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|
|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 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, Kimpton|
|Club Carlson||Quorvus Collection, Radisson Blu, Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn, Country Inns & Suites|
|Choice Hotels||Cambria Suites, Quality, Clarion, Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Sleep Inn, MainStay Suites, Suburban Extended Stay Hotels, Econo Lodge, Rodeway Inn, Ascend Hotel Collection|
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 and should 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.
|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 through the co-branded 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, 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 welcome bonus and/or free nights. Hilton also participates in a dining program to earn even more Hilton points.
The downside is you’ll need all those points because Hilton award nights can cost up to 95k points for top tier category 10 hotels!
|Marriott has more than 4,300 properties in 81 countries worldwide. With the several Marriott credit cards, there’s plenty to smile about. Marriott also gives you the 5th night of an award stay free.
Marriott has had several devaluations over the past couple of years, which has hit some of the middle tier hotels especially hard. And, while the initial acquisition and merger of Starwood Hotels into Marriott started smoothly, several changes have left a bad taste.
Nevertheless, Marriott has hotels all over the world in every budget category. Not to mention, Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to 40+ airline partners.
|IHG has over 5k properties, mostly within the Americas and the Caribbean. Chase offers 2 co-branded IHG credit cards. IHG’s points and cash option allows you to earn points easily. You can also join the IHG dining program 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 doesn’t 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.|
|Choice Hotels has over 6,ooo hotels around the world with primarily mid-range to budget hotel brands. American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to Choice Hotels which could be a decent value when used for some of Choice Hotel’s more expensive properties in Europe or U.S. National Park gateway cities.|
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. Maybe you’re trying to stretch your points as far as you can? If so, focus your energy on the IHG or Club Carlson rewards programs.
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 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 welcome offer. 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 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.
So, which hotel rewards program(s) do you focus on?
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