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.

What is the range of redemption options? You can earn and redeem points at more than 1,000 properties around the world starting at 2,000 Starpoints. But the best properties have a point premium, starting at 60,000 Starpoints per night depending on the hotel, its category, its room types, the time of year, and/or its mandatory requirements. You can also redeem points for room and suite upgrades as well as award flights without blackout dates on hundreds of airlines worldwide.

How easy is it to use? Properties that require a point premium (categories 5-7) can only be booked over the phone through a customer service center, not online. You can, however, ibook awards at standard properties online, over the phone, or at the hotel.

What are the fees? There are no membership fees, and no fees for transferring points to another member within the same household. There's no fee for changing an award, but if a property has a late cancellation fee and you fail to show up, you'll be responsible for it.

Are there any blackout dates associated with travel? No, not when you're redeeming points, but blackout dates may apply for bookings made using a combination of cash and points or when points are used for upgrades.

What partnerships does this reward program offer? Earn and redeem points with Amtrak, charity partners UNICEF and The American Red Cross, more than 350 airlines, two rental-car agencies, magazines, and several retail partners including Gap and Williams-Sonoma.

Are there special promotions available only to members? The website spg.com offers numerous members-only promotions, which may include room discounts and opportunities to earn triple Starpoints. Several other programs like On Tour with SPG and Starwood's Moments offer exclusive experiences only bookable with Starpoints.

What are some other perks? Additional perks kick in only after you reach elite status, but any member can redeem points for four nights at a higher-end property (Category 3 and higher) and get a fifth night free. There's also a separate toll-free customer service number for each of the three Preferred Guest levels.

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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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