Unlike the diminishing returns many travellers face with airline frequent flyer schemes, a good hotel reward program really can offer you a great deal of benefits providing excellent value. Basically, the more times you choose to stay at a particular hotel or chain, the faster you'll be rewarded for your loyalty.
This post gives you a few pointers on how to quickly build up this loyalty as well as offering advice on where to find the best deals on hotel bookings.
Scanning Your Options:
The good thing is that compared to frequent flyer programs, it's much easier to play the field of hotels and to obtain a VIP status with a variety of loyalty schemes. Right off the bat, Virgin Australia's Velocity frequent flyer scheme sees Velocity Gold members being offered a choice of statuses. You can opt for either Gold status with Hilton HHonors or Gold Elite with IHG Rewards Club. Meanwhile, Virgin's top level Platinum flyers get to choose between Hilton HHonors Diamond or IHG Platinum Elite status.
So which option should you choose? In most cases you'll probably find Hilton HHonors offers better value than IHG Rewards Club on account of them offering (at both the Diamond/Platinum and Gold levels) free breakfast, executive lounge access and even room upgrades for Gold cardholders. Although, you should consider the number of hotels for each chain in the cities you visit most often.
One thing worth pointing out with the Hilton HHonors Diamond status though is that it's only valid for half a year, and not a full year as with the other three statuses. In addition, getting this free hotel status will only be offered when you initially join the Virgin Australia Velocity Gold or Platinum scheme. Thereafter you'll need to build and maintain your loyalty status at a particular chain as any other client would have to.
Monitor Special Promotions And Ask for "Status Matches":
As you attempt to collect as many hotel status cards as possible the key thing is to watch for promotions which give you an immediate high-level status. Accor appears to do this quite regularly with it's Le Club Accorhotels scheme with its upfront "welcome treats" at hotels such as Sofitel and Novotel. But you don't need to wait around for these free status offers to appear, as it's possible to utilise any existing Platinum or Gold status you have with one hotel chain to achieve the same or similar status (by requesting a status match) at a dozen other chains.
What your current loyalty status gives you is a kind of bargaining tool when approaching a new chain about their loyalty scheme tiering. This works particularly well if your Platinum/Gold status is tied to a chain which is part of a larger alliance (e.g Global Hotel Alliance with its 22 upscale and luxury regional hotel brands from across the world). This is because other hotels in that family will generally honour your status.
In most cases, to request an equivalent status from a hotel you'll simply need to email them a digital photo or scanned copy of your existing Gold or Platinum card. Your most recent activity statement is also something that works in this respect. As with airlines, hotel chains are usually up for a bit of frequent visitor poaching. Just don't forget to show your scheme-savvy side when communicating with them and get to know the ins-and-outs of their scheme beforehand too. A good opening line would be something like "I understand that my UberDiamond status with Hotel Chain X is equivalent to the SkyHighPlatinum tier at your Hotel Chain Y".
Where To Find The Best Hotel Rates:
If you're quick you can make use of this 40% off promo at selected Accor hotels and resorts across Australia (book by 12pm AEDT 14th March 2014). Otherwise Webjet are always a good option to start with when looking for the most competitive hotel booking rates as they often have multiple coupon codes available which give you decent discounts. I recommend you take a quick look at this recent post on Buckscoop which gives a great overview of Webjet's coupons including their frequency of issue, discount levels, conditions etc.
I also shared some tips on how to find the best deals on hotels in a blog post last year, which you can see here. Inside it mentions a nifty little trick that I've used numerous times on HotelClub.com's website to double up on discounts by taking advantage of their "mobile only" deals.
One hotel comparison website I find particularly useful is the travel metasearch engine Trivago.com.au. The search results you get, after entering your intended destination and travel dates, are displayed in a way that's very easy to quickly spot the best rates across all the major hotel booking websites - e.g Booking.com, Expedia, Lastminute, Olotel.com, Hotels.com etc.