Almost exciting: Sonesta Travel Pass

14

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.

a beach with buildings and a body of water
The old Kaua’i Marriott Resort is now the Royal Sonesta Kaua’i Resort Lihue. Sonesta’s easy to get elite status means free lounge access or breakfast at hotels and resorts like this one.

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

a room with a bed and a couch
Royal Sonesta San Juan: Formerly the InterContinental® San Juan

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.

a living room with a green couch and a table with a lamp and a window
The Alexis Royal Sonesta Hotel Seattle: Formerly the Kimpton® Hotel Alexis Seattle

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):

  • Austin:
    • The Stephen F Austin Royal Sonesta Hotel: Formerly the InterContinental® Stephen F Austin Hotel
  • Baltimore
    • Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore
  • Boston
    • Royal Sonesta Boston
  • Chicago
    • 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
  • Hawaii
    • Royal Sonesta Kaua’i Resort Lihue: Formerly the Kaua’i Marriott Resort
  • Hilton Head
    • Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island
  • Houston
    • Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria
  • New Orleans
    • Royal Sonesta New Orleans
  • Portland
    • 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
  • Seattle
    • 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
  • Toronto
    • 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
1 10,000
2 12,500
3 15,000
4 17,500
5 20,000
6 22,500
7 25,000
8 27,500
9 30,000
10 40,000
11 50,000

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 (travelpass@sonesta.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 Status

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

Elite Status

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

a black and red card with white text and red text

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
Up to 125K points ⓘ Non-Affiliate
Up to 125K points: 120K points after $2K spend in 90 days plus 5K points for adding an authorized user within first 90 days
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $75
Information about this card has been collected independently by Frequent Miler. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.
FM Mini Review: Best for those who stay often at Sonesta hotels
Earning rate: 3X Sonesta ✦ 2X airfare, car rental and dining
Base: 1X (1.06%)
Travel: 2X (2.12%)
Brand: 3X (3.18%)
Card Info: Mastercard World issued by BOA. This card has no foreign currency conversion fees.
Big spend bonus: 30K bonus points with $7.5K cardmember year spend
Noteworthy perks: Instant upgrade to Sonesta Travel Pass Elite (free club access or continental breakfast plus other perks)

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.

My thoughts

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.

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14 Comments
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Andy

Be careful, Sonesta Travel Pass looks good, but they have a lot of gotchas in their fine print. I booked and stayed at Royal Sonesta Kauai, stayed a week and received no points, no qualifying stays, nothing. My error was booking through a third party travel agent. They also advertise that they have the “Rest Rate Available”, but when I asked them about matching the third party booking rate before booking, they said they could not do that. Certainly their reservation system does not have the “Best Rate Available.”

After the stay, I asked why I received no points and they read the fine print in the terms and conditions. If you want to participate in this program, be sure you read the fine print and do not believe the bold plain language advertisements.

For me, I will focus on a different loyalty program.

Nick Reyes

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any hotel loyalty program that will offer points on stays paid through a third party travel agent like Expedia, Priceline, Hotels.com or Travelocity. It is standard practice that hotels booked through services like that do not earn any hotel rewards or elite credit and do not qualify for elite benefits. The same would be true with Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, Radisson, Choice Privileges, etc. You typically have to book direct to get hotel points (Some luxury booking programs like Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and Virtuoso do still earn hotel points, but those situations are few and far between — most websites through which you book won’t qualify for hotel points with any chain).

I’m not familiar with a Sonesta Best Rate Guarantee (it doesn’t look like they offer one based on my quick search), but many other hotel chains do offer a best rate guarantee where they will match or beat the lowest rate on a competing site provided that room type/description and cancellation policies match (the latter can be an issue — sometimes third party sites offer a cancellation policy with some small difference).

Definitely frustrating that you didn’t realize you wouldn’t get the points, though that’s a fine print item that isn’t limited to Sonesta. Hope that helps for your next booking!

HeavenlyJane

I’ll keep an eye out for when their Nile river boat (www.sonesta.com/africa/nile-cruises/sonesta-cruise-collection-nile-river) becomes bookable with points.

Pam

Thanks HJ, knew nothing about this & would definitely be a great use of points!

HeavenlyJane

Hoping.

rich

I became familiar with the Sonesta brand when they bought the Scottsdale Gainey Suites hotel at least 3 years ago. It was a fairly nice hotel (the photos make the pool look way nicer than it is) where all rooms had a kitchen area.

I’ve bounced back and forth between living in Scottsdale and back east. While living back east I would visit frequently and stay either at the two Hiltons (DoubleTree and Villas) or this hotel. Often this one was kind of expensive so I would only stay at times when prices were lower (summer!).

Unfortunately they got rid of the teddy bear. Previously they would give you on check in a Gainey Suites bear and we kept a few and gave others to various children in the family.

Personally I thought the points required for a free night was high. This hotel was category 8, I believe. I thought about getting the card but don’t currently see much of a need to stay at a hotel for a while.

Pam

My husband & I both signed up when the card first became available for the 205,000 points needed for 4 nights in St Maarten at the Ocean Point property (chk out the pix, very dramatic). Covid prevented that trip from happening, but we have since used some points at the Bee Cave Austin property (beautiful & positioned for no better sunset viewing!) & the SFA in dt Austin (ok).

The points would’ve been worth almost $3k to us in St Maarten (original planned use of our points), because they were going to upgrade us to a Suite with our cc Elite status AND it is an AI property. We were pretty excited!

It takes an entire year to earn the full 102,500 points/card available at minimum spend, so if you have an inkling for usage is best to sign up for the card sooner rather than later. Esp as they are aggressively adding good properties to their portfolio to not miss out unless want to pay cash, boo. 2 cards at a time is optimal to really have some currency to play with & to add 30k/yr to the future points bank with not a whole lot of spend.

Interesting take on the new benies with Sonesta compared with Marriott/IHG. Sure the case at the SFA that used to be an IC prop! Even with Ambassador status there, much better treatment with Sonesta Elite.

LarryInNYC

“Priority self-parking” sounds to me like a few reserved parking spaces closer to the “good” end of the parking lot. Not much value.

You don’t cover the elite program outside of the credit card or status matching. What’s the basic earn rate, and how many stays / points do you need to obtain status organically?

LarryInNYC

Wow. Easy!

Billy Bob

Renewal coming up for me and P2. Definitely will call retention – no offer no keep. Planned to go to South America with these points but putting off most travel until at least 2025 when the world MAY finally tire of wearing masks everywhere. Not going on vacation and walking around in a mask (not arguing that they are ineffective, just that I won’t go anywhere on vacation where I have to wear one everywhere outside).
I don’t think the pandemic mindset will abate until 2025 or 2026. The virus will be everywhere – endemic – but the mindset will take a long, long time to change.

Jim

St Martin is all inclusive and the property was rebuilt after Irma. Five minutes from the airport and walking distance to some awesome beaches.