I used to travel nearly full-time for work. In those years, I had a whole wallet full of hotel rewards cards. I was too busy at the time to do more than simply re-book at locally convenient hotels that weren't horrible…but I gave up a lot of potential loyalty perks in the process.
As well, hotel loyalty programs have come a long way in the last few years, with perks to rival those of credit cards, airline miles, and other customer rewards programs.
Read on to learn about the perks available at the best of the best hotel rewards programs!
Questions to ask before choosing a program
While each of the hotel rewards programs listed here is a worthy contender, you may find one or another suits your needs more closely than the rest.
As such, you want to be sure to ask yourself the right questions before selecting a program to best meet your needs. For example, some rewards programs cater more to business or luxury travelers than to budget travelers. Other programs may have strict limitations or blackout dates on when you can redeem points, making it harder for you to use your rewards.
Also, I like to find programs that let me choose how to redeem my rewards. Sometimes I might want to apply my points to get free gas, while other times I may want to cash in points towards a free flight. This is called "points diversification" and it’s a really important perk to me.
Finally, you want to be SURE the hotel loyalty program you choose has plenty of locations in areas where you like to travel (for example, major cities versus rural towns).
6 Best hotel rewards programs
Each of these rewards programs deserves consideration. Each offers great perks, which means that ultimately, your choice may hinge on simple personal preference!
1. Marriott Rewards
Marriott's rewards program is top rated in terms of the ease of earning points, flexibility of redemption, and affiliations with airlines and other partners.
With more than 3,7000 locations in 70+ countries, you won't have a shortage of options, so long as you travel to major cities. Plus, you can book rewards travel with no blackout dates and earn extra bonus points when you refer friends.
One area where you want to keep a close eye out, however, is keeping your account active. If you don't use the rewards program for 24 consecutive months, Marriott can opt to close it.
- Website: http://www.marriott.com/rewards/
- Focus: Business and leisure travelers to major cities around the world.
2. IHG Rewards Club
The IHG Rewards Clubs earns high marks across the board for ease of use and flexibility. With 4,700+ locations worldwide in major cities, you can count on having plenty of rewards redemption options.
IHG is also known for offering plenty of promotions for bonus points. Best of all, points never expire and can also be used to redeem rewards at hotels outside the IHG network.
The one limitation is you can't stack your rewards points on top of any other room discounts. Also, the perks you get when you use rewards points may vary by hotel.
- Website: http://www.ihg.com/hotels/us/en/rewardsclub/home
- Focus: Business travelers to major cities around the world.
3. Best Western Rewards
Best Western's rewards program is one of the easiest points systems to earn free nights at the budget hotels. Overall, the program is easy to use and flexible, and points never expire, although you may encounter blackout dates at international hotels.
You have more than 4,000 locations in 100+ countries to choose from, and you can redeem your rewards points for either hotel stays or miles.
The one thing to keep in mind is that if you’re planning a trip, you can't use your Best Western points for free lodging and free flights for the same trip.
- Website: https://www.bestwestern.com/rewards/
- Focus: Budget business and leisure travelers.
4. La Quinta Returns
La Quinta is perhaps the #1 hotel chain of choice for pet owners—nearly every location is guaranteed pet friendly. This rewards program also makes it very easy to earn free stays, with more than 800 qualifying budget locations throughout North America.
Your points will never expire with La Quinta Returns, and you can also use points for airline miles.
- Website: http://www.lq.com/en/la-quinta-returns.html
- Focus: Budget business, leisure travelers, and pet owners who travel.
5. Choice Privileges
Choice Privileges focuses on the budget traveler who tends to stay in major cities and wants lots of locations to choose from. With 7,000+ locations worldwide, this program offers lots of bonus and freebie days, including sweepstakes entries and the chance to combine points with cash to reduce the cost of lodging.
The major limitation with this program is that your points will expire in 24 months if you don't redeem them, and if you’re a "basic" level member, you must wait until you’re within 30 days of your travel date before you can redeem points.
- Website: http://www.choicehotels.com/en/choice-privileges
- Focus: Budget business and leisure travelers who stay in major cities.
6. Club Carlson
Club Carlson caters to a worldwide clientele. This rewards program covers several branded hotels with more than 1,000 locations worldwide. It’s also quite easy to earn free stays.
Your only major limitation here will be blackout dates when you go to redeem points.
- Website: http://www.clubcarlson.com
- Focus: Budget, business, and leisure travelers.
Related article: 3 Uncommon Ways to Get Free Travel Accommodations