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Hotel frequent guest programs are more convoluted than airline frequent traveler programs.

This is because they often have a very broad range of different hotel types in many different countries.

 
 
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Individual Hotel Frequent Guest Programs

The details of what to look out for
 

We've summarized each hotel program to save you the hassle of having to do so yourself.

See also our other article series on booking hotels for best value - links on the right hand side

 

 

When evaluating and understanding hotel frequent guest programs, it is necessary to wade through a great deal of detail, and to look for the 'fine print' which is full of exceptions and special cases that vary the basic program rules and procedures.

This makes it more difficult to accurately compare apples with apples, and the added levels of complexity in terms of varying amounts of points needed to earn free stays makes it still more difficult.

None of this is impossible, however, and if you methodically identify the most relevant issues and then carefully read through the program details, you can end up with an accurate understanding.

Individual Program Details

We have set out a list of summary points for each of the nine different programs we are reporting on in the pages that follow.  These preliminary notes will help you to understand the information we provide.

First and most importantly, the information we give you suffers from two flaws.  It is summary information and it is out of date.

Although the information is all up to date as of the time of publishing it (22 Oct 2010), it will of course start to age immediately.

And we are giving you summary information only.  Each of the hotel programs tends to have some exceptions and variations to the main program rules.  This is confusing for us all, but is arguably perhaps not entirely unavoidable when you have hotel chains with hotels in 100 or more different countries, and spanning the range from moderately budget properties to deluxe properties, with all sorts of different inclusions, rates, amenities, and so on.

An example of confusing and differing interpretations

For example, take something as simple seeming as 'you get 10 points for every dollar spent'.  Does this mean on the room rental only?  How about on food?  Drinks?  Movies?  Internet access?  Car parking?  Business Center services?  What about on the government taxes and fees and surcharges?  Resort fees?  Tips?

What about in countries where government VAT/GST is bundled in to the room rate compared to countries where these are extra line items on your bill?

So, as you can see, even the simplest part of each hotel group's program can have a dozen different interpretations.

The ultimate source of hotel frequent guest program information

If you read a glossy brochure about a frequent guest program, or if you roam around the standard pages on its website, you'll see lots of happy making positive statements, and occasional references to restrictions possibly applying.

What you are reading on those pages are summaries and interpretations of the program rules.  To get the absolute truth, you need to go to the program rules themselves - usually referred to as something like 'Terms and Conditions'.

US-centric

Our apologies, but the information in these tables is targeted primarily at American residents.  Some programs have different rules for residents of other countries (and/or different rules for earning points in other countries, too).

Your Best Strategy for Hotel Loyalty Programs

Just as with airline frequent flier programs, your best strategy - on the face of it - may be to concentrate your stays with specific hotel groups so as to earn elite status at that hotel group(s).

But that is where the similarities end.  And even this is not necessarily true.  Read our page on getting the most out of hotel frequent guest programs for more discussion on this point - because many times, you'll actually be better advised to tactically pick and choose your hotels on a case by case basis.

How to Use This Information

You probably already have a general feeling for which programs you are most likely to be able to potentially take advantage of.

So, the first thing to do is to concentrate on researching these programs.

Read through our summaries of these programs to confirm (or cancel) your interest in them, and then drill all the way down and click the link to the formal 'terms and conditions' of each program you remain interested in to fully understand how they work.

It is only the terms and conditions which accurately and completely define the programs and what the hotels will and won't do.  Everything else is fancy sounding advertising copy that hints at lots of good things and glosses over any bad things.

Specific Information Reported

This is a list of the information reported for each hotel program and what it means.

Attribute

Comment

Hotel Group

Fairly explanatory, although sometimes the hotel group name is very different to the brands of the participating hotels.

Program Name

Fairly self explanatory

Number of participating properties

This is a bit confusing, because sometimes some properties might allow for points to be earned but not redeemed, or possibly vice versa, so it is not necessarily obvious what a claim to having a certain number of participating properties actually means.

See also the list of different hotel brands that are included within the hotel program - this list is on the first page of the series.

Number of countries with participating hotels

This information is not always easy to obtain, but we attempt to give you a feeling for how internationally distributed each program may be.

Membership/Point Expiry

Does your membership, or do your accumulated points, expire if you don't in some way remain active?

Note that an empty claim 'points for life' or 'points never expire' might have fine print that indicates that while your points don't expire, your membership might!

Membership benefits offered to all members

What sort of benefits do all members get, whether they are regular guests or not - eg, free newspaper, express checkin, late checkout, etc.

Elite levels and how to quality for them

Most hotel frequent guest programs typically have two or three elite levels to their program as well as the standard level.

The qualification requirements vary from one program to the next.

Benefits of elite level membership

Typically elite level membership will give you extra points per stay, may make it easier to redeem points for free stays, may entitle you to room upgrades and/or other amenities, and may give you late check-out privileges.

Such perks vary from program to program, and sometimes even from property to property within a program.

What type of points do you get from staying at hotels

It is common to get ten points per dollar spent, but there can sometimes be some subtle differences.

Are points earned only on room rates or on all hotel charges

Self explanatory question, often difficult to ascertain answer.

Do you get points on multi-room bookings

If you are booking (and paying for) multiple rooms (eg for other family members or other employees) do you get points for those other rooms too?

Some programs say 'yes, always', some say 'yes, sometimes', and others say 'no, never'.

How many points are needed to get a free night

This varies from program to program, and also within each program there are typically different levels of free room night depending on the hotel - upmarket/expensive hotels require more points for a free stay than do less expensive hotels with fewer stars.

What restrictions are there on booking free nights

Some programs will only allow you to book free stays within a certain period of the date of your stay.

Most programs will have some restrictions on availability of free rooms, similar to how airlines control the number of award tickets they give away on each flight.

Can you convert points to frequent flier miles

It is common to find two ways to convert points to miles - one being an up-front immediate earning of airline miles rather than hotel points, the other being a subsequent conversion from points to miles.

Participating airlines that you can get frequent flier credit with

Not all hotels allow you to convert points to miles with all airlines.

Can you use points to get other rewards/benefits instead of free hotel nights

Some hotel programs allow you to convert points to various gift card type products or other items from other companies.

Can you transfer points to other members

Some programs allow this, some don't.  If allowed, there may be a limit on how many miles can be transferred each year and probably some type of fee associated with the transfer.

Can you buy extra points

Many programs allow you to buy extra miles, so if you are just a bit short of enough miles to get some type of award, you can quickly buy the miles you still need.

Anything else

In case there are other unusual/significant features to each hotel group's program.

Links

A link to the frequent guest program home page and a second link to the terms and conditions page.

 

 

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Originally published 15 Oct 2010, last update 28 May 2011

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
Related Articles
Choosing the Best Hotel Frequent Guest Program
Analyzing the Different Hotel Frequent Guest Programs
Explaining the Individual Program Reports
Coming soon :  Specific Program Details - Accor, Best Western, Choice
Coming soon :  Specific Program Details - Hilton, Hyatt, IHG/Holiday Inn
Coming soon :  Specific Program Details - Marriott, Starwood, Wyndham
Special Spreadsheet comparing costs/benefits of Hilton, Marriott and Starwood programs

See also
How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Rate (4 part series)
How to Book Hotels for the Lowest Price through Priceline (4 part series)

 

 

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