3 independent hotel loyalty programs worth knowing
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If you travel enough, you may eventually get tired of staying at the typical hotel offered by the major corporate chains. Since these are the places where you earn and spend your loyalty points, most of us put up with uninspired hotels that can vary little from city to city.
If this sounds like your predicament, you need to learn about these loyalty programs that offer points for staying at non-cookie-cutter, independent hotels. These hotel collections are less standardized than than the larger chains, and each property offers unique amenities.
iPrefer (Preferred Hotels & Resorts)
Preferred Hotels & Resorts is the world's largest independent hotel brand, featuring more than 700 properties. The Preferred Hotels group offers five different hotel collections, each with its own level of luxury and service. Note that you need to be at least a Gold elite member to receive most of the welcome gifts mentioned below.
- The Legend Collection — This group includes properties that are designed to be a destination in and of themselves. Examples include The Opposite House in Beijing, where Gold and Platinum members get a welcome box of chocolates and The Beaumont in London, which offers elites a welcome cocktail.
- LVX Collection — A group of hotels offering additional luxury and convenience, with amenities such as 24-hour room service and turndown service. Properties include the Hesperia in Madrid, the Hotel Keppler in Paris and the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, which offers elite guests two complimentary cocktails at the Carousel Bar, which TPG Contributor Kelsy Chauvin happened to feature in her post on 5 of the quirkiest hotel bars in America.
- Lifestyle Collection — These hotels are designed to be more connected to a city and feature a buzzing lobby and bar. Properties include the Chambers Hotel in New York, which offers elites treats from Momofuku Milk Bar, and the Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles, with an elite welcome gift of two complimentary drinks at the bar along with a wine key and stopper.
- Connect Collection — This group features properties geared toward business travelers, and not all of them offer amenities like 24-hour food and beverage services. Hotels in this collection include the Kinzie Hotel in Chicago, which welcomes elite guests with a box of chocolate truffles, wine and a free cocktail, and the Royal Park Hotel the Shiodome in Tokyo, which offers elites a welcome bottle of wine.
- Preferred Residence Collection — The final group of properties includes accommodations such as a four-bedroom penthouse and even a five-bedroom mansion. These properties are designed to offer the space and privacy of home with the amenities of a hotel. Examples include the Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa, which gives elites VIP tasting passes to The Vintner's Collective, and the 26 Sunset Avenue Llandudno in Cape Town, which gifts elite guests with a safari amenity pack.
If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, you can book Preferred Hotels and Resorts with cash or American Express Membership Rewards points via American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts. Amex FHR bookings include daily breakfast for two, room upgrades when available, guaranteed 4 p.m. late check out and a unique property amenity valued at $100 or more (like dining or spa credits).
However, if you book this way it's unlikely you'll earn points with the Preferred Hotels rewards program. The iPrefer loyalty program offers guests reward points, elite status and special benefits. Guests receive 10 points per dollar spent on room reservations booked through eligible channels (not including online travel agents), and some hotels will offer points for non-room charges.
Points can be redeemed for reward certificates valid at properties in the Preferred Hotels & Resorts collection, starting at 12,500 points for a $25 certificate — exactly 0.2 cents per point. Reward certificates never expire and can even be given as gifts. In addition, most Preferred hotels (there are some exclusions) offer the ability to earn miles with 16 different carriers including American, Alaska, British Airways, Air France-KLM Flying Blue and United.
The iPrefer program recently streamlined its elite status program, condensing four tiers (one for general members and one for elites) down into two:
Members will now qualify for the single tier of elite status after earning 50,000 points in a year. Most of the benefits are pretty similar for general members and elites, with the big difference being that you must have elite status to receive the property-specific welcome amenity.
I recently had a chance to stay at one of the most remarkable properties in the Preferred Hotels & Resorts brand, Denver's new Art Hotel. Part of the LVX Collection, this 165-room property sits in the city's Museum District and true to its name, it's full of original paintings and sculptures from notable artists such as Frank Gehry, Luis Jiminez and Clyfford Still. In fact, this is likely one of only a handful of hotels in the world that employs its own in-house art curator.
The basic Canvas Room starts at $289 per night, while the Capital Suite goes for $399 and up. And while many rooms offer spectacular city and mountain views, I mostly appreciated the small touches that exemplified the property's emphasis on art and design. For example, the rooms are decorated with reproductions of the hotel's original artwork, there were outlets with USB sockets on each side of the bed and guests receive a welcome gift that includes a selection of Colorado microbrews on ice. In addition, all of the snacks and beverages in the minibar are complimentary.
Voila Hotel Rewards
The Voila Hotel Rewards program features about 300 independent hotels in dozens of countries around the world and includes the Copley Square Hotel in Boston; the St. Giles Hotels in New York, London and Asia and Luxe Hotels in the Los Angeles area. In fact, this program has been around for a while, but it only entered the U.S. market in 2011. The program has three elite levels:
- Silver — The base membership tier offers 10 points per dollar spent and includes priority check-in and a complimentary weekday newspaper.
- Gold — The next level of status requires 10 nights in a consecutive 12-month period. Additional benefits include a 25% points bonus, early check-in and late check-out (based on availability) and complimentary room upgrades and fitness center access.
- Platinum — Members earn this status after staying 20 nights within a consecutive 12-month period. Benefits include a 50% points bonus, no blackout dates on awards, 24-hour guaranteed room availability, complimentary Executive Lounge access and a special welcome amenity that varies by property.
Points are worth about 0.75 to 1 cent each toward award nights, but new members can get a head start and earn 1,000 bonus points just for registering. And while points do transfer to several airlines, the ratio is an unfavorable 10:1 — or less.
Stash Hotel Rewards
Stash Hotel Rewards is a loyalty program with more than 200 hotels in the U.S. and the Caribbean. Members earn 5 points per dollar spent on eligible room rates at any Stash Partner Hotel (base rate not including taxes). When you book through stashrewards.com, you can also earn 3 points per dollar at Stash Approved hotels and 1 point per dollar at other hotels.
Points are generally worth about 1 cent each toward reservations at hotels in this program, but can be occasionally worth slightly more. This program has an elite status program called Stash Plus, but it's currently only available by invitation. Points never expire and there are no blackout dates to worry about.
Maximize spending at independent hotel brands
Since none of these programs offer a cobranded credit card to help you maximize your rewards, consider using a card that offers bonus rewards for hotel purchases, including:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve — Earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, including all hotel reservations.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — Earn 2x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar for travel and 3x points on dining purchases.
- Citi Premier® Card — Earn 3x ThankYou rewards points per dollar for all travel purchases, including hotels.
- Citi Prestige® Card — Earn 3x ThankYou rewards points per dollar for all airfare and hotel purchases.
Additionally, Amex Platinum and Amex Business Platinum cardholders who book prepaid Preferred Hotels and Resorts stays through the Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts program will earn 5x American Express Membership Rewards points per dollar.
Redeeming credit card rewards for stays
Even if you don't opt for one of these independent hotel loyalty programs, you can still make yourself a free agent when it come to hotel stays by adding a fixed value card to your wallet. Cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card let you redeem your miles at a fixed rate of 1 cent each against the cost of travel.
It's easy to get caught up in the loyalty hamster wheel and keep booking with the same chain even if you aren't 100% satisfied with the quality of the properties or the return you're getting. If you're looking to broaden your horizons beyond the major hotel companies, these independent loyalty programs are a great place to start.
Additional reporting by Jasmin Baron