Sonesta International Hotels Corporation has been expanding faster than [insert your own favorite funny one-liner]. Last year’s appetizers included 99 IHG hotels and 122 Marriott hotels. Their main course: 980 Red Lion Hotels.
While it doesn’t appear that Sonesta has yet incorporated Red Lion Hotels into their Sonesta Travel Pass loyalty program, they have already added many of the former IHG and Marriott properties. When I last wrote about Sonesta in June 2019, I said that there were only 74 participating properties. As I write this, I now see 278 hotels available to book with points. While that number doesn’t yet make them competitive with the likes of IHG, Marriott or Hilton, the growth rate suggests that they may soon join the big boy table.
In my 2019 post about Sonesta’s credit card, I concluded “This is one of those cards to keep in the back of you mind in case the right opportunity comes up.” In other words, the card looked very promising, but there were too few participating properties to recommend the card for anyone except those who have already found a property they like. That’s starting to change…
Desirable Sonesta Travel Pass hotels
While most of Sonesta’s growth has been with the addition of low to mid-tier properties, they’ve added a number of upscale hotels that were previously Kimpton, Intercontinental, or Marriott hotels. Those who were fans of these properties may be even happier now (or at least once things settle back to normal operations). Sonesta’s elite status is very easy to get and, unlike IHG’s elite program, offers complimentary club lounge access or continental breakfast daily at their high end hotels.
Most, if not all, of the upscale hotels are now branded as either Royal Sonesta hotels or Sonesta Hotels & Resorts. Here are the Royal Sonesta and Sonesta Resort properties currently participating in Sonesta’s Travel Pass loyalty program (e.g. they are available to book with points):
- The Stephen F Austin Royal Sonesta Hotel: Formerly the InterContinental® Stephen F Austin Hotel
- Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore
- Royal Sonesta Boston
- The Allegro Royal Sonesta Hotel Chicago Loop: Formerly the Kimpton® Hotel Allegro Chicago
- Royal Sonesta Chicago River North: Formerly the Kimpton® Hotel Palomar Chicago
- Royal Sonesta Chicago Riverfront
- Royal Sonesta Kaua’i Resort Lihue: Formerly the Kaua’i Marriott Resort
- Hilton Head
- Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island
- Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria
- New Orleans
- Royal Sonesta New Orleans
- Royal Sonesta Portland Downtown: Formerly the Kimpton® Hotel Monaco Portland
- Puerto Rico:
- Royal Sonesta San Juan: Formerly the InterContinental® San Juan
- San Francisco
- The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel
- The Alexis Royal Sonesta Hotel Seattle: Formerly the Kimpton® Hotel Alexis Seattle
- St. Louis
- The Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta St. Louis
- St. Maarten
- Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa – St Maarten
- Sonesta Ocean Point Resort – St Maarten
- The Yorkville Royal Sonesta Hotel Toronto: Formerly the InterContinental® Toronto Yorkville
- Washington D.C.
- Royal Sonesta Washington DC Dupont Circle: Formerly the Kimpton® Hotel Palomar Washington, D.C.
Good award rates
Unlike IHG, Sonesta has a fixed award chart. And unlike Marriott, Sonesta doesn’t impose peak pricing. Here’s Sonesta’s award chart:
|Tier||Points Required for Free Night|
You can find award pricing for each of Sonesta’s participating hotels here. Even though the award chart goes up to 50,000 points, the vast majority of hotels are category 9 or less, including the Royal Sonesta hotels and Sonesta Resorts. That means that most hotels cost 30,000 points per night or less.
The only hotels that currently charge more than 30,000 points per night are:
- Royal Sonesta Kaua’i Resort Lihue: 40K points
- Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa – St Maarten: 40K points
- Sonesta Ocean Point Resort – St Maarten: 50K points
An easy elite program
Sonesta offers two levels of elite status: “Preferred” and “Elite.” And it’s easy to get status. You can get top-tier Elite status by signing up for the Sonesta credit card (see my review here), or through a status match from another chain. This is from Sonesta’s website regarding status matching:
All you need to do is enroll in Sonesta Travel Pass and simply email Travel Pass Customer Care (email@example.com) with your Travel Pass Member ID and a copy of a current membership card or statement showing your status in another hotel loyalty program. It’s that simple.
Here are the primary benefits of each status level:
Preferred level requires six qualifying nights in a calendar year and offers the following benefits:
- Early check-in / late check-out: provided up to 3 hours beyond regular check-in and check-out times, as available.
- $10 Sip ‘n snack credit: Offered upon check-in at select properties (Sonesta Select, Sonesta ES Suites, Sonesta Simply Suites)
- Benefits at Royal Sonesta and Sonesta Hotels & Resorts:
- 10% discount on dining & resort amenities
- Complimentary room upgrade
Sonesta’s top tier elite status, named “Elite”, requires 12 qualifying nights in a calendar year (or a status match or having their credit card) and offers all of the above, plus:
- Priority self-parking
- $15 Sip ‘n snack credit: Offered upon check-in at select properties (Sonesta Select, Sonesta ES Suites, Sonesta Simply Suites)
- Benefits at Royal Sonesta and Sonesta Hotels & Resorts:
- 15% discount on dining & resort amenities
- Complimentary room upgrade
- Choice of welcome amenity
- Complimentary non-alcoholic beverage: Elite guests may receive one complimentary non-alcoholic beverage per stay. Max value of $15.
- 50% discounted suite upgrade: Elite guests may request a suite upgrade at check-in and receive a 50% discount, based on availability.
- Complimentary club lounge access (or continental breakfast daily): Elite guests receive club lounge access where available. At hotels without club lounges, guests will receive daily complimentary continental breakfast instead.
The most valuable benefit of Elite status is probably the complimentary club lounge access (or continental breakfast daily). I can’t find any details about “Priority self-parking,” but maybe that’s valuable too?
Sonesta credit card second look
Bank of America advertises the signup bonus on the Sonesta card as “up to 95,000 points.” But it’s really a 60K to 65K signup bonus. The extra 30,000 points are a fixed benefit of the card: spend $7,500 in a year and get 30,000 bonus points. We separate these out on our own credit card displays:
|Card Offer and Details|
I wouldn’t recommend this as a primary credit card, but with more and more properties being added to Sonesta’s portfolio, the card may be worth getting for the following reasons:
- Instant top-tier Elite status which includes lounge access or free continental breakfast at their high-end properties.
- 60K to 65K Welcome Bonus: more than enough points for two nights at most of their high end properties.
- Earn 30K points with $7,500 spend each year: Assuming your spend isn’t within bonus categories, you’d end up with 3,7500 points each year. That’s more than enough for one free night at most of their high end properties.
I can’t say that I love this card. Many competing hotel cards offer a free night each year without any spend. Some others offer bonus points each year just for paying the annual fee. On the other hand, Sonesta points aren’t available as transfers from any transferable points programs and so this card is the only reasonable way to earn Sonesta points aside from paid stays. So, for those who are interested in Sonesta properties, I think the card is a good option: sign up for the welcome bonus and then spend no more than $7,500 per year on the card.
It’s clear that Sonesta is serious about becoming a big player in the hotel space. And while most of the additions have been low to middle tier properties, they’ve added a handful of upscale properties including the Marriott Kauai resort, a few Intercontinental hotels, and several Kimpton hotels. What I find fascinating about that, is that suddenly we have easy access to club lounges and/or free breakfast. IHG doesn’t offer free breakfast or lounge access for elites, and Marriott only offers it for Platinum elites and higher. While IHG elite status is easy to get with a single credit card, Marriott Platinum status is not an easy get (except this year). With Sonesta, though, you can get elite status through an easy status match or by singing up for their $75 card. No problem.
Personally, I’m not yet ready to sign up for the Sonesta card: there are too many other lodging opportunities that I’m excited about. But, if Sonesta keeps expanding, especially by adding upscale properties, I might change my mind about that. I could easily imagine both me and my wife signing up for the card and then each spending $7,500 per year in order to pull in a combined 60K bonus points each year.
What about you? Are you excited by Sonesta’s expanded program? Will you sign up for their card? Please comment below.