Earn free flights while you sleep

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Photo: Hilton
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on August 16, 2005. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Erica Silverstein, frequent flyer, mileage earning.

Earning frequent flyer miles shouldn't begin and end with your airline flight miles. Another major way to boost your account on your next trip is to earn miles for hotel stays.

How to earn miles for hotel stays

The major U.S. airlines and many of the low-cost ones allow you to earn frequent flyer miles in their loyalty programs for hotel stays. And, most of the major hotel chains partner with at least one (if not all) of the airlines. With this combination, there's a good chance that you'll be able to earn miles on your preferred airline at your preferred hotel.

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Some hotels award a set number of miles per visit, such as Hyatt, which offers 500 miles per stay. Others offer a few miles per dollar spent on hotel charges; for instance, you can earn 2.5 miles per dollar spent at Holiday Inn or Crowne Plaza properties.

To earn these miles, you'll need to present your frequent flyer account number when you make your reservations or when you check in, depending on the hotel. You might want to give your account number at both reservation and check-in to make absolutely sure that you'll get the miles for your stay.

Hotel loyalty programs

Some hotels have their own loyalty programs, allowing you to earn points toward a free hotel stay or miles toward a free airline flight. The biggest programs are Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards, Hilton HHonors, Hyatt Gold Passport, and Priority Club Rewards. In most cases, you have to choose whether you want to earn points or miles because you can't earn both.

In order to earn points or miles, you may need to join the hotel's loyalty program and designate your points- or miles-earning preference in your profile. With these hotel groups, you'll need to present your hotel loyalty program account number when you make your reservation or when you check in. Your miles or points will automatically post to your account, based on the designation in your profile.

When you make a hotel reservation, it's always a good idea to ask if the hotel has a loyalty program and to join that program in advance. You'll ensure that you get your miles and that you won't have to start filling out paperwork in your hotel lobby during your trip.

More hotel strategy

Hilton HHonors is the only program that lets you earn both frequent flyer miles and hotel points, and you have three options for your earning. You can earn 10 HHonors points and one airline mile per dollar spent, 10 HHonors points per dollar and 500 miles per stay (100 miles per stay at Hampton and Scandic hotels), or 15 HHonors points per dollar spent and no miles. You can change your preferred earning style at any time to maximize the number of points or miles you can earn. Hilton Hotels are therefore a great option for travelers who don't want to choose between earning miles or points.

On the other hand, some travelers believe that with the increasing costs of hotel stays (especially in foreign countries where the U.S. dollar is weak) and the difficulty of finding available award seats, you'll get better value by earning points toward free hotel stays rather than miles toward free flights. The choice may ultimately depend on what your travel goals are, but you can read our article for more reasons why you may want to consider earning points instead of miles.

For information about hotel partners and earning procedures, visit SmarterTravel.com's Mile Finder.

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