If you’re loyal to a particular hotel chain, you can expect to be rewarded by participating in its rewards program or carrying its co-branded credit card.
But what about those who eschew chains and are loyal to boutique properties? They have a loyalty program, too, called Stash. And, in late-2015, the program released a rewards card issued by Synchrony.
The Stash card may intrigue travelers who like staying at unique, local properties, but it’s important to fully understand the program’s advantages — and limitations.
The rewards are lukewarm
The current sign-up bonus of 10,000 points after you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days does not compete with sign-up offers on other hotel cards with similar annual fees. The Stash card carries an $85 annual fee – and travel rewards cards with comparable (or lower) annual fees provide twice or more that many points in their sign-up bonuses. Even when you take into account the relatively high point value the Stash card offers (we’ll get into the specifics in a moment), 10,000 points does not measure up.
Things get somewhat better when it comes to earning rewards on spending. With the card, you earn:
- 3 points per dollar at Stash partner hotels
- 2 points per dollar at all other hotels, and on dining and gas
- 1 point per dollar on all other eligible spending
Other hotel cards generally don’t allow you to earn points on other unaffiliated hotels, so the Stash card is uniquely nonpartisan in that regard. It also offers the everyday categories of dining and gas, which allows you to accumulate points even when you’re not travelling. The 3 points per dollar you earn on your card are in addition to the 5 points per dollar you can earn at Stash properties for being part of the loyalty program.
The per-point worth is competitive among hotel cards
It can be hard to get a read on the per-point value with the Stash card. Properties don’t have fixed star levels or tiers, and the points don’t have a fixed cash value. Instead, the number of points needed to redeem a room depends on location and time of year.
Based on the properties we spot-checked, though, you can expect to get at least 1 cent per point, and, sometimes more.
Hotel Andra in Seattle: 1.07 cents/point
Moonrise Hotel in St. Louis: 1.06 cents/point
Magnolia Hotel in Downtown Dallas: 1.45 cents/point
The program lacks flexibility and perks
At first glance, a card that lets you redeem rewards at a variety of non-chain hotels and brands may appear more flexible than one limiting you to just one chain. However, the Stash program is likely more restrictive than the programs of major chains because:
- The Stash partner network is small: There are fewer than 200 hotels worldwide in the Stash program. Most are in the U.S., and there are a handful in the Caribbean and in Panama. For comparison, Starwood, which is one of the smaller major hotel chains, has 1,300 properties and is represented in about 100 countries. So, even if you’re “stuck” redeeming your points at a co-branded chain with a traditional hotel card, you do have more options.
- Redeeming for hotel stays is your only option: If you have a hotel rewards card, redeeming for free nights is a given. But some programs give other options, including the ability to transfer to travel partners, or redeem with a combination of points and cash. With the Stash card, your only option is fully free hotel nights, which could leave points sitting in your account longer.
For an $85-annual-fee card, it’s also light on the perks. The Stash program doesn’t give any kind of elite status. And the card doesn’t provide a free annual night, which several other hotel cards with comparable annual fees do.
Should you consider the card?
If you are a regular at a particular boutique hotel (for example, you always stay at a Magnolia property in a city you visit on business), this card will earn you 3 points per dollar on those stays. Just make sure you do the math to make sure you’re getting a value of at least $85 a year on your spending to balance out the annual fee.
However, small size of the Stash network and the difficulty of justifying the annual fee with perks (like free nights and elite status) make it difficult for us to recommend the Stash card for most travelers.
If you’re truly anti-chain (and would never get a hotel rewards card from IHG, Marriott and the like, there are other options for off-the-beaten-path travelers. Generic travel rewards cards, for example, let you earn fixed-value points that you can use toward any hotel (even boutique ones):
- TheCapital One Venture ($59 annual fee), for example, lets you earn 2 generic miles per dollar on all spending and then redeem those miles (at 1 cent each) to cover various travel purchases.
- The Barclaycard Arrival (no annual fee) gives 2X miles on travel and dining, while its $89-annual-fee counterpart (the Arrival+) gives 2X on all spending.
- The Discover it Miles card offers 1.5 generic reward miles per dollar spent, matches all the miles you earn the first year and even gives some in-flight Wi-Fi perks.
- The BankAmericard Travel Rewards card® gives 1.5 percent back on all spending and offers redemption bonuses for Bank of America bank account holders.
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred has an annual fee of $95 and also rewards 2X points on travel and dining. With this card, though, you can transfer your rewards directly into partner frequent flier and hotel programs. Or, you could book a boutique hotel via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and pay with your points. In other words, for $10 more a year than the Stash card, you’re gaining more flexibility.