Even for infrequent travelers, hotel loyalty programs are worth joining. Membership is free and often yields benefits right off the bat. It may be just a small perk, such as late checkout, or a true money saver such as free Internet access. Of course, the main draw is earning points toward a free night during a future getaway. Many loyalty programs span multiple chains owned by the same hotel group, and points earned at inexpensive hotels can be redeemed for free nights at higher-end properties. Points can often be put toward other travel arrangements, products, and services, or converted to frequent flyer miles with a partner airline. Just be sure you don't spend more than planned simply to accrue more points.
Cheapism.com compared 10 hotel loyalty programs to find out which makes it easiest to earn a free room. The comparison factors in the number of points awarded per dollar (which sometimes varies by hotel brand within the same company) and the cheapest redemption options. The rewards programs are ranked by the minimum amount that members must spend to earn a free night, from highest to lowest. Ties are broken by number of locations, notable perks of entry-level membership, and number of budget hotel chains, where a free night requires fewer points than a luxury hotel would command. Budget hotels often include breakfast and Wi-Fi, as well; most upscale hotels charge for these amenities.