How to do a hotel mattress run – and what can go wrong

A reader suggested that I write an article about ‘mattress runs’ – booking a hotel room without the intention of spending the night, purely for the purpose of triggering a promotional bonus.

Given that I recently had a rare screw up with a mattress run myself, I thought it was a good suggestion!

Why would you do a mattress run?

Hotel company promotions often incentivise you to make stays which are unnecessary.  Let’s take IHG’s Accelerate promotion last Autumn.  New members of IHG Rewards Club were given a specific version of the offer – stay four nights and receive two free nights at any IHG property during 2016.

Top InterContinental hotels in New York, Paris, London etc easily sell for over £250 per night.  Bottom tier Holiday Inn Express hotels in the less dynamic parts of the UK can sell for £39 or less at weekends.  If you had a suitable hotel near you, £156 spent on four one-night stays would have been money well spent if you had a plan for the two free nights.

Holiday Inn Wembley bedroom

Do you physically have to check in at the hotel?

YES.  It is very clear in the rules of all hotel loyalty schemes that you must turn up and check-in for your stay to be treated as ‘qualifying’.

Some people fail to see the logic here.  If this rule was not in place, however, it would simply lead to super-cheap IHG hotels in Asia being block booked by people who never arrived.  As hotels generally rely on additional spending in the bars and restaurants to make money, even the hotel owners who got the bookings would not be happy.

What about chains like Hilton which offer online check-in?

It doesn’t matter.  In most cases – possibly all as I can’t think of an exception – you still need to pick up a key at reception to be considered as checked in.

In the UK, you are legally obliged under the Innkeepers Act of 1978 to sign a document when you check in.  Even if you use ‘keyless’ entry (using your mobile phone to open a Bluetooth lock) a signature at the front desk is still required.

Innside bedroom

How do you deal with check out?

I just leave the key on the bed or desk and leave.  This is surprisingly common behaviour even among guests who do stay the night!  I have never had a problem with this.

Do you mess up the bed?

This is a controversial one!  Yes, I admit that I do like to pretend that I stayed the night by messing up the bedding and sometimes even running the shower and wetting a towel.

Would the hotel care otherwise?  Probably not, but I don’t want to find that the police have been notified because the hotel thinks something bad may have happened to me the night before!

I also steal the shower gel like any normal hotel guest 🙂

What about the bill?

It is never an issue.  You can usually get a copy of your bill online if necessary.  By definition, you are likely to be doing mattress runs at very cheap hotels – the sort which are prepaid anyway.  There is unlikely to be a mini bar so you are unlikely to face mistaken mini bar charges.

Hilton Munich City Centre bedroom

Can someone else check in for me?

OK, this is where it went wrong for me recently.

I have, many times, booked a room in the name of someone else for a mattress run.  Many hotel booking systems let you add multiple names to a booking so you can add yourself as ‘second guest’ and put in the notes that you will check in first.

Last month, however, I booked a room for a friend at a Holiday Inn Express hotel.  I needed an extra night to hit my IHG Accelerate target.  The hotel was cheaper than any London hotel I could visit for a mattress run and, of course, I saved a few hours of my time.

I booked and prepaid the room, and he and his wife made the stay.  I honestly can’t remember if I added him or his wife name as the 2nd guest or not.  However, IHG refused to give me points for the stay on the grounds that I did not stay there myself.

The bill for the room has my name on it.  However, the credit card handed over at check in for incidentals which were never used was obviously not mine.  If his wife had handed over her card it would presumably have been OK.  However, as it was clear that the male guest was not me from his credit card, IHG’s system seems to have automatically flagged up that I was not there.  This is the first time that has ever happened to me.

There is another issue with this approach.

A couple of years ago I did a mattress run on my wife’s IHG account at a Holiday Inn Express in Spain.  I was named on the reservations as 2nd guest.

However, it seems – under Spanish law – that the first named guest MUST turn up for the reservation to be valid.  Even though I was named as 2nd guest and the notes to the booking said that I would arrive first, I had major issues.  Luckily I had a credit card in her name on me.  The hotel agreed to swipe this for incidentals which would make it appear as if she had checked in.  I could easily have come unstuck with that one.


In general, a mattress run should be relatively straightforward and I even find them fun.  You can get to see, as I did the other week, exciting places like Brent Cross!  Don’t think that they are always trouble free, however, because they are not.

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Important dates for your diary
Bits: 20,000 IHG points bargain in SanFran, Thistle Heathrow brings back free pod trips!, SAA sale
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  1. I have done mattress runs in the past and also booked rooms for friends under my name. My experience is, that the risk that it does not work is where every party has to show ID (like in some Asian countries, but also in Switzerland or parts of Germany). It helps if you share the same name and I also gave a credit card occasionally to relatives.