#3: Choosing a Hotel Rewards Program

In writing this blog, I was reminded of the scene in the movie, "Up in the Air" when Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) caught Natalie staring at his plate. Ryan said, "Our business expense allots forty dollars each for dinner. I plan on grabbing as many miles as I can"...Natalie said, "Ok you got to fill me in on this miles thing. What is that about?" Ryan replied, "I don't spend a nickel if I can help it unless it somehow profits my mileage account".

Another memorable scene from that movie is when Ryan and Alex compare the contents of their wallets - rewards/credit, mileage and hotel membership cards. We have so many choices especially when it comes to hotel rewards program that choosing a hotel rewards program can be challenging. Most people are enrolled in a hotel rewards program by way of credit card. To maximize your benefit, learn as much as you can about the hotel rewards program linked to your credit card. If you haven't yet started accumulating points with any program, then it’s definitely worth to compare the various hotel rewards program before becoming a loyal member. Most travel guides rank the 'best hotel rewards program' using the following criteria: earning points opportunity, minimum redemption point required, conversion to airline miles, number of participating hotels, transferability to other rewards program, and credit cards you can use to earn points.

In choosing a hotel rewards program, I don’t go by the ‘best ranked hotel rewards program” guide because this could be subjective. Instead I ask the question, “Which hotel rewards program is right for me"? What’s right for me is a rewards program where I can earn points quickly to use for my next destination or where I can maximize the point value to use for luxurious travel. For instance, Air France is offering their frequent flyer members 50% off redemption miles this summer. If you have less than the minimum redemption miles required on your Air France frequent flyer account, you will not be able to take advantage of the offer. But if you can transfer the hotel points you've accumulated or convert them into airlines miles, then you may be able to grab that business or first class seat worth over $4,700.00 for only 50,000 miles, therefore maximizing the value of your hotel points. So for me, I choose a hotel rewards program where I can exchange hotel points to airline miles and airline miles to hotel points, and higher airline conversion rate. Ryan Bingham has definitely a goal in mind of reaching 10 million frequent flyer miles when he said, "I don't spend a nickel if I can help it unless it somehow profits my mileage account". Likewise, in choosing a hotel rewards program, focus on the criteria that will benefit you most.

As prefaced in my introductory blog, my reason for creating this blog is to share my thoughts, travel tips and strategies, lessons learned and research from scouring the internet for the most cost-effective way to accomplish my goal of seeing all the places mentioned in the book, “1,000 Places to See before You Die”. Having said that, I'm not a professional travel consultant or agent nor paid to endorse any company/product mentioned in this article. The following 'facts and figures' are gathered from the respective hotel rewards program site I recently visited. The purpose of this list is to present the different criteria you may be able to use in choosing the right hotel rewards program for you.

Hilton HHonors

• Program Tier: Silver, Gold, Platinum (+VIP)
• Earning Points: You choose from “My Way” earning style options. For instance, 10HH bonus points + 5 airline miles.
• Credit Cards w/c earn points: American Express, Visa
• Other earning opportunity: ERewards, EMiles and Dining Reward
• Minimum Redemption Point: 7500 points for free night at a category 1 hotel
• HHonor points can be exchanged to airline miles and airline miles to HHonor points.
• Conversion to Airline Miles: 6 points to 1 mile on major airlines.
• Participating Brand: Conrad, Double Tree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Hilton Hotels,Waldorf Astoria
• Over 3000 hotels worldwide @ 76 countries
• Website: www.hhnonors.com


Hyatt Gold Passport
• Program Tier: Gold, Platinum, Diamond
• Earning Points: 5 points per $1 spent or 500 airline miles per stay
• Credit Cards w/c earn point – None
• Other earning opportunity – Hotel offers and promotions
• Minimum Redemption Point: 5000 points for free night at a category 1 hotel.
• Points can be transferred to airline miles. 5000 bonus to transfer 50,000 to airline miles.
• Conversion to Airline Miles: 2.5 to 1 on major airlines.
• Participating Brand: Hyatt and Hyatt Resort, Hyatt Regency, Park Hyatt, Hawthorne Suites and AmeriSuites
• Over 470 hotels worldwide at 40 countries
• Website: http://www.goldpassport.hyatt.com/
Marriott Rewards
• Earning points: Starts at 10 Marriott reward points or 2 airline miles* [1 airline mile on other properties] per US dollar spent on Marriott property
• Credit Cards w/c earn points: Visa
• Other points earning opportunity: Retail/Sky Mall, Rental Cars. Transfer, gift or buy points.
• Minimum Redemption Point: 7500 points for free night.
• Marriott rewards point can be converted to airline miles. 5 points to 1 mile (varies depending on airline category)
• Participating Brand: Marriott, JW Marriott, Residence Inn, Renaissance Inn, Fairfield Inn, Springhill Suites
• Over 2800 hotels worldwide, over 60 countries
• Website: http://www.marriottrewards.com/

Priority Club Rewards
• Earning Points: 10 Priority Club points for every US dollar spent on participating hotels or airline miles per stay (miles earned vary by airline)
• Credit Cards w/c earn points: Visa
• Other earning opportunity: Partners with Hertz, financial services and retail stores (visit website for complete list). Points can be transferred, gifted or purchased.
• Minimum Redemption Point: 10,000 points for a free night
• Priority Club points can be converted to airline miles
• Conversion to airline miles – 5 points to 1 airline mile on most airlines.
• Participating Brand: Intercontinental, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Candlewood Suites
• Over 4300 hotels worldwide at over 90 countries
• Website: http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/
SPG (Starwood Hotels)
• Program Tier: Preferred, Gold, Platinum
• Earning Points: 2 Starwood points per $1 spent at SPG participating hotels
• Credit Cards w/c earn points: American Express SPG, Master Card
• Other earning opportunity: 5000 bonus points for transferring 20,000 SPG points to airline miles
• Minimum Redemption Point – 2000 points for free night at a category 1 hotel
• Points can be redeemed for airline ticket or transferred to airline miles.
• Conversion to Airline Miles – 1:1 basis on 30 major airlines
• Participating Brand: A-Loft, Four Points, Le Meridien, Sheraton, St. Regis, Westin and W Hotels.
• Over 940hotels worldwide at 93 countries
• Website: http://www.spg.com/

SPG rewards program offers a wide hotel selection internationally. Starwood Hotels own legendary palaces like the Westin Hotels in Madrid and Seville and the ultra-modern hotel designed by Frank Gehry in Bilbao, Spain. But ‘earning points opportunity' is limited with SPG.

Hilton HHonors tops my list when it comes to 'earning points opportunity'. You can earn points through EMiles, ERewards and Dining Rewards. Also if you want to travel with family, then Hilton HHnonors might be the right rewards program for you because of its wide selection of hotel suites like Double Tree and Embassy Suites.

Most hotel reward programs have no longer blackout dates. Marriott Hotels recently lifted this restriction. So for me blackout period is no longer a relevant factor in choosing the right hotel rewards program.

Another thing to consider when choosing a reward program is ‘Special Award Privilege’. Some reward points can be redeemed for ‘experiences or dream moments’ like a VIP pass to a concert or Golf Tournament.

Ultimately, your life-style should come into play when choosing a hotel rewards program. So choose a hotel rewards program that will best fit your needs.

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