Are Hotel Loyalty Programs Worth It?

hotel VIP door hang card_loyalty programsAs consumers, we all know the drill by now. Whether it’s at the pharmacy to pick up a few items or the grocery store for a weekly food trip, the moment before paying is usually met with some iteration of the following: “Do you have a rewards card with us?” and, if not, “Would you like to become a rewards member today?” Assuming the answer to the first part is no, your eyes may roll in despair, unable to see the value in receiving a piece of plastic to stick on a keychain you never even use. 

Next time you’re at the check-in counter of a hotel, you may experience a similar proposition. Now, before you roll your eyes and click the back button, hear us out. If you’ve ever questioned whether hotel loyalty programs are actually worth it, we’re here to tell you why they matter and why, yes, of course, you should capitalize on the perks and amenities of being a member.  

Finding Value in Loyalty Programs

Before we start, let’s break down a few barriers. You don’t need a designer suit, a fancy metal credit card, or a seven-figure salary for a loyalty program to be “worth it.” These programs are so much more than visual clichés of elite lounge access, penthouse suite upgrades, and villas overlooking the water on a pristine South Pacific island (although that would be nice.)

All members of the programs are able to benefit by snagging lower stay rates. You don’t need diamond status to get the best available prices on rooms. Even the lowest of reward tiers include basic perks. Hilton Honors, Marriott Bonvoy, and Wyndham Rewards give their entry-level members late checkout. World of Hyatt and IHG Rewards Club provide complimentary WiFi at all of their locations just for being a member. Choice Privileges offers every member the option to get extra points with each stay or trade those points for airline miles, Starbucks gift cards, or other rewards.

We don’t agree with the notion that even the lightest of leisure travelers can’t benefit from rewards programs. Depending on the season, hotel brands run discounted rates where members can save 20-40% on rooms. Additionally, programs like IHG Rewards Club often run point redemption specials. For example, in the fall of 2019, IHG offered steep discounts on select properties for 5,000, 10,000, and 15,000 points. Interested in a trip to South America? You could have stayed at the InterContinental: Tamanaco Caracas for only 10,000 points (regularly 25,000).

Ultimately, finding value in a loyalty program comes down to which one is best for you. Consider what you want in your travels and how attainable your goals are. Then, watch as you accumulate points for your next stay or adventure. As long your point-earning falls within your normal spending habits, you might as well enjoy the free perks.

Not All Rewards Are Monetary

Some of the additional perks of loyalty programs don’t carry monetary value. You can’t put a price tag on a late checkout, but you’ll be able to sleep in or explore a city longer instead of rushing out of your room. The savings from other amenities, such as free Wi-Fi, breakfast, and social hours (Kimpton properties offer nightly wine and snacks), can add up.

There isn’t a hard and fast rule on receiving upgrades or additional benefits. Not all properties and brands reward the same things, but your chances increase by being loyal to one program. On a recent trip to San Diego, one of our colleagues received two complimentary drink tickets at a rooftop bar as a thank you for their loyal IHG rewards membership. Similarly, they received a bottle of champagne, chocolates, and strawberries at another IHG property in Los Angeles to celebrate an anniversary. 

Sometimes, all it takes is to ask. Hotels are more than willing to do their best to accommodate members. It’s their way of showing their appreciation. You may not think much of it now, but it’s the small things in life that can make a trip that much more memorable.

How to Cash in on Rewards

The beauty of hotel reward programs is the simplicity and ease of use when signing up. Even for the most non-computer savvy folks out there, enrolling is a breeze. We detailed how to sign up for loyalty rewards here. It takes as little as a few seconds. In most cases, you’ll provide your name, address, email, and a phone number. That’s it. Then enjoy the rewards as they start to pile up. The best part? They are free to join.

Once enrolled, you’re already ahead of the game when you search for hotels on Roomkey.com. We list available loyalty member rates for all of our hotel partners to ensure you are viewing the most competitive prices around. And for the skeptics out there, we compare the loyalty rate to the regular rate to show you how much you can save. 

Start exploring once you earn enough points for free nights. Hotel brands have redemption categories ranging from a few thousand points to up to six figures. Read our Ultimate Guide to Hotel Loyalty Program for details on how redemption values vary across hotels.

If you sit on a stash of points, string together multiple nights (depending on the hotel brand) to earn an extra night free. Marriott and Hilton both offer an extra night free when you pay for four nights with points. With IHG, you can pay for three nights with points and receive an extra night free. Booking consecutive stays with Wyndham will earn you 15,000 points, good for a free night. Choice Hotels has a similar program, as two separate qualifying stays get you a free stay.

It’s important to note that your redemption options aren’t limited to free hotel stays. You can book vacation packages and special excursions with points. IHG, Marriott, and Hilton even have options to spend points in an online shopping mall. 

Which Hotel Loyalty Programs Are Most Valuable?

First, it’s important to look at reward tiers and what you can benefit from as you work your way up the ladder. We broke down how each reward program stacks up here, and our related article, Which Hotel Loyalty Program Is Right For Me?, helps you decide depending on what kind of traveler you are. Which perks are deemed most valuable to you will depend on your personal preference.

Some travelers value options. Those travelers might prefer Marriott’s 30 brands that vary from luxury properties to hotels catering to millennial business travelers. On the other hand, Hyatt’s smaller but attractive portfolio has properties in a number of exotic locations. Similarly, IHG’s evolving line of Kimpton hotels caters to those who want a more boutique hotel experience.

How Are Points Valued?

Short answer: It depends on the hotel program. In most cases, you want the ability to cash in points for stays that normally would require a hefty spend in cash. But, of course, you have to consider the point redemption value across the different brands. The Points Guy breaks that down here so you don’t have to do the math. 

As a general rule of thumb, you want the cost of redeeming points to be comparable to what you’d pay out of pocket. If not, you’re better off saving the points and paying in cash. In other words, the higher the points-per-cent ratio, the better. The Points Guy uses a simple formula of cash price/point value price. Multiply that by 100, and you’ll have a value to compare brands with.

Here’s a specific example. A weekday stay at the Andaz West Hollywood will run you $438 with taxes and fees, or 20,000 World of Hyatt points. Using simple math, Hyatt points are valued at 2.19 cents for this transaction, meaning you’ll get more value by using your points rather than paying cash. If that same rate during an off-peak month was $238 (valued at 1.2 cents), using points wouldn’t provide the most value. 

The Points Guy’s latest values (as of January 2020) have Hyatt as the top option with points valued at 1.7 cents followed by Wyndham Rewards at 1.2 cents. If you’re serious about the point game, check out our primer on hotel credit cards, as these options are an easy way to rack up rewards by making everyday purchases.

Start Earning Loyalty Points Now

Whichever loyalty programs you decide to use, we’ll help you jumpstart your hotel search. We know there are many hotel options to choose from, so we made it as stress-free as possible to compare them. Punch in your search details and let us compare loyalty rates from our hotel partners around the globe so you don’t have to waste hours of your time crawling on the internet. If you see something you like, we’ll guide you to book directly with the hotel where you’ll enjoy exclusive loyalty member rates and the best possible customer service.