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How to Get Free Nights at Independent Hotels

Loyalty programs let you earn points for free stays at inns, resorts and boutique hotels.

Joining a hotel loyalty program can be a good way to get free stays. Most of the major chains such as Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and Starwood have programs that allow guests to earn points for each dollar spent at their properties. Those points can then be redeemed for free nights or other perks. But if you prefer to stay at independent hotels rather than one of the big chains, you still can take advantage of this sort of loyalty program.

Stash Hotel Rewards offers members who stay at any of the nearly 200 participating inns, resorts and boutique hotels the ability to earn points for free nights. There's no cost to join, and you earn five points for each dollar spent on room rates. Some Stash hotels also have special promotions that allow rewards members to earn bonus points for stays during certain periods.

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The number of points required for free stays varies from hotel to hotel and throughout the year (depending on whether it's peak season), but the minimums tend to be less than what major chain loyalty programs require for rooms at many of their properties in mid-size and large cities. The points never expire and can be used at any of the participating hotels, and there are no blackout dates for redeeming points, as is the case with some chains' programs. Participating hotels can be found in 36 states, Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and British Columbia, Canada.

You might expect rates at these independent hotels to be much higher than what you'd pay at a chain hotel. Some are, but many are on par with chain prices. With 78 of the participating hotels located on or near college campuses, Stash Hotel Rewards could be a good way for parents who make frequent trips to see their kids at school to quickly rack up points and earn free stays.

For international travelers, there's Voila Hotel Rewards. More than 160 independent hotels in 25 countries participate in this free loyalty program (only 19 hotels participate in the U.S.). For each dollar you spend at a participating hotel, you earn 10 points. As with Stash, the number of points required for free stays varies from hotel to hotel. Voila also partners with several airlines, including American, Delta and US Airways, so members can redeem points for miles or a gift card that can be used toward the purchase of a flight. Members also can redeem points for gift cards from retail partners such as Amazon.com.

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