Like most things in life, when traveling it pays to be loyal.
Even if you only stay at hotels a couple of times a year, it makes sense to sign up for hotel rewards programs.
“Loyalty programs are free to join and let you earn points that you can redeem for free nights and, in some cases, award flights, too. Some hotels might offer perks to even nonelite members, such as free Wi-Fi or modest room upgrades,“ says Zach Honig, editor in chief of ThePointsGuy.com.
Honig’s favorite hotel program is Starwood Preferred Guest or SPG, the loyalty program of Starwood Hotels, which includes Aloft, Sheraton, W, St. Regis and many other brands.
“These points are incredibly valuable, both when redeeming for stays and when converting them into miles with your frequent flyer program,” Honig says. “Starwood Hotels can be expensive, though. If you’re looking for something a bit more entry-level, consider IHG (Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn), Wyndham, or Accor.”
As for which program is best for you, well, that depends on your personal travel patterns.
“If you are interested in family holidays and will generate your points with stays in smaller locations, then look at a program like Hilton. They have a huge number of hotels, the Hampton Inn part of the company is everywhere (and good value for family money) and they offer decent redemptions on smaller properties in less-popular destinations. (In other words, small towns where you might be headed for family get togethers.) IHG Rewards may also suit in this category,” says Joe Brancatelli, of the travel blog JoeSentMe.com.
“But as with all frequency programs, the key is frequency. To really win at the programs, you need to concentrate your stays with that chain. That’s easier with hotels than airlines.”
There are myriad hotel reward programs that let you earn free stays. But many of them do so much more, like provide discounts on car rentals, flights, and shopping. And membership comes with other perks, like special discounts to certain destinations. It can be a lot to take in.
That’s why Yahoo Travel did the research for you to find seven of the very best rewards programs to look at as a business or leisure traveler.
If you want discounts at Apple, Marriott can help. (Photo: Jake/Flickr)
1. Marriott Rewards — These guys boast 250 ways to use your points, including discounts at major retailers like Apple, Michael Kors, Prada, Nikon, Canon. A basic membership gives you the fifth night of a stay free, but the more you stay, the better your benefits get. The Silver, Gold and Platinum (which requires 75 stays) Elite programs come with lots of extra perks, like free Wi-Fi and room upgrades. And Marriott has 3,700 hotels in over 70 countries, so you’re guaranteed to find a hotel no matter your destination.
Free hotel Wi-Fi is like hitting the jackpot. (Photo: iStock)
2. Hilton HHonors — With this program, it only takes 10 stays to achieve elite status, which gives you free Wi-Fi, late checkout, and free access to the fitness center, and you get to skip the double occupancy fees. They also allow you to choose between earning points or earning miles, and you can change your mind at any time. Earn 10 HHonors base points plus five bonus points per eligible U.S. dollar spent on your room. You can book a free night for as few as 5,000 HHonors points. There’s a nifty online calculator to help you figure out how to maximize your points. If you sign up now, you’ll earn double points through Aug. 31 so you can save on that last-minute final summer vacation.
If you charge that piña colada to your room, you could be looking at some serious rewards. (Photo: Randy Robertson/Flickr)
3. Club Carlson — With more than 1,000 participating hotels worldwide, Club Carlson lets you earn 20 Gold Points per U.S. dollar spent on eligible stays and on money spent on meals and beverages charged to your room. It takes 9,000 points for a free stay. You can also use your points for discounts at car rental agencies. If you book your stay at a Radisson or Radisson Blu hotel, you can earn 10,000 bonus Gold Points using the program’s Mega Points rate. Club Carlson also has destination-specific offers. Right now, you can earn double points for travel to Asia-Pacific. And if you’re planning an exotic vacation to the Middle East, Turkey, or sub-Saharan Africa, you can get 30 percent off your stay.
Glum about getting older? Don’t be! All those extra candles could add up to major discounts! (Photo: Randy Robertson/Flickr)
4. Starwood Preferred Guests — This program gives you a free weekend night for staying five nights at a Sheraton hotel through Sept. 30. The best part about it is that the nights don’t need to be consecutive. And for older guests, you can cash in on all those birthdays you’ve celebrated. Pay the full rate for the first night at any of 1,200 hotels worldwide, and then the second night, you pay a rate equal to the year you were born. So if you were born in 1968, you pay just $68. It might be time to take your grandparents on vacation.
Free nights AND free magazine subscriptions? What more could you want? (Photo: Stuart Freedman/In Pictures/Corbis)
5. Wyndham Rewards — This also includes Days Inn, Ramada, Howard Johnson, Travelodge, and Super 8 hotels. This program gives you a free night with 15,000 points. Or you can get a free night with 3,000 points, plus some cash. Members also can get 25 percent off on stays of two nights or more. This rewards program also allows you to redeem points for car rentals, flights, and magazine subscriptions. Every qualified stay earns you 10 points per U.S. dollar or 1,000 points, whichever is more.
6. Best Western Rewards — The best thing about this program is that there are no blackout dates and points never expire. The program will match your elite status in any other hotel program free of charge. You can redeem points for free hotel stays at any of 4,000 hotels worldwide, but you can also use them at major retailers like Home Depot, Target, Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks.
Every dollar you spend could translate to loads of points. (Photo: Amy Covington/Stocksy)
7. IHG Rewards Club — These guys bill themselves as the largest hotel rewards program with more than 4,700 hotels worldwide, so no matter where you’re traveling, there’s likely a participating hotel nearby. At most hotels, including the Holiday Inn, you earn 10 points for every U.S. dollar spent. IHG has regular specials for members, including an auction site where you can use your points to bid on items such as golf clubs and tickets to theme parks. This month, IHG is donating a portion of the winning auction bids to its “Shelter in a Storm” program, which helps those affected by disasters.