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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

The hotel loyalty programmes that help you save on your travels

Perks can include free stays, complimentary breakfast, club lounge access and room upgrades

Illustration by Alvaro Sanmarti
Illustration by Alvaro Sanmarti

In an era of abundant brands and fickle consumer habits loyalty can either be elusive or prove commercially potent.

From supermarkets to airlines, offering a reward programme can incentivise repeat custom - something the hotel industry has certainly taken note of.

Numerous names vie for our holiday, staycation or business travel spend via a myriad loyalty programmes offering everything from upgrades to cheaper dinners. But how worthwhile are they?

Julian Kheel is senior editor of The Points Guy, a US-based website exploring the benefits of reward schemes, says hotel loyalty programmes have generally never been as lucrative as airline frequent flyer programmes, however, regular customers can still find significant value in hotel points and elite status.

“While only the true road warrior is likely to find a reason to stay loyal to a single programme, points and elite status benefits earned at chain hotels can offer additional value beyond standard independent hotel properties,” he says.

Business travellers - the most prevalent “road warriors” - are more likely to stick with a brand, especially if regularly visiting a particular city. Beyond that, who profits the most from a single scheme?

Hotel loyalty benefits can be useful to both the customer with means as well as the occasional traveller,” says Mr Kheel. “In a number of programmes, customers earn base-level elite status by staying just 10 nights in a calendar year. By focusing hotel stays on one or two regular hotel chains, a business traveller can be rewarded with perks such as complimentary breakfast, club lounge access, even upgrades to suites.”

On the downside, however, particularly for leisure travel, is the restrictive effect loyalty can have on choice – discouraging exploration of other brands.

While only a few schemes demand a joining fee - The Points Guy suggests these generally don't provide more value than those earning points without fees – so widen your hotel choice by joining several free programmes.

That said, some points carry an expiry date and reaching a threshold where they provide tangible benefits can require numerous bought rooms.

Also beware that most hotels require you book “eligible” or “qualifying” room rates for points; this usually means through their website and does not always guarantee best rates compared to going via platforms such as Booking.com. If multiple loyalty schemes are your route, use an app such as Award Wallet to keep track of the accounts.

Here a selection of the best hotel loyalty schemes:

Rotana Rewards

Cost to join: Free, except for Exclusive, Dh1050 (plus VAT).

The Abu Dhabi-based brand is expanding fast in the UAE and Africa with brands such as Arjaan, Centro and Rayhaan. With more than 335,000 active members, three programmes earn you two points for every Dh1 spent on accommodation and food and beverages, redeemable against numerous rewards such as airline miles, rooms and gifts.

• Classic is ideally for company bookers organising employee and meeting rooms.

• Select is for leisure/business “stayers” earning points across a variety of services in three tiers with benefits ranging from 10 per cent off room rates and dining, late check out, complimentary internet and business centre discounts to club lounge access, massages, upgrades, free nights and late check-outs.

Exclusive offers a Dh250 dining certificate on enrolment, 50 per cent off couples dining, 20 per cent off beverages and room rates and a 6pm check-out.

Points needed for a free night: 25,000 but only for Select and Exclusive members

Pros and cons: The food and beverage discounts are generous and points can earned on incidental spend such as laundry and calls. However, points only stay valid for three years.

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Hilton Honors

Cost to join: Free

With 5,000-plus hotels ranging from DoubleTree to Waldorf Astoria and Conrad, this scheme gives members a 5 per cent discount for booking direct, with a “lowest price” promise. There are four membership levels with basic stays earning 10 points per US$1 spend, doubling to 20 points for Diamond status. Benefits can include upgrades, free nights and lounge access. Milestone Bonuses boost point totals dramatically, on reaching 40 and 60 nights.

Points needed for a free night: 5,000

Pros and cons: All member levels enjoy late checkout and room choice when booked with points.

Jumeirah Sirius

Cost to join: Free

With about 500,000 members globally, this scheme from the UAE luxury brand awards standard members two Jumeirah Sirius Points and two Tier Points for every $1 spent at its hotels, residences and resorts worldwide (gold and silver members receive 50 per cent extra Jumeirah Sirius Points for each dollar spent). Special offers give a chance to tot up bonus points and points can also be earned at 90 UAE leisure and shopping locations, such as Dubai Aquarium, via My City Points.

Membership benefits include savings at Dubai’s Madinat Theatre, Wild Wadi and spas, room upgrades, executive lounge access, free airport transfers, breakfast and more depending on your tier – blue, silver (10,000 tier points) or gold (40,000). Points can also be exchanged for shopping vouchers, brunches and afternoon tea.

Points needed for a free night: from 4,300

Pros and cons: Points never expire (if added to within 12 months) and there is a wide variety of ways to gain and ‘spend’. However, the brand has less hotels than mainstream chains and significant spend is required to reach upper tiers.

World Of Hyatt

Cost to join: Free

Recently opening its third property in the capital, Hyatt is a celebrated group featuring five brands, including Grand Hyatt and Park Hyatt. Its rewards programme is points based, earned and redeemed at 700-plus locations worldwide. You bag 5 base points for each eligible dollar spent and can redeem against free nights, as well as car rental and airline miles.

Points needed for a free night: from 5,000.

Pros and cons: There are no black out dates when exchanging points for room nights and you can share membership with family. However, you have to earn considerable base points to climb tiers (100,000 for Globalist top tier).

Radisson Rewards

Cost to join: free

Another name popular with business travellers as well as leisure guests, brands include Park Inn and Park Plaza. Radisson Rewards members can earn and spend points at 1,100 hotels with benefits including at least 20 points per dollar spent on eligible hotel stays and F&B charged to a member’s room. Basic members get 10 per cent off website/app-booked rates, 5 per cent off food and drinks. Progress through four tiers of membership for improved point-per-spend ratios and dining discounts. Points are also redeemable against gift cards and airline miles.

Points needed for a free night: from 9,000

Pros and cons: No blackout dates on points-bought rooms but remember, points earned on food and drinks only apply if charged to a room, so not walk-in restaurant visits.

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IHG Rewards Club

Cost to join: free

The InterContinental Hotels Group scheme operates brands ranging from Crowne Plaza to Holiday Inn with 5,000 hotels worldwide. You earn points –1,000 if enrolling during a stay; 10 for every $1 spent thereafter. Points can be redeemed against stays, entertainment downloads, airline miles, gift cards, goods in IHG’s online catalogue or donated to the charitable IHG Foundation. All members get free W-Fi and lower room rates. You join at Club level, rising through Gold Elite and Platinum Elite to Spire Elite, merited on qualifying nights stayed or points accrued (75 nights/75,000 points gets you top tier), with better privileges accordingly, such as upgrades, free nights with no blackout dates, bonus points and delayed check-out. IHG’s OpenTable restaurant booking portal also gives points.

Points needed for a free night: from 5,000

Pros and cons: This has a wide spending choice for points and a huge hotel choice, however there is no member F&B discount and you must earn/use points within 12 months to protect your balance.

Kempinski Discovery

Cost to join: free with first stay

The luxury brand has just 75 hotels and one million Discovery members. It operates Emirates Palace, Mall of the Emirates and Palm Jumeirah hotels and has a redesigned three-tier scheme with mixed benefits. Discovery points can be gained and privileges used within Kempinski hotels and via 550 others in 36 brands (such as Anantara, JA Resorts, Meydan Hotels) via the Global Hotel Alliance.

Members can avail “local experiences”, such as cultural outings and, until the end of 2018, get ‘exclusive’ directly booked rates starting at 12.1 per cent off. Nine stays a year earns you entry-level Gold status – along with pastry service wake-up call and newspapers - rising to Platinum and Black status and extras such as shoeshines, garment pressing, experience awards and a “third night free” voucher.

Points cannot be redeemed against free stays.

Pros and cons: Its rewards are applicable to 36 outside brands, however, there are blackout restrictions on early check-in/late checkout benefits.

Marriott Rewards

Cost to join: free

The merger of Marriott International and Starwood is bringing a unified rewards programme incorporating Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). Marriott will introduce one set of benefits this August with members able to combine all rewards into a single account. Members can stay and earn/redeem points with 6,500 hotels across 29 brands in 127 countries from August that will be 10 points for every $1 spent at most brands, for use on stays and dining and qualifying incidentals. You can also spend points on thousands of experiences via the Moments platform.

Points needed for a free night: from 7,500

Pros and cons: Huge range of hotels means wider choice and the free Wi-Fi and no blackout dates on room redemptions is a positive. However, there is the potential for confusion when members unify accounts in August.

Le Club AccorHotels

Cost to join: free

French group AccorHotels has 3,400 hotels globally with a portfolio including Novotel and Mercure. This points-for-staying accumulation system lets you climb four status levels for greater privileges and benefits and ‘spend’ reward points with 50 partners, including Europcar. Membership gives up to 10 per cent off rates via Accor’s 14 brand websites, early-bird room sales access and status-related rewards. Entry level earns 25 rewards points per 10 euro (Dh43) expenditure, less if staying with “affordable” brands such as Ibis.

Points needed for a free night: 2,000

Pros and cons: Members can earn on expenses such as meals, business centre use, calls, laundry and parking fees. However, points expire on 365 consecutive days of account inactivity.

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