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Like airline frequent flyer programs, hotel loyalty programs are designed to keep you coming back, selecting their properties over another. If you’re savvy, you can end up with some pretty serious benefits.
Types of Benefits
Before we look into how to best take advantage of hotel loyalty programs, let’s explore why you would both in the first place. Here are some great perks of showing your favorite hotel chain some love.
Yup. The best benefit is the most obvious. When you accumulate enough points for staying nights at a hotel, you can cash them in for free nights. Don’t forget that nights accrue across the entire hotel chain (e.g. a stay in a Courtyard Marriott earns you points toward a free night in the Ritz Carlton).
Suites & Room Upgrades
Besides cashing in loyalty points for free nights, you can also spend them to upgrade a regular room to a deluxe one or a suite. These bumps may also be afforded you because of a higher level of status within the loyalty program, meaning you won’t have to cash in any points.
TIP: Always ask at the front desk when you check in.
Free Perks (e.g. Valet, Wifi)
At higher levels of status, many hotel loyalty programs offer you benefits such as valet, wifi, or complimentary breakfast that other guests have to pay extra for.
Strategies for Maximizing Benefits
Before we go any further, don’t forget to actually join the loyalty program. Most are completely free, but if you’re not logging nights through your number, you’re not accumulating status toward benefits.
Just as with frequent flier benefits, it is to your advantage not to spread the love. Focus your loyalty on one hotel chain and begin moving up the ranks. It is generally easier to do this if you choose a large, worldwide chain with many concepts, such as Hilton or Marriott.
Book within a Hotel Group
Pay attention to what concepts are owned by the same parent company as these often allow you to share benefits between them. Some may be obvious by the name alone, but others (like Wyndham, which owns Ramada and Days Inn) take some quick research.
Book a Series of Nights
Some hotel chains give you quick benefits if you book a series of nights. For instance, ‘Book 4 Nights and the 5th is Free’.
Avoid Booking Errors
Pay close attention to the hotel policy when it comes to changing nights or canceling your stay. If you’re not careful, you could spend points on the wrong night and be unable to obtain a refund. It’s a mistake not to take bookings made with these accumulated points as seriously as you would a cash transaction.
Hotel Credit Cards
Just like the airlines, many hotel chains have partnered with credit card companies to produce brand-specific versions of the credit cards themselves (e.g. Hilton American Express). The benefits can range from a large number of loyalty points upon application to multiplied points when you pay for travel using the card. If you want to maximize the benefits of booking lodging, check out the best credit cards for travel miles.
Best Hotel Chains for Benefits
When it comes to the loyalty programs, not all hotel chains are created equal. Here are a few of the top contenders when it comes to hotel points, perks, and possibilities.
Ranging in price from Days Inn to Wyndham Resorts, Wyndham is the largest hotel chain in the world. Wyndham properties span 15 brands, 66 countries, and 8,000 locations. All of these properties are an opportunity to earn and spend loyalty points, which is a large factor in this program’s appeal. It also has a relatively low threshold (15,000 points) to qualify for a free night.
Compared to other top contenders, Hyatt is a comparatively small hotel chain. What it lacks in units, it makes up for in high-end charm with 6% of its properties qualifying as luxury hotels. In keeping with this image, Hyatt offers extremely appealing benefits (such as suite upgrades) to its elite status members. Be aware that they recently changed their award chart.
Hilton is one of the most widely recognized names in the world and for good reason. There are Hilton properties in over 100 countries. Besides this appealing geographic spread, Hilton also has unique loyalty benefits like family sharing plans and very strong relationships with its credit card sponsors.
The Bottom Line Regarding Hotel Points
A big takeaway from this article should be to start thinking of hospitality status like actual currency. If it replaces real dollars that you can now spend on something else, what’s the difference?
Whether your goal is to accumulate free nights to travel on a shoestring budget or rack up status to stay like royalty, paying attention to the nuances of hotel loyalty programs and hotel points can get you there.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do hotel points expire?
Yes. However, for most hotel chains, points expire due to periods of inactivity. Although not always the case, you can often prevent points from expiring by earning or redeeming points within a 12, 18, or 24-month period.
Can I use hotel points to dine at the hotel restaurant?
Maybe. Some of this depends on whether or not the hotel owns the restaurant or has an existing arrangement. It never hurts to ask (in advance)!