If you're willing to play favorites, even the most infrequent traveler can reap the rewards of hotel loyalty programs. Consumer Reports money adviser Tobie Stranger says hotels in all price ranges are playing the rewards game in order to generate repeat business.
"All the plans we checked out were free, and they made it really easy to enroll," said Stranger. "You could either do it by phone, online, or even in person at the hotel."
You can collect points through hotel stays or from everyday spending, typically at a rate of three-to-10 points for every dollar you spend.
Points for a free night vary. Hyatt Gold Passport members can earn a free night with as few as 5,000 points. Hilton Honors and Marriott Rewards start at 7,500 points. And Best Western Gold Crown Club starts at 8,000 points.
Many programs also allow you to convert points into airline miles, restaurant certificates, and even retail merchandise.
"Members are often told first about special deals and members-only discounts," said Stranger.
And there are other special benefits, like free newspapers and health club privileges.
With the Fairmont Hotel chain's President's Club, you even have free use of workout clothes, sneakers, and a loaded MP3 player.
But there are caveats.
"Many of these programs will not give you points if you book through a third party like Travelocity or Expedia, and they often have blackout dates," said Stranger. "So you may not be able to book using your points during the holiday season."
With a little planning, getting a free night or two can lead to sweet dreams.
How do you decide which hotel loyalty program to join? If you have a favorite hotel chain, Consumer Reports says to go with that one. But if you stay at different hotels depending on your destination - or how much a room costs - read up on the different programs to find one that best suits you.
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- Marriott Rewards
- Hilton HHonors
- Choice Hotels Reward Programs
- Ramada TripRewards
- Priority Club Rewards
- Best Western Programs