Best Hotel Rewards Programs for 2018

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The best hotel rewards programs ease the burden of high-cost travel, which is a good thing since traveling with a family can be prohibitively expensive. A recent analysis from Value Penguin even noted that, depending on the type of trip a family takes, they can expect to spend between $581 and $3,281. Obviously, you can spend a lot more if you take a longer trip, book luxury accommodations, or pick an expensive locale. No matter how you cut it, that is a steep price to pay for most families.

How Can I Earn Loyalty Points?

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save and you can dramatically decrease your lodging costs if you’re willing to join a few hotel loyalty programs and take advantage of the perks they have to offer. But, is it really as easy as it sounds?

The answer is yes: Earning hotel loyalty points really is as easy and lucrative as it seems. Even if you don’t travel often, you can still rack up hotel rewards points in a hurry simply by signing up for a hotel rewards credit card and meeting some basic requirements. Doing so will typically net you hotel loyalty points that can be redeemed for free hotel stays, discounted rates, and perks like free breakfast, free Internet, or room upgrades.

All of these perks, and others, are easy to attain if you’re willing to learn about the best hotel rewards programs and sign up for an easy-to-use travel credit card.

Although you can sign up for all of the best hotel rewards programs regardless, it is important to know that hotel points are much more difficult to earn when you don’t hold the co-branded rewards card. And in most cases, you will be limited to earning points only through paid hotel stays. On the other hand, signing up for any of these rewards cards means earning points on all of your everyday purchases. And obviously, more points = more free stays and upgrades.

Hotel Rewards Credit Cards

The easiest way to earn points is through a top credit card. Of course you don’t necessarily need the card to earn hotel points — you can earn them with frequent paid hotel stays as well — but these cards help you earn points on everyday spending and give you additional point bonuses that you can’t get anywhere else.

Let’s start with few of the top cards that can help you earn hotel loyalty points, followed by an explanation of most of the major hotel loyalty programs and their benefits.

The Simple Dollar’s Best Hotel Rewards Programs for 2018

  • Starwood Preferred Guest Program – Earn more points with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (currently unavailable)
  • Marriott Rewards Program – Earn more points with the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card (currently unavailable)
  • Club Carlson Program – Sign up for the Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card
  • IHG Rewards – Rack up points with the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card (currently unavailable)

Starwood Preferred Guest Program

The Starwood Preferred Guest program is one of the most lucrative hotel loyalty programs out there, mainly due to the fact that the points earned through the program are so valuable and versatile. Let’s start with a basic redemption chart that shows the rough value of each point you earn:

 Category 1Category 2Category 3Category 4Category 5Category 6 Category 7
Weekdays3,0004,0007,00010,00012,000 - 16,00020,000 - 25,00030,000 - 35,000
Weekends2,0003,0007,00010,00012,000 - 16,00020,000 - 25,00030,000 - 35,000

Additional points can be redeemed for room upgrades, suite upgrades, and discounts. It’s also important to note that, for every four nights you redeem at a Category 3-7 hotel, you get your fifth night free. So, for example, five nights in a Category 4 hotel would only cost you 40,000 points, and five nights in a Category 3 hotel would only cost you 28,000 points, and so on.

Keys to Using Starwood Preferred Guest Points

In addition to offering the fifth night free on award bookings, the Starwood Preferred Guest program also allows you to transfer points out of the program and into some of the most popular frequent flyer programs.

Currently, transfer partners include a ton of popular airline loyalty programs, such as British Airways Executive Club, American Airlines AAdvantage, Delta Airlines SkyMiles, U.S. Airways Dividend Miles, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and more.

Most of the transfers are offered at a 1:1 ratio, but several airline partners aren’t quite as generous. Make sure you understand the transfer ratio you will receive before transferring any points out of the lucrative Starwood Preferred Guest program and into any frequent flyer program.

Also keep in mind that you get a 5,000-point bonus for every transfer of 20,000 or more Starwood points to airlines. In other words, 20,000 SPG points becomes 25,000 American Airlines miles once they are transferred into the program.

Earning Starwood Preferred Guest Points

Earning Starwood Preferred Guest points is a piece of cake once you sign up for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (currently unavailable). Meeting the minimum spending requirement on the card will net you a total of 25,000 Starpoints, or 50,000 for a married couple if both partners get the card.

As you can see from the award chart above, those 50,000 points could take you far! When you sign up for the card, you will automatically be enrolled in the rewards program.

As of June 2015, the card also began offering several perks that make membership more valuable. For starters, American Express opted to do away with foreign transaction fees, which will help you save money when traveling abroad. Further, they also added premium wifi for members at SPG properties and free Boingo airport wifi access. Although none of those benefits are spectacular on their own, they make this card a smarter option overall.

Marriott Rewards Program

Marriott is another lucrative rewards program with plenty of hotel and resort options throughout the U.S., Europe, the Caribbean, and Asia. Similar to the Starwood Preferred Guest program, Marriott also offers patrons their fifth night free if they book four consecutive nights at one hotel or resort with points, and upgrades may be available for additional points. The following chart shows just how far Marriott rewards points can take you:

Marriott Hotel CategoryPoints Per NightPointSavers Reward
17,5006,000
210,0007,500
315,00010,000
420,00015,000
525,00020,000
630,00025,000
735,00030,000
840,00035,000
945,00040,000

As you can see, in addition to regular redemption rates, Marriott also offers PointSavers rates. The list of participating hotels changes all the time, but you can easily see which resorts are “on sale” by logging into your Marriott account and searching for special rates and PointSavers redemptions.

Keys to Using Marriott Points

First of all, it’s important to remember that Marriott and Ritz Carlton properties fall under the same umbrella, so you can use Marriott points for stays at Ritz Carlton properties as well. The redemptions are generally much pricier, however, so you may be better off sticking to Marriott properties instead. Not only that, but you can transfer Marriott points to the Starwood Preferred program now that the programs have joined forces.

Another perk that comes with the Marriott Rewards program is that it boasts no blackout dates and offers a wide array of properties that are geared to families, such as Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn and Suites, and SpringHill Suites.

The bottom line: It’s as easy to redeem Marriott points as it is to earn them, and you can get a ton of value out of your points by choosing properties in the lower category levels. For example, after getting your fifth night free, five nights in a Category 2 property would only cost 40,000 points!

Earning Marriott Points

Signing up for the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card (currently unavailable) is the hands-down easiest way to start building a stash of Marriott points for your next vacation.

In addition to the signup bonus, you’ll also receive an additional free night stay at a Category 1-5 location every year you keep the card.

Club Carlson Program

The Club Carlson rewards program offers patrons the opportunity to earn hotel rewards points that can be redeemed for free nights all over the world, both through paid stays and through a co-branded travel credit card. And although its hotel offerings in the U.S. are underwhelming, Club Carlson is known for its vivacious and impressive hotel options in Europe and elsewhere around the globe.

Club Carlson currently offers the opportunity to use points at 1,000 hotels worldwide, and has split up its properties into seven categories for redemption. This chart will give you a rough idea of just how far your Club Carlson points can go in the U.S. or anywhere in the world:

 Category 1Category 2Category 3Category 4Category 5Category 6Category 7
Standard Room9,00015,00028,00038,00044,00050,00070,000
Premium Room13,50022,50042,00057,00066,00075,000105,000

Keys to Using Club Carlson Points

Using Club Carlson points for international travel is easy and painless. All you need to do is rack up as many points as you can, book your stay, and enjoy. The fact that Club Carlson also offers a business version of this card also makes earning points easier than ever.

Up until last year, Club Carlson offered a “free second night” when you used points to make your reservation at any Club Carlson property. However, they recently changed that offer and replaced it with something slightly less lucrative – a free night on your cardmember anniversary, but only if you meet certain requirements. As of June 1, 2015, cardmembers can earn a Free Night at a Carlson Rezidor hotel by spending $10,000 annually and paying the annual fee.

Earning Club Carlson Points

The easiest way to start racking up Club Carlson points it to sign up for the Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card. Doing so will allow you to earn 50,000 bonus points after your first purchase and another 35,000 points after spending $2,500 on the card within three months.

It is important to note, however, that the $75 annual fee for this card is not waived the first year. The good news is, you will be automatically enrolled in the rewards program when you sign up for the card.

IHG Rewards Program

IHG, or InterContinental Hotels Group, offers its own unique rewards program that allows patrons to earn points they can redeem at Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites, and Candlewood Suites properties, among others. What makes the IHG rewards program special is that there are no blackout dates, which makes IHG points easier than ever to redeem.

Keys to Using IHG Rewards Points

Although the IHG Rewards program doesn’t have a traditional chart to go by, redemptions start at just 10,000 points per night and rise up to 50,000 points per night for their top properties. All-inclusive properties can typically be booked for around 40,000 points per night as well, which is a steal.

Meanwhile, the IHG Points & Cash option allows you to stretch your points as far as they can go by offering up small amounts of cash in exchange for any additional points you might need.

Earning IHG Points

The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card makes it easier than ever to earn IHG Rewards points. Simply meet the minimum spending requirement to earn a huge sign-up bonus that is worth several free nights at almost any tier IHG property.

In addition, you also earn one free night each year of card membership, and earn 5 points per $1 spent when you stay at IHG hotels. Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores & restaurants. Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases. You will also be automatically enrolled in the rewards program.

Please Note: IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card is currently unavailable through our site.

Creative Ways to Earn More Hotel Rewards Points

If you’re trying to find a way to score a week-long vacation with your family, it can take a while with just one point-earner in the household. However, if you’re able to get your spouse or partner on board, you have to potential to earn twice the rewards.

Obviously, the more hotel points you can earn in a short amount of time, the sooner — and longer — you can stay for free at your desired destination. In that sense, signing up for more than one card is a win-win.

But there are other ways to take your points balances even higher. For example, signing up for a credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards points, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, can help you top off – or even double – your hotel rewards account balances. Currently, Ultimate Rewards points transfer to the following hotel rewards points programs at a 1:1 ratio:

  • Marriott Rewards®
  • IHG® Rewards Club
  • The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®
  • Hyatt Gold Passport®

Here are some of the details of this offer, should you decide to sign up:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel.
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

The current offer of 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, which should be enough to pay for several nights at your favorite hotel – or tack on a few additional nights at any hotel you choose to book with points.

Another card that makes it easy to pay for hotel stays is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® (currently unavailable). Unlike other cards on this list, this card lets you earn “miles” that are redeemable for travel.

How to Get the Most Out of Hotel Rewards Points

Much like airline miles, hotel rewards points become substantially more valuable once you understand how to use them. The key to getting comfortable with each program is educating yourself on the program details, understanding each program’s strengths and weaknesses, and staying on top of all of the best redemptions offers available. But once you take those steps, you’ll be in the perfect position to take advantage of a ton of travel, both domestic and overseas.

For example, my husband and I traveled to Europe this past fall and stayed six nights for free using our Starwood Preferred Guest points and taking advantage of off-peak rates. Here’s how it worked: Since we traveled to London during November (off-peak season for most destinations in Europe), we chose a Category 5 Starwood property that cost only 12,000 points per night instead of 16,000. And since we flew to Europe between October 15th and May 15th, we were able to book off-peak rates and score both of our tickets for only 90,000 American miles total.

Meanwhile, we used our free Marriott nights to stay at properties in Minneapolis while visiting family, and in Denver to attend a concert — all free of charge. This upcoming spring break, we’re cashing in our stash of IHG Rewards points to spend six nights at the Holiday Inn Sunspree All-Inclusive Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, which should make for a fun and cheap vacation since all of our meals and drinks (including alcohol) were included in the all-inclusive rate we paid with points. And for the rest of the year, we’re dreaming up hotel possibilities in destinations like Aruba, Rome, Florence, and Milan, all while making sure we have the points available to pay for them.

Of course, these kind of point balances don’t build themselves overnight. My husband and I typically sign up for a few new rewards credit cards every 90 days, which means that we are constantly earning sign-up bonuses and building our stash of points and miles. In order to keep track of it all, I keep a simple spreadsheet with all of our rewards details. That way, I don’t forget a key detail, such as meeting a minimum spending requirement, or forget about an annual fee.

Getting the most out of your hotel points isn’t hard; you simply need to plan ahead, understand the rules and stipulations, and find resorts and hotels that you can travel to easily, either using frequent flyer miles or by paying for airfare or driving.

But the easiest way to get started is by signing up for the right rewards card.

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