I’ve focussed a lot on airline rewards on this site (I mean, it is in the name). This is because there are so many deals and opportunities to be had to save money on flights. Most credit card schemes focus on airline reward programs, and most sign-up bonuses are oriented around frequent flyer points. There are, in fact, no credit cards in Australia anymore that focus purely on hotel loyalty. Macquarie used to have the Hilton Honors card, which is now defunct. This doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be found through these programs. Hotels can make up a large chunk of your holiday spend, so it’s worth figuring out how to get something for nothing. Hotel loyalty programs in Australia can be worth it and have the potential to save you lots of money. Read on to find out how.
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What hotel loyalty programs are there?
The major hotel chains all have their own loyalty programs.
- Hilton Honors
- Marriott Bonvoy
- IHG One Rewards
- World of Hyatt
- Accor Live Limitless (ALL)
In addition to these, there are smaller chains with their own rewards, such as Priority Guest Rewards and Best Western rewards, which I will not cover in this article. In addition to these, comparison sites have their own loyalty programs. This includes Expedia OneKey and Booking.com Genius.
How do hotel loyalty programs work?
Hotel reward programs work much like airline programs in that you earn points for stays and sometimes through activities with the group’s partners such as car hire, shopping, and airlines. They also have tiers, which you can work your way up and provide decent benefits the more you stay with the same chain. Once you have enough points, you either get free reward nights which work much like reward seats on airlines, or you get money off your bill.
An interesting side benefit of these hotel programs is they partner with many airlines. This offers an opportunity to use hotel points as a form of flexible loyalty program where you can store points for later use. I would, however, recommend primarily using these points for hotel stays as this represents much better value due to poor exchange rates. For example, Hilton allows you to transfer miles to Singapore Airlines at a rate of 8:1. This means 64,000 Hilton points will get you just 8,000 Krisflyer miles. While 8,000 miles will get you nothing, 64,000 Hilton points can easily get you 1 or 2 free hotel nights, depending on the type of hotel.
Most hotel loyalty programs work similarly to airlines, where a certain number of points will get you an award night. The rate for these nights depends on how premium the hotel is, their location and the time of year. Hilton has a two-tier system of standard vs. premium rewards where standard nights much like classic rewards for Qantas, tend to be booked quickly, while premium rewards are often priced too high to justify.
For those who want a simpler reward program which is easy to understand, have a look at ALL. While all the other loyalty programs can be complex in that you require different points for different resorts with different types of reward nights, this reward program provides you cash off the rate of the hotel. 2,000 ALL points give you €40 off any hotel in the Accor line-up. The date doesn’t matter, the hotel doesn’t matter. The rate is fixed. This is advantageous in terms of simplicity but doesn’t provide the sweet-spot redemptions you can get with Hilton, Marriott or any of the other programs for that matter.
Is it worth getting status with hotels?
All the major hotel programs have tiers just like airline programs. It is usually some variation of silver, gold and platinum. What is unique about hotel programs is they often have benefits and special pricing just for joining at the base tier of the program. This includes things like free internet, members discounts and late checkout. These perks alone make the programs worth joining. As you work your way up you get more benefits that will make being loyal more attractive. The biggest one for me is free breakfast. This includes fancy buffet breakfasts at resorts when you stay there so not only is it a solid benefit but it can also save you money. An additional nice-to-have benefit is free room upgrades. At certain tier levels, you are guaranteed a room upgrade with most major programs and this can include suites. I have unfortunately found this benefit to vary quite a bit depending on the hotel you are staying at and room upgrades can mean a better view or higher floor which may not make a huge difference to your overall stay.
While status has its perks, you need to weigh whether the benefits are worth it. Acquiring status through stays does require a fair amount of money to be spent and the points are only worth it with a specific goal or future plans to travel to locations where the chain is present. Sometimes, staying in a hotel with a good rate is cheaper than paying extra to stay with the chain you’re loyal to.
Can you earn hotel points without stays?
Technically yes, you can earn hotel points through many means, but unfortunately, in Australia, most of these ways are not very lucrative. While other countries, such as the US, have specific hotel cards that have amazing benefits and points earn, none of the Australian credit cards provide a direct way to earn points. Despite this there are a few ways to increase your points earned or get status without staying in hotels. Unlike airline status, hotel status can be bought relatively easily.
- Link your frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs. Qantas and ALL have a partnership allowing you to earn hotel points on flights and Qantas points on stays. This requires nothing else except signing up and linking your accounts. If you’re gold or platinum, Velocity membership will get you reciprocal benefits in either Hilton Honors or IHG One.
- Check if your credit card offers free hotel status. American Express cards, especially the premium ones will come with free hotel status. The Platinum Card comes with Hilton Honors gold status, Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite and ALL Silver (with Accor Plus)
- Buy loyalty points at a discount when the offer period rolls around. Both Hilton and Marriott rewards programs offer the ability to buy points and frequently have discounts in the form of bonus points for every point you buy. For Hilton this is generally a maximum 100% bonus and for Marriott it is a 50% bonus, but the offers can vary. This is the best way to obtain hotel points in Australia outside of staying with the hotel chain.
Comparison sites have their own loyalty programs.
To side-step the issue of requiring loyalty to specific chains and finding a hotel that belongs to your chain of choice in the middle of nowhere, comparison sites offer the ability to book essentially any hotel and some guesthouses through their platform and participate in their own loyalty program. Note, that unlike airline points, hotel points can only be obtained if the room is booked directly through the hotel’s website. This means you can’t double dip on two loyalty points schemes.
Expedia’s OneKey is relatively new and combines the loyalty programs for Expedia, Hotels.com and Vrbo. It’s reasonably straightforward and works like cashback sites. For every hotel you book you get a certain percent back as OneKeyCash (2-6%) and as a bonus a small percentage on flights as well. The amount of cashback depends on your status. You are rewarded the more you book with Expedia. This includes flights, hotels, activities, car hire etc. You also get rewarded more for staying with “VIP Access” properties. These are properties with which Expedia has signed arrangements to give you a few perks in return for higher commissions.
Booking.com’s Genius program has a similar idea. Hotels can become partners with Genius which promotes their brand further and gives them more prominence in the search results. Instead of getting points or cashback, Genius hotels give you extra discounts and perks in depending on your level. This starts at a 10% discount on rates and goes up to 20% discounts with free breakfast and a room upgrade. The catch here is not every hotel will get you a discount, just the ones Booking.com says you can.
Both loyalty programs provide average value. For those who don’t stay in many hotels and aren’t particularly keen on being loyal to a single chain, they provide a form of value. It’s better to get some return than nothing on your hotel bookings. Expedia provides value in encouraging you to book your entire trip through them and reward you for it. The main drawback is you will get more perks on hotels that have paid more to these comparison sites meaning there is still some form of loyalty involved. In addition, when booking through a comparison site, any support issues such as needing to change or cancel the booking rely on them to do. You cannot go to the hotel or airline directly to change the booking. People’s experience with this is variable at best and if you like to change plans frequently, then I don’t think this is the route for you. If you do stay in hotels frequently, the return from hotel loyalty programs and the benefits of elite status far outweighs what can be achieved with OneKey or Genius. These programs are targeted more at the casual traveller.
So, should you join hotel loyalty programs in Australia?
Ultimately, it is worth joining hotel loyalty programs. They all come with benefits, even at their lowest tier, so you have nothing to lose by signing up. If you rarely stay at hotels or aren’t loyal to one chain, consider joining one of the comparison site loyalty programs so you can at least take advantage of discounts on the rate. If you’re someone who goes on a few trips a year or work trips, elite hotel status can be lucrative, giving you free breakfast, room upgrades and guaranteed room availability on top of bonus points, making it easier to get free nights in the future.
In Australia, the opportunity to earn points through spend is very limited, and when possible, it isn’t worth it. Despite this there are avenues to earn points by buying them or through various bonus point offers and partnerships in play. This makes it worth your time.