Hotel Freebies

If you're willing to play favorites, even the most infrequent traveler can reap the rewards of hotel loyalty programs.

Consumer Reports money adviser says hotels in all price ranges are playing the rewards game in order to generate repeat business.

Tobie Stanger, Consumer Reports, says "All the plans we checked out were free, and they made it really easy to enroll. You could either do it by phone, online, or even in person at the hotel."

You can collect points through hotel stays or from everyday spending, typically at a rate of three to ten points for every dollar you spend.

Points for a free night vary.

Hyatt gold passport members can earn a free night with as few as 5,000 points. Hilton honors and Marriott rewards start at 7,500 points. And Best Western gold crown club at 8,000 points.

Many programs also allow you to convert points into airline miles, restaurant certificates and even retail merchandise. Other perks?

Stanger says, "Members are often told first about special deals and members-only discounts." And there are other special benefits, like free newspapers and health-club privileges.

With the Fairmont hotel chain's "president's club," you even have free use of workout clothes, sneakers, and a loaded mp3 player.

But there are caveats. Many of these programs will not give you points if you book through a third party like Travelocity or Expedia, and they often have blackout dates, so you may not be able to book using your points during the holidays.

However, with a little planning, getting a free night or two can lead to sweet dreams, indeed.

How do you decide which hotel loyalty program to join? If you have a favorite hotel chain, Consumer Reports says, go with that one. But if you stay at different hotels, depending on your destination, or how much a room costs, read up on the different programs to find one that best suits you and your travel itinerary.

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