How to pick the right hotel chain for you
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Despite unprecedented consolidation within the hotel industry in the past few years, there are still several major chains around, each with its own distinct loyalty programme. While it can be hard enough for longtime loyalty members to plot out a powerful points strategy with hotels, if you’re new to hotel points altogether, it can feel downright impossible to pick the right programme for your needs.
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The good news is: You don’t necessarily need to settle on one since each programme has its strengths and weaknesses. Taking the time to learn the ins and outs of each hotel chain and its loyalty programme could mean earning free nights and elite status faster, so you can enjoy your travels even more.
Among the major factors you should consider are:
- Earning points: Do you earn 2 points per dollar or pound? 20 points? Something in between? Does the programme have other partners where you can transfer points to and from? Answering these questions will help you determine which programme you can earn points with fastest.
- Award costs: Look at the award charts of each chain to see how far you might be able to stretch your points for free nights and other rewards. Also, consider how much an award chart has changed lately and whether it’s been for the better. Or not.
- Credit cards: Some hotel chains have a cobranded credit card, while others have none. Which ones best fit your financial needs and habits?
- Elite status: The requirements for earning elite status and the perks you receive can vary dramatically from chain to chain.
- Global footprint: The total number of properties a hotel company fields around the world will determine your opportunities for both earning and redeeming points.
If you don’t know where to start, check our monthly points valuations for a benchmark of the value you should expect from each type of hotel points. Now, for the details on all the major brands — and our insights on what kind of traveller may be best suited for each programme.
Best for: Beginners looking to explore
The basics: Its merger with Starwood made Marriott the world’s largest hotel company, with over 7,300 properties in 134 countries. Confusing for many travellers, the company now oversees 30 brands ranging from The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis at the high end to Westin and Sheraton in the middle, and Aloft, Moxy and Four Points toward the budget side of the spectrum. Marriott even entered the luxury vacation rental market with its new Homes and Villas by Marriott (HVM) collection.
Earning: Marriott Bonvoy members earn 10x points per dollar at most hotels. Stays at Element, Residence Inn and TownPlace Suites earn 5x, while certain other stays only net 2.5x per dollar. Points typically expire after 24 months of no account activity.
To put that into perspective, mid-level Category 5 properties such as the W Chicago Lakeshore or the Marriott Puerto Vallarta cost between 30,000 and 40,000 points per night. By contrast, Category 8 hotels like the St. Regis Maldives can range from 70,000 and 100,000 points per night, which can be quite a difference.
Marriott also has cash and points rates that range from 1,500 points plus $55 up to 57,500 points plus $440, so your value may vary.
Elite status: Marriott elite status currently has five tiers. Silver is achieved at 10 nights per year and includes benefits like a 10% points bonus on stays and availability-based late check-out. You can hit Gold with 25 nights and receive a 25% points bonus plus premium in-room internet.
Platinum is reached at 50 nights and includes 50% bonus points earning on stays, late check-out to 4 p.m. and welcome amenities. Titanium Elites stay 75 nights or more per year and receive 75% bonus points and upgrade access to some suites. Finally, Marriott Bonvoy members who stay 100 nights per year and spend $20,000 or more on stays receive Ambassador status including a personal loyalty concierge (hence the term Ambassador) and 24-hour windows for checking in and out.
Credit cards: Marriott Bonvoy has the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Credit Card, which is a good product if you frequently stay with the chain. With it, you’ll earn 2 Bonvoy points per £1 spent on everyday purchases and 6 Bonvoy points per £1 spent with participating Marriott group hotels.
The card currently has a welcome bonus of 20,000 Bonvoy points after spending £3,000 in the first six months of card membership. It comes with an annual fee of £75. With it, you’ll also get automatic Bonvoy Silver status by way of 15 Elite Night credits.
Other partners: Marriott Bonvoy is a 2:3 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.
Verdict: Given Marriott’s huge global footprint, variety of brands and credit card option, it’s a great choice for travellers who want lots of variety and flexibility.
Best for: Travelers who want options
The basics: Though outstripped by Marriott, Hilton has more than 6,100 properties worldwide in 118 countries. Its 18 current brands include luxurious Waldorf Astoria hotels, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, the quirky Curio Collection and more budget-friendly options including DoubleTree and Embassy Suites, among others.
Earning: Hilton Honors members earn 10x base points per dollar on Hilton purchases at most brands, but only 5x at certain ones like Home2Suites and Tru. Points generally expire after a mere 12 months of inactivity.
Redeeming: Of the major chains, Hilton’s award pricing is the most dynamic and Hilton Honors no longer even publishes an award chart. That said, most hotels will cost between 5,000 and 120,000 points per night. Members can now use a mix of cash and points that works out to saving about 1,000 points per $3 to $6 in room rate increases. That’s not a great value for your Hilton points, but can be important if you’re saving for a better redemption down the line.
Elite status: Hilton Honors elite status comes in three tiers. Silver requires four stays or 10 nights per calendar year and confers 20% bonus points on paid stays (so 12x instead of the normal 10x), plus perks like a fifth night free on award stays. To reach Gold, you’ve got to complete 20 stays or 30 nights, or earn 75,000 base points (equivalent to spending $7,500 at hotels). At this level, you’ll earn 80% bonus points on Hilton purchases (so 18x per dollar), a chance of room upgrades and free breakfast at most hotels.
Diamond status is the top tier and takes 30 stays or 60 nights, or earning 120,000 base points. Diamonds get a 100% points bonus, free premium internet, better upgrades and club lounge access at some hotels, among other perks.
Credit cards: Unlike the U.S., there are no cobranded Hilton Honors credit cards available in the U.K. Alternatively, you could get The Platinum Card from American Express, which comes with complimentary Gold status within the Hilton Honors programme.
Other partners: Hilton is an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner. So, you can transfer points to Hilton at a 1 to 2 ratio.
Verdict: Hilton is another great brand for folks just getting into the points game since you can earn a ton of points and enjoy the perks of elite status with a credit card like the Platinum Card.
Best for: Great award redemption values at high-end hotels
The basics: The smallest of the major chains, Hyatt currently comprises more than 900 hotels in 65 countries with 20 brands, ranging from budget-friendly Hyatt Places to design-forward Thompsons and luxurious Park Hyatts. The programme also has interesting partnerships with independent luxury hotels around the world thanks to its collaboration with Small Luxury Hotels, and a strong footprint in Las Vegas particularly thanks to its team-up with M Life Rewards.
Earning: Members of World of Hyatt earn 5x base points per dollar spent at associated hotels. Points typically expire after 24 months of no account activity.
Redeeming: Hyatt’s award chart offers probably the best value of any programme. Its hotels fall into eight categories with free nights ranging from 5,000 to 40,000 points each. The planned World of Hyatt award chart changes that were to take effect 22 March 2020 have been postponed until 2021. This includes the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing at all hotels and planned award category changes, with the exception of a handful of properties. When the award chart changes do go into effect, the price range will be 3,500 to 45,000 points per night.
Through World of Hyatt’s points and cash option, members can spend between 2,500 and 15,000 points plus 50% of the standard room rate on award nights on hotels in Categories 1 through 7. Those in Category 8 are not currently available for this type of redemption.
Elite status: World of Hyatt currently has three elite status tiers. To hit entry-level Discoverist status, you need to stay 10 nights or earn 25,000 base points (equivalent to spending $5,000) per year. Benefits include upgrades to preferred rooms and free premium internet, plus a 10% points bonus on stays, among other perks.
Explorist requires 30 nights or 50,000 base points and includes perks like 20% bonus points, better upgrade availability and four club lounge access awards each year. Globalist status requires 60 nights or 100,000 base points, and confers four confirmed suite upgrades on paid and award stays, club lounge access or free breakfast at most properties and waived resort fees, among other perks.
Credit cards: Like Hilton, there is no cobranded Hyatt credit card in the U.K. Also, because World of Hyatt isn’t a transfer partner of Membership Rewards, it’s more difficult to earn these points quickly.
Other partners: Hyatt and American Airlines launched an interesting partnership last year with reciprocal status and benefits for elites. Hyatt also teamed up with Lindblad Expeditions.
Verdict: Though only offering a small footprint, World of Hyatt is an excellent all-round choice thanks to the range of its properties and reasonable redemption rates for award nights.
Best for: Racking up points quickly and budget-conscious stays
The basics: InterContinental’s IHG Rewards is a loyalty programme comprising 17 brands including InterContinental, Kimpton, Hotel Indigo and Holiday Inn, with nearly 5,900 properties spread across more than 100 countries. Its recent acquisition of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas added a compelling collection of luxury resorts to the IHG portfolio.
Earning: Members earn 10x base points per dollar spent on rooms and other IHG purchases at most of the associated brands. Points expire after 12 months of inactivity. IHG introduced dynamic award pricing this year, meaning properties can price award nights up and down just like cash rates, depending on factors such as demand, peak travel times and how much a cash stay costs.
Redeeming: Free nights cost anywhere from 10,000 to 70,000 points each (though some of the highest-end hotels can cost over 100,000 points per night). IHG also offers mixed points and cash awards that are usually the equivalent to buying points for 0.5 to 0.7 cents apiece.
Elite status: IHG Rewards Club has three tiers of elite status. Gold requires 10 nights, or earning 10,000 elite-qualifying points ($1,000 spending) in a year, and includes perks like late check-out, welcome amenities and a 10% points bonus on stays. It comes as a benefit of the IHG Rewards Club Credit Card. Platinum status requires 40 nights or 40,000 points, but comes as a standard benefit of the IHG Rewards Club Premium Credit Card. Members earn 50% bonus points and have a better chance of room upgrades. Spire Elite is the programme’s top tier and is achieved with 75 nights or 75,000 points. Members earn 100% bonus points on stays (so 20x per dollar) and have the best shot at upgrades.
Credit cards: IHG’s two cobranded credit cards are no-fee IHG Rewards Club Credit Card and the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, which isn’t taking new applications as of time of writing. The base-level card is currently offering 10,000 bonus points after spending £200 on purchases within the first three months of account opening The card earns 2x points per dollar on IHG purchases. It accrues 2x points on purchases abroad and then 1x on everything else.
Other partners: IHG is not a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards.
Verdict: Though IHG Rewards Club points tend to yield lower values than some other programmes, given how easy it is to rack them up and the cobranded card’s benefits, it’s still a great brand for travellers with mid-range budgets.
Best for: A simple return on spending at a wide range of hotels
The basics: You may not be as familiar with the Europe-based chain Accor, but it counts household names including Fairmont, Sofitel, Banyan Tree, Raffles, Mercure, Ibis, Mantra and Novotel among its 39 brands, and has 5,000 hotels in 110 countries.
Earning: Le Club Accorhotels’ earning formula is a bit hard to grasp, but members earn 25x points per 10 euro at most brands, and just 12.5x at Ibis, Ibis Styles and Mama Shelter. Travellers earn even fewer points at Adagio and Adagio Access properties.
Redeeming: Members can redeem 2,000 points for 40 euro off their bill. This works out to a return on spending of 5% back. That might not sound amazing, but given the relative value of other hotel points and having to deal with award availability, this’s a pretty solid deal. And that’s not even taking into account elite earning rates.
Elite status: There are four tiers of status with Le Club Accorhotels (becoming ALL — standing for Accor Live Limitless). You hit Silver at 2,000 status points, which is equivalent to accruing 10 nights or 800 euro in eligible spending. Members then earn 31x points per euro and get a welcome drink and late check-out. Reach Gold with 7,000 status points, equivalent to 30 nights or 2,800 euro in spending. This includes room upgrades, early check-in and late check-out plus an earning rate of 37x points per euro.
Platinum status requires 14,000 status points, which is equivalent to 60 nights or 5,600 euro. At this level, you receive access to club lounges and suite upgrades. To attain Diamond status, you need 26,000 status points, equivalent to spending 10,400 euro with no stay requirements. This tier includes four dining and spa rewards worth 25 euro each, gifting Gold status to another, and complimentary breakfast on weekends.
Credit cards: There are no Accor-branded credit cards currently available in the U.K.
Other partners: The programme partners with some airlines and other companies, including an Air France-KLM tie-up.
Verdict: This is simply a cash-back programme by another name, but a 5% rate of return on spending is nothing to ignore.
Best for: Niche stays in smaller markets
The basics: With just around 1,400 hotels worldwide, this mid-size chain might not be your main choice, but it’s still important to remember it exists before swearing your unwavering loyalty to another brand. Its family of seven brands includes Radisson Blu, Radisson Red, the Radisson Collection, Park Inn and Park Plaza, among other labels.
Earning: Basic members earn 20x points per dollar on Radisson purchases, and points expire after 24 months of no activity.
Redeeming: The Radisson Rewards programme breaks down redemptions into standard and premium rooms across seven categories of hotels. Standard rooms range from 9,000 to 70,000 points, while premium ones will cost between 13,500 and 105,000. You can also redeem a mix of cash and points for standard rooms at rates that range from 5,000 to 20,000, plus a cash copay that can be quite substantial, so we typically recommend you avoid this.
Elite status: Radisson Rewards has three tiers of status. You hit Silver after nine nights or six stays and receive benefits such as 2x extra points per dollar and a 10% discount on food and beverage at hotels. Gold requires 30 nights or 20 stays, and will earn you 25x points per dollar and a 15% discount. Reaching Platinum status requires 60 nights or 30 stays and will earn you 35x points per dollar, confer a 20% discount and free breakfast at most properties.
Credit cards: There are no cobranded credit cards available in the U.K. at this time.
Other partners: American Express Membership Rewards can be transferred to Radisson at a 1 to 3 rate. Radisson points can be converted into airline miles with more than 20 partners, but the ratios are not great, so we don’t recommend this.
Verdict: The lack of many truly high-end hotels might put off some travellers, but if Radisson’s brands are in destinations you want to visit, it may be worth the effort to master this programme.
Best for: Budget travellers looking for a good rate of return
The basics: Don’t forget about this global chain, which includes 9,300 hotels in more than 90 countries across 20 brands that include Days Inn, Ramada, Travelodge, Tryp and Wyndham Grand.
Earning: Wyndham Rewards members earn 10x points per dollar on room rates, or 1,000 points per stay — whichever is greater. Points generally expire after 18 months of account inactivity.
Redeeming: Straight-up award nights cost 7,500, 15,000 or 30,000 points each depending on the hotel. Wyndham Rewards members can also book “go fast” awards at cash-and-points rates of 1,500, 3,000 or 6,000 points apiece plus cash copays that vary.
Elite status: There are currently three tiers of elite status, starting with Gold which you earn after completing five nights. Members at this level earn 10% more points on stays, have access to preferred rooms, late check-out and a dedicated customer service line. Folks who stay 15 nights or more qualify for Platinum status, which includes additional benefits such as earning 15% bonus points, early check-in times, a status match to the Caesar Rewards programme and car rental upgrades with Avis and Budget.
Wyndham Rewards Diamond status is earned after 40 nights. The additional perks at this tier include earning 20% bonus points, eligibility for suite upgrades, a welcome amenity at check-in and the ability to confer Gold status on another member.
Credit cards: There are no cobranded cards available in the U.K.
Other partners: The programme partners with over a dozen airlines with whom members can earn one mile per dollar spent on stays, or convert their hotel points to airline miles at a 5:1 ratio (for the most part), which is generally a terrible value.
Verdict: This is a good beginner programme thanks to great earning rates and even better redemption values. Just don’t expect to stay at any super luxurious properties if you’re swearing your allegiance to Wyndham.
Although there are fewer major hotel chains these days, the good news is that travellers still have several fantastic loyalty programmes to choose from. Which one is right for you will depend on where you tend to stay when travelling, what kinds of awards you hope to book, whether you will be able to maximize the benefits of one credit card over another and if you can hit elite status. Take some time to strategize your travel plans and goals, and then see which of these hotel loyalty programmes will be the best fit for you.
Featured photo by Ryan Patterson.
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