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Hotel loyalty programs such as Marriott Rewards and IHG Rewards Club are a fantastic way of leveraging hotel stays and everyday spend for free nights, upgrades, free meals, and rockstar treatment. But hotel chains aren’t the only providers to offer bonus nights and elite status.
Hotels.com Rewards (formerly Welcome Rewards) is the loyalty program for online travel agency Hotels.com. It’s free to sign up, and you'll earn one free night for every ten nights booked through Hotels.com (11th night free), plus the opportunity to achieve Silver & Gold membership tiers which provide access to exclusive offers and priority customer service.
How Does Hotels.com Rewards Work?
As far as rewards programs go, they don't get more straightforward. For every ten nights booked through Hotels.com, you receive one free night. The value of the free night is calculated on the average price of the ten nights you collect.
As a base rate of return, you’re earning 10% back on hotel spend booked through the Hotels.com booking engine. You can add 3-5% cash back into the equation by going through a portal like befrugal.com, in addition to regular promos offering double free night credits for each stay. Potentially 20%+ return on your hotel spend.
An example of how you could stack a Hotels.com stay:
- Click through the befrugal.com cashback portal for 3% cash back (or 9% back if you don't take the Hotels.com rewards).
- Pay with:
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® and redeem the charge as a statement credit.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® earning 3X Ultimate Rewards points, and receive $300 back as a travel credit (3x points on travel kicks in after the initial $300 is credited).
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card and earn 10x Venture Miles per dollar on all hotels.com spend. Venture miles now transfer to 14 different airline partners.
- As a Rewards member, each night will count towards Hotels.com’s ‘Collect 10 nights, get 1 free’ providing a further 10% off on the back end of the transaction.
If you utilize either of Capital One's Venture cards for 10x points, stacked with the 10% back on Hotels.com spending, you'll get 20%+ back on every dollar you spend. A top return by anyone's standards.
You can also shoot for Silver and Gold elite status within the program, but the benefits are negligible, not what we’re used to seeing from the likes of Hyatt or Starwood. The most valuable benefit you'll likely receive is access to agents that may be able to help waive cancellation fees or get properties to provide a one-off exception as requested.
It’s important to note that taxes and fees are not included in the free night calculations. The average is worked out off the total cost of the nights minus the fees and taxes.
Why Choose Hotels.com Rewards over a Traditional Hotel Rewards Program?
The first reason is fairly obvious; Choice.
Hotels.com has over 290,000 properties on the books, spread across 200+ countries. A much bigger selection than any single hotel family could hope to achieve. A stay in any property booked through the Hotels.com booking engine counts towards your free night. In destinations like Greece's Santorini or New Zealand, where chain hotels don’t have the coverage they enjoy here in the U.S., you can still achieve a top return on your hotel spend, even when staying outside traditional brands and loyalty programs.
Secondary to choice would be value and simplicity. With a base ROI of 10% (more through cash back portals and regular promos), Hotels.com will outperform the majority of hotel loyalty programs if you are not a top-tier elite. It’s a basic program without the traditional pitfalls or location restrictions of chain-specific loyalty programs; you can book hotels in any destination and redeem your free night in any eligible property (over 213,000 at time of writing).
It’s also fairly easy to pick up Hotels.com gift cards on sale for up to 20% off retail prices. If you combine the gift cards with the ‘Collect 10 nights, get 1 free’ on the Hotels.com Rewards program, you can potentially achieve savings/returns on your hotel spend of over 30%.
Redeeming Hotels.com Rewards Free Nights
Redeeming your free-night certificate is simple. Free nights are credited to your account after completing the 10 required nights. The value of the free-night certificate is directly correlated to the spend for your 10 qualifying nights, minus fees and taxes. If you spent $1,200, you'd receive a $120 credit in your account. You can redeem the credit for a more expensive room and pay the difference in cash. However, if you apply it to a room that costs less than the value of your free-night certificate, you will not be credited with the difference.
There are no blackout dates, and you’re not restricted to ‘standard’ rooms, you can apply the credit to any room as long as it is at a property that participates in the rewards program. You can redeem multiple free nights on the same reservation, just paying the fees and taxes associated with the stay. Free nights are refundable, provided you cancel within the hotel's cancellation window.
The example above shows a reward night worth $147.05 and how it is applied to a reservation priced at greater than the value of the reward and a reservation priced under that amount. In both cases, you see taxes are still charged.
Hotels.com Rewards Silver & Gold Elite Status
The elite status tiers offered by Hotels.com are nothing to write home about. The only tangible benefits are early access to exclusive deals and a higher standard of customer service if you wish to make changes to a reservation.
To achieve Silver status requires 10 nights, the same needed to earn a free night, and attaining Gold requires 30 nights booked and stayed.
Pitfalls of Using Hotels.com Rewards over a Hotel Rewards Program
Unfortunately, using the discount coupons regularly provided on Hotels.com's website or via emails will negate the free night credit for that stay. You also won’t typically receive cash back from portals if you apply discount coupons or pay using gift cards.
For many, the biggest drawback will be that stays booked through Hotels.com won't be eligible to earn points or elite-night credits when staying with a major hotel chain that does have its own loyalty program. If you have elite status, you also won't receive elite benefits like free breakfast or late check out for these stays. This is the case with any third-party booking, but it's especially relevant when considering the tradeoffs of booking a stay through Hotels.com.
Hotels.com Rewards free nights and free night credits expire after 12 months of account inactivity. Booking stays and free night redemptions are considered qualifying activity; however, you won’t earn free night credits when redeeming for a free night.
You need to run the numbers when booking with major hotel brands: Depending on your elite status, cash-back rates through portals, and other factors such as members discounts, you may get a better return sticking with the hotel's own rewards program, leveraging co-brand credit cards like the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, and chasing down quarterly promos like IHG's Reward Nights Faster, Marriott’s Free Nights promo, and Hilton's Points Unlimited.
Hotels.com Rewards is an easy-to-understand rewards program offering a base 10% return on hotel spend, with the potential for much better returns if you can take advantage of promos and discounted gift cards. You won’t receive elite benefits or loyalty points from major hotel brands for your stay, but you will have the freedom to book and redeem rooms for any destination, outside of the traditional award-travel footprint. Plus, a little social engineering at a hotel still might score you an upgrade.
Hotels.com is a great alternative when you are booking outside of your primary hotel brands, particularly in destinations where independent and boutique providers have better coverage.
If you’ve earned and redeemed a free-night credit from Hotels.com, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
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