How to maximize Hotels.com Rewards for free nights and more
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Frequent travelers generally see the most value by booking directly with the hotel. By booking direct, travelers can make sure 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 want to book through an online travel agency. After all, many online travel agencies have rewards programs that allow you to earn rewards while bouncing between brands or staying at non-chain properties. One of the most popular programs is Hotels.com Rewards. So, in this post, I'll describe everything you need to know to maximize the Hotels.com Rewards program.
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Hotels.com Rewards basics
While the Hotels.com Rewards program may not have much of a wow factor, it certainly thrives -- and I suspect it 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 (excluding taxes and fees).
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, though. In particular, you'll earn a free night for every 10 paid nights.
The free-night value will never cover taxes and fees, though. 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 easy to redeem your free night.
If you have multiple free nights in your account, you can redeem more than one free night on a multinight booking. For instance, if you have four free nights and a six-night booking, you can use all four and pay for two nights.
Related: Why infrequent travelers shouldn't book with hotel chains
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 on select bookings, including if you:
- Cancel your booking.
- Don't check in at the property.
- Book through an affiliate Hotels.com site.
- Book before you join Hotels.com Rewards.
- Book a package that includes a hotel.
- Book using select discount coupons, vouchers or codes.
- Book through group travel services.
- 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.
Additionally, note that Hotels.com typically charges a $5 redemption fee per reward night when you book through its website. However, if you book your free night through the Hotels.com app or have the Hotels.com® Rewards Visa® Credit Card (rates & fees), you won't need to pay the redemption fee.
Related: An ideal hotel card for a brand-agnostic traveler: A review of the Hotels.com credit card
There are two levels of status with Hotels.com: Silver and Gold. You'll reach Silver status after collecting 10 stamps in a membership year (based on the date you join the program) and earn Gold status after collecting 30 stamps in a membership year.
As a Hotels.com Rewards Silver member, you'll receive:
- Priority customer service when calling in for assistance.
- Price Guarantee Plus offers price matches and a refund of the difference if you find the same hotel stay at a better price prior to check-in.
- Silver exclusives at select VIP Access 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 guaranteed two-hour late checkout and early check-in (subject to availability) at VIP Access properties.
Related: Comparing 4 top hotel elite status levels — and how to easily earn them in 2021
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-rewards 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.
It's best to use Hotels.com when looking at remote destinations, boutique hotels and unique properties. Likewise, Hotels.com can be an excellent option if you know you have a one-off stay at a chain you'll never (or rarely) utilize again.
However, suppose you're going to stay regularly at large hotel chains like Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott. In that case, I believe it's still best to book directly with those properties and earn hotel elite status, benefits and points. And if you're looking to book a luxury property, it could be best to utilize a Virtuoso agent or book through Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts.
Related: The best ways to book hotels through online travel agencies and bank portals
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 with a credit card. There are plenty of avenues to do this. In addition to the savings from the discounted gift card, you'll earn points on your credit card. Use a card with strong returns on everyday spending, as discounted gift card sites rarely count toward any bonus category.
- Click through an online shopping portal. By clicking through an online shopping portal before booking, you can earn points, miles or cash back on your stay. I recommend using an online shopping portal aggregator to find the best portal for your purchase.
- Hotels.com Rewards: Book your hotel while signed in to your Hotels.com Rewards account and you'll earn about 10% of the cost of that night back toward a future free night.
After this quadruple dip, you may see about a 20% return. That's a pretty impressive haul, especially given the tremendous flexibility you have in booking Hotels.com stays and redeeming your free-night awards.
If you book enough big-box chain hotels to earn elite status and a significant amount of hotel points, Hotels.com might not make sense. After all, for bookings made with online travel agencies like Hotels.com, you typically won't earn hotel points or elite credit and the properties don't have to honor your elite status. 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 and Ashley Kosciolek.