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.
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!
In this post, though, let’s take a look at some of the more common hotel rewards programs and a few of the pros and cons of each program.
Hotel Loyalty Progams
The chart below shows 7 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. Some are obvious by their name but others aren’t
Each hotel rewards program has its own pros and cons.
It’s important to have a sense of which hotel rewards programs have co-branded hotel credit cards which makes it easy to earn points.
You should also pay attention to whether or not points can and should be transferred from a flexible points-earning credit card to your hotel loyalty account.
This guide has more information about hotel transfer partners and the value of your hotel points.
The section below briefly highlights some of the key points for each of the 7 main hotel rewards programs.
Hyatt has a steadily growing footprint across 50+ countries.
Their properties tend to be upscale and redemptions for award nights are an excellent value.
Hyatt points are easy to earn through the co-branded World of Hyatt card with Chase.
If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer UR points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio for a fantastic value.
If you’d rather not use too many points for a particular stay, Hyatt also offers a cash and points option.
With thousands of hotels in 90+ countries, there’s likely to be a Hilton hotel wherever you’re planning to stay.
Hilton points are really easy to earn. There are 4 different Hilton credit cards that typically come with a welcome bonus and/or free nights.
The downside is you’ll need all those points because Hilton award nights can cost tens of thousands of points per night for top-tier hotels!
Luckily, though, there are some Hilton geographic sweet spots where you can stretch your Hilton points for a fantastic value.
After acquiring SPG years ago, Marriott’s reach across the globe is unmatched.
Marriott co-branded credit cards help you earn points, free night certificates, and elevated status.
Marriott has had several devaluations over the past couple of years, which has hit some of the middle-tier hotels especially hard. But, there’s still incredible value in having Marriott points as part of your points and miles portfolio.
Marriott Bonvoy points also transfer to 40+ airline partners.
IHG has thousands of hotels around the world, but with a heavy concentration within the Americas and the Caribbean.
In fact, you’ll find many IHG hotels in U.S. National Park gateway towns for convenient access to some of the countries most treasured natural places.
Upscale boutique brands like Kimpton and Hotel Indigo offer great contrast and value to the more familiar Holiday Inn Express brand.
Chase offers 2 co-branded IHG credit cards, one of which is a no-fee card.
The IHG dining rewards program makes it easy to earn IHG points at eligible restaurants.
Radisson Rewards & Radisson Rewards America
Radisson has over 1,000+ properties across the globe, but many are located outside of North America. As such, the program tends to be more niche and not the typical starting point for miles and points beginners.
Their Radisson Blu boutique-style hotels across Europe offer solid value and are quite nice. Their Park Inns can also be great mid-tier options with larger rooms and suites available.
Radisson Rewards has a co-branded Visa offered by U.S. Bank.
Choice has 6,000+ hotels around the world, with primarily mid-range to budget hotel brands.
American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and Capital One miles transfer to Choice Hotels which could be a decent value when used for some of Choice Hotels located in more expensive destinations like Japan or Scandinavia.
There are also plenty of Choice Hotels in U.S. National Park gateway cities. During peak times of the year, these hotels can have high rates making a points redemption an excellent value.
With thousands of hotels around the world, and in particular, vacation rentals and resorts, Wyndham has shown its value.
There are recognizable brands like La Quinta and Wyndham Garden and a concentration of hotels in the Americas.
You can earn Wyndham Reward points from their co-branded credit card or by transferring Capital One Miles or Citi ThankYou Points.
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?
Brands like Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, and IHG have upscale properties around the globe. As you might expect, these luxury hotels can cost a lot of points per night.
You’ll want to plan your earning strategy in advance and likely combine hotel credit card bonuses with hotel promotions to increase your loyalty account balance.
Maybe you’re trying to plan a family vacation.
If so, focus your energy on hotel brands that have suites, apartment-style accommodations, free breakfast, or even an all-inclusive.
Brands like Hilton Homewood Suites or Hyatt Ziva would match these needs.
2. Where do you want to go?
You have a couple of options to help you decide.
Most people work backward by choosing a destination and then researching on a site like Hotel Hustle or AwardMapper to see which hotel rewards programs have hotels in that location.
Once you know which hotels are in your destination, you’ll have a better sense of which hotel rewards programs you should begin with, especially if you’re just getting started earning hotel points.
You can also research hotel brands to see which is a great fit for you and your needs. Then, look at the destinations where those hotels are.
For example, if you’re looking for a family-friendly all-inclusive as mentioned above, the Hyatt Ziva will be a good option to look at. Wyndham Resorts also offer all-inclusive hotels for families.
These properties have very specific locations. Find those places and see if the destination is what you’re looking for.
3. When do you want to travel?
If you’re hoping to travel soon and you’re just getting started with hotel rewards, you might want to look at the hotel credit card of the brand where you want to stay.
You may have to pay for this first trip because points take time to accumulate. However, your stay can help you earn the welcome bonus and earn you additional points for the money spent on the hotel.
If you’re absolutely set on at least getting some hotel points for a trip that’s coming up soon, check to see if a hotel credit card offer with a generous welcome bonus aligns with available hotels in your destination.
Then, apply and meet the minimum spend quickly.
If you are planning a trip for the future, you have more options. hotel credit cards, shopping portals & dining programs, as well as hotel promotions, can all be helpful for building up your points and free night certificates over time.
With enough time, you can plan your credit card strategy and likely earn enough points to book award nights for most if not all of your next vacation!
So, which hotel rewards program(s) do you focus on?
Like this post? Please share it on social media using the share buttons below!
30 thoughts on “A Beginners Guide to Hotel Rewards Programs”
This is so detailed and organized! Definitely learned from this post. In a couple of years, it’ll be time to sign up for a rewards card.
Travel Rewards are definitely something to make use of. Glad you found the post to be informative, Erica.
I haven’t yet joined any hotel rewards programs but should definitely start looking into it. This is a really useful start!
Great, Kirstie! Start small and before you know it, you’ll have earned an award stay!
I’ve honestly never even thought about doing this before, but it’s such a good idea!! and a really great post, very comprehensive, I love your infograph it’s really handy to see it all summarised neatly like that 🙂
Thanks for the info! I will be using it in the future.
Thanks, Maria. Glad it will be useful for you. You can save a lot of money by using points for award stays.
This is really great information. I want to know more about this sort of stuff outside of the US though. I’m in Australia and I still haven’t come across good info like this!
There’s a lot of interest in travel rewards programs outside of the U.S. I admittedly need to learn more about travel hacking in other countries.
This could have been much more helpful if we were in the US however it’s always a great idea to start somewhere, maybe its time we did some research of our own in India where we’re based out of. Thanks a lot for sharing
There is a lot of interest in travel rewards for other countries. The U.S. programs can be particularly generous. I need to learn more about programs abroad.
Excellent information and well summarised. Have pinned because it is very valuable to know about the different reward points
Thanks so much, Paula! I’m glad it will be useful for you. 🙂
Thank you for putting all this info together. Its easy to read and understand. Travel hacking at its finest.
Thanks, Anna. There’s no reason travel hacking needs to be so complicated. I’m glad it was useful! 🙂
Fantastic guide! We’ve recently signed up for the Marriott credit card from Chase and it’s been amazing – I think if you know how to play the credit card game for rewards nights, hotels are one of the best programs to join – we have 10 free nights this year across a variety of different brands just from having signed onto their credit card rewards programs!!
That’s great, Meg! I think so many people don’t sign up because they are misinformed about credit cards and they think the free nights offered as a sign-up bonus are a type of scam. It seems too good to be true. Hotel costs can rack up quickly and rewards to lower your cost are always a good thing. 🙂
We have opted for timeshare programs. I loved getting all these rewards but I suppose I finally got tired…at 65!
With so many accommodation options, hotel rewards are certainly not the only way to go, Carol. It does take some work to keep everything organized.
Great and detailed information! First time I’m seeing which group some hotels belong to. Definitely rings a bell.
I’ve been to a few of these hotels, but It’s so rare for me these days to stay in one of these bigger groups/brands that never really think too much about it. Perhaps I’m missing out!
There are so many accommodation options available, Hugo. Hotels are not always the best option. But, organizing a strategy for when you do stay could help you earn a free night down the road. 🙂
Thank you, that’s very interesting! I have to admit, I’ve never thought about it. I remember once signed to IHG, but totally forgot about it…
Organization is half the battle when you’re trying to maximize your travel rewards. Definitely go back and check out that account. You might have a free night waiting! 😉
I use Marriott and Ihg as well as airmiles they are handy for booking free nights in nice hotels 🙂
Great, Anne! IHG and Marriott are both solid rewards programs and who doesn’t love a free night?! 😉
Great guide indeed! I have been part of reward programs for hotels for the las decade and have tried them all. of course they change all the time and in my case, I was favoring the hotel I was staying at for work. so when we would go to a new project, we would scout for the hotel options and choose one within rates and with the best program. Sometimes, i couldn’t really choose as there was only one option. IHG is definitively not the best, but I have had thousands of points with them because of staying in a property for a two years. If you can choose, I feel SPG is best
Thanks, Mar! IHG’s points break hotels can be such a great deal, as well as the points and cash “trick.” I agree, though, Starwood’s properties are quite nice. Now that they have been acquired by Marriott, there’s uncertainty about the SPG program. For now everything is status quo, but the rumors about what a Starwood award chart and Starwood perks will look like post-merger haven’t been exactly positive. Hopefully, we’ll learn more soon. As you say, though, things change all the time and we’ve got to stay on top of what’s new.
I thought my other half knew just about everything about collecting and using hotel reward points but we had not heard of AwardMapper before – thanks.
Lol, Lyn. I’m glad to add a new tool to his repertoire!
You may need to update this as Marriott just bought Starwood hotels this year so soon your points can be used across the hotels.
Yes, Bianca, Marriott did purchase Starwood and it’s uncertain what the SPG program will look like once the merger is complete. Once we know all the program details, I’ll be sure to update the post.