Tips to Win Travel Rewards With Hotel Loyalty Programs

images-44The quiet word among savvy frequent travelers is that lately many have shifted their focus from airline rewards programs to hotel programs.

Surprised? Understandably. For decades hotel programs have been the ugly duckling of rewards for travelers. But things are changing. “People usually can use hotel rewards with no problems. With airlines, it’s a different story,” said Jason Steele, a travel rewards journalist based in Denver.

Bluntly put: it just has become very hard to cash in airline miles for free flights, certainly not to desirable locations. Go ahead: try to book a free flight to Hawaii during Christmas. It just is about as likely as winning Mega Millions.

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But what many travelers are finding is that – in an era of full flights – it has gotten difficult to cash in miles for free trips even to less desirable locations, over less desirable dates.

With hotels, it’s totally different. Joe Brancatelli, who blogs at JoeSentMe.com, said, “Here’s the main difference between airline and hotel programs for the average traveler: hotel chains are running at 60 to 65% occupancy. So there’s almost always a room to be had free. Availability of awards is generally wonderful.”

That’s key. You may have 50,000 miles in your United kitty, but you may not be able to spend them on a free flight. On magazines, sure. Maybe seat upgrades. Flights, not so much.

Brancatelli added: “Travelers just do not understand how valuable hotel programs are. The chains are in intense competition all around the world. Plus elite status is easy to get and is useful — free Wifi, some upgrades, late checkout, etc.”