Your love may not be for sale, but your loyalty could be. That is, your loyalty to hotel programs. For business travelers, all those weeks on the road in windowless conference rooms pay off when it's time to book your personal vacay. Nothing beats a bonus of cold, hard cash, but tax-free hotel points earned on your employer's dime can give that restricted deferred stock a run for its money. Whether it's for business or pleasure, staying consistently in one hotel group can equate to free nights and perks that deserve a place on your personal balance sheet.
Choose the right hotel group, and free nights are just the tip of the iceberg. The more you stay the more VIP you become, with room upgrades, late check-outs, welcome gifts, free Wi-Fi and even the chance to glide past the velvet rope. Some hotels build algorithms to game the point system, but luckily you don't have to be a mathematician to figure it out. Here's the scoop on those who are worthy of your affection.
Starwood Preferred Guest
The Scoop: Yes, this one is low-hanging fruit, but with over 1,000 hotels -- and many, like the Westin and the W, that fit within corporate budgets -- it's a solid portfolio. Starwood is often the program of choice for hardcore road warriors.
Status: Basic status is Preferred, from where you accrue points to move up the Starwood ladder. You reach Gold status if you stay 25 nights/year or 10 qualified stays. As a Gold member, you get room upgrades, three points for every $1 spent, late check-out and a welcome gift. The big hitters at Starwood are the Platinums who stay over 50 nights/25 qualified stays. Platinums get the additional perks of a dedicated reservation line and your choice of gifts depending upon locale.
Rock Star Benefit: With no blackout dates, you'll actually get to use those points. Also, American Express Platinum Card members get automatic Gold status, so you're ahead of the game in achieving Platinum. Lifetime Platinum status is available for those on the road 500 nights total or who are Platinum members for any 10 years.
Fave Hotels: The St. Regis and Luxury Hotel Collections in Italy. There's something profoundly satisfying about staying gratis in a $500-plus room.
Hyatt Gold Passport
The Scoop: Of all the programs, this is the dark horse. It has one of the lowest thresholds to achieve status, and one of the fastest points accrual per dollar spent.
Status: You start out with Gold status, where you earn five points for every dollar spent. After five stays or 15 nights, you achieve Platinum status, which qualifies for 30 percent bonus points, 2 p.m. late check-out and guaranteed rooms within 72 hours of your stay. Step it up to Diamond to get access to the Executive Lounge, more room upgrades, 4 p.m. check-outs and guaranteed rooms within 48 hours of your stay.
Rock Star Benefit: No blackout dates and points can be redeemed at the chic Park Hyatts worldwide.
Fave Hotels: The Park Hyatt Hotels, especially the Park Hyatt Paris Vendￃﾴme and being lost in translation at the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
The Scoop: With clients and companies watching budgets, the Marriott is almost always on the approved list. For those who have the pleasure of traveling to Rust Belt cities in the U.S., there's never a Marriott too far away.
Status: Achieve Silver status at just 10 nights/year, which gets you 20 percent bonus points on stays. For Gold members, you get 25 percent bonus points, room upgrades when available, breakfast and Hertz Gold membership. Platinum members get a 50 percent bonus and some special love in the form of a welcome gift on arrival.
Rock Star Benefit: Marriott points are redeemable at the Ritz Carltons. Hello upgrade.
Fave Hotels: The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, for the bagpipes they play at dusk, and the Hotel Arts in Barcelona, which is even better than a Ritz Carlton. The clientele is gorgeous and you can rub elbows with celebs on the Club Room floors.
The Leaders Club
The Scoop: If you travel on the high-end and don't have an American Express Platinum or Centurion Card, the Leaders Club from the Leading Hotels of the World will get you hooked up at the best hotels. Think access to places where Reese Witherspoon spent her honeymoon in Positano, or where Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel were married in Puglia.
Status: For this program, you pay to play. You don't need to be a road warrior to get status and you have a much wider selection of boutique and individually owned hotels around the world. There are two levels -- a $150 membership and a $1,200 membership (which includes golf benefits and limited airport transfers), though this one's a little rich for our blood.
Rock Star Benefit: Free breakfast, which at these hotels can run around 100 Euro/day, welcome gift, room upgrade and invitations to Leaders Club events, which most recently included a night at Le Bernardin in NYC hosted by the famed La Mamounia in Marrakech.
Fave Hotels: La Sirenuse in Positano and the Borgo Egnazia in Puglia.
The Morgans Hotel Group Global Club Card
The Scoop: The most exclusive of the loyalty programs, the Morgans Hotel Group Global Club Card is reserved for tastemakers, very frequent guests and those who have Gold status or above on Virgin Airlines.
Status: To get the card is a status symbol in itself. Part of the key in getting the keys to the kingdom is knowing to ask for it. There is no information on the website about the loyalty program, so consider yourself part of the circle of trust for reading this article.
Rock Star Benefit: Flash one of these cards and you're whisked past the velvet rope at their clubs like Skybar in Miami, and treated VIP all the way. Cardholders also receive a free night at any new hotel around the world, and for those spurious hookups, a hotel no-tell rate of $100 or ￂﾣ100 per night past 10 p.m., subject to availability.
Fave Hotels: The rooms are collateral to the consistently great bar scenes, restaurants and common spaces. My favorite experiences are the pool at the Delano and Skybar in Miami and L.A. for late-night debauchery.