When it comes to hotels, devotion pays in points and perks. To lure and maintain customers, hotels are developing or upping the stakes of guest recognition programs. Similar to frequent-flyer programs, hotel loyalty programs are intricate and disparate when it comes to determining elite levels, earning points, and redeeming rewards. But the bottom line is the same: Loyalty pays off, and often in a big way. Free upgrades, bonus miles, welcome amenities, and 4 p.m. checkouts are just the beginning. Thankfully, these programs are no longer just for large chains; independents, boutiques, and even exclusive high-end hotels are getting in on the act.

First-timers. Even if you don’t ever plan to reach elite status, many free-to-join loyalty programs offer entry-level perks. Basic members of Kimpton’s InTouch program get free Internet access and two minibar items, while Fairmont President’s Club members receive free Internet, local calls, health club access, and spa discounts.

Elite Climbers. Naturally, the more nights you bank, the better the benefits. Achieving the highest elite level facilitates incredible suite upgrades (based on availability), bonus points, and the use of dedicated concierges. Hyatt Diamond status in the Hyatt Passport Gold program or Starwood Platinum status in the Starwood Preferred Guest program arrives after 25 unique stays or 50 total nights (note: Starwood counts free stays toward elite status). Other programs like Marriott Rewards require 75 nights for Platinum status.

Newbies. In the past 18 months, a number of hotels have jumped on the loyalty program bandwagon. The Ritz-Carlton launched a reward program last year, offering 10 points per U.S. dollar spent, redeemable for bespoke experiences and complimentary stays. Some smaller upscale hotel companies, like Kempinski, Omni, Leela, and Anantara, have joined forces through the reward-yielding Global Hotel Alliance, while a number of independents have united through Voila Hotel Rewards.

Alternative Devotees. While companies like Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons, and One&Only have resisted adopting specific guest-recognition programs, American Express Platinum members can experience elite-style perks by booking through the credit card’s Fine Hotels and Resorts website. AmEx Platinum offers hundreds of dollars in free benefits for members, including daily breakfast, late checkout, room upgrades, and an additional amenity, such as a spa or general resort credit.

Image Credits: Illustration by Arthur E. Giron.