Get Extra Benefits and Cheaper Rates Just by Signing Up for Hotel Loyalty Programs
You don’t need to stay a bunch of nights or achieve some level of elite status to get value from hotel loyalty programs.
Before you make a reservation at any hotel, it is always worthwhile to join their loyalty program. Everyone who joins gets access to a few special benefits and (usually) reduced “member-only” room rates.
Don’t skip the step of joining the program because you don’t think you’ll stay often enough to earn a free night. It's worth joining even for a single visit. You’ll get some special benefits, it doesn’t cost anything, and it doesn’t take that much time to join. It will pay off every time you stay at one of the program’s hotels in the future, and by taking advantage of a free service called AwardWallet, you’ll be able to easily keep track of your membership information.
Why become a member?
Becoming a member of the hotel’s loyalty program provides several benefits (even without any level of elite status).
- Special members only rates. Almost every hotel company offers their members discounted rates. You’ll typically get a 5-15% discount.
- Free Wi-Fi and other perks. Even the entry level of most loyalty programs provides benefits like free Wi-Fi (at hotels that still don't offer it to everyone) and late checkout. Some hotels offer more unique benefits to every member. For example, Hyatt entry-level members get free breakfast at Hyatt Place hotels and Accor entry-level members get free access to bicycles and free rides in hotel-owned BMWs at Fairmont-branded hotels.
- Effortless reservations in the future. When you sign up for a hotel loyalty program, it takes a minute or two to enter your contact and default payment information. However, once you've signed up, you don't have to enter this information each time you make a reservation in the future. Over the long run, joining the loyalty program doesn't take extra time—it saves you time.
- Access to special promotions. Joining most programs gives you access to special promotions. For example, two stays at an (inexpensive) Marriott within a three-month period might be enough for a free night certificate that you can use on a future trip.
- Reward points or miles. While accumulating enough hotel points for a free night might take some time, your account balance will gradually grow. If you make the extra effort to take advantage of promotions or credit card signup bonuses, you can accumulate a bunch of points, even if you don’t stay very often. Or you can choose to earn frequent flyer miles, instead of hotel points, for your stays.
- Better treatment. If there is a problem with your reservation or your stay, you are likely to get slightly better treatment as a member of the hotel’s loyalty program. Don’t count on much, but it can help.
Boosting your status level
Hotel programs provide better benefits to members with "elite status". The normal way to qualify is to stay a lot of nights over the course of the year. Unless you travel a lot for work, it can be hard to stay enough nights to achieve elite status.
Fortunately, you can obtain elite status benefits, without staying a single night, just by having the right credit card or via status matches and challenges.
Especially when you are staying at a hotel that is part of a small loyalty program or when you are taking a trip where elite status benefits would be particularly valuable, it is worth taking a moment to see if you can take a shortcut to elite hotel status.
Member benefits for the big four hotel programs
Every member gets access to member rates, free Wi-Fi, and late checkout (upon availability). At the rare hotel with an extra fee for double occupancy, you’ll get your second person free. Hilton Status Benefits.
Gold status from the Hilton Credit Cards also gives you the Hilton breakfast / snack benefits, the possibility of a room upgrade, free access to fitness centers, two free bottles of water per stay, and 80% bonus points on your stay. Diamond status from the Hilton Aspire Credit Card adds premium internet access and executive floor lounge access (at most properties). If you stay at least a few times per year, you'll definitely want one of these cards (or the Amex Platinum Card).
Hilton occasionally runs status match promotions, but it is always easy to get valuable status benefits using their credit cards.
Every member gets access to member rates and free breakfast at Hyatt Place. Hyatt Status Benefits.
Discoverist status from the Hyatt Credit Card also gives you premium internet access, free bottled water, the possibility of getting a slightly nicer room, 2 PM late checkout (upon availability), American Airlines miles on top of your Hyatt points, and a 10% bonus on points earned at Hyatt. You may want this card anyway for its free night certificate (and potentially for its bonus elite night credits).
It usually ins't possible to status match to Hyatt status, unless you are an American Airlines or MGM elite.
Every member gets access to member rates, a $30 in-room spa credit at certain hotels, and free Wi-Fi. IHG Status Benefits.
Platinum status from the IHG Select Card also gives you the possibility of a room upgrade, extended check-out, priority check-in and welcome availability, a $30 “raid the bar” benefit at Kimpton hotels, and a 50% bonus on base points. You may want this card anyway for its free night certificate.
IHG occasionally runs status match promotions, but even Platinum status is not that valuable and can easily be earned just by getting their credit card.
Every member gets access to member rates and free Wi-Fi. Marriott Status Benefits.
Gold status from the Marriott Credit Cards also gives you the possibility of a room upgrade and late checkout, a 25% bonus on base points, and 250-500 extra points per stay. You may want this card anyway for its free night certificate (and potentially for its bonus elite night credits).
If you have high-level status with another hotel program, particularly with Hyatt or Hilton, you may be able to a status match or status challenge with Marriott.
Some interesting elite status opportunities
Here are a few possibilities for unlocking nice benefits with a status match:
- Wyndham & Caesars Rewards. A valuable opportunity available to everyone is to maintain high-level status with Wyndham and Caesars Rewards. Wyndham has an official status match program that will match your status from other hotel programs, including status you have just from having a credit card. They also have an ongoing partnership with Caesars Rewards where any status you have with one program will be matched by the other.
- Sonesta hotels. Sonesta will match your status in other programs. It is pretty easy to obtain their high-level "Elite" status, which entitles you to club lounge access (or continental breakfast), discounted suite upgrades, a free drink, and a welcome amenity at Royal Sonesta, Sonesta Hotels, and Sonesta Resorts, a $15 "sip 'n snack" credit at Sonesta ES Suites, early check-in and late check-out, and a set of additional minor benefits. Instructions are available in their FAQ.
- Temporary Hilton status. If you don't want to get one of the Hilton credit cards but want access to Hilton Gold's breakfast benefit, you can sign up for Hilton's status challenge. You'll receive Gold status for the next three months. You can only officially do this once, so choose your opportunity wisely. Hilton status match.
- MGM Casinos. Anyone who has the Hyatt credit card or otherwise has Hyatt Discoverist status can be matched to MGM Casino's Pearl elite level, which entitles you to free self-parking and some minor benefits. M-Life benefits for Hyatt members.
Matching your Wyndham status to Caesars doesn't just give you some nice benefits at the Caesars and Harrahs family of resort. It lets you maintain high level status in both programs in perpetuity. At the end of the year, your Wyndham status will expire, but your Caesars status will still be active until the end of January. During January, you can rematch from Caesars to Wyndham. Then in February, you can rematch back to Caesars.
Ideally, you want to get Diamond status. This will require an initial match from Marriott Gold status, Hilton Gold status, IHG Platinum status, and similar status levels that can be easily obtained from hotel credit cards or other status match programs.
At Wyndham, you'll get suite upgrades (upon availability), early check-in and late checkout, free snacks or beverage, and a few other benefits. Wyndham Status Benefits.
At Caesars, you'll get an annual $100 credit for a "celebration dinner, 2 free show tickets per month, waived resort fees, free parking, an annual complimentary stay at Atlantis Bahamas, and other benefits. Caesars Benefits.
Another alternative is to get the Bank of America Sonesta Hotels Credit Card, which comes with Sonesta Elite status.
Managing your memberships
Signing up for a dozen or more loyalty programs isn’t completely painless. You’ll need to remember your account information, and you’ll probably start getting a bunch of promotional emails.
- Fortunately, you can take the pain out of managing your loyalty accounts by using AwardWallet. It remembers the account numbers and sign-in information for all your loyalty accounts, tracks your point balances, and can even let you sign into your accounts automatically. Use AwardWallet to Easily Manage Your Loyalty Program Information.
- Manage promotional email. If you’re a travel discount junkie, you might appreciate the special promotions and deals that will be coming to your inbox. However, if you don’t want to get them, they are easy to avoid. When you go through the sign-up process, there will be a checkbox to turn-off these emails. Tips for Managing Promotional Emails.
What to do, if you don’t expect to earn many hotel reward points
One byproduct of always signing up for hotel loyalty programs is that you’ll eventually earn small numbers of points with many different programs. With most programs, you’ll lose those points after 1-2 years of inactivity. However, if you periodically earn or spend some points, your account will stay active and you can keep your points indefinitely.
If you think you will gradually generate enough points to redeem for a free hotel night, that is always the most valuable use of your hotel points. If not, you have a few alternative options.
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