In the points and miles world, chain hotels get a lot of love for their rewards program. This is because their program allow “stay low, redeem high.” Not that you’d make money from them, but you can spend cash on cheaper stays, and then accumulate and redeem them for an otherwise more expensive stay. There are also multiple ways to acquire hotel points, from spending on their co-branded credit cards to buying them outright.
There is one hotel “loyalty” program that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but is actually one that many leisure travelers should consider: Hotels.com Rewards. This is basically what Hotels.com offer: stay 10 nights at eligible properties, and get one night free, up to the average price you paid for the 10 nights.
Now, it’s not an amazing value, since it essentially just matches what a lot of hotel chains offer. For example, many Hyatt Category 1 hotels are in the $80 – 100 range, and staying 10 nights earns you 4,000 – 5,000 points, good enough for one night at…you guessed it, a Category 1 hotel.
But for those who are not loyal to one program, this is a pretty decent alternative. Here, I will cover some pros and cons of the program.
Pro: Global Footprint
Chain hotels are nice, especially if you are an elite member with them, but they are not everywhere. For example, my family recently went on a trip to Iceland; many small cities simply don’t have hotels that belong to a chain where we could earn points from or redeem points for.
Well, with Hotels.com, you can make progress towards a free night almost anywhere. For example, this small hotel in Ísafjörður bears a “Collect Night” tag, which means it counts towards your 10 nights at Hotels.com.
Pro: Earn with Both Chain & Independent Hotels
There was a time with Hotels.com Rewards severely limits where you can collect and redeem free nights. It seems that they have expanded the selection over the past few years. For example, you can earn “stay credits” at the independent hotel in Ísafjörður, as shown above. But you can also earn “stay credits” with chain hotels, like this Hilton property in Reykjavik:
Pro: Flexibility for the Leisure Travelers
As long as you stay at an eligible hotel once every 12 months, your “stay credits” do not expire. This is actually pretty similar to other hotel chains’ loyalty programs; for example, Hyatt deletes all your points if your account is inactive for 12 months. However, the portfolio of Hotels.com means it will be much easier to maintain activity in your account, since you don’t have to stick with a particularly brand or chain.
Of course, the program is still not immune to devaluations. Hotels.com could, theoretically, change the number of nights you need before getting a free night. Still, it offers a lot more flexibility than hotel chains’ programs.
Pro: Many Choices for Redemption and “No Blackout Dates”
Hotels.com touts 183,000 eligible hotels in their portfolio where you can redeem your free nights. Basically the majority of hotels where you can earn stays from are also hotels where you can redeem stays for. This ranges from small, independent inns to chain hotels, including Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott properties:
Because you are essentially redeeming a “cash coupon,” there are also no blackout dates. I am careful with that phrase, because no blackout dates doesn’t necessarily mean “same cost for any day.” In fact, most companies that say “no blackout dates” usually mean you can redeem for the cash equivalent (looking at you, Capital One), which is the case here.
Sure, you might not be able to redeem 20,000 Hyatt points for Hyatt at the Bellevue for this particular night, but that could be because the hotel is basically sold out. Hotels.com will gladly sell you a room, but at a cost of about $970 for a basic King room, and you can use your “free night” to cover (a portion of) it. Still, you get the flexibility and technically “unlimited award space,” and there are plenty of opportunities where you could find a good redemption.
Pro/Con: Simple Earning Structure
Depending on how you look at it, the simple earning structure can be good or bad. Hotels.com advertises the program as a way to easily earn and easily redeem. You won’t have to figure out how many points you are earning or how many you need. However, this also means that the program is essentially a “% rebate” program.
For example, you could stay at a suburb Hyatt House for 60 nights, and use the all the points you earn on one night at the Park Hyatt New York, which you otherwise wouldn’t pay cash for. With Hotels.com Reward, the value of your free night is the average of the 10 nights you’ve paid for. This means if you stayed 10 nights at a $100/night property, you have $100 to spend on your free night. You can exceed it and pay the difference, but you can’t really get any “aspirational” properties for free.
But some also choose to look at it this way: if you stay 60 nights and earned effectively $600 to spend, you could just do some mental accounting to balance it all out. Use the $600 Hotels.com “free night” to cover a stay you’d otherwise pay for, and pay $600 cash for a night at the Park Hyatt New York (though they usually go for more than that.)
Con: No Hotel Points and No Elite Benefits
Elite members of hotel chains usually only receive their benefits if they book directly with the hotel. This means if you are Hyatt Diamond, and you booked your stay at Hotels.com, you don’t earn any Hyatt points, and you don’t receive Diamond benefits with your stay.
Sure, if you don’t have elite statuses with anybody, you may think this is no big deal. But even as a general member, you can earn points at hotel chains when booking directly with them. Booking through Hotels.com means you forgo those points, which can sometimes be more rewarding.
Con: Non-Competitive Prices
Hotels.com sometimes prices rooms higher than the hotels themselves, or have limited selection of rates. For example, you can get a Wonderful Room at the W New York Union Square for ~$333 after taxes with Hotels.com.
Meanwhile, you can get the same room for ~$316 at the hotel’s own website, if you are an SPG member (which is free to join). And by booking with the hotel, you will actually earn SPG points. Even a basic member will earn 819 points from a $273 rate, or half way to the cheapest “Cash & Points” reward.
Now, because their prices are not always the most competitive, they also often offer coupons and “secret prices” for bookings. But a fine print shows that by using coupons or “secret prices,” the booking will no longer count towards a free night.
Ultimately, Hotels.com Rewards offers a good alternative to people who don’t stay in hotels a lot or those who aren’t loyal to specific hotel chains’ programs. However, as a general rule of thumb, before you book, make sure to look at all the fine prints, and whether better options are out there.