Welcome back to rsts11travel. In our first full-content post, we suggested that you be a joiner. We were focused on Las Vegas at the time, but the same advice applies worldwide. Today we’ll look at getting you set up for the best advantages when staying with major and minor hotel chains, even if you’re not exclusive or a frequent stayer.
Mix and match your hotel programs
In the United States and across the planet, you’ll find a couple of chains just about everywhere. They can be a bit confusing, as some of them have as many as 40 brands under one frequent traveler program and family brand. Some examples for you:
- Starwood Preferred Guest (Sheraton, Four Points, Westin, W, Aloft, etc, plus all of Marriott)
- Marriott Rewards (Marriott, Residence Inn, Firfield Inn, Ritz-Carlton, plus all of the Starwood brands)
- Hilton HHonors (Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, etc)
- Wyndham Rewards (Wyndham, Days Inn, Howard Johnson’s, Ramada, Super 8, etc)
- Hyatt Gold Passport/World of Hyatt (Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Andaz, etc)
- Choice Privileges (Choice, Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Econo Lodge, etc)
- IHG Rewards Club (Intercontinental, Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza, etc)
These are the largest chains with a substantial US presence and multiple brands; Accor of France is merging with the Fairmont group, but isn’t as common otherwise over here. Best Western is probably the largest single brand chain with just over 4000 locations.
There are also regional chains that may be worth looking into. On the West Coast, I’m fond of Coast Hotels and Kimpton. Even though Kimpton was acquired by IHG in 2014, they are still operating separately and have their own loyalty program. Coast Hotels operates from California to Alaska, including British Columbia, and while they don’t offer points for third party bookings (including corporate travel), their levels are based on annual nights, not dollars or points.
So to cover all the business hotels you might stay in, there’s at least eight programs to join. You may find you don’t use some chains (I’ve never stayed at an Accor property, and it’s been probably 20 years since I stayed at a Choice property), and if you do find yourself planning a stay with one, you can always join later.
A word about Starwood and Marriott
If you get Starwood and/or Marriott, and Hilton, most of your likely options will be covered. Starwood was acquired by Marriott in fall of 2016, but both programs are still intact and can easily be linked, along with the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program (although you must choose Ritz-Carlton or Marriott, not both). There’s still uncertainty about how Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards will shake out, but for now, you can move points between them and match status between them.
We would recommend Starwood if you have to choose, as with the 3:1 point exchange rate, you can probably come out ahead with or without the credit cards. But keep reading for more ideas.
Why bother with loyalty programs if I don’t stay often?
The first two times I used loyalty programs, they were immediately upon joining the program. One was Wyndham, when they owned the Reach Resort in Key West, and by joining five minutes before making my reservation, I got a $900 room somewhat off-season for $129/night with every 4th night free. The other was Starwood, whereby two stays at a Four Points in Canada got me two free weekends at properties in Concord, California and the Westin Peachtree in Atlanta.
Speaking of Atlanta, this graphic of the Westin Peachtree from an email I received as I was writing this post illustrates the next point.
You may not be quite as lucky as I was many years ago, but these days it’s not uncommon to get several benefits even at the entry-level rewards level, including partner point options (frequent flyer miles in lieu of hotel points, or in addition), and/or free Internet access in your room (could be worth $12.95 or more per night). After just a few stays you may get additional perks like welcome gifts, free breakfast, free upgrades, late checkout, and more.
Ain’t nobody got time for that
It’s worth remembering that you may get accelerated status through memberships, work affiliations or perk programs, or co-branded credit cards. These rewards may vary and may change at any time, but as of this writing, some of your acceleration options include:
- FoundersCard¹ (3 months of Marriott gold elite with a status challenge, Hilton HHonors gold status)
- American Express Platinum² or Business Platinum² charge cards (Starwood Preferred Gold, Hilton HHonors Gold, plus Fine Hotels & Resorts program)
- American Express Starwood Preferred Guest credit card² (SPG Gold with $30k in annual spend)
- Chase Marriott Rewards VISA² (Marriott silver status plus spend-based credits toward higher status levels)
- Hilton HHonors credit cards (HHonors gold status with either Citi HHonors Reserve or Amex HHonors Surpass cards; silver status with the no fee versions of each)
- Chase IHG Rewards credit card (IHG Rewards platinum status)
Other chains may have card offers as well, but these are the ones I hear about most. (Links other than Founderscard are general public info/app links, not affiliate links; see below for disclosure.)
Quite a few people will get all of them, but if you’re optimizing your credit card applications, I’d recommend either the SPG Amex or the Chase Marriott card (for crossover benefits) and either FoundersCard if eligible, or the Hilton card of your choice. Amex Platinum is a good shortcut to hotel benefits as well, although the $450 annual fee can be a bit daunting.
How do I use my benefits?
Generally you’ll register with the hotel’s website, creating an account and including your member number. After that, any reservations you make with the hotel directly should automatically apply your existing benefits and earn you points when you stay.
If you book travel through a travel agent, corporate travel, third party site like Travelocity or Expedia, or the like, you can usually add your membership numbers to your profiles with those services, or provide them when booking travel. If your status may affect your check-in process (i.e. earning early-check-in), you can call the hotel or chain directly if you weren’t able to include it with your reservation.
It never hurts to ask when checking in, if the clerk doesn’t acknowledge your status on check-in (and they often do, even at the basic levels). Have your numbers available in contacts on your phone, or in a notes app like Evernote; you should never need your actual plastic hotel member card.
Any other quick tips and tricks?
Yes, now that you mention it… be social!
Sometimes you can get quick answers and advice from your travel destination via social media, whether it’s the chain or the rewards program accounts on Facebook and Twitter, or the individual property. If you’ve caught up on rsts11travel, you’ll know I’m serious about my coffee, and I’ll often ask a new property via Twitter what their coffee situation is, if it’s not clear from recent reviews. You can also ask about airport transportation, dining hours (for late arrivals), and with Kimpton, probably request a goldfish for the duration of the stay.
One hotel I stayed in while visiting Texas took note of my coffeemaker inquiry and left a sampling of truffles in my room on arrival. They forgot the coffeemaker I’d requested, but I tweeted my social media contact and she fixed the situation within an hour despite already having left for the day.
This won’t always work, and some hotels are more social than others, but it doesn’t hurt to be friendly and reach out.
Where do we go from here?
Check out your options, consider your hotel preferences and what’s convenient to where you travel. It doesn’t hurt, or cost any money, to join the programs at the basic level, but look into accelerating your status if you plan to stay at one chain frequently or for a small number of long stays.
We’ll look at airline and car rental loyalty programs in a future posting, as well as the travel benefits of the higher tier (but still achievable) American Express offerings. We’ll also look into linkable programs to make the most of stays with affiliated entities (you’ll see some hints on those in our Vegas coverage, but wait, there’s more).
Which hotel loyalty programs do you find most rewarding? Did we miss anything? Comment below, or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosure and footnotes:
We do not get any consideration from credit cards mentioned above, although we hold several of them ourselves.
Trellis graphic via Pixabay.
¹ FoundersCard is usually $595/year, but with our link or promo code FCROBERT190, you can join at $395/year. Sometimes they offer other promotions as well; if you join through our code or link, we get referral points that can be used toward our membership renewal or gift cards. We don’t recommend joining just for one benefit, as benefits may change from year to year, but we’ve found it to be an excellent value over the past year and a half.
² We do not currently have public referral links for credit cards. If you’d like a personal referral to a footnoted card (or Chase Sapphire Preferred) to help support our travel adventures with some bonus points/miles, send a note to rsts11travel at gmail.com and note which card(s) you’re interested in, as well as your full name and email address. We will use this info only to either directly send a link, or to send a referral through the credit card issuer’s referer system. All emails are archived indefinitely but will not be used for any other purposes than the application referral.