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This post is part of our new series that will make up the Million Mile Secrets Learning Center.
When going on vacation, paying for a hotel can easily eat-up a large part of your budget. Whether it’s a luxury resort getaway or just a few simple nights away, hotels can be costly. But, there are two foolproof solutions to ward off expensive hotel stays — hotel reward programs and hotel reward credit cards. Both allow you to earn rewards, gain benefits, and most importantly, stay in hotels for little to nothing.
What are hotel rewards programs?
A hotel rewards program is a loyalty program specific to a hotel and its various brands. When you register for a hotel rewards program, every time you stay a night at a hotel that participates in the program you’ll accumulate hotel points with it. These can be used to get discounted or free nights for a future stay.
Hotel chains want to reward you for sharing your dollars and time with them. Typically, you’ll earn more points with a hotel chain the more money you spend at its properties. When redeeming points, more expensive locations will usually cost you more hotel points to redeem for a free night, whereas stays at mid-tier locations will give you the option to redeem a free night quicker.
As an added bonus, being part of a hotel rewards program will get you some extra perks just for being a member. Each hotel is different, but things like free wifi, room upgrades and complimentary breakfast are all among the benefits programs offer. The more loyal you are with a certain chain, the more perks you’ll receive — and you can eventually earn elite status.
The best part of all this? Signing up to become a member is totally free.
How to sign-up for a hotel rewards program
Becoming a member of a hotel rewards program is free, easy and fast.
Step 1: Define your travel goals and expectations
When picking which hotel rewards program to become a member of, it’s important to think about your personal travel goals and expectations. Do you typically stay at one hotel chain? Where do you want to travel in the coming months? Coming years? Which hotels have locations in those places? Do you prefer the amenities or pricing of one hotel chain to another? These are all important questions to ask yourself and research prior to signing up for a hotel rewards program.
If you’re looking to get the most value out of your rewards, Hyatt is a great option. It takes relatively few points to stay at top-tier Hyatt hotels, so you can get the most out of your rewards in the shortest amount of time. However, Hyatt has a much smaller property footprint, around 1,000 locations, which is much smaller than some of the other hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton.
If you’d rather a program with more versatility, Marriott could be for you. Marriott has over 7,000 locations (the most properties in the world); everywhere from the snowy mountain tops of Colorado to luxurious island destinations like The Maldives. Marriott also has dozens of unique brands to choose from, so you can fit the Marriott hotel to your budget.
Here are our reviews of some of the major chains and their loyalty programs:
And check out our post on the best hotel reward programs to compare and contrast the benefits of each chain and its rewards program.
Step 2: Choose a program and sign-up
After you decide on your goals and expectations for travel, you have to find the program that fits all of your needs. Once you’ve decided, follow our sign-up links to any of the major hotel programs to begin the process of becoming a member. All you have to do is fill out your personal information and create a username and password. Volia, you’ve become a member in a few minutes — for free!
You can sign up for the major programs here:
While you’ll rack up points and credits towards elite status more quickly if you just stick with one chain, you can (and should) sign up for the loyalty program for any hotel chain that you stay at. It may not always make sense to stick to one chain just for the sake of loyalty itself — the competitor’s property across the street could be much cheaper and just as comfortable. Saving cash is usually a better idea than racking up a few extra points.
Step 3: Enjoy rewards and benefits!
Now that you’re a member of a hotel rewards program, every time you stay in a hotel, you’ll earn points. Keep track of your points to earn a free night fast, or save them up for a five-star hotel. No matter what you decide to do with your points, you’ll be able to enjoy extra benefits depending on your elite status each time you stay in a hotel (hello, free breakfast!) When you’re ready to spend the points on a free night(s), simply book with points instead of your cash on the hotel site through your loyalty member account.
Here are some of the best uses of rewards for each hotel:
- Best use of Hyatt points
- Best use of IHG points
- Best use of Marriott points
- Best use of Hilton points
Additionally, once you become a member, the more you stay at hotels the higher you’ll climb in the ranks of hotel loyalty program members. All hotels have a top-tier major elite status, which earns you major perks and benefits. Here are some of the elite status memberships and their benefits:
World of Hyatt: Hyatt has a Discoverist, Explorist and Globalist level of member. Elite members get bonuses on points earned at Hyatt hotels (up to 30% if you’re a Globalist), room upgrades, free breakfast and parking, Guest of Honor (where you can share your rewards with someone else) and more.
IHG Status: You can get a bonus on base points earned, room upgrades, elite nights rollover, points that don’t expire and more.
Marriott Bonvoy: Marriott has Silver, Gold, Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador elite levels. The levels have varying degrees of rewards including free nights, bonuses on points, room upgrades and more. At the Ambassador Elite level, you get your own personal Marriott assistant.
Hilton: Hilton has Silver, Gold and Diamond elite members. Elite members can get bonuses on points (100% if you’re a diamond member), free breakfast, room upgrades, fifth night free stays and more.
Pro Tip: Hotel points do expire if unused. There are ways to avoid this, but make sure you’re conscious of the expiration dates of your points!
What about hotel credit cards?
Through hotel credit cards, you can earn hotel rewards without ever staying a night away from your home. While owning a rewards credit card is a bigger investment and commitment than joining a program, the benefits can be huge.
With a co-branded hotel card, you get bonus points and benefits for staying in hotels. But, you can also earn hotel points through every other transaction on the card. Typically, you will earn the most points when making purchases with the hotel chain itself, but you can also earn points through everyday spending on groceries, gas, entertainment and more.
Additionally, through hotel credit cards, you’ll get a welcome or sign-up bonus. What this means is that for opening the card and spending a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time, you’ll be able to score a large bonus on top of the points.
Hotel credit cards also have extra perks and benefits, separate from being a way to earn points. At some chains (like Hilton, Marriott and IHG) cardholders earn a fifth night free after staying four nights in a row at one of their locations. And remember those cool elite status perks? Some hotels will grant you elite status just by having their card in your wallet.
For example, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card grants you top-tier Diamond elite status and an annual free weekend night at almost any Hilton property in the world just for holding onto the card.
But, there are annual fees and credit scores at stake, so remember to think through all your options before signing up.
Hotel dining programs and shopping portals
Select hotel groups have dining programs and shopping portals, making it easier for you to earn points towards free stays and achieve elite status faster, all for making purchases you normally do.
With dining programs, all you have to do is sign-up on the hotel website (for free), securely link a credit or debit card to your account and watch the bonus hotel points come flooding in every time you dine at a participating restaurant.
Hilton dining program: For dining at participating restaurants and paying with a linked card, you’ll be able to earn up to 8 Hilton bonus points per $1 spent (depending on how often you eat out at these locations). If you spend $25 or more in the first 30 days and opt-in to emails, you can receive 1,000 Hilton bonus points!
Marriott Eat Around Town: With Marriott’s program all you have to do is search for participating restaurants in your area, pay with your linked card and earn Marriott Bonvoy Points. As an elite member, you’ll earn 6 points per dollar spent at restaurants, no matter how often you dine out. The program has more than 11,000 restaurants to choose from, and new members can earn 1,000 points from spending their first $30, so it should be easy as pie to rack up these points.
IHG Rewards Club Dining: Depending on your status, with this dining program members can earn 8 points, 5 points or 1 point per dollar spent at participating restaurants. New members can receive 1,000 bonus points after they spend $30 with a linked card, opt-in to emails and leave a review.
With select hotels, shopping online can earn you points. Simply start your online shopping through a hotel shopping portal then let the portal take you to a retailer website (instead of going directly there yourself). This way, any purchase you make online earn you points toward hotel stays. There are hundreds of retailers you can get this perk with, so plenty of online shopping can be done this way.
For example, with Wyndham’s shopping portal, you can earn 5 hotel points per $1 spent on RayBans.com. If you’re buying a $200 of sunglasses and use the portal, you’ll get 1,000 Wyndham points.
With Choice’s shopping portal, you’ll get 3 points per $1 spent at Bed Bath & Beyond. That means, your new $100 comforter will earn you 300 Choice points if you use the shopping portal.
Transferring bank points
When you’re using a travel credit card, you can rack up hotel points, airline miles and bank points for making purchases. Bank points are extremely versatile and can be transferred into other forms of travel currency, hotel points and airline miles. But, this can only be done with travel companies your card partners with. If you have a travel credit card and want to transfer bank points you earned to hotel loyalty programs, here are the partnerships you need to know:
If you have an American Express Membership Rewards earning card, your bank points can be transferred to Choice, Hilton and Marriott. The ratio for Marriott is 1 Amex point to 1 Marriott or Choice point. When transferring to Hilton, you’ll get 2 Hilton points for every Amex point you transfer.
Book direct to receive rewards and benefits
Lastly, it’s very important to remember that you need to book directly with hotels to earn hotel rewards, elite nights and elite benefits. Hotel points will not be earned and you will not be able to get any benefits or rewards if you book through third-party sites.
That means, if you book through an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia or Hotels.com, don’t expect to get points for that stay. You also won’t be able to earn elite night credits or receive perks like free breakfast, room upgrades or early check-in during your stay since you didn’t book with the hotel.
Hotel rewards are easy to earn and simple to use. The perks and benefits of being a hotel rewards program member are can be useful for anyone, regardless of how much you travel.
Getting a hotel rewards card is a bigger commitment, but you can win big by using a card consistently. Think about which rewards system fits better with your life, then make it happen. Treat yourself to your dream vacation, you deserve it!