The Best Hotel Rewards Programs

By Christa Avampato on 6 March 2015 1 comment

Does the never-ending cold and snow this winter have you thinking about a fabulous, far-flung destination? Before you book that vacation, make sure you're getting the best deal when it comes to hotel rewards.

The following six programs give you a big bang for your travel buck, and offer some unique and fun options, as well. (See also: The Best Credit Cards for Hotel Rewards)

1. Starwood

If this isn't a good recommendation, I don't know what is; I have friends who choose their travel destinations based upon where they can earn and use Starwood points. The Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program is one of the most popular in the industry — and for good reason. With over 1,100 locations in over 100 countries within its network, you have your pick of options from mid-range to luxury. Starwood also has over 30 airline partners that allow Starwood points to transfer (1:1 exchange rates on most airlines) into their award programs. Even better, get 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 Starwood points you transfer.

2. Kimpton

I love Kimpton properties because they are so unique and the customer service is second to none. The Kimpton Karma Rewards program includes its own properties as well as lodging at over 60 other hotels. Most properties are located in major cities. This program is unique because points can be redeemed for spa credits in addition to free nights and room upgrades. As a Karma Rewards member, you can select your room location and even the type of pillow you want. Best of all, you can gift the points you earn, as they are fully transferrable.

3. Marriott

Marriott's Rewards program is all about diversity. The Ritz-Carlton hotels, the Renaissance hotels, and the Residence Inns all fall under the Marriott brand, which is well-known around the world for delivering luxurious stays for both business and leisure travelers. Earn points across the widest array of property types at any of 18 individual brands (including a whopping 3,700 locations) under the Marriott umbrella. You can also redeem these points for flights on Delta and United Airlines.

4. Hilton

Hilton has a truly global footprint of properties — it's not often you're in a city that does not have at least one Hilton property. And, with high end brands like the Conrad and the Waldorf-Astoria, you'll want to save your points for those! The Hilton Honors program includes over 4,800 hotels and resorts worldwide. Also like Marriott, you can redeem points for air travel, but Honors points can be used with 50 airline and rail partners. Just make sure to use and/or accrue your points in a timely fashion, as points expire if your account is inactive for one year.

5. Hyatt

Hyatt properties are impressive. The Andaz hotels are some of the hippest places out there, and the Park Hyatts are some of the most luxurious. The Hyatt Gold Passport offers redemption for free nights with no blackout dates as well as points to miles conversion with over 30 participating travel partners.

6. IHG

Formerly known as the Priority Club, the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) is a hotel brand name that not many travelers may be too familiar with. However, they certainly may have heard of the hotels that fall under the IHG's large network, which includes the Crowne Plaza and the Holiday Inn properties. With over 4,900 hotels across the globe under their brand, frequent travelers may find it quite beneficial to have a loyalty status with this line of hotels.

Out of the many great benefits offered by IHG Rewards Club, the best is probably the ability to redeem my earned points for a variety of rewards, like nights at one of IHG's hotels, airline miles with partner airlines, shopping through their online portal, gift cards, and more.

7. Select Registry

If a bed and breakfast is more your speed, there's a rewards program for these kinds of properties, too, even though most are independent businesses. Select Registry gives you the chance to earn points at any of the boutique hotels, inns, and bed and breakfast locations that belong to its network. Once you have stayed 12 nights at any of these locations, you earn a $100 certificate redeemable at any of the properties.

8. Secret Escapes

You may recognize the Secret Escapes brand from their TV commercials (which are delivered in a voice barely above a whisper). While not a traditional rewards program, it's a fantastic value for adventurous travelers who enjoy luxurious hotel stays at bargain prices. Secret Escapes uses the flash sale model that we know from sites like Gilt.com. Discounts are up to 70% off the normal rates at these luxury hotel locations. A small booking fee of no more than $20 applies to any stays over a $99 total.

Travel expands our horizons and teaches us new things about ourselves and the world. So while you're out cruising the globe, make sure to keep these hotel rewards programs on hand so you can rest easy while taking in all the adventure. Sleep well!

What's your favorite hotel reward program?

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Guest

The Holiday Inn program includes an HI Mastercard that charges $45 a year but gives you one unrestricted free room at any of their hotels. Also - their Points & Cash program can't be beat. You can find hotels that can be booked for $40 with 5,000 points - like the Holiday Inn Express in Elkhart, IN North and in Palatine, IL (Chicago area).

Carlson - Country Inn & Suites also has a very good cash and points program.