Mattress runs should be a part of every miles & point collectors strategic arsenal.
What is a mattress run?
A mattress run is essentially a hotel stay that is completely unnecessary. The most extreme example is checking into a hotel and immediately leaving. Slightly less extreme is booking a local hotel and spending the night with partner / family even though the family home is nearby.
Although not strictly a mattress run, some people also find it advantageous to move between hotels during a longer stay in the same city. One night in one hotel, followed by one night in another, followed by a further night perhaps at the original hotel. This generates additional “stays”, reasons for which I’ll explain shortly.
How to do a mattress run
The most important thing to remember about mattress runs – or any stay intended to earn points or status credit – is that somebody must check-in to the hotel in person. Simply booking a prepaid stay doesn’t count, nor does completing the online check-in process offered by a couple of hotel chains.
When doing a mattress run, I tend to check-in, visit the room to make sure there is no damage I might subsequently be blamed for, mess up the bed and leave a few minutes later. If there are complimentary items such as bottled water, etc. I often grab these as well. This is not really necessary – other mattress runners do not even visit their assigned room and it works fine for them. If the hotel has those simple plastic throw-away key cards, I take them with me. Anything more substantial and I will leave behind in the room before I go, or even with reception.
Under no circumstances should you immediately check-out again. This will undoubtedly screw up the computer system and you might miss out on the credit you are there for. All modern hotels will automatically check out guests on departure day if they do not pass by the front desk in person. You leave credit card details at check-in specifically for such purpose. Some people with a very late overnight flight will book an additional night in the same hotel (since standard check-out time would be noon or earlier). When they physically check-out, even at 11pm, they often find that the final night is not credited properly. Just leave and let the hotel check you out automatically in the morning… If you have any doubt about what might end up charged to your room – ask for an interim bill and query it before leaving.
Most mattress runs are for one night only. In certain cases, it might advantageous to book a multi-night mattress run. In those situation I tend to leave a note on my desk, explaining to housekeeping that I’ll be returning later. I might also inform the front desk. This is because some hotels will automatically check-out a guest if the room appears unoccupied. Usually there is no problem if you inform somebody that you do indeed want the room for the entirety of your reservation.
It doesn’t always have to be the member who physically checks in. Many chains allow for a second person’s name to be attached to a reservation. It is a simple matter of calling the hotel (or loyalty programme) a few days in advance to say that my partner/friend/whoever will be sharing my room and will be arriving before me – please allow them to check-in on my behalf. In some cases, the hotel might be strict and might insist that the principal reservation holder (i.e. you) passes by the front desk at some point; most don’t really bother. Be wary of allowing third parties to use your hotel rooms. If you don’t know them well and they trash the place, you will be financially responsible. Were it not for this risk I would love to offer my mattress run rooms to a homeless person or some other charitable use…
This may seem obvious, but the cheaper the mattress run the better. However there is a trade-off between the most convenient hotel and the cheapest (which might involve more time/effort/petrol/etc.). It also takes some effort to find the cheapest night of the week/month/period that can be booked at your preferred mattress run hotel.
Why do a mattress run?
An attractive hotel promotion can make it very worthwhile to do a mattress run. For example, a new member to IHG Rewards Club will earn two free nights anywhere after four individual stays. Done as four very cheap mattress runs, the cost can as low as £60-100 per free night certificate. Two nights at a top-end Intercontinental might cost £250 or more per night. Alternatively, hopping from one hotel to another would generate additional “stays” for potentially nothing more than the inconvenience of switching hotels.
Alternatively, hotel promotions based on a certain number of nights also can incentivise a mattress run. Take the Hyatt Sweet Dreams Sweet Rewards as an example. One of the individual promos requires 15 nights to earn 30,000 points, with another 15K bonus points after the next five nights, and finally another 20K after five more nights. If your regular travels mean that you will stay fourteen nights during the promotion period, you would earn no bonus at all. Manage a 15th night, then 30,000 bonus points will be earned. It would be entirely sensible to undertake a mattress run for that 15th night if there was no other sensible way to reach the target.
Elite Status Qualification
Every November and December, many travelers come to the realisation that they will fall just short of qualifying (or re-qualifying) for elite status with one or more of their main hotel chains. With Starwood Preferred Guest and Hyatt Gold Passport for example, 25 stays or 50 nights are required for top level status. Since that top level status often confers free breakfast, room upgrades, bonus points, etc. it would be wise to do a mattress run or two to ensure elite status for the following year.
In the extreme, 25 stays can be reached by spending only 25 nights, as long as those nights are split into individual one night stays. So one-night mattress runs, or hopping from hotel to hotel, can allow for quite low cost elite status qualification.
Hilton HHonors are good at booking day rates online. These are often much cheaper than overnight rates, since they only allow use for a few hours during the day (perhaps to freshen up after an overnight flight or to prepare for a meeting). If you already have Gold or Diamond status, most hotels even allow you to show up in the morning on a day rate, enjoy your free breakfast and then leave. These rates earn stay credit for sure, and in my experience they also end up adding to night credit.
Best Rate Guarantee
I could have grouped this with promotions, as it involves earning points. Starwood Preferred Guest offers the option of 2,000 bonus Starpoints when a successful BRG claim is made. Starpoints are the most valuable loyalty currency out there, worth at least 2.5 US cents apiece. Therefore, each BRG stay generates $50 of value. Most Starwood hotels cost more than $50 per night. But members with status might receive 500 points as an amenity. Or, they might have received an individual promotion offering 1,000 points per stay or a free night after 2 or 3 stays. These points add up to where a mattress run might be cost effective as a means of buying points for future use as miles or free nights (with the advantage of adding to the stay or night count for elite status qualification)
My personal experience
I do quite a few mattress runs, perhaps more than I should. A few I have ultimately come to regret, mostly with chains where I haven’t ultimately seen enough benefit from earning elite status. But most of the time, they are an excellent investment – buying future hotel nights at a controllable cost – and I have fun doing them. I recommend trying a mattress run sometime and shortly thereafter see for yourself how that free five-star hotel night feels…