Thursday, October 11, 2012

Options outside of Aeroplan and Air Miles. Part 3: Hotel Frequent Guest Programs

The majority of Canada's loyalty program market share is held by two programs, Aeroplan and Air Miles. While both programs have strong roots in travel they have grown into what the industry calls coalition loyalty programs, which in layman's terms means many earning partners and a varied rewards catalog. Its hard not to be a member of at least one of these two programs since you would miss out on some potential rewards because of their vast coverage within Canada. With that being said, I receive numerous emails from my readers on how they are fed up with Aeroplan or Air Miles or both and they want to know what other options they have, particularly for travel rewards. This piece will look at the other options Canadians have for travel reward loyalty programs and while you can take any of these routes as your primary program I would recommend keeping Aeroplan and/or Air Miles as a secondary program. One thing you will notice is that to make one of these other programs your primary one, it will require the use of a credit card to maximize your reward potential. For travel reward programs, credit card use is the easiest way to rack up points and miles outside of actual travel. I've broken out the choices into four parts and will focus on the pros and cons of making one of these choices as your primary program.

Part 1: Frequent Flyer Programs
Part 2: Credit Card Programs

Part 3: Hotel Frequent Guest Programs

Part 4: Non-Travel Reward Programs


InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa
The third category we look at in our Other Options Series are hotel frequent guest programs. Here at Rewards Canada this one category I have been pushing onto Canadians as they are typically overlooked or even unknown to most of us Canucks. A 2010 survey conducted by American Express Canada and Starwood Preferred Guest showed only 13% of Canadians participated in hotel programs compared to much larger numbers for airline or credit card programs. To me, as someone who is entrenched in the loyalty industry, this number is surprisingly low but outside of the industry it does not surprise me. In Canada, I find the hotel programs don't advertise their loyalty offerings outside of their own hotels save for Best Western who run frequent commercials promoting their latest Best Western Rewards offers. I believe its because of this lack of marketing that many Canadians are missing out on frequent guest programs. They tend to have less restrictions than frequent flyer programs, they can provide a good rate of return, they offer flexibility in reward options and can be used to make vacations more luxurious.

Many Canadians who participate in travel reward programs seem to focus on getting that free flight but don’t realize that often the hotel they stay at can cost as much if not more than the flights themselves. The above survey also showed that more than a quarter of Canadians said that they would prefer not to travel at all than to stay at a budget hotel. This seems to stem from the general lack of knowledge that average Canadian’s have with regards to the hotel programs. Frequent travellers do have this knowledge and I would suspect they make up the majority of the 13% of Canadians who are members of one or more frequent guest programs.

Historically, for Canadians, the number one way to earn points in a hotel frequent guest program was by staying at hotels only but in the last 3-4 years we finally saw the emergence of credit cards tied to several hotel frequent guest programs. In fact five major hotel chain programs are now vying for market share in the already crowded credit card space in Canada. Those chains are Best Western Hotels (Rewards), Choice Hotels (Privileges), InterContinental Hotels Group (Priority Club), Marriott Hotels (Rewards) and Starwood Hotels (Starwood Preferred Guest).

Related: See how all the Hotel credit cards performed in our 2012 Top Travel Rewards Credit Card rankings

Which card you choose will depend on which hotel brands you like and which chain has properties in locations you tend to stay at so that you can double dip on the stay and finally where you are most likely to redeem your points for.

Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme
 Why would you choose to use a hotel frequent guest program? Well have you ever been on vacation and were staying in a budget or mid-scale hotel a few blocks off the beach and wished you were able to afford the 4 and 5 star hotels right on the beach? The frequent guest program can do that for you. Same goes if you are in an amazing city like Paris, you may not be able to afford the locations closest to the Eiffel Tower or Champs-Élysées but once again you have a better chance at staying at those locations by utilizing a hotel reward program. Think of it this way: when choosing between an airline and a hotel program (knowing that you cannot maximize the value both of them) would you rather fly in business class from Toronto to Paris and enjoy 8 hours of luxury or stay at a 5 star location and enjoy, say, 7 days of luxury? This stance may get me some heat from the frequent travellers and people who want to maximize the return on their spending but while some of us can maximize both frequent flyer and frequent guest programs, the average Canadian cannot. Another good example is a family of four with the Toronto-Paris example, it would take heaps of credit card spending and/or mileage earning scenarios to get 4 business class tickets on that route but the stay at the five star hotel does not change. In most cases its the same amount of points whether you have 1,2,3, or 4 people! 

Another reason to join one or more frequent guest programs is loyalty to your favorite airline frequent flyer program. Hotel stays have always been a good source of earning extra miles in frequent flyer program and this option can make sense for those who do not stay in hotels too frequently or are staying in a city that does not have a property participating in the hotel program of their choice. So why do you need to join a hotel program to earn airline miles? Because you have to! Most hotel chains will only award you airline miles if you are a member of their frequent guest program and have selected ‘earning miles‘ as your reward option. Very few hotels or hotel chains will accept your frequent flyer card at check in unless you sign up for their program right there and then.

Pros of Hotel Frequent Guest Programs and Hotel Frequent Guest Credit Cards:

1. Most of the redemptions can give you a mid to high rate of return on your credit card spending. As an example some numbers I have seen show up to a 7% return for certain Starwood Hotel redemptions.

2. Cash + Points: Some chains likes Starwood and IHG offer a cash+points option that allows you to redeem partial points for a stay and pay cash for the difference. This is a good benefit if you don’t have enough points to redeem for the full stay.

3. Elite Status: When you achieve elite status in a hotel program you stand to benefit from more points, complimentary room upgrades, meals, check-in amenities and more depending on the program

4. Convert to Airline Miles: All the hotel programs allow you to convert the hotel points to various airline frequent flyer programs.
5. Many hotels give their members (Elite or not) extra perks likes free wi-fi and in the case of Kimpton InTouch, minibar credits of up to $15.

Cons of Hotel Frequent Guest Programs and Hotel Frequent Guest Credit Cards:

1. They are less flexible than Travel Points Credit Cards (ie TD Visas, Amex Gold Rewards Cards, etc) as you are limited to only one or several brands of hotels and/or frequent flyer transfer partners

2. If the brand you are being loyal to has no properties in a location you are travelling to, you will lose out on earning points or you won’t be able to redeem for that area. A good example is Banff and Canmore Alberta. Huge travel destinations in their own right but you are limited in major hotel brands that have loyalty programs, in particular some of the higher end chains like Starwood, Hyatt, Marriott, or Hilton have no presence in the Canadian Rockies.

Hotel Frequent Guest Programs available to Canadians

Accor Hotels Le Club
Best Western Rewards (formerly Gold Crown Club)
Canalta Hotels Rewards
Carlson Hotels Club Carlson
Choice Hotels Privileges
Coast Hotels Coast Rewards
Delta Hotels Privilege 
Executive Hotels Executive Rewards
Fairmont President's Club
Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) Discovery
Golden Tulip Flavours
Hilton HHonors
Hyatt Gold Passport
InterContinental Hotels Group Priority Club
JAL Hotels My JALHotels
Jumeirah Sirius
Kimpton InTouch
La Quinta Returns
Leading Hotels of the World Leaders Club
Loews Hotels YouFirst
Marriott Rewards
Melia International Mas Rewards
Millennium & Copthorne Hotels Loyalty Club
NH Hotels & Resorts World
Preferred Hotel Group I Prefer
Red Lion Hotels R&R Club
Red Roof Inns Redicard
Ritz-Carlton Rewards
Rotana Rewards
Scandic Hotels Guest Programme
Shangri-La Golden Circle
Qube Hotels Q Club
Starwood Preferred Guest
Stash Hotel Rewards
Sutton Place Hotels Prestige Guest
Swissotel Club Swiss Gold
Taj Hotels InnerCircle
Travelodge Guest Rewards
Trident Hotels Privilege
Voila Hotel Rewards
Wyndham Rewards

Hotel Frequent Guest Program Credit Cards for Canadians
Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa
MBNA Best Western Platinum Plus MasterCard
MBNA Choice Privileges MasterCard
Priority Club® World MasterCard® from Capital One®
Priority Club® Platinum MasterCard® from Capital One®
The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express



  1. What about Delta Privilege?

  2. Thanks! I knew I was forgetting one (or even more) programs when I made that list last night. I will addition shortly.

  3. is Millennium a part of aroplan?

  4. I know this website gives quality based posts and other material, is there any other website which presents these things in quality?