Dear Cashing In,
I've had a Marriott Rewards Visa for about a year, but just discovered the hotel's app and earned some extra points by booking a trip on my Android. Once I got there, I found other ways to use it. Now I'm wondering what I'm missing. Do other hotels have this kind of thing?
Dear App Happy,
Hotels have cottoned on to how obsessively many of us rely on mobile devices when we travel, and they're moving quickly to take advantage of that.
Most people, it seems, use their smartphones to get contact information and then make the reservation by calling the hotel. Those with iPads are more likely to use the device itself to make the reservation. To encourage more people to book rooms on the fly, Marriott offers bonus points if you book using their app and take a survey. A couple of other chains are doing this as well.
While customer reviews show the app makers still have some work to do, the apps are usually worth looking into if you're a heavy smartphone user.
As you've discovered, the Marriott International app, updated yet again in April, allows you to make or cancel reservations at more than 3,800 hotels in 70 countries, using reward points if you have them. Marriott's app was among the few that were Android-friendly, but that's becoming fairly standard now. If you're not a member of Marriott Rewards, but you're about to book a room at a Marriott, you can join the program from your smartphone and then earn rewards by booking through the app and taking the survey. You earned another bonus by doing this using your Marriott credit card.
You won't be able to top that unless you have other hotel credit cards, but most chains offer similar apps and sometimes bonus rewards for booking rooms using them. Hotel apps usually include a mobile system for locating properties, checking in (using reward points if you have them), and accessing dining, fitness and entertainment within the property and nearby.
Some, such as the Ritz-Carlton app, throw in extra bells and whistles for fun -- including a QR code that you can only access within a property. You can use it to find the recipe for the hotel's signature cocktail, for example.
Also recently updated, the SPG: Starwood Hotels & Resorts mobile app gets high customer ratings. Like Marriott, Starwood is rewarding mobile booking with its second-quarter promotion, SPG Double Take. From May 1 through July 31, 2013, you can earn double Starpoints on all eligible stays and 500 additional points for booking through the spg.com mobile site or the SPG app for iPhone or Android. You can use this app to reserve rooms at any Starwood hotel, including W, Le Meridien, Aloft, Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis and Element.
Like most hotel apps, the IHG Priority Club app makes it easy to find IHG properties (including InterContinental, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, and Candlewood Suites) within a 50-mile radius, and reserve a room via credit card or reward points. You can also find nearby restaurants that take IHG points. Until recently, this app was Apple-only, but is now available for Android.
Club Carlson's app lets you reserve rooms and use your reward points at more than 1,000 properties worldwide (including Radisson and Park Inn), sign up for express booking, and use interactive maps for more than 4 million restaurants and attractions. You can also earn extra points (up to 3,000 if you're a Concierge member) for booking online.
Hilton's app is among the most widely used, allowing you to reserve rooms and use HHonors points at more than 3,000 properties. Like many big chains, Hilton is spinning off separate apps for individual brands and these are often more customized to guests' needs. For example, if you're staying at Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn or Embassy Suites, it's worth downloading their specific apps, which get higher customer ratings, rather than trying to use the Hilton app.