A few weeks ago I reviewed several online travel agency (OTA) rewards programs and concluded that Hotels.com was probably the bet choice for travelers as long as you don’t mind limiting yourself to hotel bookings. It offers a ~16% return if you stack it’s rewards program with booking portals. But there are also rewards programs that bring together a collection of smaller independent hotels.
I mention Stash Hotel Rewards because it has at least one advocate — my father, who spends two to three nights near SFO every week but can’t find a hotel he likes in the area. Keep in mind he’s an ornery guy who won’t drive more than 5 miles from the office even though the reason he’s down there is to avoid a 75-mile drive back to his home near Santa Rosa. I have tried and failed to convince him of the merits of SPG and Hyatt Gold Passport though he could easily be a top-tier elite in both programs. Clearly this frustrates me. But he has found a small hotel affiliated with Stash that stands out above the rest.
Instead of using an account number, you need to use the same email address when you book on the hotel’s website and create your account on stashrewards.com. And the points are a somewhat fixed-value currency like Southwest’s Rapid Rewards and Virgin America’s Elevate, which means it’s difficult to game the system (exact values fluctuate with demand).
You’ll earn 5 points per dollar and can redeem them at a rate of about 1.27 cents per point calculated from a fake stay I picked at random (I couldn’t find a exact number to reference). Loyalty Traveler did another review of Stash a few months ago and found a valuation of 1.5 cents per point. Since I trust Ric, I’ll go with that. It provides an effective return of 7.5% back on every stay.
With the exception of Hotels.com, 7.5% is better than most of the other OTAs I reviewed, and you can still use your Chase Sapphire Preferred or other rewards card to book the stay and earn more points. Still, we are faced with a decision between two rewards programs that offer very little room for manipulation. Hotels.com gives you 16% back at almost any hotel as long as you book through their portal; many Stash hotels are included in their search results. Stash Hotel Rewards gives you 7.5% back and only at their hotels.
The caveat is that Stash also offers many promotions to its members. If you stand a chance at earning 2X or 3X points through one of these deals, then 7.5% might become 15% or more. It’s no longer so clear who is better. But looking at my dad’s case, I doubt he will track the specials, and he might decide he wants to use his credits somewhere else where Stash doesn’t have a participating hotel. For those reasons, if my dad wants to continue staying at his favorite independent hotel, I think he should start booking through Hotels.com.