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Rewards Programs

Hotel rewards programs are worth more than just free nights

From complimentary meals to room upgrades and late checkout, hotel loyalty can save you money on your next stay

Summary

Signing up for hotel loyalty programs is free and can unlock otherwise costly perks including free breakfast, complimentary Wi-Fi or a faster route to earning award nights. Here’s how hotel loyalty can pay off.

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Hotel rewards programs can be a great way to earn free nights, especially if you qualify for elite status. But there’s more to many of them than just room savings, and you may be leaving a slew of perks untapped.

If you belong to one or more hotel loyalty programs or are wondering whether it’s worth it to join one, these tips can help you mine them for even more value.

See related: Best hotel credit cards

Consider how loyalty is rewarded

The first step is knowing what various loyalty programs offer in the way of extras.

Zach Hewke, founder of Tech, Travel, Finance, says those benefits can include:

  • Room upgrades
  • Free breakfast
  • Free in-room beverages
  • Hotel lounge access
  • Upgraded internet access
  • Increased point earnings per stay

Benefits like these are generally free or discounted, says Hewke, and are centered around making your stay a more pleasant experience.

This table highlights the range of features some of the top hotel loyalty programs offer:

Hotel loyalty programs: popular perks

Loyalty programFree mealsLounge accessUpgraded
Wi-Fi
Room upgradesEarly check-in/late checkoutOther benefits
Best Western RewardsAvailable to all guests.Lounge availability varies by property.N/ABest room available upgrades for Gold Status and up.YesWelcome gift at check-in for elite status members.
Choice PrivilegesAvailable at selected Choice Hotel brands and properties.N/AN/ARoom upgrades available for Diamond members.Extended checkout for all members.Welcome gift at check-in for elite status members.
Hilton HonorsGold and Diamond level Hilton Honors members receive free breakfast at all Hilton brands, including luxury hotels like Waldorf Astoria.Exclusive lounge access for Diamond members.Premium Wi-Fi for Diamond members.Space available room upgrades for Gold and Diamond members.Late checkout is available.Choose your room and no resort fees on Rewards Stays.
IHG Rewards ClubN/AN/AStandard internet service only.Available for Platinum and Spire Elite status members.Late checkout and priority check-in are available.Welcome amenity for Gold Elite members and up.

Up to 3 free Kindle e-books per quarter for elite members.

Marriott BonvoyBreakfast available for Platinum members and up.Lounge access for Platinum members and up.Enhanced internet available for Gold members and up. Free Wi-Fi for Silver members.Enhanced room upgrades (when available) for Gold members and up.Late checkout for Silver members and up.Welcome gift for Gold members and up.
Radisson RewardsFood and beverage discounts at hotel restaurants; free breakfast for Platinum members.Restaurant and lounge options vary by property.N/AComplimentary room upgrades for Silver status and up.Early check-in and late checkout for Silver members and up.In-room welcome gift for Gold and Platinum members.
World of HyattFree breakfast at participating Hyatt hotels.Available for Globalist members.Premium internet for Discoverist and up where available.Preferred rooms for Discoverist members; upgrades for Explorist and Globalist.Late checkout upon request for Discoverist and up at participating locations.Resort fees waived on free night awards.
Wyndham RewardsN/ALounge availability varies by property.Free Wi-Fi available to all members.Preferred room choice for Gold and up.Late checkout for Gold and up; early check-in for Platinum and Diamond.Welcome gift at check-in for Diamond members.

You may also find other benefits you can leverage prior to booking.

For example, Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful, says to check to see if your hotel rewards program offers guaranteed room availability. That can come in handy if you’re traveling during peak vacation season or a convention, concert or other event in town causes hotels to fill up faster.

See related: How to stay at budget hotels using rewards

Have a strategy for joining loyalty programs when angling for extras

Joining hotel loyalty programs is typically free – anyone can sign up, regardless of how often they stay with any one hotel brand.

The question is, which ones should you join if you want the best combination of free nights and perks?

“It’s best to sign up with programs,” says Tatiana Sorokina, founder of Family Road Trip Guru. “One main one and one backup for those situations when your preferred hotel is not available in the location where you’re traveling.”

Sorokina uses Hilton Honors as her primary loyalty program, with Best Western Rewards as her second choice. Hilton Honors is also at the top of the list of preferred programs for Hewke.

“In my opinion, it’s the best loyalty program out there,” he says.

Hewke has Hilton Diamond and Marriott Gold status and says Hilton is more consistent in offering extras to members, even when they have lower-tier status. “I tend to be upgraded more often at Hiltons than any other brand of hotel, and they offer breakfast when you achieve Gold status, whereas Marriott only offers free breakfast at Platinum and above.”

When comparing programs, look at the balance between free nights and bonus benefits. Program A might offer better perks but make it harder to earn free nights, while Program B may offer more free stays with fewer benefits. Then see how that aligns with your travel habits.

“For business, it’s probably best to accumulate maximum rewards through one program,” says Steiner. “For vacations, you might want the flexibility to stay at hotels closest to the attractions you plan on visiting instead of being limited by brand.”

Double up on hotel loyalty benefits with your rewards card

Your choice of travel credit card can also influence the benefits you enjoy during your hotel stay.

“If you’re getting status through co-branded credit cards, then you should sign up for the loyalty programs that you’ll be getting a credit card with,” says Hewke. “That way, you can take advantage of various statuses no matter where you stay.”

Pairing a co-branded hotel rewards card can also help you gain upper tier status in your loyalty program more quickly, something that may be necessary to unlock top-shelf member benefits.

Here’s a shortlist of co-branded cards you may consider to get more from your hotel  loyalty program:

  • Hilton Honors American Express Card offers automatic silver status, fifth night free for every consecutive hotel stay, 15 percent bonus on Honors points, 500-point bonus when you reserve and pay with Hilton Honors card, second guest stays free, express checkout and late checkout.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card offers automatic silver elite status, 20 percent bonus on Marriott base points, free in-room Wi-Fi, late checkout and fifth night free on any rewards stay.
  • IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card offers automatic Platinum Elite status, free fourth night on every rewards stay, up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA Precheck, complimentary room upgrades, guaranteed room availability, extended checkout, priority check-in, complimentary Internet, $30 spa credit, 50 percent bonus on base points, elite rollover nights and IHG Rewards Club concierge.
  • The World of Hyatt Credit Card offers automatic Discoverist status, five qualifying nights toward elite status each year, two qualifying nights for each $5,000 spend each year, 10 percent point bonus, free Wi-Fi, late checkout and 72-hour room guarantee.
  • Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature card offers Platinum level membership, 10 points per dollar or 1,000 points on eligible stays (whichever is more), rollover nights never expire, free Wi-Fi, dedicated member services, preferred room, late checkout and early check-in.
  • Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard offers automatic platinum elite status, 10 percent discount on hotel stays, 15 percent point bonus per stay, free room upgrades and recognition gift.
  • Barclay Choice Privileges Visa Signature card offers automatic upgrade to gold status and 10 percent bonus on eligible hotel stays.

When comparing cards, apply the same vetting criteria. Look for any loyalty benefits you can enjoy in addition to the ones offered by the hotel directly, then consider the rewards structure to make sure it’s a fit for your travel plans.

Avoid mistakes that could cost you loyalty benefits

The biggest mistake you can make with hotel loyalty programs is not knowing what benefits are on tap, says Hewke.

“There are so many people that have complimentary upgrades and free breakfasts that they don’t even use,” he says.

Beyond that, be aware of any rules or restrictions that may apply when exercising loyalty benefits. A quick review of your loyalty program’s terms and conditions can clue you in to any special policies or guidelines of which you need to be aware.

Lastly, always check for expiration dates on rewards points or program benefits, says Sorokina. If hotel loyalty membership perks expire, make sure you’re using them before you lose them.

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