Designed to encourage repeat business, hotel loyalty programs are ripe with free perks that can make any stay rewarding (whether you’re a frequent traveler or not). Some programs award members points based upon how much they spend per night that can later be redeemed for free stays elsewhere. Others eschew point-earning schemes in favor of instant benefits.
There are plenty of options out there for earning rewards including programs run by online travel agencies like Orbitz and Hotels.com or independent programs like The Guestbook. Why should you care?
Well, many travelers swear by the elite status they earn because it enhances the normal travel experience in all kinds of ways from better accommodations to more doting service and freebies. And should travel disruptions occur, holding membership in a loyalty program (especially with elite status) helps to iron out any wrinkles in a hurry.
When it comes to hotel programs, here are the top hotel rewards programs to know and how to enjoy all the substantial savings and pleasant surprises that come with them.
Best Western Rewards
You might be surprised at the growing number of names (from budget to luxury) that are part of this program. Best Western operates one of the largest networks of internationally owned and operated hotels in the world. These include Best Western Plus (designed for business travelers) and Best Western Premier (a more upscale offering than traditional Best Westerns). Other brands like Glo (design-focused on a budget), Sadie (edgy properties designed for millennials), and Executive Residency by Best Western (long-term stays) are new to the hotel scene.
Travelers earn points based upon how much they spend, which can be redeemed for hotel stays or gift cards. Elite status brings bonus points and potential room upgrades. Best Western Rewards offers an unrivaled elite status match program where elite members from other programs can receive comparable status with the program.
This is a solid program with a few pleasant surprises up its sleeve. Travelers earn points (or airline miles) for each stay, which can be used for free stays at other Choice properties. Participating hotels include Comfort Inn, Clarion, Econo Lodge, Cambria Suites, and the Ascend Collection (upscale, independent properties).
In addition to Choice hotels, you can redeem points for Preferred Hotels & Resorts through a special partnership. Points can also be turned in for gift cards and vacation rentals giving great point flexibility.
This mega program earns accolades for its range of hotels including Hampton Inn, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Waldorf-Astoria, and Conrad among others. Members earn points based upon how much they spend to later use at other hotels for a complimentary night. They can accumulate points and stays to accrue elite status affording additional advantages like suite upgrades and club level access.
Hilton Honors has been an innovator for years with several features like the ability to pool points between one account and up to ten other members. This allows travelers to get closer to an award redemption faster. It also offers unique experiences like backstage concert passes, sportfishing expeditions, whiskey tastings in Ireland among others accessible via point redemption.
IHG Rewards Club
The reward program for InterContinental Hotels Group is growing significantly. While it includes recognized names like Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza and InterContinental, IHG Rewards Club has added others over the years like Kimpton and Regent.
Earn points based upon how much you spend to redeem at other hotels, and elite status quickly follows when you reach certain thresholds (meaning potential upgrades and bonus points). The program is known for its quarterly PointBreaks sale, which offers redemptions for as low as 5,000 points at select properties. Other redemption possibilities include magazine subscriptions, popular merchandise, and digital book and game downloads.
LeClub Accor Hotels
While this is largely a European program covering familiar names like Sofitel and Mercure, it is quickly expanding with the addition of Kempinski, Raffles, and Banyan Tree. This helps make the program more attractive for North American travelers looking to avoid forking over too much for luxury properties.
Travelers rack up points based upon how much they spend with various elite levels recognizing certain spend and stay thresholds. Redemptions are available at its own hotels or even at private homes around the world through Onefinestay giving it an edge over some of the competition. Another great use of points is exchanging them for Elite Experiences like VIP access to music festivals, private tours of major landmarks, and extraordinary dining events.
Among the largest hotel portfolios on the planet, Marriott Bonvoy includes familiar brands like Marriott, Sheraton, Ritz-Carlton, W Hotels, St. Regis, Renaissance, and Courtyard by Marriott. Guests can even earn and redeem points at extended-stay hotels like Residence Inn and Marriott Executive Apartments.
Frequent guests rack up bonuses like upgrades and club level access when they achieve elite status. Those that prefer immediate perks can use points through Marriott Bonvoy Moments for unique experiences like backstage concert passes, Mercedes driving experiences, cooking classes with celebrity chefs, and spa vacations.
The unique partnership between United and Marriott, known as Rewards Plus, is especially rewarding. United Premier elite members can link their accounts with Marriott to enjoy reciprocal elite travel benefits like upgrades (Marriott elites can enjoy Premier privileges on United, too).
World of Hyatt
While its footprint may not be as large as some competitors, it is a consumer favorite for its strong rewards program (especially for elite-level members). Earn and redeem points at Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Place, Andaz, and all-inclusive properties like Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara, among others. Elite status brings perks like club level access and confirmed suite upgrades in advance.
A new partnership with American Airlines gives Hyatt guests the opportunity to earn miles for every Hyatt stay they make; American fliers can earn World of Hyatt points for every flight they take. Reciprocal elite status is also part of the package for many members you link your accounts.
Other unique points redemptions include Lindblad Expeditions trips, Miraval Resort stays, and Exhale fitness classes and spa services.
Global Hotel Alliance Discovery
This is an alliance between dozens of independent hotel brands with a focus on membership recognition rather than points accrual for free stays. Members receive onsite benefits like bottled water, Internet, room upgrades, and the potential for late checkout. The advantages vary depending upon how many times you stay at places like Anantara, Corinthia, Elewana Collection, Omni, Pan Pacific, and Tivoli Hotels and Resorts in a year.
Golden Circle by Shangri-La
Located mostly in Asia, Shangri-La properties and its partners Kerry Hotels, Traders Hotels, and Hotel Jen participate in this program where members can earn points or airline miles with each stay. Point earning is also a perk with Chi Spa locations and participating Taj hotels. They can be redeemed for room nights or dining and spa credits. They can even be donated to charity.
Red Lion Hotels’ new loyalty program operates a bit differently by awarding ten Hello Bucks for each stay at one of its brands (Red Lion, Hotel RL, and Knights Inn among others). Hello Bucks act as currency, which can then be redeemed as a discount for an upcoming stay.
Guests at Preferred Hotels & Resorts can earn two points per dollar spent when booking directly through the company’s channels. They can then cash in points for room nights, spa services, and dining. Everyone who joins immediately receives Internet access and the potential for early check-in or late check out. Its elite level tacks on a welcome amenity that varies by hotel.
Members earn points for stays that can be exchanged later for room nights. What sets this program apart is that it carries a $175 annual fee, but that brings some great perks — automatic continental breakfast for two, Internet, and the possibility of late checkout or a room upgrade.
Earn and burn points at Radisson, Radisson Blu, Park Inn, and Country Inn & Suites hotels around the world. By joining the program, guests immediately receive bottled water and a 5% discount on food and beverage at hotel outlets. As members earn elite status, the discount grows along with benefits like welcome gifts and comped breakfast.
Participating properties where members can earn and redeem points include Wyndham, Tryp, LaQuinta, Ramada, and Days Inn among others. Points can also be used to receive discounts at gas stations, retail merchandise, or gift cards. Other redemptions include Caesars Entertainment venues, vacation rental properties, and unique lodging via Cottages.com