Beginner’s Guide: Best Hotel Loyalty Programs Part One

Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort, Montego Bay

Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort, Montego Bay

One of the awesome perks of pursuing credit card rewards is that they help you experience things you couldn’t afford otherwise. Hotel loyalty programs, for example, allow you to spend the night in hotels you would never actually pay for and experience the opulence and class of a four-star or even five-star property. Most of us would never dream of shelling out $800 per night for a room in Venice or Paris, but credit card rewards can help us stay there for free. And, no matter what your travel goals are, free hotel stays can seriously help you whittle down to the cost of your trip.

But hotel loyalty programs can be confusing. There are more than a few, after all, and they all have different services and programs to offer. That’s why I created this guide and I hope you’ll find it helpful as you begin navigating hotel loyalty programs and figuring out how to use them to your advantage.

#1 Starwood Preferred Guest

The Starwood Preferred Guest program is one of the most valuable hotel loyalty programs out there for a few reasons. First, SPG points, or “starpoints” are extremely valuable and can go pretty far depending on where you want to stay. Second, the SPG program boasts hotels all over the world, making it easy to incorporate free hotel stays into any itinerary.

The Starwood Preferred guest program splits its properties up into seven different categories with redemptions costing anywhere from 2,000 to 35,000 points per night. (Read here for more specific information on Starwood properties) Mid-tier properties are priced reasonably too, which means that you can stay at the Park Lane Hotel in London for only 12,000 points per night during the off-peak season. In order to help you stretch your points even further, the SPG program offers a 5th night free when booking four consecutive nights at any Category 3-7 property. They also offer a Nights & Flights option which works like this:

  • With Nights & Flights, you can redeem 60,000 Starpoints for 50,000 airline miles and five free nights at a Category 3 hotel or resort.
  • With Nights & Flights II, you can redeem 70,000 Starpoints and receive 50,000 airline miles and five free nights at a Category 4 hotel or resort.

Any way you cut it, the SPG program offers a lot of value for those who get involved. And with properties in the U.S. and all over the world, it’s hard to find a reason not to.

#2 IHG Rewards

In my opinion, the IHG Rewards program is one of the most underrated hotel loyalty programs out there. IHG rewards points are highly valuable in my book because they can be used to book free stays in highly sought-after locations, and even in all-inclusive resorts.

IHG Rewards simplifies things by dividing its properties into nine categories with redemptions ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 points per night.

The sweet spot, I think, is found when booking their all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica and Mexico for 35,000 points per night. The Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica is the perfect example:

Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort All-Inclusive, Montego Bay, Jamaica

  • 35,000 points per night
  • FREE wifi
  • Kids stay and eat free

However, lots of value can be found in their other tiers depending on your travel goals. The IHG program also frequently offers a Point Breaks option which allows you to book free nights at certain IHG hotels for only 5,000 points per night. With a signup bonus of 60,000 points, it’s easy to see how this card can provide a great value. For a list of current PointBreaks hotels, look here.

#3 Hyatt Gold Passport

Coming in at #3 is the Hyatt Gold Passport program. I personally like this program because of the Hyatt Credit Card from Chase which offers two free nights at any Hyatt property worldwide after you reach the minimum spending requirement. You also earn 3 points/$1 spent at Hyatt properties, 2 points/$1 spent at restaurants, car rentals, and airlines, and 1 point/$1 spent on everything else.

In addition to the “two free nights” you can earn with the Hyatt Credit Card, you can also redeem Hyatt points for nights. Their redemption chart:

Hotel Category Points Required for Standard Room
Category 1 5,000 points
Category 2 8,000 points
Category 3 12,000 points
Category 4 15,000 points
Category 5 20,000 points
Category 6 25,000 points
Category 7 30,000 points

When it comes to redemption, Hyatt hotels are priced so that you get a lot of “bank for your buck.” For example, you can stay at the Park Hyatt Toronto, a Category 4 hotel, for only 15,000 points per night. Or you can stay at the Park Hyatt Dubai, at Category 5 hotel, for only 20,000 points per night. Hyatt points are actually rather easy to earn since you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio

Hyatt has fewer properties to choose from than some major chains, but they offer a lot of value, especially when it comes to redeeming your “two free nights.”  You can use your free nights to book a Hyatt property almost anywhere in the world, even at the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris, France, where rooms often cost more than $1,000 per night to book.  Because of this,when it comes to value, the Hyatt Gold Passport program is hard to beat.

Stay tuned for the Part Two of this series…..

About the Author: Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report’s “My Money Blog.” Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.

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  1. says

    This is a great intro I’ve been collecting miles for a few years now but only recently started delving into hotel programs. We already have enough IHG points to stay at the Holiday Inn Sunspree for a few days so can’t wait to book that for the winter. Looking forward to the next post in the series!

  2. says

    Hyatt definitely has great bang for your buck…I transferred ultimate reward points to Hyatt and have stayed at a few properties for free which normally cost over $200 and $300 but used only 8,000 and 15,000 points. I’m going to apply for the Starwoods card when they boost the bonus up to 30,000 points again. I don’t know about Starwoods but I think the IHG and Hyatt cards offer a free night certificate at a hotel each year…so that offsets the annual fee if you decide to keep it.

  3. says

    Holly or Brad, have either of you done a post on best family programs? Specifically, I’m looking at hotels to book with points in Europe. IHG seems to be the best option and you can find a Hilton room for more than two people if you have a million points, but I haven’t found any Hyatt or Club Carlson for our dates, but I’ll keep looking.

  4. susan says

    So can you use the free night for IHG that you get every year at the all inclusive resort on Montego Bay, Jamaica?
    This year my husband and I are each using our free night ( we each have this card) for back to back reservations at the hotel in Waikiki so that worked well for us for just a $49 fee per year per card.

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