Loyalty Traveler outlines the new Hotels.com rewards program called Welcome Rewards. Basically one free night up to $400 for every 10 nights booked at an eligible property (each of wihch must be at a rate of at least $40).
That’s pretty good value for folks who aren’t brand loyal. In most cases you give up in-hotel points-earning in a hotel’s own program for the rate booked at Hotels.com. So these can be either-or, Hotels.com program OR Starwood points/stay credit.
Folks coveting elite status for the upgrades won’t find this useful. But if you bounce around chains, you may see a free room night more quickly via Hotels.com than from your various hotel loyalty programs. And you can chase the best rate, independent of brand loyalty now. Loyalty to the booking site matters under this program, not loyalty to hotel brand.
The online booking agencies are beginning to get serious about their loyalty programs. To date they’ve been fairly unrewarding, at least in my experience with the Orbitz and Expedia VIP programs (a special customer service number, some marginally useful benefits at best, and some extra marketing emails). And Expedia’s tie-in with Thank You Rewards is better than nothing (and better than Loyalty Traveler suggests — $5000 in spend should earn you $150 in travel, not a $50 gift certificate if you use the program correctly). But this is undoubtedly the strongest move to date.