Who Offers the Best Hotel Loyalty Program?
Using hotel points during busy a busy travel period is often easier than trying to book a flight with miles during that time—most hotels will make any open room available with points, so your odds of finding a great place to stay are high. Even so, each hotel chain and its loyalty program is a bit different. Deciding which one is right for you starts out with understanding where you travel and the types of hotels you stay at – then choosing the benefits that are most important to you. Here's a quick overview of the major players and what they offer:
Overall, the Hyatt Gold Passport is the most rewarding hotel program:
- Hyatt does not have uber-expensive award categories – the Park Hyatts in Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, Zurich and the Maldives do not cost any more points than the Grand Hyatt in New York City.
- Hyatt lets you confirm a suite when booking award nights (as long as you are staying at least three nights) for just 50 percent more than a regular room. (For comparison, the next best in this category is Starwood, which charges double). And if you like upgrading to suites, paying the standard “Hyatt Daily Rate” available on the website (slightly higher at resort properties) lets you have four nights in a suite for just 6000 points. Starwood, again the next-most generous, might charge 80,000 points for the same thing.
- Elite recognition: Hyatt’s top Diamond level is the best for suite upgrades (four times per year, confirmed at booking for up to seven nights, from any Hyatt rate) and for breakfast (guaranteed full breakfast for up to four registered guests at full-service properties when a club lounge is not available).
- Plus, Chase Ultimate Rewards points (earned from Chase’s Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, and Ink Plus cards) transfer one-to-one with Hyatt, and the Gold Passport currency isn't an overly inflated one.
Starwood Preferred Guest
Starwood pioneered the idea of no capacity controls on reward nights – that is, if a hotel has standard rooms available, you can have it on points. And the portfolio of hotels contains more high-end luxury properties than any of the other major loyalty programs: Some of the world's best and most aspirational hotels—in Bora Bora and the Maldives, Rome and Zurich—belong to this chain. Those redemptions cost a ton of points, and earning points for spending at the hotels goes slowly. But that’s made up for by having what’s probably the single most lucrative co-branded credit card of any hotel program, the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (I have carried this card since 2000).
It's easiest to obtain elite status with Hilton. Thei properties are almost everywhere, and simply signing up for the Citi Hilton Reserve credit card ($95 annual fee) gives you Gold elite status. That generally means an upgrade (avoid the room over the HVAC system!), free internet, and breakfast. After a major program devaluation in March, these points don’t go nearly as far as they used to, but if you’re a frequent guest who doesn’t stay quite enough to earn meaningful elite status, this could program could be your key to better treatment.
Marriott has hotels everywhere. They are ubiquitous and known for their consistency. Although they've made some improvements over the past year, the rewards program is, unfortunately, not known for its generosity. It has the highest threshold (at 75 nights) to earn top level elite status—and those top elites don’t even get guaranteed late checkout (both Starwood and Hyatt offer this). Marriott Rewards recently introduced guaranteed breakfast seven days a week, but the benefit doesn’t apply at Marriott’s Courtyard properties or at resorts (when you have the time for a lingering breakfast). While they no longer exclude suite upgrades as a benefit, there’s no way to guarantee a suite (as there is with Starwood and Hyatt).
IHG—until recently known as Priority Club—is the points program for Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and its related brands. It offers generous earnings for hotel stays, especially with the regular stream of bonuses. Nonetheless, it’s my least favorite major program. It doesn’t offer any option to redeem more points on an award stay to get a better room, and the rules of the program don’t give elite members many benefits when staying on points either.
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