Most travel hacking beginners start by earning miles for award flights. After all, flight costs can eat up much of your travel budget, so it’s only natural to focus on redeeming miles to get to your destination as a first step. In this post, though, let’s take a look at some of the more common hotel rewards programs, how to earn points for award nights, and a few of the pros and cons of each program.
What could be better than redeeming miles for an award flight? Well, of course! Redeeming miles and points for an award flight and award nights!
Whether you’re a travel hacking beginner or want to devote more energy to your hotel points-earning strategy, this is the post for you.
First, let’s cover some of the basics.
1. The chart below shows 6 of the most popular hotel rewards programs and the brands they include. With so many brands in each program, it’s important to be somewhat knowledgeable about which brands are part of which hotel rewards program.
Hotel Rewards Program & Award Chart Link
|Hilton||Waldorf Astoria Resorts & Hotels, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Canopy, Curio, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites, Hilton Grand Vacations|
|Hyatt||Andaz, Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, Hyatt, Hyatt Zilara, Grand Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Hyatt Centric, Hyatt Residence|
|Starwood||St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, Westin, Le Meridien, Sheraton, Tribute, Four Points, Aloft, Element|
|IHG||Intercontinental, Hualuxe, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Even Hotels, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn Resort, Holiday Inn Club, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites|
|Club Carlson||Quorvus Collection, Radisson Blu, Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn, Country Inns & Suites|
|Marriott||Courtyard, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Towne Place Suites, Protea Hotels, Moxy Hotels, J.W. Marriott, Renaissance Hotels, Marriott, Autograph Collection Hotels, Delta Hotels and Resorts, Marriott Executive Apartments, Marriott Vacation Club, Edition, Bulgari, The Ritz-Carlton, AC Hotels|
2. Each hotel rewards program has its own pros and cons. It’s important to have a sense of which hotel rewards program has easy to earn points, whether or not points can be transferred from a flexible points-earning credit card to your hotel loyalty account, as well as potential perks and pitfalls. The chart below briefly highlights some of the key points for each of the 6 main hotel rewards programs.
Keep reading for a handy (and quite pinnable!) infographic with all the information from the charts below neatly summarized for your viewing pleasure!
|Hyatt has 627 properties across 52 countries. While there are Hyatt properties across the globe, many of their hotels are in North America. Hyatt properties tend to be upscale. Redemptions for award nights are an excellent value, starting at 5k points per night for a category 1 hotel to 30k points per night for a top tier category 7 hotel. Hyatt points are easy to earn. Chase offers a Hyatt credit card that comes with 2 free nights at any hotel each year. If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer your points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio for fantastic value. If you would rather not use too many points, Hyatt offers a cash and points option.|
|Hilton has over 4,200 hotels in 93 countries worldwide. Hilton points are really easy to earn. There are 4 different Hilton credit cards that typically come with a sign-up bonus and/or free nights. Hilton even has a shopping portal and participates in a dining program to earn even more Hilton points. The downside is you will need all those points because Hilton award nights can cost up to 95k points for top tier category 10 hotels!|
|Starwood has 1,270 properties in 100 countries. Starwood points are especially valuable. First, they are not that easy to earn. The only way to earn Starwood points is by signing up for one or both of the Starwood American Express credit cards. Aside from a terrific collection of hotels, Starwood partners with over 30 airlines. You can transfer your points from Starwood to an airline partner in 20k increments and get a 5k bonus. Essentially, 20k Starwood points equals 25k airline miles. Starwood also gives you the 5th night free when you redeem 5 award nights. What’s not to love, right? Well, it was announced that Marriott Hotels purchased Starwood and at this point it’s unclear what this means for your Starwood points. Stay tuned!|
|Marriott has more than 4,300 properties in 81 countries worldwide. With the Marriott credit card from Chase and the 1:1 transfer of Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott points, there’s plenty to smile about. Like Starwood, Marriott also gives you the 5th night of an award night free. Marriott has had several devaluations over the past couple of years, which has hit some of the middle tier hotels especially hard. However, it will be interesting to see how Marriott acquires and incorporates the Starwood hotel rewards program.|
|IHG (formerly Choice Hotels) has 4,963 properties, mostly within the Americas and the Caribbean. Chase offers a great value on the IHG credit card, with a low annual fee and a free night certificate to any hotel each year. The free night more than makes up for the annual fee. IHG’s points and cash option allows you to earn points easily. You can also join the IHG dining program or complete surveys on e-Rewards to earn points. Every few months, IHG releases a select list of Points Break Hotels, where you can redeem award nights for only 5k points per night. IHG does not let you book premium rooms with points, though.|
|Club Carlson has over 1,000 properties across the globe. While there aren’t many upscale hotels in Club Carlson’s program, their Radisson Blu boutique-style hotels across Europe offer solid value. The only way you can earn Club Carlson points is with the Club Carlson Visa offered by U.S. Bank. Each year on your card anniversary, you get 40k Club Carlson points.|
Here’s an infographic highlighting everything discussed in the charts up above.
So, how do you know which hotel rewards program is right for you?
1. What are your travel goals?
Are you collecting hotel points to stay at an upscale, luxurious hotel for a once in a lifetime trip? Then, Hyatt or Starwood might be the programs for you. Are you trying to stretch your points as far as you can? If so, focus your energy on the IHG or Club Carlson rewards programs. Do you prefer a particular hotel chain? Your answers to these questions will help you figure out which program is right for you.
2. Where do you want to go?
Work backward by choosing your destination and then researching on AwardMapper to see which hotel rewards programs have hotels in that location. You can often tailor your search to show specific hotel brands by simply clicking on a few search filters. You can search by the number of points you want to use by adjusting the sliding scale.
Once you know which hotels are in your destination, you’ll have a better sense of which hotel rewards programs you should begin with.
3. When do you want to travel?
If you’re hoping to travel soon, you might want to look at which hotel credit cards have the best sign up bonuses. You might even consider getting a flexible points-earning credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred to have more hotel redemption options.
On the other hand, if you are planning a trip for the future, credit cards, shopping portals, and dining programs can all be helpful for building up your points over time. Whenever you are earning points for the long term, be sure to know if and when your points might expire. Consider also, the expiration dates on any free night certificates earned with a credit card bonus. Some of these certificates must be redeemed within a year and if this doesn’t fit with your travel plans, wait to get that credit card.
Which hotel rewards program(s) do you focus on? What’s been your best ever award stay?
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