Six hotel loyalty programs offering instant rewards

Sign up to these under-the-radar reward programs and start enjoying benefits right away.

By Staff Writers, March 7 2024
Six hotel loyalty programs offering instant rewards

Hotel loyalty programs, by their very nature, are about playing the long game. They’re about repeat business; an encouragement for frequent travellers to stay, play, feast and work their way up the status ladder, unlocking more valuable perks as they progress.

In some ways, this can make loyalty programs seem like a never-ending hustle of chasing down and redeeming points and miles. Yet there are faster alternatives.

Smaller brands (think more QT Hotel or The Langham than Holiday Inn) sometimes eschew convoluted currency systems entirely, offering valuable perks – like that princely morning meal – for anyone who signs up.

This makes them a welcome complement to known commodities such as Marriott Bonvoy, Accor ALL or Hilton Honors, whose good stuff (namely upgrades, free breakfast, and late checkout) doesn’t kick in until you attain a certain level of hard-won elite status.

Here are six under-the-radar, free-to-join programs that provide instant travel gratification.

Discovery, by Global Hotels Alliance

The network: similar to an airline alliance, this is a network of 40 or so small brands including Anantara; Kempinski; Pan Pacific Hotels and Resorts; and Capella Hotels and Resorts, which add up to more than 800 hotels globally (read our detailed guide here).

The immediate perks: joining this program means heading to the front of the upgrade line, plus the option to check in early or check out late with no additional charge.

The longer game: it takes only two stays or US$1,000 in spending to unlock Gold status, which awards bonus points. The highest tier, Titanium, can be achieved with 30 nights – US$15,000 – or stays at just three individual brands within the calendar year.

That last one is the kicker. By staying at just three different brands, even the cheaper ones of the program, Titanium status can be yours in just three nights.

Unlock it and you’ll get a rare prize: double room upgrades, where you jump two levels in room category, and a welcome amenity that varies by property but can include wine or a local souvenir.

Abu Dhabi's exquisite Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.
Abu Dhabi's exquisite Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.

Leaders Club, by the Leading Hotels of the World (LHW)

The network: more than 400 of the world’s finest hotels, including such grande dames as the Ritz Paris, Villa Magna in Madrid, and La Mamounia in Marrakech.

The immediate perks: members receive automatic free continental breakfast for two, Wi-Fi, and priority room upgrades upon arrival. And if you sign up online, you’ll bank an annual upgrade to apply to any single reservation on a pre-arrival basis, pending availability.

The longer game: the program used to charge US$175 a year for membership because its perks were so generous; last year, it nixed the fee while maintaining the benefits, and those perks escalate the more money you spend at LHW hotels.

Earn one point for every eligible dollar (up to three rooms at a time) and then redeem increments of 4,000 points for free nights. Spend at least $5,000 within the calendar year to unlock Leaders Club Sterling, which adds five pre-arrival upgrades to your balance.

Priority Guest Rewards, by EVT

The network: a stable of more than 80 hotels across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, including personality-rich brands like QT Hotels and Atura, Rydges Hotels & Resorts, and an extensive ‘Independant Collection’

The immediate perks: new members receive a 20% discount on dining and drinks, in addition to early 9am check-in at select hotels and late check-out of 1pm, subject to availability. From there, perks increase sharply.

The longer game: the program sees every member start at the Gold tier, from which you can jump to Platinum by staying five times (unlocking 3pm check-out in the process), followed by Black with 10 stays. The latter gives you a 6pm checkout and 50% off dining.

Members earn points in line with their tier status (that’s 10 for Gold, 15 for Platinum and 20 for Black), which can be redeemed on free dining or a bottle of wine from 40 points, or a free night from 150.

The whimsical QT Sydney is part of the EVT stable.
The whimsical QT Sydney is part of the EVT stable.

I Prefer Hotel Rewards, by Preferred Hotels & Resorts

The network: more than 700 properties across 85 countries. These include such well-known five-stars as Wynn Las Vegas; Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como, Italy; and the Post Oak Hotel in Houston.

In addition, there are 100 Preferred Residences - think beachfront condos in Turks and Caicos and swanky Manhattan apartments where members can earn and redeem points.

The immediate perks: new members enjoy early check-in and late check-out privileges, room upgrades when available, and free Wi-Fi. The first of those may be the most covetable – the ability to check into a hotel first thing in the morning after a long overnight flight is priceless.

The longer game: this is the world’s largest point-based program for independent hotels. Unlike major hotel programs in which you’re accruing points and miles that can be exchanged for dynamically priced rewards, this system is refreshingly straightforward.

For every US$1 of eligible spending at Preferred properties, you’ll earn 10 points, which can be redeemed for discounts on future stays.

Rack up 25,000 points within a calendar year to attain Explorer status, which earns you free welcome amenities (a bottle of wine or local souvenir, depending on the hotel) plus bonus points.

Brilliant, by Langham

The network: more than three dozen Langham and Cordis Hotels around the world, largely in such big cities as London, Gold Coast, New York, Sydney, and Melbourne.

The immediate perks: each time you stay at a participating hotel you earn points at a rate of 150 points per US$5 spent across dining, spa treatments et al. New members signing up for the first time unlock 5% discounts on dining, in addition to VIP event invites.

The longer game: making your way up the ladder isn’t quite as easy as some of Brilliant’s rivals, with points only earned through spend. Topaz can be unlocked at 12,000 points (~US$400 spend), while the next rung Diamond is yours at 108,000. Bonus points can be yours from Topaz and above.

Sapphire status (360,000 points) is where the real perks kick in – a room upgrade voucher, dining credit, welcome drink and 2pm late check-out, to name a handful. This is followed by Ruby at 720,000, with 50% bonus points, 4pm checkout and a welcome gift all included. 

Points can also be converted to Asia Miles in the Cathay frequent flyer program, meaning travellers who don’t quite land enough to enjoy status can still put points to good use. More partner airlines are expected to follow. 

The Langham Gold Coast is one of three Australian properties, alongside Sydney and Melbourne.
The Langham Gold Coast is one of three Australian properties, alongside Sydney and Melbourne.

Invited, by Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH)

The network: more than 520 boutique hotels around the world in more than 90 countries—all vetted by inspectors against a rigorous, 750-point quality control checklist including everything from the posture of staff to bathroom water pressure.

On the roster are Villa Orsula and Hotel Excelsior, both just steps from the old town in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and The Tokyo Station Hotel, which delivers old-world elegance in abundance.

The immediate perks: with advance notice you can be guaranteed early check-ins at 12pm and check out as late as 2pm, plus free Wi-Fi. And the benefits escalate quickly: Qualifying for elite status often happens on your first trip.

The longer game: when staying at least four nights, members earn “Inspired” status, which adds free room upgrades, pending availability. “Indulged” status kicks in if you book 13 nights per year (or spend US$6,000) and comes with invitations to special events and a free-night voucher.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg Media.

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