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.
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.
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?
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