Best Hotel Rewards Program [InfoGraphic]

Update: The InfoGraphic now reflects the details of the best rewards programs for 2015, including the T&L Top 500 hotels for 2015.

What makes the best hotel rewards program (or best hotel “loyalty” program) is made up of a combination of status perks and rewards. I.e. How many free nights you earn, how global the chain is, food, etc…

If you’re committing yourself to a hotel chain and their rewards program, you need to know exactly what you will get out of it, or what you could get out of it. This infographic compares all the hotel loyalty programs visually, and shows exactly which is the best program for your needs!

best-hotel-rewards-program 2015

An infographic by Drew and Caroline at Travel is Free

Want this infographic on your site? Copy and Paste the Code Below



Each person’s needs are completely different. One needs to travel to many cities across the world in farflung places, and others tend to need stays in only a few cities for long periods of time. If you’re more of the latter, just make sure that the chain you want is in those key cities. If you’re a constant globe trotter, you might need a more global chain.

And some don’t care about earning free nights because they only travel when work pays for it. These people may want to look at perks like free breakfast and club lounge access, and see how many nights one would need to stay to earn those perks.

Someone who travels out of his/her own pocket, like ourselves, wants free nights from hotel points.

One thing not really shown in this infographic is that how generous a hotel is in their quarterly promotions can change these numbers a lot. IHG gives big promotions and Hilton does not, for example. This would give IHG a huge edge, but unfortunately each promotion is so different from quarter to quarter, and year to year, it would be impossible to chart.

Still, I hope you find this infographic takes the incredibly complex hotel rewards programs and compares them with (hopefully) simple graphics. Find what you need in a hotel rewards program and hopefully, this makes it clear which hotel chain/status delivers.

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  1. Drew, just wanted to say I love your site and the content you share! So helpful that your tips are useful for the average person and you don’t just push credit cards!

    Just wanted to give a shout out to our favorite hotel brand, Kimpton. They are only in a few US cities, but the perks to their membership program are great, even without status. If you work their promotions right (passport rewards + InTouch), it’s definitely possible to get about 25% of your nights free.

    • Yea, Kimpton seems to be growing in reputation. I really hope they expand in the next few years. Could be the Virgin Airlines of the hotel industry. Thanks for sharing and reading!

  2. Great info graphic, thank you for pulling all of your information together and making it easy to review and share!

    Any reason why AMEX Hilton card and AMEX Surpass Hilton card didn’t make it on your final graphic? You get Silver and Gold with each card just by keeping it open as well.



    • Well, I contacted each of the hotel chains in the making to verify info and all that Jazz. Guess this is how Hilton wants it.

    • Drew sez: “Guess this is how Hilton wants it.”

      Wow! That’s quite an admission! How can one trust the information on this site if what it displays needs to be cleared by or is dictated by the hotels. Besides, the information about the HHonors AMEX cards is NOT a secret that needs to be cleared with anyone, especially but by the very hotel that you are supposed to be rating? The information is freely available and should have been included without biasing against it by asking the hotel’s preference on what to display. Period.

  3. I’ve seen a couple of attempts at using graphics to compare the factors in various hotel loyalty programs, and I have to say that yours is hands down the best. Very nicely done. It’s clean, concise, and has a lot of pertinent information.

    • We had no idea another hotel loyalty infographics were out there… But I’m glad we’re the best. ­čśÇ

      Carrie is an artist!

  4. Wow! What a lot of time and thought this must have taken. And the fiddling around to get the best arrangement of data. Thanks for your effort. I’ve got to go find a printer

    • You’re not kidding! It was also a bit of learning, hopefully we’ll be able to produce them faster next time. But this took… Let’s just say, multiple multiple devaluations happened in the making. :-p

  5. A few things:
    1) Great infographic! The following isn’t criticism, just suggestions for improvement and/or completeness, and only because I love this stuff as much as you do.
    2) Club Carlson Concierge gives breakfast. Yes, it’s a continental breakfast, but that’s all you’re really entitled to with Hilton as well. Heck, Hilton can even opt to give you 3,000 points instead of breakfast if they want.
    3) I echo the suggestion to add the Hilton AMEX cards.
    4) While it’s not a hotel card, the Platinum AMEX gives SPG gold … and a whole lot more, so maybe it’s worth a mention?
    5) The Hilton Reserve VISA gives an annual weekend night if you spend $10k. Since you mention other perks that require spend requirements, and mention free nights, that might be worth including.
    6) I have no idea how you’d quantify the Carlson “last night free” benefit on multi-night stays, but that’s such a great benefit that it tips the scales for me in many cases, so it’s also worth mentioning.

    • I believe Club Carlson is properly labeled with that benefit.

      Good note about the Plat card. Doesn’t really fit in the infographic as it’s not the hotel card. But worth mentioning in info about SPG.

      Yea, we may edit in the Hilton Amex cards.

      Yea, I thought about that benefit too. It’s confusing enough to word, that i just left it out. Maybe I should link to other posts on the subject for each program.

  6. Sigh.

    The most useful graphic is missing – what hotels cost via MS.

    Carlson would be the lowest cpp due to 5x everywhere, but limited amount of mostly low end properties doesn’t make for much more than a roof over your head. I’ll spend a modest additional amount to stay at far better property.

    Hilton has the best all-around bang for the buck with 6x at grocery. Add in large property list (with true top tier Conrad’s etc), easy to obtain useful status and it’s hands down my favorite.

    Hyatt is good for top tier properties if you have Ink 5x. But with difficulty MSinf with demise of $500 gcs, andtheir devaluation, they are no longer top value for top tier.

    • That would be an awesome infographic on it’s own! lol

      But the fees might depend on skills and tricks you have.

  7. One thing we can all agree on is that SPG is the worst loyalty program.

    • I beg to differ, it totally depends on your travel habits. For folks constantly traveling on an expense account, SPG is the way to go. There is a reason why all the road warriors at consulting companies stay at SPG whenever possible. There have been many models built comparing all the hotel programs, SPG always comes out ahead – with Hyatt a distant second.

      Having worked in the hospitality industry doing strategy work. It is widely known that SPG caters to a completely different crowd than the typical leisure traveler. They have a complete lock down on the high room rate – high travel market.

      For example, for those lucky enough to have expense accounts. With top tier status, credit card, green choice, welcome bonus, and periodic promotions. One can get 10 points per dollar at SPG. At an average of 200-300 a night at these places plus room service, a typical 3-4 night stay nets you ~10,000 points a week. Enough for a night at a Cat 4 hotel, which charge 200-300 a night on average. Not bad netting $200-300 a week in hotel points for traveling.

      Each to their own.

    • If my company (if I had one) was footing the bill, the St. Regis wouldn’t be that bad, for sure. But if you value price paid to free nights earned, it’s infinitely more terrible than the others. And it’s not like it has more top hotels than Hyatt.

    • Fortunately you actually counted things, so we can go with something more specific than “infinitely more terrible.” Let’s use Club Carlson as “others” since they offer the lowest cost per award night. And let’s assume someone is an elite member (75 nights) using a co-branded credit card.

      –Club Carlson Concierge member would earn 45 points per dollar and needs 70,000 for a top category award night. $1,555 spent to get a free night.
      –Hyatt Diamond member would earn 8 points per dollar and needs 30,000. $3,750 spent.
      –SPG Platinum member would earn 6 points per dollar and needs 35,000. $5,833 spent.

      The Hyatt customer must spend $2,195 more, and the SPG customer must spend $4,278 more. If we define “worse” as “How much more do I have to spend than the cheapest option?” then SPG is 275% more than Club Carlson and roughly two times as bad as Hyatt (141% more).

      Specifics vary depending on elite status and your choice of payment — and I think few would argue that SPG’s Cat 7 is on par with the best Club Carlson hotels — but it’s clearly not “infinite.”

    • It depends…I have the SPG Amex and here in Florida I can get some nice hotels (some Westin) for $3000 spending on the card on everything. Tell me about a “NICE” Club Carlton hotel…

    • As one of these road warriors who are not footing the bill for hotel stays, I can say many of my coworkers stay at SPG hotels and I do as well. SPG’s perception among this traveler is definitely that it is among the best hotel brands and programs. Their transfer partners help in this regard.

      This infographic just blew my mind though. I have already started to diversify (because I am not going to be traveling full time forever) and I want to be strategic about my point holdings. This infographic is absolutely amazing. I am planning a round of apps and this helps to decide which cards. Thanks!!

      BTW, the SPG Amex card itself only gives you 2x$ on SPG properties.

  8. Love the info, just recently Club Carlson decreased their earning bonus at hotels to 15% for Silver, 35% for Gold and they left the Concierge level at 75% bonus per Dollar spent. They also do offer a modest discount on food at hotel restaurants of 5% for Red members, Silver 10% and a 15% discount for both Gold and Concierge members. I love the 2nd reward night free bonus which effectively can double the value of the points.
    Keep up the GREAT work! Thanks

    • Thanks for the comment, somehow that got left out on the latest update. No idea how…
      Anyways, thanks!

  9. Still no love on the infographic for the Fairmont CC?

  10. Thanks for the great infographic. I think it is very informative and I might feature it on my infographic site.


  11. Great stuff, as always. Does the inclusion of cash and points options change anything? Is it statically important enough to be graphed?

  12. This is a great infographic, thanks for sharing it!

  13. Hilton with Points & Points top tier status should be higher.

    What you are missing is the distribution of hotels by tier. Hilton Tier 1 is faster to earn, but there are very few hotels in this category.

    Most expensive hotel is also different in that The Ritz-Carlon and St. Regis are much nicer than the most expensive Choice property. I wouldn’t even put Waldorf in that category as I consider them more like a Park Hyatt, JW Marriott competitor.

    Overall, great graphic.

  14. Thank you for the update! This is definitely one of your posts (along with the maps) I reference most frequently when trying to remember program details, especially earning rates. Glad to know it’s all set for 2015 :-)

  15. There’s a lot of useful information on this graph. Thanks for creating it. I love your blog and have been following it for quite some time now but this is my first time posting.
    I’m getting ready to apply for a few more hotel cards soon and I’d love to use your links. However, I noticed that you only have a link for the SPG card. Would you please add links to the other cards also mentioned? Thanks!

  16. I have to say I love the visual presentation of this Information. I’m a SPG50 for the past 2 years all on my own dime and have to say you have confirmed what I suspected. I’m backing off SPG this year and will be giving Club Carlsson more love. CC may not be the ritziest but my feeling is most time it’s just a bed and if u want to travel in the Nordic countries they are often the only game in town.

  17. I don’t actually accumulate many points through actual stays but through credit card spending for my businesses (roughly $300k legit spending a year) it would be interesting to compare this way- almost all non bonus categories so 300,000 Starwood points or 900,000 Hilton points for example- obviously a different question here but an interesting exercise too

  18. I think that there is an error in your assignment of points earned per spend at Hilton properties by HHonors members. This must always include the point & point earning style, which would earn HHonors members another 5 points/$. If you do this you will find that Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton get almost the same spend per free night, and your infographic on that would be the same those previously published at the following two links:

    In addition, if you include the points earned by paying for a stay with each program’s highest-earning co-branded cards (e.g., AMEX Surpass for HHonors), you will find that the spend per free night of HHonors members is slight better than Hyatt’s and Marriott’s. There is general agreement that SPG has, by far, the worst (highest) spend per free night of any program.

    You might wish to correct these oversights in your infographic so that it would present a more accurate picture, which I am sure is your desire in putting it out.

  19. I am mostly Marriott and airlines with the intention to build up large quantities for grand European vacations. The Carlson last night free really had me excited and now it’s gone. I still like that option for my situation due to the 40K renewal bonus where you can build it..the others don’t really have ongoing benefits if you aren’t using their properties extensively.
    The new Marriott benefit for Platinum members is really a great deal for me though. The status is not nearly as hard as some of the others if you can have a personal card and a business card where you get 15 status nights for each card. Platinum now comes with United Silver status. I haven’t tried it yet but my understanding is that United is reserving their business/first class award seats for elite status members. It may have been all awards but not sure. I can say the United non elite status for good seats seems to have diminished greatly so I’m hopeful the Marriott United alliance will prove very beneficial.

  20. The IHG card is now a MasterCard, not a VISA. The offer for that card is now 70K (80K if you can get targeted).

  21. This is really great information, presented perfectly man.

    Do you have any data points on people ‘stringing Free Night Certs Together?’ – IE Hyatt – Aniversary Gift of one Cat 1-4 Night, combined with 2 Free Night Certs at the same resort? It would be from 2 diff accounts obviously, One would have to be a year+ old. Same deal for the IHG Rewards – I heard you could use the Free Night Anywhere Cert up to a a year later – but I don’t see any verifiable reports on that working properly. (Use BOTH your Free Night Certs for back to back stays)

  22. My gf and I will be travelling to Africa in September, and this trip will include a 3 night stay in Botswana for safari along the Chobe River. Are any of the major hotel rewards programs useful for staying at any of the lodges/chalets in this area, or is this a job for just using Barclay Arrival+ miles to defray the net cost?

  23. Dear Drew,

    Thank you for creating these info-graphics, they gave me great insight into the world of Hotel Loyalty Programs. I was just wondering is there a 3rd party program/system that does the ‘brokerage’ kind of service in which they combine all or most of the same category hotels benefits together for example
    ‘4 star hotel alliance’ or ‘5 star hotel loyalty group’ that helps the customer to cover more locations and can open up benefits that are not locked to certain hotels/chains?


  24. Dear All,

    I was wondering what is the best way to get the following for a trip: (I assume they are useful to most travelers?)

    free breakfast
    free wi-fi
    free hotel-transfer (return)
    free club lounge access

    or is there a group or company that just sell these ‘add-ons’ to certain hotels in their list?

    or maybe someone here should start one??

    Thank you for your contribution : )


  25. I was wrong above about Marriott giving you a 15 night status credit for each credit card. They only allow the one 15 night credit so I’ll be cancelling my first card shortly. I’m now experimenting with the Club Carlson program and have one card so far.

  26. Great job, man. You guys really managed to simplify a great amount of information and to present it in a pretty way.

  27. This is amazing. Your blog is rad!

  28. Hello Drew!

    I’m hoping you can help me find a bit of info.
    I read someone’s comparison of hotel rewards programs and deep inside was a note about one program that allowed a person to only use some of their points for an award stay and pay the rest in cash for a total of $30 per night at a basic hotel. However, for the life of me I cannot find this review/posting again? It may or may not have been you, but since you are both one of the world’s top aficionados on this topic, and a nice guy, I’m hoping you might know which program this is? I need to get some super cheap hotel stays – 3 weeks plus worth) sooner than I can earn them via any MS-ing etc (this month & December etc.) My other half just got a job in Merritt Island, Florida near Orlando and will be living in hotels. I get to visit with our 10 year old son for 3 weeks. I’ve called around for longterm stay rates but it’s still $50 -$60 per night for the cheapie hotels. Would of course like something cleaner for my son and I when we visit.

    Thanks for your help and I promise to click on one of your credit card links when I’m ready. You seem like a great honest guy. I loved reading one of your posted comments, (or was it a twitter comment…) that you were concerned with something about earning money off of people clicking links in your posts. No guilt needed- Us good people are all here to help each other out and love to share the wealth by clicking your links instead of going directly to say Chase bank’s site!!


    Lela, Anacortes, WA (A sweet seaside town with mostly independent hotels- so you and Carrie might need to crash at my house if you ever want to come visit… perhaps I should strike that comment since you’ve never heard of me! I think I’ll leave it in, cuz, well, it’s not worth not being oneself in this world!)

    PS, feel free to pitch out any other tips on that area too if they come to mind. Maybe I’ll get to meet you at the Chicago Seminars next year- I’m new to most of this, like after they happened in October!

    Cheers, Lela

  29. I’m new to your site and love how you presented this information. What a great resource!

  30. Would love to see Global Hotel Alliance incorporated into your statistics in a future article (2017 now – maybe we see a follow-up soon? :). They are a small group, but a truly global and attractive portfolio of hotels. And also it is easier to gain a foothold in their award program for us not living in the US.


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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
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