If you’re looking for the best loyalty program to be a part of, there’s no doubt that the Best Hotel Rewards Program InfoGraphic is a great data driven resource. However, sometimes what makes a program is not the data, it’s the nuances.
For example, a hotel program that has great promotions wouldn’t show up in the InfoGrahpic. Plus, not everyone is visual. So I wanted to give a run down of each hotel rewards program and the benefits they have, or don’t have.
Hyatt Rewards Pros & Cons
Hyatt Rewards is a geniunely good rewards program. As far as I can tell, Hyatt is the only hotel rewards program where the people at the top don’t wake up and say to themselves, “now we have enough members, how do we cut back the benefits?”. They’ve continued to add benefits even… but then again, they’re probably still in a growth period.
Best status sweet spot. Hyatt has this super inticing sweet spot of having relatively low qualifications for their top tier status, while still giving tons of benefits. I don’t like paying for hotels, but if I did Hyatt would be a temping chain to have elite status with. You just need 50 nights or 25 stays.
And Cash & Points nights count toward elite status.
Status gives all the normal goodies like lounge access and breakfast, plus a few extras.
4 Suite upgrades. The best hotel benefit in terms of suite upgrades is Hyatt’s 4 confirmed suite upgrades as a benefit for reaching Diamond status. Apply these to paid stays.
Upgrade to a suite with 6,000 points. Upgrade a paid night (including cash & points) to a suite for only 6,000 points.
Use points for Club rooms and Suites. So many people want this benefit and yet it’s rare and no doubt that Hyatt does it the best. Just as you can use points for a normal room, you can use points to book a club room (with club lounge access) or even a suite. These nights are priced accordingly. Here’s the chart:
Hyatts are consistantely nice. Park Hyatts are always incredible and basically every Hyatt I’ve stayed at is nice. Even the Hyatt Place hotels we’ve stayed at have been really nice.
Few hotels. Unfortunately Hyatt has way fewer properties than all the other chains. I often hear people complain about how few properties they have in Europe. I imagine they know this and are trying to break into that market soon enough. But if you stay a lot for business travel, make sure Hyatt actually has properties in the cities you frequent. If so call and ask to do a challenge. If you’re coming from SPG or Marriott… I think you’ll be quite pleased.
Points are hard to earn. This is being really picky, and if the points were easier to get they would probably be less valuable… but I want it both ways, I guess. I have a very hard time transfering from Chase. Transfer out $200 worth of points for a $200 hotel? Just doesn’t seem smart.
For business travelers Hyatt is my number 1 pick if you’re just looking for someone else to pay the bill and you get all the benefits. Rather, if you are looking for things like lounge access and nice hotels, it’s a great way to go, and the points you earn are pretty valuable.
Hyatt might not be the best for earning free nights as quickly as you can, but the best for status benefits given how quickly you can earn status.
To learn more about Hyatt, check out the Complete Guide to Hyatt Rewards.
Hilton Hhonors pros and cons
There are at least 15 different credit cards that earn Hilton Hhonors points.
I did post on the 15 credit cards that earn Hilton Hhonors points and so you can see that it’s really easy to rack up those Hhonors points. The Virgin card for example, gets 90,000 miles and then you can transfer 1:1.5 to Hilton. An easy 135,000 Hilton Hhonors points for the price of the annual fee.
The Hhonors card is a high earner. Of the 15 cards, there are 4 different Hilton cards and one earns 3 points per dollar everywhere or 6 points per dollar at grocery. Again, earning points is easy.
Status is easy to come by. Some cards give Gold status and have the option to spend up to Diamond status.
Gold status gives breakfast. Many properties give lounge access for Gold members but at the very least you’ll get breakfast included, which is way more than most programs do for mid-tiers. Especially mid-tiers that come with credit card.
Free nights start at 5,000 points. I just explained how to get 135,000 points from one credit card and free nights start at 5,000 points. There aren’t a ton of hotels I’m excited about for 5,000 points – although there are a ton in Egpyt. But there are a ton of category 2 hiltons for 10,000 points. We just stayed at the DoubleTree in Beijing for 10,000 points. And we’ve previously stayed at others like the DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur, which is super nice, for 10,000 points.
5th night free. Other programs do this but rarely do I have enough points with those programs to do 4 nights. Hilton gives a 4th night free. So a category 1 hotel would cost 20,000 points for 5 nights. Awesome deal.
Cost of top tier hotels is insane. Top tier hotels are as high as 95,000 points. The bonkers part is that Hiltons and Conrads in nice cities that might only run $200 a night are now 70,000+ points. There is no middle ground here. The bottom tier hotels have a decent value, but after that the amount of points it takes vs the cash rate… is just off. I mean, maybe in a city I like I’ll see 60,000 points for a $200 hotel… but it’s still terrible. For 60,000 points I better be getting the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong. And that’s not the case.
Hilton points are only good for people chasing low category redemptions. If you just rely on using your points in every city… your points will go away quickly.
Club Carlson Rewards Pros & Cons
Club Carlson Pros
Best points earning program. Factually, Club Carlson offers the quickest regular earning of points toward a free night. They start you out earning 20 points per dollar and free nights start at 9,000 points. It’s an incredible earning rate compared to all its partners.
If you have gold status (which comes with the credit card) your earning rate is bumped up to 30 points per dollar. The best points per dollar, even when accounting for the cost of award nights.
Great promotions. The only promotions that are better in terms of free nights would be IHG, but Club Carlson is usually competitive. In the past they’ve done 50,000 point bonuses, and very often they do triple points, giving 60 points per dollar (or 70 points per dollar for elites).
2-for-1 rate for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Basically, this allows you to pay half price on weekends, but you’re getting 1 elite night credit. There’s also a version where you can do 4-for-2, where you start a 4 night stay on Wed or Thur and pay half price. The problem is that these rates are fickle. Sometimes they don’t show up in advance, and/or don’t show up in peak times at all.
Currently there are 2-for-1 award rates. Currently if you are a credit card holder you get a free night per award booking. However, it is going away at the end of May. So if you don’t already have the card, it might be too late.
Club Carlson Cons
The free night awards are going away soon. If you already have the credit card, book your club carlson free night before the end of May.
There is no real elite status. The hotels aren’t nice enough to offer such a thing as lounge access, most of the time. And if you stay 75 nights with them in a year and get concierge status, you get a free breakfast. I actually laughed when I read that they give a free breakfast. If there are two of us, one of us gets breakfast. I don’t think there’s a way to fully convey how absurd that is. It’s like they need to add a status above gold but didn’t want to give anything. Gold gets more points. And concierge gets more points, plus a breakfast.
Hotels are rarely 5 star. Radisson Blu is known as a nice hotel chain, but I assure you that I’ve been to a number of Radisson Blu hotels that wouldn’t meet Best Western brand standards. Yet, I always read about bloggers surprised that a Radisson Blu isn’t up to “brand standard”. No, that is the brand standard. My experience in London, Vienna, and Sydney are exceptions. (Read my post about my odd suite at the Radisson Blu Budapest). If you’re looking for a rewards program because you like nice hotels… try Hyatt, or anything not this.
Award nights at certain hotels can be hard to get. I gave an example earlier how the Radisson Austin had basic rooms but nothing available for points, I find this unfortunately typical and very annoying.
Club Carlson Conclusion
If you care about earning free nights, the way to win with Club Carlson is to be opportunistic. When there’s a great promotion out, have a specific redemption in mind and run the math. I aim for $30 a night with those types of things, but it depends on the hotel.
IHG Rewards Club Pros & Cons
Terrible elite benefits and great points earnings. In my opinion the earning points and good redemption benefits outweigh the program that’s ran by morons who hate their elite customers.
Earning points is very easy.
Promotions are great. Up until this quarter they ran a year straight of the best programs. Like actually the best promotions. One gave two free nights and bonus points for as little as 3 paid stays, and the 2 free nights could be anywhere.
The best hotel rewards credit card. There is a version floating around with 80,000 points and $50 (try booking a random hotel to see if it shows up at check out). But the card gives a free night at any hotel every year and only has a $49 annual fee (waived for the first year). Any hotel! Plus, the card gives 10% of your redeemed points back, which is great if you’re doing all the promos like me.
Redeeming points is the best with IHG. I find IHG to have the most fairly priced award nights of all the programs. But along with that they have generous sweet spots and promotions.
Great low category redemptions. There are a number of hotels that are only 10,000 or 15,000 points that are actually in great destinations. See unbelievably cheap hotel redemptions.
PointBreaks. If you read this blog and haven’t seen PointBreaks mentioned… you’re probably only “reading” the InfoGraphics. Every few months IHG lists a number of hotels that can be had for 5,000 points. Read more about IHG PointsBreaks here.
But it’s not just PointBreaks, they often offer sales on award nights. I don’t understand why more hotel chains don’t do this. They are willing to have discounts on paid nights, why not do it on award nights? They’ve already done half of Caribbean hotels a few times. Holiday Inn Aruba or InterContinental Cancun for 12,500 points.
The only way I can make sense of IHG is if you picture that the office is half filled with monkeys. Things like the promotions dependent on booking with app and the app not tracking the promotion would make sense if a monkey were in charge. Not having a functioning app at all, or a functioning promotion website after announcing the promotion… these things make total sense if you just picture a chimp.
Never rely on anything working with IHG.
The worst customer service in the hospitality industry. Seriously. Did your points not post because the app didn’t work? Well, IHG just might ask for proof that you booked on the app. Which… is what they were supposed to keep track of.
I actually started writing down insane stories of dealing with customer support. But I literally got “we’ll call you back tomorrow” for a week straight with one issue. One person told me the manager was out of town for the week. The next told me that the manager just stepped out and they’d call me back. Another told me that “we are all managers”.
No elite status benefits: This is the only program not to offer breakfast or lounge access as a benefit. They have an elite status. But all this gets you is someone greeting you with a funny title. Welcome “Royal Ambassador Drew”, uh, can we not? Can I have lounge access or breakfast instead? No. Nothing. The only hotel chain I’ll mention that doesn’t guarantee either.
Only program to not give benefits on award nights. They don’t hardly offer any benefits, but still have the option of opting out on award nights.
Their top tier status is “Royal Ambassador” status and it only applies at InterContinental hotels which only makes up something like 5% of their hotels. So of the benefits you get (not breakfast or lounge access) on paid stays (not on award stays), you only get those benefits at a few of the hotels.
No brand consistency. At Hyatt every stay is great. At JW Marriotts, every hotel is awesome. At InterContinental you may get an awesome brand new hotel, or you could get a very very dated hotel. But the worst is Crowne Plaza. I’ve stayed at Crowne Plaza hotels that wouldn’t meet the minimum brand standards for Best Western, and yet they advertise it as a 4 star hotel. Too many to list.
To me, leaving the hotel to eat breakfast and never having club lounge access is worth it to have significantly more free nights.
Marriott Rewards Pros & Cons
Marriott runs the same program they ran 10 devaluations ago, taking away tons of benefits and adding none. Earning rates are the same but hotel points prices have gone up a considerable amount. They still give out free night certificates as a promotion for categories 1-4 and they’ve moved every decent hotel to a category 6.
Lots of hotels. They have a good rewards program because the hotels are decent and there are tons of them. They already have a big customer base and rely on having ignorant customers who don’t know that other programs can give more value.
Lots of nice hotels. They own Ritz Carlton; you have to pay for it… but it’s an option.
Nights & Flights. If you’re an unlucky fool with half a million points, there is one awesome redemption with flights & nights. Transfer out a bunch of points to an airline (sadly the best use of Marriott points).
They run a rewards program with an incredibly devalued currency. You earn points slowly and free nights cost as much as 70,000 points. Yet, earning remains decently slow.
No hotels of interest to me on a category 1 or 2 list. Plus 15,000 points is $150+ of Chase points. Why would anyone ever do that to consider booking an $80 hotel?
Starwood (SPG) Rewards Pros & Cons
I’m actually most cynical about SPG, even more than Marriott. I don’t get the appeal. If you’re going for nice hotels, there are fewer Top 500 hotels with SPG than Marriott or Hyatt, which is a smaller brand. Which also goes to show that their consistency level isn’t Hyatt. I’ve stayed at some poor SPG hotels. If you’re going for nice or consistency go elsewhere.
You’re clearly not going for most free nights with SPG as they have the lowest free night earnings, period.
10 upgrades. Like Hyatt SPG gives 10 confirmed suite upgrades. Unfortunately, they add a restriction where you have to apply the upgrade last minute. I understand why they do it, not as good as Hyatt, but you get more of them and it’s still nice a benefit.
Transfer 1:1 to airline miles. You can transfer points to airlines at a 1:1 ratio. This made the credit card hot, back before the days of 5x.
The least rewarding program for free nights. Look at the Best Hotel Rewards Program InfoGraphic. Dollars to a free night is by far the highest with SPG. Way more than any other chain. It just feels like your points have a great value because they price their free nights from 3,000 to 35,000 points, lower than anyone else. Yeah, because you earn less. You’re earning 2 points per dollar with SPG. It’s a joke. To earn enough points from paid stays for a free night at a top category hotel, you need to spend $17,500. Everyone does better than that, even the much nicer Ritz Carlton.
“Drew you’re missing it, if you add up the credit card spend, and elite status, then it’s not that bad.” No, every chain has a card and gives more points for elites. This isn’t an SPG invention. It’s still the worst for free nights, and not the best hotels, nor the most consistent.
To me, SPG has been very disappointing. It’s for people who have more cents than sense. They aren’t the nicest hotels and you get nothing in return. Points are too hard to earn. I was going to add 3,000 point hotels to the Pros… but points costs are relative to earning.
Best Rewards Program Conclusion
Given that I wrote all 3,000+ words of this post on my flight back from Beijing (minus pictures and links), I’m sure I missed something. So please, feel free to add in some pros or cons.
The thing I know I left off is Choice, because I only really know the redeeming side of Choice. See Best Use of Choice Points for more info.
In terms of an actual rewards program I do again think the Best Hotel Rewards Program InfoGraphic gives a great display of info. How many top 500 hotels there are compared to number of properties would show consistency, there’s a section on earning/burning ration, status, and global reach.
Free nights from program
What I would add is that IHG and Club Carlson are above and beyond earnings because of promotions. Promotions on the earning side, promotions on the redeeming side. If you’re just looking for free nights from paid stays, IHG is the best if you combine earning promos and PointBreaks. No doubt.
Free nights from free points
The most number of points you can earn for free is the nearly unlimited number from Hilton credit cards. Club Carlson also offers 5 points per dollar everywhere with their card. Those are the two best for earning… Probably Hilton.
Best program for status
If status is the goal, Hyatt is the best. It’s more rewarding than SPG or Marriott with their points program and thus also offers free night benefits. But the real benefit is the lounges, breakfasts, and the nice hotels that all come from 25 paid stays.