With the continuing devaluation of airline loyalty programs, consumers have increasingly focused on alternative rewards options, including hotel programs and cash-back credit cards.
Viewed as rebate schemes, loyalty programs generally deliver discounts of between 1 and 2 percent. This makes a program promising a 10 percent return look awfully attractive, and that is exactly what welcomerewards, the new frequent-stay program from hotels.com, does. The claim: "Get 1 free night anywhere for every 10 nights you book." In fact, depending on the price of the qualifying stays, the potential rebate is considerably more than 10 percent.
Participating in welcomerewards is refreshingly straightforward. After enrolling in the program, hotels.com customers earn one credit for every night booked at a hotel covered by the company's Price Match Guarantee and costing $40 or more. Of the approximately 80,000 individual properties available through hotels.com, about 35,000 carry the guarantee. Even with the limitation to a subset of hotels.com's total inventory, the number of participating hotels far exceeds that of even the largest programs operated by hotel chains.
Once 10 credits have been earned, they can be redeemed for a free room night, with a published rate of up to $400, at a hotels.com hotel. There are no blackout dates to contend with.
Credits remain active as long as the member has account activity—either earning or using credits—every 18 months.
While policies vary, in some cases travelers can earn points for the same stay in both the hotels.com program and the hotel's own program. Hilton, for example, does not award HHonors points for bookings made through hotels.com or other third-party websites. Marriott, on the other hand, does.
Overall, welcomerewards is everything a rewards program should be. It's simple. It's generous. And it's free of the tangle of niggling restrictions, requirements, and fees that makes so many loyalty programs a test of consumers' endurance. The program is aptly named.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns hotels.com.)