How to maximize Hotels.com Rewards for free nights and more
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Frequent travelers are generally best off booking directly with the hotel to make sure that they earn points and elite qualifying nights and have their elite status recognized. However, if you’re a free agent when it comes to hotel loyalty, you might be better off using a program like Hotels.com that allows you to earn rewards while bouncing between brands and even when staying at non-chain properties. Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know to maximize the Hotels.com Rewards program.
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Hotels.com Rewards Basics
While the program may not have much of a wow factor, it certainly thrives — and I suspect attracts thousands of customers — with its simplicity. Book 10 nights through the website or app (you must be logged in to your account), and you’ll earn one free night with a value equivalent to the average cost of your 10 paid nights.
This means you’re looking at a roughly 10% return on your hotel stays, which is better than what you’d get as a non elite traveler booking with most major hotel chains.
You can earn a free night with 10 one-night stays, a single booking of 10 nights or any combination leading to 10 nights. Once you reach 10 nights, you’ll have a free night which you can apply at checkout. You can earn multiple free nights by continuing to book with Hotels.com and accumulating 10 additional paid nights per free night.
The free night value will never cover taxes and fees, so you’ll still be on the hook for those even if your free night average value is higher than the cost of the night you’re covering. If you want to use your free night for a hotel that’s more expensive than the value of your free night, you can use it and pay the difference in cost. This added flexibility makes it much easier to redeem your free night.
If you have multiple free nights in your account, you can redeem multiple free nights on a multi-night booking. For instance, if you have four free nights and a six-night booking, you can use all four and pay for two nights.
Caveats to Earning and Redeeming Free Nights
Because no rewards program could ever be caveat-free, here are some things you need to know about earning and redeeming Hotels.com free nights:
- You can’t redeem multiple free nights to cover a single, expensive night. You must redeem one free night per night of your stay.
- You won’t earn a night credit toward a free night if you book a hotel with a coupon code on Hotels.com, if you do not complete the booking (i.e., if you don’t actually check in and out), when booking a free night or when booking a hotel as part of a special promotion you received.
- You’ll earn a night credit toward 10 nights if you pay with a Hotels.com gift card — which you can find discounted at a variety of online retailers.
There are two levels of status with Hotels.com: Silver and Gold. You’ll reach Silver status after booking 10 nights in a membership year (based on the date you join the program) and earn Gold status after booking 30 nights in a membership year.
As a Hotels.com Rewards Silver member, you’ll receive:
- Priority customer service when calling in for assistance (probably the most valuable benefit)
- Early access to deals and promotions
- Access to Fast Track offers, which will help you maintain Silver status
- Hassle-Free Travel Guarantee. This sounds like fluff, but Hotels.com says if you have to change your travel plans, it’ll help minimize hotel charges and cancellation fees
- “Silver Exclusives,” which include free breakfast, airport transfer and spa credits when booking at select properties. Keep an eye out for the gift box icon when booking to see what rewards are available to you.
Hotels.com Rewards Gold members receive all Silver benefits plus complimentary room upgrades and early check-in/late checkout (subject to availability) when booking at VIP access properties.
When to Use Hotels.com
What’s nice about Hotels.com Rewards is the ability to use free nights at properties that typically offer no avenue for getting free stays, besides using fixed-value award points or cash-back earnings. Four Seasons properties, on-property Disney resorts, boutique hotels and ski resorts are all on Hotels.com. With no blackout dates, you can use your free night credit toward any of these properties.
If you’re going to stay regularly at large hotel chains like Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott, then I believe it’s still best to book directly with those properties and earn hotel elite status, benefits and points. It’s best to use Hotels.com when looking at remote destinations; if you want to book a boutique hotel or a unique property; or you know you have a one-off stay at a chain you’ll never (or almost never) utilize again. Remember, if you’re looking to book a luxury property, it could be best to utilize a Virtuoso agent or Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and compare the benefits you’ll receive over any savings toward a future stay with Hotels.com.
Quadruple Dip for extra rewards
One solid reason to consider using Hotels.com as your main booking engine is the ability to massively stack different discounts and bonus rewards to turbocharge your earnings. Let’s take a look at how this might work
- Buy discounted Hotels.com gift cards. There are plenty of avenues to do this. Amex frequently has Amex Offers for $10 off a $50 Hotels.com gift card, or you could shop at mygiftcardsplus.com (which partners with the shopping portal Swagbucks) to buy Hotels.com gift cards at anywhere from 5-20% off.
- Pay with a credit card. In addition to the savings from the discounted gift card, you’ll earn points on your credit card for the purchase. You should use a card with strong returns on everyday spending as discounted gift card sites rarely count toward any bonus category.
- Activate a shopping portal. Make sure to stack an online shopping portal with your booking to earn an extra 2-4% back, or a few extra airline miles per dollar spent.
- Hotels.com Rewards: Book your hotel through Hotels.com while signed into your Hotels.com Rewards account and pay with your discounted Hotels.com gift card, and you’ll earn 10% of the cost of that hotel back toward a future free night.
Add it all up and you’re looking at a minimum of a 20% return between cash savings, bonus points and your free night reward. That’s a pretty impressive haul, especially given the massive flexibility you have in booking Hotels.com stays and redeeming your free night awards.
If you book enough of the big-box chain hotels to carry elite status and earn hotel points, Hotels.com may not make sense for you. Remember that for bookings made with online travel agencies like Hotels.com, in most cases you won’t earn hotel points or elite credit, and the properties don’t have to honor your existing elite status (though some do anyway). I also find upgrades to be less generous and room assignment poor when booking through online travel agencies compared to booking direct.
However, if you’re looking for a unique or luxury property and aren’t already loyal to one of the major hotel chains, the ability to earn a 20%+ return can make a lot of financial sense.
Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.
Featured image by Capella Hotels St. Lucia.
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