Your Ultimate Guide to Hotel Loyalty Programs

hotel entranceJoining hotel loyalty programs is like searching for a new car—the brands, makes, and models all cater to segmented audiences. Have a family? Gather up the gang in a minivan. Maybe you’re single with an expendable income, so you go with a sports car. Or you’re an empty nester downsizing from an eight-seat SUV to a classy sedan. Sure, some cars share similarities, but they are unique in what they offer. 

Similarly, there are thousands of hotel properties across dozens of brands. We get how it can be confusing to figure out who is who, what each brand has to offer, and why it matters to you, the consumer. We’re here to explain why hotel rewards are beneficial and how you can better understand which loyalty programs are best for you

This is an all-encompassing guide on the topic: how to join a hotel loyalty program, how you can earn rewards, and what you can redeem them for.

Why Hotel Loyalty Programs Are Beneficial

You’ve heard us praise booking directly with the hotel before. Your booking has better security and more flexibility when you book direct. No lost reservations, and no last-minute changes from that king room with a view to a double room by the elevator. 

Booking direct is smart. But being a loyalty member is even smarter. Perhaps you don’t want to take that extra step of signing up for a membership. But, please, we don’t buy the excuse that you don’t have anything to gain or you don’t travel enough to cash in on these benefits. Come on, we’re talking about rewards—rewards that are free. And doesn’t everyone enjoy free things? 

Signing up is fast and easy. You could sign up for a hotel loyalty program—or two, or three—in the time it’ll take you to skim this article. Even if you don’t travel often, it’s still worth it. Why? Because you can lock in lower rates plus other amenities just for being a member. Complimentary Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and staying in your jammies for an extra hour or two thanks to a late checkout are nice bonuses. 

How to Join a Rewards Program

We detail how to sign up for loyalty rewards here. Most of them just ask for your name, mailing address, email address, and phone number. Some loyalty programs make it even easier by allowing you to sign in with a Facebook account. Once you’re set up, being logged in makes the booking process really simple.

One of the underrated member perks at certain hotels is the ability to check in via a mobile app. This allows you to check on your room status, request potential upgrades, and check in before arriving. When you arrive, head to the mobile check-in desk to grab your key card. This feature is useful for bigger hotels in bigger cities where lines can reach amusement park status levels. 

Taking Advantage of the Best Hotel Loyalty Programs

Before we do a deep dive into the six main hotel loyalty programs, let’s first provide background on how we got here. As modern America evolved and consumer trends changed, businesses trended toward customer loyalty. (Read our other article, A Brief History of the Hotel Industry for some interesting facts about how the modern-day hotel came to be.)

In the 1980s, Holiday Inn and Marriott launched loyalty programs that offered free flights to guests who accrued a certain amount of hotel stays. They then tweaked this model, instead awarding free nights at their hotels instead of flights. Over time, the programs became more layered, giving members the ability to reach different tiers and levels. Hotels even partnered with credit card companies to offer more rewards for swiping their branded piece of plastic. 

As these programs grew in conjunction with the pioneering ways of the internet, online travel agencies (OTAs) flooded the market in hopes of securing a piece of the pie. These sites grew in popularity and slowly began to take over the online travel industry. Tired of OTA shenanigans, Roomkey was born as an alternative hotel search site that doesn’t charge the hotels an arm and a leg for each commission. So Roomkey.com entered the fray, but we did so with the customer in mind.

How Loyalty Rates Are Determined

Don’t let the “best price” monikers you see all over the internet fool you. Everyone wants you to think their rates are cheaper. But, here’s why those “best price” claims are irrelevant. There are price parity agreements in each OTA-Hotel contract that prevent OTAs from undercutting the hotels and selling a room for cheaper than what the hotel is selling it for. TLDR: You’re not actually price comparing when you jump from OTA site to OTA site searching for the lowest price. All the prices will be the same.

However, there is an exception that works in your favor. Thanks to hotel loyalty programs, reward members can access lower prices than the standard rates that hotels and OTAs sell. How? It’s called a closed user group, a fancy term for a membership that requires you to opt-in with a password and set up a member profile. Because these lower rates aren’t available to the general public, hotels are able to bypass the price parity rule and offer lower rates only to members.

This is where we come in. Our search includes those low loyalty member-only rates OTAs can’t offer. In fact, Roomkey is the only hotel search site that compares loyalty rates across hotel brands.

How Roomkey Shows Loyalty Rates

Put away the 10 browsers currently on your screen because you won’t need them. Instead of making you crawl the internet for different hotel prices, we bundle it up in an easy to digest package. You won’t find gimmicky phrases like “in high demand” or “only three rooms left.” We save the spammy urgency marketing for the OTAs.

When you search Roomkey.com and find a property that interests you, click through to find Roomkey’s price estimate. We’ll show you the difference between the standard rate and the loyalty member rate and how the loyalty rate is cheaper. 

We automatically display the loyalty rate on the hotel page. If you want to see how much you’ll save, simply click the drop down button and select “Flexible.” (Flexible rates are the standard rates that you’d pay as a non-member. Read more about this distinction in our article Breaking Down the Different Types of Hotel Rates.) In our example below at the Conrad Miami, there’s a $41 savings if you book a prepaid, loyalty rate verses a flexible rate ($168 vs. $209).

We’re the only online booking site with access to these rates outside of the hotels themselves. We also make it easy to set up a price alert for particular hotels you’re interested in. If you have some time before you need to book your hotel, set a price alert and we’ll let you know if the price decreases. This is just another way we put your best interests first and make sure you get the best price possible.

Breaking Down the Hotel Loyalty Programs

Choice Privileges

Choice isn’t out to compete with other brands that boast luxury hotels on paradise islands. Instead, their properties focus on spontaneous travelers looking for a weekend getaway. The name is self-explanatory, as there are endless choices to earn and spend points. Few other loyalty programs offer perks like Amazon or Uber credits.

  • Benefits: 
    • A basic membership starts with exclusive member rates, among other amenities. 
    • Gold status gets a 10% point bonus (these are extra points for each night), early check in/late checkout, elite reserved parking, and an elite welcome gift. 
    • Platinum receives all of the aforementioned benefits, a 25% point bonus, and access to Avis Preferred Plus, which provides complimentary upgrades, exclusive offers, and other program benefits.
    • Diamond status has access to all of the benefits mentioned above and a 50% point bonus.
  • How points are earned
    • Get 10 points per $1 spent on hotels or five to 10 points per $1 spent on vacation rentals, villas, cabins, condos, and more.
    • Choice offers perks with each stay, like 400 reward points, a $5 coffee card, 100 airline miles, $0.20 per gallon in Shell fuel rewards or other select gas stations, and a $2.50 Amazon.com credit or a $2.50 Uber discount. 
    • Booking a rental car through Avis or Budget earns you an additional 1,000 points. 
    • Choice’s online mall awards points for shopping, like five points for each $1 spent at Bloomingdales and Macy’s. 
    • Choice has other interesting benefits, like 50,000 points when using Quicken Loans for a new home loan or refinancing a mortgage, up to 10,000 points for joining the American Cellars Wine Club, and 25,000 points for booking a resort getaway with Bluegreen Vacations.
  • What points can be redeemed on: 
    • Reward nights start at 8,000 points and resort destinations start at 16,000 points. 
    • You can also exchange your points for travel miles with brands like United Airlines, Southwest, or Amtrak. 
    • There’s also an expansive option for cruises, with more than 20 different lines. 
    • Using points for a cruise can net a $250 credit when redeeming 85,000 points or a $500 credit for the use of 160,000 points.
choice privileges member benefits
Choice Privileges member benefits as of February 17, 2020
Source: https://www.choicehotels.com/choice-privileges/benefits

Hilton Honors

Armed with a serious global footprint, Hilton offers endless locations with friendly perks. In 2017, Hilton introduced a free pooling feature, allowing friends and family to share points for a stay. A total of 11 members can pool a minimum of 1,000 points and up to 500,000 points a year. This is convenient if you and your friends want to reach baller status for a few days, or even a week at, say, the Waldorf Astoria Maldives (120,000 points).

  • Benefits: 
    • Whereas IHG and Marriott have many tier levels, Hilton has a standard member option to go along with Silver, Gold, and Diamond status. 
    • At the most basic level, perks include guaranteed member discounts, in-room Wi-Fi, late checkout, and no resort fees on reward stays. 
    • Silver members receive a free reward night when booking a four-night stay.
    • Gold members enjoy free breakfast and space-available room upgrades, while Diamond members boast lounge access, elite status gifts, and a 48-hour room guarantee.
  • How points are earned: 
    • Members earn 10 points for each $1 spent, Silver 12 points, Gold 18 points, and Diamond 20 points per $1 spent. 
    • Rental cars with Alamo, Enterprise, and National earn 500 points (up to 5,000) on qualifying purchases.
    • A getaway using CruisesOnly can earn anywhere from 6,000 points (one to five nights) to 50,000 points (13-plus nights). 
    • Hilton’s food rewards option is rather robust, as you can earn up to eight points when dining at one of more than 10,000 participating restaurants. 
    • And for the ride-hailing millennials, you can earn up to three points for every $1 spent on Lyft rides. 
  • What points can be redeemed on: 
    • Reward stays start as low as 5,000 per night and Hilton Honors rewards are transferable to 42 airlines across the world. 
    • For those in search of a more unique way to use points, Hilton’s online portal offers experiences like tickets to sporting events and concerts.
    • If you feel an urge to shop, Hilton allows members to link an Amazon account. 
loyalty programs_hilton honors perks
Hilton Honors member benefits as of February 17, 2020
Source: https://hiltonhonors3.hilton.com/en/explore/benefits/index.html

World of Hyatt

Hyatt packs a powerful punch for its size. They provide travelers with unique experiences, especially with their line of boutique hotels. Hyatt recently added four new brands as part of their expansion: Thompson Hotels, Joie de Vivre, Alila, and Destination Hotels. Expect stunning views and hotels with luxury amenities and aesthetically pleasing designs.

  • Benefits
    • All loyalty users receive member rates, while Discoverist (10 qualifying nights a year), Explorist (30 qualifying nights a year), and Globalist (60 qualifying nights a year) status receive premium internet, access to room upgrades, elite check in, and late checkout (2 p.m. for Discoverist and Explorist; 4 p.m. for Globalist).
    • Globalist receives additional perks such as priority access to rooms, club access or breakfast, and free parking on awards nights. In addition, the three higher tiers are awarded stay bonuses—10% for Discoverist, 20% for Explorist, and 30% for Globalist.
  • How points are earned: 
    • Earn five base points per $1 spent on stays, dining, and spa services. 
    • Earn 10 points per $1 spent on FIND experiences. These experiences range from vineyard tours to goat yoga in Las Vegas. 
    • Discoverist, Explorist, and Globalist members earn 500 points for Avis car rentals. 
    • And, instead of base points, members can earn airline miles for stays. Hyatt’s partnership with American Airlines allows for members to earn one point for every $1 spent on American Airlines flights. 
  • What points can be redeemed on: 
    • Standard room redemption rates start at 5,000 per night and increase across eight categories up to 40,000. 
    • Hyatt joins Hilton in the pooling game, as members can share free nights, points, and select room upgrades with any Hyatt member. 
    • Using 6,000 points can get you a one-day intermediate-size car (Toyota Corolla or similar) rental with Avis.
World of Hyatt member benefits
World of Hyatt member benefits as of February 17, 2020
Source: https://world.hyatt.com/content/gp/en/tiers-and-benefits.html

IHG Rewards Club

For the planning-side in all of us, IHG caters to those who like options and flexibility. The destinations are nice, but so are no blackout dates. Travel whenever and wherever you’d like. Like Hyatt, IHG boosts their boutique hotel presence with properties like Kimpton

  • Benefits
    • The amenities start with complimentary Wi-FI, which club members—IHG’s entry-level rewards—can enjoy by signing up. 
    • Enjoy extended checkout, stay bonuses (50% for Platinum Elite; 100% for Spire Elite), room upgrades, guaranteed room availability (Platinum Elite and Spire Elite), and other foodie options like credits for bar purchases.
  • How points are earned
    • Members earn 10 points for every $1 spent at properties such as Intercontinental, Kimpton, Crowne Plaza, and Holiday Inn and earn five points for every $1 spent at Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites. 
    • Outside of property stays, there are more ways to earn, like IHG’s Dine & Earn, where members can collect up to eight points for every $1 spent at certain restaurants. 
    • As an added bonus, IHG offers 1,000 points for enrolling in IHG Rewards Club Dining and spending $30 in the first 30 days at a participating restaurant. 
    • Making reservations through OpenTable or using GrubHub delivery services are also ways to earn points. Members can buy Apple products through IHG and earn four points for every $1 spent. 
    • Additionally, hotel guests can earn 500 points by declining housekeeping services. This helps protect natural resources, conserve water and energy, and reduce waste
  • What points can be redeemed on
    • Hotel nights are the most popular option, with stays starting at 10,000 points.  
    • Points are transferable to airline miles via 39 different airline brands.
    • An online shopping portal allows you to redeem points on anything from clothes to travel accessories like headphones. 
loyalty programs_ihg rewards club perks
IHG Rewards Club member benefits as of February 17, 2020
Source: https://www.ihg.com/content/us/en/customer-care/member-tc/2nd-page

Marriott Bonvoy

Business and pleasure—you can have both with Marriott. Marriott’s massive merger with Starwood, which eventually led to the creation of Bonvoy, resulted in an expansion that now provides members with a wide-ranging portfolio to choose from.

  • Benefits
    • Complimentary in-room internet, discounted member rates, and mobile check-in services are standard when joining. 
    • You can earn additional rewards, such as late checkout, room upgrades, lounge access, and points bonuses through different tiers based on your number of stays per year.
  • How points are earned
    • You earn points on a 1-to-1 basis for hotel stays. Qualifying purchases, such as in-house dining, beverages, and amenities such as spa treatments or rounds of golf, provide more ways to rack up points.
    • You earn 10 points per $1 spent at the majority of their 30 properties, such as the Ritz-Carlton, Westin, Courtyard, Sheraton, and Autograph Collection. You earn five points per $1 spent at Residence Inn, Townplace Suites, and Element properties. 
    • Booking a rental car with Hertz can earn you up to 2,000 points, while purchasing a cruise can earn you three points for each $1 spent. 
    • For the frequent traveling type, Marriott offers points for booking a laundry list of activities/events. You can redeem points on Cajun and Creole cooking classes in New Orleans or get your “Game of Thrones” fix with a walking tour of Dubrovnik. 
    • When flying, Marriott partners with airlines like Emirates to provide three points per $1 spent on flights.
  • What points can be redeemed on
    • Marriott has eight hotel categories, ranging from 7,500 points (Category 1) to 85,000 points (Category 8). 
    • Beyond that, points can be used for flights by tapping into more than 250 airlines, travel packages, cruises, and car rentals. 
    • You can also transfer points to frequent-flyer miles at your airline of choice. 
    • Marriott created a “Bonvoy Moments” option where you can use points to bid on culinary, entertainment, lifestyle, and sports events. 
    • A shopping portal features food items like steaks and entertainment accessories like speakers. You can even use 25,000 points to receive TSA Precheck status

For more detail about Marriott and the Bonvoy program, read our related post, Partner Spotlight: The Perks of Booking with Marriott.

Marriott Bonvoy member benefits
Marriott Bonvoy member benefits as of February 17, 2020
Source: https://www.marriott.com/loyalty/member-benefits.mi

Wyndham Rewards

Wyndham’s member-friendly approach gained steam by offering 15,000-point reward nights across the board, regardless of brand. The system has since changed to a three-tiered approach. Still, Wyndham prides itself on value and choice.

  • Benefits
    • Arguably one of the more affordable loyalty programs out there, a night will set you back, at most, just 30,000 points. 
    • That means you can treat yourself to a stay at a Wyndham Grand, like The Mills House in Charleston, South Carolina—or branch out internationally in China, Turkey, Greece, Thailand, or Puerto Rico. 
    • Wyndham offers four membership tiers. 
      • Blue members earn free Wi-Fi. 
      • Gold members get late checkout and a 10% stay bonus. 
      • Platinum members receive early check-in and a 15% stay bonus. 
      • Diamond members get a suite upgrade, a snack/welcome beverage, and a 20% stay bonus.
  • How points are earned
    • You earn 10 points per $1 spent on a stay, or 1,000 points, whichever is more. 
    • Outside of hotel stays, members can earn points through shopping, tours, and activities (10 points per $1), rental cars (100 points per day through Avis and Budget), and food (250 points for every DoorDash order).
  • What points can be redeemed on
    • Wyndham has two categories: Go Free award and Go Fast award. Reward tiers are simple, depending on the category—7,500, 15,000, or 30,000 points by redeeming Go Free awards and 1,500, 3,000, or 6,000 points for Go Fast awards. 
    • Go Fast rewards are used to obtain a discounted rate. Like many other programs, Wyndham Rewards points are available to use on fuel discounts at Marathon Gas and for shopping and gift cards.
loyalty programs_wyndham rewards perks
Wyndham Rewards member benefits as of February 17, 2020
Source: https://www.wyndhamhotels.com/wyndham-rewards/member-levels

Now that you’ve digested all the reward options, let us help you plan your next trip. We’ll roll up our sleeves and make it easy for you to find everything in one place. We compare loyalty rates from our hotel partners around the globe. If you see something you like, we’ll take you right to the hotel’s website to complete the booking process. It’s as simple as that. 

*Disclaimer: Program information outlined above is accurate as of February 17, 2020. These programs might change their earning and redemption rules at any time. For updated information on each program, please visit the hotels’ membership overview pages :