings where I found it to the ratings on Google Maps. In the case of Wyndham properties and Best Western, because the rating system is only to ever .5, instead of every .1, I gave more leeway than I did with other hotel brands where I was able to be more precise. In the case of brands like IHG & Choice, I typically only added properties that were 4.0 or better and where the average between Google Maps & the hotel website was 4.0 or better. In some cases I made exceptions, for instance, if there was a large distortion between the number of ratings on 1 website compared to the other.
When considering category 1 properties, one might think that they all must be terrible or can't be in desirable areas, but that's simply not the case, and even higher-end brands within hotel portfolios are included.
Even the US has some strong category 1 options with brands, like the Hyatt Regency Dulles, a solid option in the DC area.
In the Chicago area & elsewhere in the US there are more strong higher-end brand options among category 1:
In Northern Europe there are category 1 options at higher-end brands within the Hyatt portfolio like the waterfront Story Hotel Studio Malmo, part of JdV by Hyatt in Sweden, close to Copenhagen or the Story Hotel Signalfabriken, Part Of Jdv By Hyatt in Stockholm.
Some of these hotels are 5 star hotels (i.e. some Intercontinental properties in Asia, Central America, South America, Eastern Europe, & the Middle East). Here is a small sampling of properties just underneath the Intercontinental brand of IHG:
There are plenty of other high end options around the world, like the Alila in Kuala Lumpur:
Beach-side resort destinations are available as well:
There are plenty of strong high end options in India:
That said, it was critical that I weeded out a number of category 1 properties that had poor ratings, i.e., most of the US-based Wyndham category 1 properties with <4/5 on Tripadvisor or 4/5 on Tripadvisor but <3.5 on Google Maps. Some properties that wouldn't be considered category 1 were excluded even if not too far above that would be excellent properties to consider, i.e. the InterContintental Montreal where I've seen rates as low as 21k/night.
(image courtesy IHG.com)
For more points, there are some very high end properties going for a high value per point that are within easy reach with credit card sign up/spending bonuses, like this one in CA for 9.1 cents per Chase Ultimate Reward (TPG valuation of Chase UR is only 2 cents per point) when transferred at a 1:1 ratio to Hyatt:
With that example, you could get the Chase Sapphire Preferred's 60k bonus points after spending $4k in the first 3 months on things that you would already be spending on (i.e. gas, utilities, property taxes, groceries, business expenses, etc.), and get more then $4k in value from the fact that you were holding onto that credit card and using it for those expenses while doing it. There are other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards you could add to the equation or you and your spouse or partner could both get the same cards if you wanted more than just 2 nights. I have around 10 credit cards with Chase and my wife has around 4.
The brand within the hotel group is something that I typically didn't weed out, with the notable exception of China, where I weeded out over 500 low-end to mid-tier Wyndham properties based on the brand. It's also important to note that the further the dollar can go in a country, the nicer the hotel possibilities are for a low # of points. The dollar can go farther in Russia than it can in Western Europe, & further in Vietnam than it can in Russia. Also, hotels in the middle of densely populated cities in the same country are typically going to go for more than hotels in more rural locations.
In this map, I am defining category 1 properties as:
Choice Hotels 8k-12k (starting prices, limited cities added, but the 2nd most hotels on this chart of any other brand)
Hyatt Category 1 (3500-6500/night; $+ points are rarely effective, with some exceptions)
Hilton 5k-15k (starting prices, and often dependent on the season; limited, but likely most cities added)
IHG hotels 5k-15k (starting prices, and often dependent on the season; limited cities added, but the most hotels on this chart of any other brand)
Marriott Category 1 as of 12/21 (4000-10000 points per night, although the award chart is planned to be removed in 2022; for $+points rates, the cost is $55 + 1500-4500 pts per night)
Radisson Category 1 (10k-15k/night, with reduced rates mostly limited to the night of to around 2 months out)
Wyndham Category 1 (7500/night $+points stays are more often effective than Hyatt, though typically ineffective)
Especially if you want to use IHG & Choice hotels points, it's important to note that there are hundreds if not thousands of category 1 additional properties not currently on this map among those 2 brands alone.
Keep in mind that these change over time and that I will not be able to keep up with the changes due to my other work and the limited use by others of this map.
Ways to reduce the # of points above:
If you have the Wyndham Business Earner card, you get a 10% reduction on the number of points required on points only stays.
If you have the (discontinued) IHG legacy annual fee incurring card & the current highest annual fee incurring card, you can stack a 10% rebate on points from the legacy card with the 4th night free on points with the current card.
Marriott & Hilton provides 5th nights free on points for every 5 nights in a row (i.e. 5, 10 or 15 nights), although to get that with Hilton, you need some form of status, but even their no annual fee variety credit card provides silver status.
Some properties are better than others about not charging fees. Marriott will sometimes pass fees on, like resort fees, even on a fully points stay. Typically if a hotel charges for parking on a typical stay, it will pass onto you unless you have status to eliminate that (only available w certain brands like Hyatt for globalists and guests of honor).
Some brands within hotel brands are better than others about providing free meals. Typically if anything is provided, it's breakfast. There are some exceptions though. For instance, in Northern Europe, many Choice Hotels brand Clarion Collection hotels provide both complimentary breakfast and dinner. Status also can help you attain breakfast and in some cases in properties with club lounges, other meals.
2+ bedroom suites:
Some Choice properties have 2-3 bedroom suites bookable at the same rate as a 1 bedroom. I am not aware of any tier 1 properties where that's available, but I wouldn't rule it out). With 2+ bedroom suites with Wyndham, you pay per bedroom.
Ways to attain higher value:
There are many credit cards that can provide status, whether by holding onto the card itself or after meeting a certain spending threshold. Status benefits vary by brand, but can include free club lounge access at certain brands within the hotel group (i.e. Hilton Diamond, Marriott Platinum or Hyatt Globalist), free breakfast when the hotel typically doesn't provide it, upgrades up to standard suites at certain brands within the hotel group (i.e. Hyatt Globalist, Marriott Platinum or higher, Hilton Diamond, etc.), etc.
One of the easiest paths to status is the Wyndham Business Earner card, which provides free Diamond status, 15k points per year, an excellent earning structure, & has an annual fee of only $95/yr.
Keep in mind that #'s mentioned above and offerings are current as of the date of this publication but it is still best to consult the hotel and issuing bank websites for the most up to date information.