Loyalty, as the airline industry has begun to learn, is a two-way street. As carriers slash perks and make it harder for passengers to earn (and use) miles, some frequent fliers are casting aside long-held loyalties and shopping around instead.
Hotels, however, whose loyalty programs award points based on nights and dollars spent, haven’t abandoned perks for elite members quite as readily as airlines. And even travelers who don’t have top elite status with a big hotel brand (or who prefer smaller boutique properties) can enjoy the benefits of some great, lesser-known loyalty programs. Just because a hotel is not attached to one of the big names doesn’t mean that loyalty goes unrewarded. These are some under-the-radar favorites.
Kimpton Karma. This program is a guarded secret among Kimpton fans because it awards perks from the moment you join. In addition to Kimpton’s free hosted wine hour each day for all guests, Karma members receive a $10 minibar credit during their stay. The program awards a free stay after 20 nights or seven separate stays (rather than forcing members to redeem accrued points according to an award chart). Spa discounts and possible room upgrades are also in the cards at Kimpton properties, including the Ink48 in New York and the Kimpton Gray in Chicago.
Fairmont President’s Club. Fairmont has a different kind of program that is designed to reward guests with each stay rather than waiting to achieve elite status for perks. Fairmont was one of the first hotel companies to give free wireless Internet to all of its loyalty program participants, and members score bonus airline miles with each stay, borrow fitness and workout gear so they don’t have to stuff theirs into a suitcase, and even borrow golf clubs at many properties.
Relais & Chateaux Club 5C. Few travelers realize this charming collection of boutique hotels and luxury inns maintains a fairly exclusive loyalty program. Guests who have stayed at one of the group’s hotels at least 15 nights in a 12-month period can join the program for a host of immediate perks, such as free room upgrades and invitations to local culinary or cultural events during their stay. If you’re looking for a way to take advantage of these perks without staying 15 nights, there are some shortcuts, including dining at a Relais & Chateaux restaurant 15 times or acquiring an American Express Centurion card, which provides instant membership. (Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can join after only two nights.)
Global Hotel Alliance Discovery. This loyalty program unites 35 smaller hotel brands and 550 properties into one program. These include Anantara, Avani, Kempinski, Pan Pacific, and Tivoli Hotels and Resorts. It’s free to sign up with immediate perks, including free bottled water and wireless Internet, while higher tiers add room upgrades, late check-out, and welcome amenities. The next time you find yourself checking into the majestic Tivoli Palácio de Seteais in Sintra, Portugal, or one of the four picture-perfect Anantara resorts in the Maldives, don’t forget to hand over your membership card.
Small Luxury Hotels of the World Invited. This luxury grouping of such top hotels as Hotel Sina Centurion Palace in Venice (pictured above) offers instant benefits via its loyalty program, giving guests free breakfast and complimentary wireless Internet. Those with a few more stays under their belt can qualify for room upgrades, early check-in, late check-out, and special gifts on their birthday. Staying more than six nights leads to the chance to score a free hotel night at any property in the grouping.
Preferred Hotels & Resorts iPrefer. Similar to other programs, members of this one receive instant perks, such as free wireless Internet, from the moment they sign up. For every dollar spent, members receive 10 points; 12,500 points can be redeemed for a $25 gift card to use at other family properties, including the Lake Como celebrity magnet Grand Hotel Tremezzo. This program is free to join and comes with late check-out and room upgrades, when available.
Sandos4U. All-inclusive vacationers headed to Mexico or Spain can participate in this free program that provides immediate on-site discounts at Sandos resorts. Those who visit more frequently can enjoy perks such as welcome gifts and priority restaurant reservations.
Leading Hotels of the World Leaders Club. Participation in this hefty reward program costs $150 a year, but generous properties like Saigon’s stunning Reverie hotel will give a complimentary one-year membership to loyal guests. With the card come room-category upgrades, free breakfast for two each day, and early check-in and late check-out. Members can earn one free night at any hotel after five stays, and they can have their luggage shipped to any property for free.