Get the Most Out of Your Hotel Points

by Sarah Rose 
Posted Oct 18th 2010 12:15 PMUpdated Oct 21st 2010 11:16 AM

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Hyatt

Now is a great time to cash in those hotel reward dollars you've been stashing. But which rewards program will get you the biggest payout for your points?

While airline loyalty programs are easy to understand -- one mile in the air equals one mile to spend -- hotel reward programs are a maze of calculations, and no two chains use the same formula. And while airlines have made it increasingly difficult to score a seat using miles, desperate hotels are eliminating blackout dates altogether -- making it easy to break out your points along with the champagne for New Years Eve at hot spots like the W Times Square.

"With occupancy rates at all-time lows, we've seen the longest period of sustained hotel promotions ever, back to back, from all the major hotel chains," said Tim Winship, publisher of FrequentFlier.com, a website that tracks loyalty programs. Winship expects the trend to continue through the spring break season.

Want to know who will give you the most bang for your rewards program buck? We investigated five of the major loyalty programs and got the lowdown on all the newest promotions, and the savviest ways to maximize your points for a great night's sleep on the road for less.

Marriott Rewards
Brands: Marriott, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, JW Marriott, Renaissance Hotels, Ritz-Carlton Hotels

$1 spent =
10 points

How much you have to spend to get 1 free night:
$750

How the destinations compare:

New York City from 30,000 points per night
Las Vegas from 20,000 points per night
Hawaii from 20,000 points per night

The Catch:
Though Marriott has an official "No Blackout Date" policy, it does maintain what it calls "capacity controls" during peak travel times -- in other words, you might not get the room at the Marriott Times Square on New Years Eve. Book at the W Times Square instead, as Starwood, has a no blackout date policy with real teeth.

Bonus: Stay twice and pay with a Visa card before January 15, 2011 and get a free night to use before March 31, 2011.

Tip: Follow Marriott on Twitter to be the first to know about 33 percent discounts through PointSavers deals, at hotels such as the Renaissance Aruba, Renaissance Curaçao and CasaMagna Marriott Puerta Vallarta.

Starwood Preferred Guest
Brands: St. Regis, W, Westin, Sheraton, Le Meridien, Four Points, Aloft, Element, Luxury Collection by Starwood

$1 spent = 2 points

How much you have to spend to get 1 free night: $1,000

How the destinations compare:
New York City from 10,000 points per night
Las Vegas from 7,000 points per night
Hawaii from 10,000 points per night

Bonus: Earn double points on your first nine nights at participating hotels, such as the W Scottsdale and the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki, with Starwood's "Every Night Counts" promo -- and triple points for nights 10 and up with no blackout dates.

Tip: You'll rack up points faster when every other night is up to 50 percent off through Starwood's "Better Tomorrows" plan, good at all the hotels in Starwood's portfolio.

Hilton HHonors
Brands: Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Conrad, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton Grand Vacations, Home2 Suites by Hilton, Homewood Suites, Hampton Inn, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts

$1 spent = 10 points

How much you have to spend to get 1 free night: $750

How the destinations compare:
New York City from 40,000 points per night
Las Vegas from 35,000 points per night
Hawaii from 40,000 points per night

The Catch: There's a Hilton at the Vegas airport for fewer points, but most vacationers want to be where the action is.

Bonus: Scout out the Point Stretcher Rewards, offering up to a 40 percent discount on hotels such as the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek or the Doubletree Golf Resort in San Diego, with no blackout dates.

Tip: Hilton is the only program that counts award stays toward elite status; even in a free room, you can still get credits toward VIP benefits.

InterContinental Hotels Group Priority Club

Brands: Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, InterContinental, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn Club Vacations

$1 spent = 10 points at Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express
$1 spent = 5 points at Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites; any visit to an InterContinental, regardless of the number of nights, will net you 2,000 points.

How much you have to spend to get 1 free night: around $1,000 (varies due to promotions)

How the destinations compare:
New York City from 20,000 points per night
Las Vegas from 15,000 points per night
Hawaii from 25,000 points per night

The Catch: Las Vegas and Hawaii don't have many IHG hotels. But the IHG Priority Club offers a "Hotels Anywhere" program -- so it's possible to book a room at non-IHG hotels in many destinations and pay your bill with IHG points.

Bonus: InternContinental Hotels Group Priority Club has no blackout dates and until December 31, two stays at any IHG hotel will earn you either a free night or double points.

Tip: Priority Club Points never expire and the PointBreaks program offers award discounts at up to 88 percent off at hotels such as the InterContinental Houston.

Hyatt Gold Passport
Brands: Hyatt, Andaz, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Place, Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Summerfield Suites, Park Hyatt

$1 spent = 5 points

How much you have to spend to get 1 free night: $1,000

How the destinations compare:
New York City from 18,000 points per night
Las Vegas from 12,000 points per night
Hawaii from 18,000 points per night

Bonus: Hyatt Gold Passport has no blackout dates, and runs promotions like the "Great 10K," where members get 10,000 bonus points for every five nights -- and they don't have to be consecutive -- at Hyatt properties like the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach and the Park Hyatt Carlsbad, north of San Diego. This promotion is good until December 15, 2010.

Tip: If you're a bit short for that vacation, you can purchase up to 10 percent of the total points you need for the trip at a rate of $10 for 500 points ($1 = 50 pts).

Filed Under: Hotel, Budget

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Barbara

Marriott also includes Residence Inns, which is where I'm staying right now using points, in Washiington, DC. I love the Residence Inns for long stays, as the rooms are like an apartment, with small kitchens.

October 23 2010 at 8:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Patty

I've found that you still get the best price by "price shopping". Http://www.couponcodesdiscounts.info The higher priced hotels STILL have the higher price even after joinging their clubs and getting their "rewards".

October 21 2010 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Diana

Marriott recognizes Ritz Carlton as part of its partnership only for gaining reward points for your paid stays. The Ritz Carlton will not let you stay using points.

October 21 2010 at 2:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply