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

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What is a hotel mattress run, and how do you do one?

I thought I would take a look at the concept of ‘mattress runs’ today.  A ‘mattress run’ involves booking a hotel room without the intention of spending the night, purely for the purpose of triggering a promotional bonus.

Why would you do a mattress run?

Hotel company promotions often incentivise you to make stays which are unnecessary.  

How to do a hotel mattress run

Last week, for example, we looked at a ‘new member’ offer from IHG. Do two stays, however cheap, by the end of the year and you get a voucher for a free night worth around £150 (ie 40,000 IHG Rewards points).

If you have a Holiday Inn Express near you which sells for £39 on quiet Friday or Sunday nights, you could make a ‘profit’ of £70 by making two bookings even if you don’t need a hotel.

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 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 and Marriott which offer online check-in?

It doesn’t matter.  In most cases you still need to pick up a key at reception to be considered as checked in.

There is an outside chance that mobile check-in may work.  To be honest, based on reader feedback, it is more like a fairly decent chance.

I had a non-refundable Marriott booking a couple of years ago which I couldn’t make, but checked in via the app and got the stay credit for it.  Don’t rely on this though – you certainly can’t complain if the points don’t arrive.

what is a hotel mattress run

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.

what is a hotel mattress run

Can someone else check in for me?

In theory, yes.  But this can go wrong, as I found out a couple of years ago.

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.

Once, however, I booked a room for a friend at a Holiday Inn Express hotel.  I had a friend who needed a room in a cheap regional city.  I needed an extra night to hit my IHG promotion target.  I offered to pay for a room for him, because it was cheaper than any London hotel I could visit for a mattress run and 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 had 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 was the first time that this ever happened to me.

There is another issue with this approach.

A few 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, or at least the law in some cities – 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.

It is also worth noting that UK hotels seem to have become much stricter in asking for ID. When Rhys reviewed the Courtyard hotel at Luton Airport last year, which I booked in my name via my Marriott Bonvoy account, he had substantial difficulties checking in. Unsurprisingly they thought that someone at an airport hotel should have some sort of ID to hand.


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

Hotel offers update – December 2022:

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

Want to buy hotel points?

  • IHG One Rewards is offering a 100% bonus when you buy points by 29th December 2022. Click here to buy.
  • Marriott Bonvoy is offering a 25% discount when you buy points by 20th December 2022. Click here to buy.

Comments (112)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Gavin says:

    I became diamond by accident last year. I was silver, sold my house in December and needed to stay in a hotel for a few weeks to finish off a work contract. I was kindly gifted Gold status by a fellow HFP reader (made a charity donation as thanks) and then chalked up 17 nights (during a double nights promotion so 34 nights) in a Hilton checking out on 2nd Jan.

    As the 34 nights all carried over for next year I’ve found it quite easy to add a few extra nights to hit Diamond again, mostly by natural stays and currently doing a few mattress runs.

    • Gavin says:

      Fortunately I didn’t have Terri’s issue as I had a letter from my employer giving me a waiver as a key worker

  • Junior says:

    I’m in a position where I’m considering doing this. Am one night away from Diamond with Hilton, and have a 1-week stay in NYC in a couple of weeks that I’d like to be Diamond for.

    I was thinking as Hilton offer in app check in and out, I could just book a cheap Hampton and hit status. I know Rob mentions this but just wondered if anyone else had any experience of doing this

    • Rob says:

      Can’t you get a cheap day room nearby where you could check in personally?

      • Junior says:

        I’m away travelling in the UK for most of the next two weeks. I live in London so my only options would have to be an expensive weekend night.

        • Guernsey Globetrotter says:

          Just book a cheap day room near where you are working one day, turn up to check-in and then b*gger off – job done and no need to pay London rates…

  • Mark says:

    Why on earth would anyone be willing to pay £240 for Hilton gold?

  • The Savage Squirrel says:

    This. Terri you know you could just get Amex Platinum Credit Card, and cancel it after one month for a pro rats refund to get Hilton Gold – and many other statuses besides – for £50 or so and without leaving the house?

  • barnaby100 says:

    Is a mattress run ever worth it?

    As many years Hilton Diamond unless travelling in Asia there are no discernible benefits or upgrades

    Similarly with IHG

    Loyalty to a particular hotel counts for much more

    • Blenz101 says:

      Plenty of upgrades in the Middle East plus lounge access very handy in a part of the world where alcohol can be very expensive.

      • patrick C says:

        The only chain where it is wirth it is marriott.
        There is nothing in ihg thag I would extend ststus for and Hilton via amex plat cancellation strategy.
        Marriott also offers suite nights etc fkr hitting 50 and there is no way to cheat yourself to status in any other way

  • TGLoyalty says:

    In future just get Amex platinum for a couple months for less than half the cost and a lot less hassle.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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