How to Maximize Hotels.com Rewards for Free Nights and More

Feb 6, 2018

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I look to maximize every hotel stay with both the benefits I receive on-property and the hotel points I earn for my booking. Typically, that means booking directly with a large hotel chain on its website to ensure I earn elite status-qualifying nights, enjoy my elite status benefits and earn hotel program points. For those reasons, I haven’t delved much into Hotels.com and its rewards program. So let’s take a closer look.

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.

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.

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:

  1. You can’t redeem multiple free nights to cover a single, expensive night. You must redeem one free night per night.
  2. 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.
  3. You’ll earn a night credit towards 10 nights if you pay with a Hotels.com gift card — which you can find discounted at a variety of online retailers.

Elite Status

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

Hotels.com Rewards Gold members receive all Silver benefits plus “privileged access to promotions only offered to Gold members.” I had a hard time finding any reference to what exactly Gold member promotions entail, so I’m not sure how worthwhile booking an additional 20 nights over Silver to earn Gold status would be.

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.

Residences at the Four Seasons Vail
Earn free nights even at luxury properties like the Four Seasons Vail.

If you’re going to stay regularly at large hotel chains like Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and SPG, 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 With Swagbucks

We routinely discuss shopping portals here at TPG, and if you do any online (and now in-store) shopping, you should be in the habit of maximizing each dollar spent by utilizing these tools. In the case of Hotels.com, it looks like it’s possible to quadruple-dip and save up to 26.1% off any hotel offering on the site, though it takes some significant extra effort. Here are the steps utilizing the online portal Swagbucks (referral link; we each earn $3):

  1. MyGiftCardsPlus is a site run by Swagbucks that offers between 5-15% back (in the form of Swagbucks) when buying gift cards. Hotels.com gift cards are listed on the site and reward you with 5% cash back in the form of Swagbucks. Total savings: 5%
  2. You have to use a credit card to pay for the Hotels.com gift card, meaning you’ll earn credit card rewards for the purchase of the discounted Hotels.com gift cards. I’d use my Citi AT&T Access More card (no longer available for new sign-ups) to earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent for 5.1% back in value based on TPG’s valuations. At a minimum, use a flat 2% cash back card like the Citi® Double Cash Card (1% back when you buy plus 1% back when you pay), or a 2x fixed-value card such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or the Capital One Venture Rewards card. Total savings: 2%-5.1%
  3. 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. Total savings: 10%
  4. Here’s the wildcard in the process: The Swagbucks Portal offers 6% cash back in the form of Swagbucks when you use it to book a hotel with Hotels.com and opt to receive Hotels.com Rewards credit. You should pay with your discounted Hotels.com gift card. Paying with gift cards is not excluded in the terms and conditions on Swagbucks, and I’ve had plenty of success in the past with portals when paying with gift cards, so I’m optimistic you’d earn Swagbucks on your booking. Total (possible) savings: 6%

Add it up and at a minimum you can receive 5% + 2% + 10% in savings for 17% off any hotel. If you have the Citi AT&T Access More card and Swagbucks pays 6% on a booking paid for with a Hotels.com gift card, you can earn 26.1% off any hotel! Or for a simpler avenue to lesser savings, Hotels.com codes as travel for bonus points like 3x on the Chase Sapphire Reserve. With TPG valuing Ultimate Rewards at 2.1 cents each, you’ll earn 6.3% back on your Hotels.com booking by just paying with your CSR.

Bottom Line

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.

Also, if you’re looking for a unique or luxury property and enjoy shopping portals, 17%-25% off toward a future booking at properties not typically able to be discounted can make a lot of financial sense.

Featured image by Capella Hotels St. Lucia.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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