How to save when booking boutique hotels

Loyalty and rewards programs, flexible travel cards can help you book a unique stay

Lyn Mettler
Personal finance writer
Specializes in writing on travel, family and food

How to save when booking boutique hotels

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When you travel, do you prefer the consistency of chain hotels, or the personalized and unique experiences of boutique hotels and vacation rentals? 

Boutique hotels are growing in popularity, as more and more travelers seek localized, non-generic accommodations. However, the downside is that you can’t use big chain hotel loyalty points earned through stays or through credit card bonuses and spending to book free rooms or upgrades.

But there are some ways you can still save at a boutique hotel, from using flexible rewards credit cards to property-specific loyalty programs and even cash back rewards options.

Cash back and rewards programs

Boutique hotels often don’t have their own loyalty or cash back programs. Fortunately, there are a handful of websites that allow you to still earn rewards or cash when booking stays directly at independently-owned hotels.

The Guestbook rewards guests who book directly with more than 600 participating boutique and independently-owned hotels or through TheGuestbook.com with 5 percent cash back or a 10 percent discount on their next stay at select hotels by a predetermined date.

Stay Wanderful works a bit differently, but it still rewards guests. Instead of cash back, users who book a boutique property directly through the hotel’s website may earn rewards for booking direct, such as a credit to use at retailers like Starbucks or H&M or travel companies like airlines or Uber. Alternately, you can select a discount for a local tour or attraction close to the hotel.

See related: All aboard! These are the best credit cards for cruises

Individual loyalty programs

Many boutique hotels have their own loyalty programs to reward frequent guests, or they may band together to do so through an organization of hotels. 

Small Luxury Hotels of the World, for example, has partnered with Hyatt to allow guests to earn World of Hyatt points when staying at its independently-owned member hotels. World of Hyatt members can also redeem their Hyatt points for stays at one of the 500 Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

The Leading Hotels of the World offers a similar loyalty program called Leaders Club for its more than 400 member properties. Guests can earn points, which they can use to book free stays, as well as enjoy benefits like free breakfast, late check-out and free WiFi. 

According to John Sears, partner at Boutique Hotel Advisors in Beverly Hills, California, about 15 percent of independent hotels have some type of commercial rewards program. 

ACME Hotel Company Chicago, for example, has developed an in-house loyalty program called In Crowd. 

“[Guests] can receive cash back, a better cancellation policy, and we offer some surprise and delights for these guests, as well,” says Brent Hinton, director of sales of and marketing for the hotel. “When you sign up for In Crowd, we ask your favorite things, and we randomly will place something in rooms prior to check-in.”

In the past, he says, they’ve given guests lottery tickets when the jackpot was especially high. 

Hinton also notes that ACME Hotel Company works with The Guestbook. 

“I think it is a great tool to offer your guests an extra incentive when booking directly with you,” he says.

Flexible rewards credit cards

Another strategy is to use flexible rewards credit cards that allow holders to redeem points earned for any type of travel expense.

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a popular flexible option that enables users to book a free or discounted boutique hotel room or a vacation rental (such as HomeAway) with miles accumulated through spending on the card. The card has no annual fee in the first year (it’s $95 after that) and nets 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases, as well as 10 miles per $1 spent on hotels booked and paid for through Hotels.com

Each mile is worth 1 cent when holders use their miles to book travel, including hotel stays. It also comes with perks such as a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck every four years, as well as no foreign transaction fees. 

Discover it® Miles offers similar flexibility with no annual fee, allowing users to earn 1.5 miles per $1 on all purchases. The card also matches all your miles at the end of your first year of holding the card. Users can then redeem miles to stay at any hotel, including independent properties, at a value of 1 cent per mile. 

See related: Why food is the hottest thing in credit card rewards

Want to earn a free stay? Combine these strategies 

If you combine multiple strategies – perhaps booking through a site like The Guestbook and then paying for it with a rewards-earning credit card – you can earn a free stay or rack up rewards for future overnights while still enjoying that personalized, local experience of a boutique hotel.

But Sears of Boutique Hotel Advisors points out that saving a few bucks isn’t everything, especially when it comes to a trip that you want to be memorable. 

“Do you want to save a few bucks on your trip, or save on the heartache of an ordinary experience?” 


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Updated: 01-21-2019