For many travelers, high airfare can totally scuttle a trip. Added atop the price of hotels, the cost of a vacation can trump all hopes of getting away.

Many frequent flyers have already signed up with a program to redeem airline points, but rarely realize that the cost of a week’s stay at a hotel can easily surpass the cost of getting from Point A to Point B. We had the chance to visit sunny San Diego last weekend to kick off the launch of Hilton HHonors’ “Stop Clicking Around” campaign, and learned a thing or two about hotel rewards and why they’re actually more cost-effective than using airline loyalty programs or booking sites that boast flight + hotel combo deals.

Sure you can snatch a seat on a plane before your points expire, but the combination of rising airfares, reduced flight capacities and scarcer award seat availability makes airline points a pain in the ass. Claiming hotel rewards offers far more flexibility and value than we thought.

Many hotel programs offer points that don’t expire or have blackout dates, unlike a number of airline loyalty programs, and others let you stay virtually anywhere, even at competitor hotels.

Contrary to popular belief, third parties don’t always offer lower prices. Last year, 57 billion Hilton HHonors points (or more than 1.6 million free nights) went unearned because guests “clicked around” looking for sweet deals—you know, those sites that boast awesome prices if you click through a million pop-up pages to compare costs.

To put it simply: There are few restrictions with hotel rewards programs, which makes directly booking from the hotel sites or mobile apps, well, leisurelier—the way vacationing should be. First, it’s worth noting that most hotel programs allow you to freely transfer points to several airline mileage accounts, while transferring points from airlines to hotels is less common and more complicated (you have to transfer A LOT of miles to earn a hotel stay). You can actually redeem your hotel rewards for most avenues of transportation—cruises, car rentals, rail lines. That said, redeeming hotel rewards for hotel rooms will still get you the most bang for your buck. Many hotel programs offer points that don’t expire or have blackout dates, unlike a number of airline loyalty programs, and others let you stay virtually anywhere, even at competitor hotels.

Also, there’s a ton of flexibility when searching via hotel reward programs. Hilton HHonors, for example, has more than 4,600 properties across 100 countries and territories. When you go online to book, you can filter results to search hotels based on points required instead of prices, just like you do with your airline miles. The difference is, however, that you don’t need to decide how to use all your points upfront. While you can’t redeem airline miles at gate check-in, you sure as hell can decide to use your points at any point during your stay in a hotel—on meals, room upgrades, late check-outs—right over the phone from your white linen bed.

Likewise, no booking site will help you cover the cost of Wi-Fi or redeem points for cell roaming charges during your stay, private dining experiences or concerts. Hotel rewards program members reap the benefits of a gamut of special offers that cut extra costs for which they hadn’t accounted. And most hotel programs are also free to sign up.

We’re not saying you have to bid farewell to that $59 annual venture rewards fee you keep spending on your Capital One card. We know, the two miles per every $1 spent is quite nice when your rent is electronically billed to your account, which also makes earning those 40,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first three months disgustingly easy. We’re just saying, there’s alternative cheap ways to travel, friends, and you might want to explore ’em.

Photo: Twenty20.com/@missallieliz