BUDGET TRAVEL ADVICE

The Breakdown on 8 Membership Programs

Can't decide if it's worth joining a hotel or airline loyalty program? We took eight of the most popular rewards programs and found out exactly how they work—from how long it really takes to get rewards to all the additional perks you get by being brand loyal.

Are there special promotions available only to members? The Marriott Rewards website offers numerous members-only promotions, including reduced rates at specific hotels, opportunities to earn bonus points, and discounts with partners.

What are some other perks? Redeem points for four nights at one property, and you'll get a fifth night free; otherwise, a few extra perks are available, but most start at elite status.

IHG's PRIORITY CLUB REWARDS
What kind of rewards do you get? Points, which you can convert to airline miles or redeem for free hotel stays; Any Hotel, Anywhere AmEx cards, which can be used like cash at any hotel; Hertz car rentals; gift cards for stores like Banana Republic; iTunes gift cards; and golf equipment. You can also convert your points into a donation to one of several charities, including the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. And you can trade points for merchandise like iPods, Victorinox watches, and magazine subscriptions. Don't see what you want? Use the Priority Club Concierge: You tell them what you want, and they tell you how many points you need.

How long does it take to get rewards? Digital Rewards (music, games, and computer software downloads) start at 1,200 points, so even beginners can cash in. You'll rack up 10 Priority Club Points for every $1 at select Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza, and InterContinental Hotels around the world, and 5 Priority Club Points for ever $1 spent at Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites, or earn points when shopping with their partners.

What is the range of redemption options? None of IHG's luxury properties are off-limits-book  a room in almost any destination using your points through IHG's new Hotels Anywhere program. Or you can redeem points for Any Hotel, Anywhere AmEx cards, which can be used like cash at any hotel. Members can also earn points through the Priority Club Shopping website or by visiting certain restaurants through their Dining program.

How easy is it to use? Booking reward nights online is easy, and there's also a dedicated Priority Club Rewards 800-number, so you can redeem your points over the phone at no charge. They also have apps for the iPhone as well as on Android platforms, Google TV, and Kindle Fire so you can have access on the go.

What are the fees? No membership fees are charged. For Hotels Anywhere reservations, there's a minimum $35 fee for any changes or cancellations to a booking, plus any resort fees are extra. A $5 fee is charged for every 1,000 points transferred to another member's account. And when you redeposit points, a processing fee may apply.

Are there any blackout dates associated with travel? No.

What partnerships does this reward program offer? Tons. Earn points with most major airlines (you can opt to earn airline miles instead of hotel points), Hertz, USA Today, FTD, Fedex, and more. An exclusive Priority Club Select Visa card lets you earn points for purchases on the card.

Are there special promotions available only to members? Members have access to PointBreaks rewards, allowing them to book rooms at specific hotels for just 5,000 points. Another program, Last Minute Reward Nights, lets members redeem points at a 50% discounted rate than the usual point redemption rate one weekend per month. Earn 1,000 bonus points this summer when you stay in any IHG hotel thru Sept. 3, 2012-and an extra 250 points per stay for booking through priorityclub.com or through their Priority Club Rewards Mobile App.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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