NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — Hotels want your business and they will reward you for it by giving you free breakfasts, free WiFi, late checkouts, even free rooms . Those are the perks of the big loyalty programs run by the chains such as Hilton, Starwood, and Marriott.

But some programs are much better than others. Rewards are richer and they come faster.

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Other programs are plain parsimonious.

First off: do you belong at all ? One in every two of us does not, said Parago, an incentives company which, in recent research, pegged participation in hotel rewards programs at just 52% of non-business travelers.

The younger you are, the less likely you are to participate. Only 31% of non-business travelers ages 23 to 29 belong to any hotel loyalty program, said Parago.

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That, chided business travel expert Joe Brancatelli, who blogs at JoeSentMe, is just dumb. He elaborated: " You're leaving points on the table whenever you stay at a hotel and don't collect them . Moreover, the points you're leaving behind are already built into your rate."

Rewards can get sweet indeed, too. Stay 50 eligible nights at Hyatt within a year, and you qualify for Diamond status. That means a free breakfast , free Wifi and free upgrades to a suite four times in the year. You can also check out at 4 p.m. just by asking. And you are promised "the best room available, excluding suites."

Even the lowest levels bring perks. Simply join KImpton's InTouch and you get free in-room WiFi. You also get a $10 minibar credit ($15 in New York), just because you belong.

But listen up: there is no call for promiscuity. Pick one program, maybe two, and stick with them.

Carol Margolis, author of Business Travel Success , elaborated: "The loyalty programs that are worth the bother are those you are going to use. You may hear or read that it's easier to get award rooms for fewer points at one hotel versus another, but if that is not a hotel chain that is a predominant choice for you, then why bother?"

The other caveat: if you have a jones for independent hotels, loyalty programs won't work for you. Indeed there are efforts to cobble together programs, to give indies a competitive leg, but this is akin to herding cats. If an independent you like belongs to such a program, of course join. But don't be too obstinate because that is the exception.

Sometimes, too, you can get sweeter, elite status in a hotel's loyalty program via a backdoor, that is, without earning it with multiple stays. Case in point: American Express Platinum cardholders can snare Starwood Gold just because they have the card. That gives you three points per dollars spent (a 50% bonus over base level membership), 4 p.m. check out, room upgrades where available and a welcome gift on check in (can be free WiFi). That's yours even if you have not spent a single night in a Starwood.