The most rewarding hotel program for the infrequent traveler

When you read the travel blogs, you will find recommendations for and opinions of the programs of all the big hotel chains, from IHG to Marriott and Hilton or Starwood and Hyatt. Some focus on the large number of hotels, like more than 4,700 for IHG, the aspirational properties Hyatt has or the great value Starwood points have. Inevitably, the recommendation of the associated credit card is not far away! Yet not a single one of those programs will offer you a reward rate of 10% or give you access to more than 100,000 hotels – like WelcomeRewards from hotels.com does, making it in my opinion the best rewards program for the not-so-frequent traveler. Let me tell you why…

If you have booked a hotel online, you probably have heard about hotels.com. They are one of the largest online portals for hotel bookings, providing access to more than 325,000 properties around the world! Chances are, you will find a hotel on this site no matter where you go and what your budget is. In addition to all the global brands mentioned above, you can book local chains and independent hotels, from budget hostels to one-off luxury hotels. You will also find reviews from people who have actually staid at the hotels and you get good rates without having a corporate contract or a knowledge travel agent. One thing you don’t get when booking through hotels.com is points with the associated loyalty programs of the large chains, so you can’t earn rewards or status through them. With all of the big chains now offering “Best Rate Guarantees” of some sort, it sounds like the best way is to book directly with the hotel and take the rewards offered as an additional discount. But not so fast, because hotels.com launched its own rewards program, Welcome Rewards giving you for every 10 nights stayed, 1 night (of average value) free – or a 10% discount! You can even get an additional 6% cashback by booking through a cashback portal like TopCashback ! That’s much, much more than any of the hotel programs offers!

Here are the basics of WelcomeRewards:

  • Stay 10 nights, get 1 night of average value free
    WelcomeRewards calculates the average price of your stays (without taxes, fees). After 10 nights, you will receive basically a voucher in the average value of your 10 nights that you can apply to your next stay. For example, if the average value of your last 10 nights was $110, you will get one night up to $110 free or can subtract $110 from one night that is more expensive (a $200 night will cost you $90).
  • Rewards expire after inactivity of 12 months
    You have to earn a credit by staying at an eligible hotel or redeem a free night at least once a year to keep your account active. That’s a lot more achievable than earning a free night in any of the chain hotel programs!
  • WelcomeRewards Benefits
    WelcomeRewards has a “Silver” level after 10 nights and a “Gold” level after 30 nights. Unfortunately, the benefits are pretty minimal. Silver gives you access to dedicated agents and “special deals”, Gold gives you access to (presumably even more) special deals! While that’s nice, it certainly isn’t worth making an extra effort to earn that status.
  • WelcomeRewards Reach
  • “Only” 100,000 of the 325,000 hotels on the site are eligible for WelcomeRewards. That’s still more than any one chain and I haven’t found it to be a huge constraint in earning or redeeming rewards.

So, why is not everybody using this program instead of the chain programs: You don’t earn any status with the big chains: Booking through hotels.com (or pretty much any online portal) will not earn you points or status with the hotel programs, like Marriott or Hilton. You will be at the lowest rank of the guests, and won’t be able to get free internet, free upgrades or free breakfast. Even worse, some hotels will assign the worst possible rooms to guests booking through an online portal. If you travel frequently on business, those perks might make your travel much more bearable. If you travel infrequently, you are not very likely to achieve status through meeting the stay requirements anyway. Fortunately, you can get status through credit cards, for example the IHG Rewards Club MasterCard (review coming soon) or the Club Carlson Visa Card (reviewed here). With that, you can earn rewards through hotels.com and still get the perks of elite member status! The WelcomeRewards program will not work for you, if your business travel program requires you to go through a specific travel agent or the hotel chain web site. Also, many of the hotels.com rates have to be paid immediately and are not refundable, making it difficult for business travelers.

Regardless of being a business traveler or an infrequent leisure traveler, I recommend to everybody to sign up for the program – there is really no downside to it.  If you travel mostly for leisure or book your own business trips, WelcomeRewards makes a good go-to program just for the high reward rate of 10% and I recommend to consolidate your spend here, as long as the rates offered are competitive. I usually check rates with a search tool like Kayak or Wego and when I find www.hotels.com to offer a comparable rate, I will book through them. If you are a business traveler, I recommend to maintain a membership and book non-chain hotels through it! Many dream destinations are off the beaten path and don’t have any chain hotels yet. WelcomeRewards gives you an option to get some discounts even there!

 


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