On a recent trip to Paris, it wasn’t the elaborate Michelin-starred dinners that blew my mind, but the breakfast at the Ritz. A parade of baskets filled with flaky croissants and pain au chocolat, silver platters of sliced fruit and light-as-air eggs were all elegantly displayed on starched white linens in a glass-encased conservatory.
The best part: it cost me nothing. As a new member of the Leaders Club loyalty program, which I joined for free just before my stay, the €66 ($73 USD) breakfast was included from my first morning in Paris to the last.
Loyalty programs can seem like an endless bustle of chasing and redeeming points and miles.
But smaller brands sometimes eschew these monetary systems altogether, offering valuable perks — like that princely morning meal — to anyone who signs up.
That makes it a welcome addition to well-known products like Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors, whose goodies (namely upgrades, free breakfast, and late checkout) only trigger when you reach a certain status level. hard-earned elite.
Here are five low-key, free programs that offer instant travel gratification.
Leaders Club, by the Leading Hotels of the World (LHW)
The network: more than 400 of the best hotels in the world, including grand dames like the Ritz Paris, Villa Magna in Madrid and La Mamounia in Marrakech.
The immediate benefits: members automatically receive free continental breakfast for two, WiFi, and priority room upgrades upon arrival. And if you register online, you’ll receive an annual upgrade to be applied to any single booking prior to arrival, subject to availability.
The longer game: the program charged US$175 per year for membership because its benefits were so generous; last year it removed fees while maintaining benefits, and those benefits increase the more you spend at LHW hotels.
Earn one point for every qualifying dollar (up to three rooms at a time), then redeem increments of 4,000 points for free nights. Spend at least $5,000 during the calendar year to unlock the Leaders Club Sterling, which adds five pre-arrival upgrades to your balance.
I Prefer Hotel Rewards, by Preferred Hotels & Resorts
The network: more than 700 properties in 85 countries. These include well-known five stars like Wynn Las Vegas; Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como, Italy; and the Post Oak Hotel in Houston.
Plus, there are 100 favorite residences — think beachfront condos in the Turks and Caicos Islands and swanky apartments in Manhattan where members can earn and redeem points.
The immediate benefits: new members enjoy early check-in and late check-out privileges, room upgrades when available, and free Wi-Fi. The first of these is perhaps the most coveted – the ability to check into a hotel first thing in the morning after a long overnight flight is priceless.
The longer game: it is the world’s largest points-based program for independent hotels. Unlike major hotel programs where you earn points and miles that can be redeemed for dynamically priced rewards, this system is refreshingly simple.
For every $1 of qualifying spend at preferred properties, you’ll earn 10 points, which can be redeemed for discounts on future stays.
Earn 25,000 points in a calendar year to achieve Explorer status, which earns you free welcome amenities (a bottle of wine or a local souvenir, depending on the hotel) as well as bonus points.
Guest, by Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH)
The network: more than 520 boutique hotels worldwide in more than 90 countries, all checked by inspectors against a rigorous 750-point quality checklist, ranging from staff posture to bathroom water pressure bath. On the list are Villa Orsula and Hotel Excelsior, both within walking distance of Old Town Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Refinery Hotel in New York.
The immediate benefits: with advance notice, you can be assured of an early check-in at noon and check-out until 2 p.m., as well as free Wi-Fi. And the benefits add up quickly: earning elite status often happens on your first trip.
The longer game: when staying at least four nights, members earn “Inspired” status, which adds complimentary room upgrades, based on availability. Indulgent status kicks in if you book 13 nights a year (or spend $6,000) and comes with invites to special events and a free night voucher.
Discovery, by Global Hotels Alliance
The network: similar to an airline alliance, it is a network of 35 small brands including Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas; Kempinsky; Pan Pacific Hotels and Resorts; and Tivoli Hotels and Resorts, which total 550 hotels worldwide. They include some of the best places to stay in Thailand, Singapore, Portugal and beyond.
The immediate benefits: joining this program means heading to the front of the upgrade line, plus the option of early check-in or late check-out at no additional cost.
The longer game: it only takes two stays or US$1,000 in spend to unlock Gold status, which awards bonus points. The highest tier, Titanium, can be achieved with 30 nights – $15,000 – or stays at three individual brands during the calendar year.
Unlock it and you’ll get a rare prize: double room upgrades, where you jump two levels in room category, and a welcome gift that varies by property but can include wine or a local souvenir.
1865 Privilege, by Langham
The network: more than three dozen Langham and Cordis hotels around the world, primarily in major cities such as London, New York, Chicago and Melbourne.
The immediate benefits: in addition to guaranteed late departure, members benefit from a return channel to earn airline points. Since 1865 does not use a points system, it allows members to set up their accounts in conjunction with loyalty programs, including those from American, Delta, and United. You’ll earn 500 miles per night for up to three nights per trip.
The longer game: after three qualifying stays (or nine nights) in a given calendar year, members qualify for potential room upgrades and fruit plates upon arrival. Notching five stays or 15 nights boosts welcome amenities and adds a suite upgrade voucher.
This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here