How to use Hotels.com as your back-up hotel rewards scheme
The booking site's "free nights" offer makes it an appealing option when your preferred chain isn't available.
Hotel loyalty schemes are just like airline frequent flyer schemes: if you want to maximise your status and score perks like upgrades and free rooms, you need to stick with the same brand all the time. Your chances of progressing to higher tiers and scoring those sweet bonuses are minimal to non-existent if you don't commit to a chain and always book with it when possible.
There are ways to boost your status that don't involve stays. For instance, the Hilton Honors Macquarie Platinum card will automatically get you Hilton Honors Gold status. The first time you qualify for Velocity Platinum, you'll get a year's Hilton Honors Diamond. But you'll still need to be regularly staying in a Hilton to really take advantage of either of those.
The problem is that very few brands have hotels everywhere you might want to travel. This issue's particularly pronounced in Australia, which has far fewer hotels from major US chains like Hilton, Marriott and IHG in our capital cities.
The biggest hotel chain in Australia is Accor, which runs the Ibis, Sofitel, Mercure, Novotel and Pullman brands (amongst others). Its proposed merger with serviced apartment giant Mantra will be voted on by shareholders next month and seems likely to go through, making it even more dominant. If you're regularly travelling in Australia, then a Le Club AccorHotels membership is likely to be a sensible move, and it's what I've opted for as my main hotel loyalty scheme.
Even then, I often run into locations where there's no Accor property, or where the pricing is so high that it's not worth it. And that's where booking through Hotels.com can make sense.
While there are plenty of sites that offer similar booking services, the feature that makes Hotels.com attractive to points hunters like me is that it offers a bonus Rewards night after you've booked 10 nights through the service.
The value of the Rewards night is based on an average of the 10 previous bookings you've made and can be used for almost any room that the site has on offer. There are occasional exclusions, but I've not found it a problem to redeem nights when I want to.
The scheme's free to join and doesn't charge booking fees, so there's not much risk. I'm paranoid enough to double-check the prices to see if I can score a better deal elsewhere, but that hasn't been an issue either.
Having Hotels.com as my back-up scheme means I can keep maximising my Accor loyalty when possible, but know I'm getting something extra from my booking when Accor rooms aren't a choice. If you're regularly on the road, it's definitely an option worth exploring.
Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on finder.com.au.