5 Things You Must Know About Hotel Rewards Programs

The perks you get can be more valuable than those from the airlines.

Receptionist and guests at hotel
(Image credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

1.Make yourself comfortable. Sign up online and you’ll be entitled immediately to such perks as free in-room Wi-Fi, mobile check-in and discounts when you book directly—plus fun freebies such as Kimpton’s $10 Raid the Bar credit. Earning elite status is easy compared with airline programs. “Many people overlook the fact that they spend more time in their hotel, and maybe even spend more on the hotel, than they ever would on a flight,” says Scott Mackenzie, editor of TravelCodex.com (opens in new tab).

2.Keep it in the family. The more points you rack up at hotels under a company’s umbrella, the more benefits you’ll get, such as free nights, room upgrades, late check-out and breakfast. Hilton, Marriott and IHG (which includes InterContinental and Holiday Inn hotels) each have more than 4,000 properties around the world, so they offer many choices. But smaller hotel chains, such as Starwood and Hyatt, work hard to woo customers. For example, Hyatt will upgrade Diamond members to a suite four times per year, for up to seven consecutive nights each time.

3.Pick your plastic carefully. A travel rewards credit card that earns points you can use at multiple hotel chains helps you stay flexible. The Chase Sapphire Preferred (opens in new tab) card ($95 a year, waived the first year) earns two points for every dollar you spend on dining and travel, plus 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months. You can transfer points at full value to the card’s partners, such as IHG, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton. Cards that are part of the American Express Membership Rewards (opens in new tab) program, such as the no-fee EveryDay card, will also let you put your points toward a number of hotel programs. Co-branded hotel credit cards are not usually as rewarding, but they offer some benefits. For example, the IHG Rewards Club Select card treats you to a free night’s stay at any IHG property each year, which more than makes up for the card’s $49 annual fee.

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4.Spend your stash. John Ollila, founder of LoyaltyLobby.com (opens in new tab), recommends using your points within 12 months of earning them. To get the most bang for your buck, book early for a stay during high season. Hotels regularly roll out promotions for bonus points (and sometimes free nights); register for the promotion as soon as it is announced because the registration period may end before the promotion does, says Mackenzie. Keep abreast of deals by following travel-rewards blogs, such as Loyalty Lobby and ThePointsGuy.com (opens in new tab), and always book with the hotel, not with online travel agencies, to be sure you collect your points.

5.Don’t lose out in a merger. Changes to some rewards programs may be in the offing. Starwood has been acquired by Marriott, and Kimpton has been sold to IHG. Kimpton’s program remains independent in 2016, and Starwood members probably won’t hear of changes until mid 2016. Still, members should use their points instead of hoarding them and look for opportunities to get preference at other chains (Hyatt, for example, recently offered equivalent status to high-level Starwood members). Marriott and IHG members should benefit with a wider range of stylish properties from which to choose.

Miriam Cross
Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Miriam lived in Toronto, Canada, before joining Kiplinger's Personal Finance in November 2012. Prior to that, she freelanced as a fact-checker for several Canadian publications, including Reader's Digest Canada, Style at Home and Air Canada's enRoute. She received a BA from the University of Toronto with a major in English literature and completed a certificate in Magazine and Web Publishing at Ryerson University.