Best Hotel Rewards Program [InfoGraphic]

We made an InfoGraphic a couple of years ago for the Best Hotel Rewards Program. But since it has been so popular and helpful to people, we wanted to redo the thing. Make it more complete and easier to understand.

First, will be the Best Hotel Rewards Program InfoGraphic, then a text version.


2016 Best Hotel Rewards Program

An infographic by Drew and Caroline at Travel is Free

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

Best Hotel Rewards Program

Number of hotels

The number of hotels in each reward program is about:

  1. 6,372 Choice Hotels
  2. 5,000 IHG hotels
  3. 4,200 Hilton hotels
  4. 4,200 Marriott hotels
  5. 4,137 Accor hotels
  6. 1,774 Starwood hotels
  7. 1,370 Club Carlson hotels
  8. 605 Hyatt hotels
  9. 144 Fairmont hotels


Best quality hotels

One judge of this is which hotel chain has the most hotels on T&L’s Top 500 Hotels in the World list.

  • Marriott = 50 hotels
  • Starwood = 25 hotels
  • Hyatt = 14 hotels
  • Fairmont = 12 hotels
  • IHG = 10 hotels
  • Hilton = 8 hotels


Note that Marriott has so many hotels on the list because of owning Ritz Carlton hotels, which is the number one chain on the list, along with Four Seasons (which doesn’t have a rewards program).

Another important note… Choice Hotels are lower end hotels, you can use their points to book Preferred Hotel Group hotels – which makes up 42 of the Top 500 Hotels!


What percent of hotels are on the top 500 list:

  • Fairmont = 8.3%
  • Hyatt = 2.3%
  • Starwood = 1.5%
  • Marriott = 1.1%
  • IHG = .2%
  • Hilton = .19%

This gives some indication as to the quality of the average hotel.


Best Hotel Points Program

One thing not included in the InfoGraphic is the number of points you earn and spend, as it’s relative. A bottom tier at a Starwood hotel is as low as 2,000 points, and for IHG it’s 10,000.

Therefore Starwood is better for free nights? No! Not at all. In fact, it’s the opposite, as you earn points way faster with IHG.


How much do you have to spend to get a free night in points?

For a free night at a bottom tier hotel:

  • Club Carlson = $450
  • Choice = $500
  • Hilton = $500
  • Marriott = $750
  • IHG = $1,000
  • Hyatt = $1,000
  • Starwood = $1,500

For a free night at a top tier hotel:

  • Club Carlson = $3,500
  • Choice = $6,000
  • IHG = $6,000
  • Hyatt = $6,000
  • Marriott = $7,000
  • Hilton = $9,500
  • Starwood = $17,500


One thing not mentioned is that some of the best Starwood hotels in the Top 500 Hotels list cost way more than the top tier. So if you want free nights at that hotel, it could cost double or more. So Starwood is… pretty bad at earning points for free nights.


How much do you have to spend to get a free night with top tier status?

For a free night at a bottom tier hotel:

  • Club Carlson = $257
  • Choice = $333
  • Hilton = $333
  • IHG = $500
  • Marriott = $500
  • Hyatt = $769
  • Starwood = $1,000

For a free night at a top tier hotel:

  • Club Carlson = $2,000
  • Choice = $4,000
  • IHG = $3,000
  • Hyatt = $4,615
  • Marriott = $4,667
  • Hilton = $6,333
  • Starwood = $11,687


One thing not mentioned is promotions. Yet, promotions seem to follow the same curve. The best promotions for points towards a free night seem to come from IHG and Club Carlson. Worse of all would be Starwood and Hilton.

Same curve, but points promotions can dramatically increase the number of points you earn.



Almost all chains give the same benefits, but there are a few things I’ll point out.

# of stays/nights to get status that gives breakfast:

  • Hilton = 20/40
  • Hyatt = 25/50
  • Starwood = 25/50
  • Club Carlson = 30/75
  • Marriott = x/50

Chains not listed do not have status that gives breakfast.

Although, many cheap hotels give free breakfast anyways. So it’s a perk needed more for nice hotels.


# of stays/nights to get status that gives lounge access:

  • Hilton = 20/40
  • Hyatt = 25/50
  • Starwood = 25/50
  • Marriott = x/50

Chains not listed do not have lounge benefits.


Guaranteed suite upgrades:

  • Hyatt gives 4 upgrades (after 25 stays or 50 nights)
  • Fairmont gives 1 upgrade (after 5 stays or 10 nights)
    & 2 upgrades (after 10 stays or 30 nights)
  • Starwood gives 10 upgrades that can only be used last minute (after 50 nights)


Status from credit cards

Hilton Gold is basically the only meaningful benefit that can come from a credit card giving status.


Hotel Credit Cards

The Hilton Cards are the best in terms of free nights at lower category hotels. See 15 credit cards that can earn Hilton points.

And the best part is, the numbers given don’t include the 5th night free benefit – for stays of 5 nights where you only pay for 4.

Club Carlson and Marriott also have low category hotels that can earn lots of free nights. Plus, IHG’s possible 7 free nights can be doubled during IHG PointBreaks promotions. PointBreaks could give higher quality hotels too!


For free nights at the best hotels

If you want quality not quantity, the best option is the Hyatt card, giving 2 free nights at over 600 hotels – including 14 of the Top 500 hotels.

Plus, the annual fee is waived for the first year. Same with Fairmont, just slightly less hotels.

The Hilton Reserve gives two free nights but the annual fee isn’t waived, and the free nights are only good on weekends! And honestly, you can not beat Hyatt’s award availability.


Personally my favorite hotel credit card is the IHG card. It gives 70k or 80k points upfront, but it gives you a free night every year you keep the card. That’s a “free” night at any IHG hotel once you pay the $49.

$49 a night would totally be worth the InterContinental Bora Bora. Trust me!



The best hotel rewards program ultimately comes down to what you want.

If you want free nights; IHG is the way to go.

If you want upgrades, lounge, and breakfast; Hyatt is the way to go. It gives the best benefits while still earning free nights way faster than Starwood, and even Hilton or Marriott.

Always you need to make sure there are hotels in the cities where you travel most, if it’s business related. And if you travel all over, you might need Hilton or Marriott for their large number of hotels.

Or you can mix and match.

If you rarely pay for hotels, the best way to go is to earn points from the credit cards.


Hope this helps you figure out the best hotel rewards program for you!

Related Posts:


  1. The chart needs to be fixed for Marriott. You doubled up on IHG

    • Thanks, got it changed.

  2. WOW, thanks for the comprehensive charts. It’s def helpful and made me rethink loyalty.

    • Thanks! Glad it’s helpful.

  3. Any thoughts on the best card for someone that spends a hundreds of thousands a year on a card for their business. Legitimate spending.

    For hotels, I really enjoy the SPG card

    • Great question.
      My first thought is that it should go on airline cards, SPG (to transfer to miles) or something like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus.

      Here is how much you have to spend to get a free night at bottom/top tier:
      Club Carlson = $1,800/$14,000
      Hilton Reserve = $1,666/$31,666
      Marriott = $7,500/$70,000
      IHG = $10,000/$50,000
      Hyatt = $5,000/$30,000
      Starwood = $2,000/35,000

      I like Starwood a lot for the miles transfer and flexibility and it’s very competitive for hotel nights.

    • I think this needs to be part of the charts. Great info.

    • why do you need to spend this much at top tier spg?? I am a SPG 75, and I usually get a free night at a hotel comparable to W Times Square after 2 weeks of travel to something like Westin Chicago or W Chicago Adams (standard consulting 2k per week spend); so essentially, in 2 weeks, I earn about 20k points, which is plenty for a stay at W Times Square; if I stay at Westin Times Square, I can get two night for 20k points. For comparison, for Marriott I need 45k points to stay at Courtyard SoHo, which is equivalent to the same 2 weeks of travel. So 2 nights at upper tier Westin vs 1 night at a basic Courtyard?

    • So in a nutshell, I think comparing top tier and bottom tier spending is not representative of actual experiences. E.g. staying at a top tier Carlson is probably not even going to be as nice as a stay at mid-tier SPG. So, I think it would be more useful if there was a chart that shows what $10k of spending at each chain can get me. E.g. for $10k of paid stays at SPG, I can get 2 nights at Le Meridien Resort in Phuket (Thailand). (Sorry, I don’t stay at other properties much, just the minimum amount to maintain Gold at Marriott and SPG Plat)

  4. Hilton do not have guaranteed lounge access for Golds.

    It’s also a bit misleading to have 10 suite upgrades for SPG (nights and not confirm-able at booking) and 4 for Hyatt (which can be 7-night stays confirmed in advance)

    • That’s true. I always get it, but should remove it.

      That’s true, and that’s why I discuss it in the post. None the less, those are the advertised benefits.

  5. For me, the best question is: “Which program is best to earn free nights via unbonused credit card spend?”

    I think the top three contenders are SPG, Hyatt, and Club Carlson.

    • I’ll copy/paste my answer from above, but I like SPG a lot both for hotels and transferring to miles. Good card.

      Here is how much you have to spend to get a free night at bottom/top tier:
      Club Carlson = $1,800/$14,000
      Hilton Reserve = $1,666/$31,666
      Marriott = $7,500/$70,000
      IHG = $10,000/$50,000
      Hyatt = $5,000/$30,000
      Starwood = $2,000/35,000

  6. Masterclass! Thanks for updating the info-graphic, you guys rock.

    • Thank you, glad you like it.

  7. Great work as always! Just a heads up, the image shown for the Ritz Carlton in the ‘how many free nights is the signup bonus worth’ chart is currently showing the Citi Hilton Reserve.

    • Oops! Thanks, changing now!

  8. Sorry to nitpick, just noticed that you had written “If you want quality not quantity, the best option is the Hyatt card, giving 2 free nights at over 6 hotels – including 14 of the Top 500 hotels.” It should read 2 free nights at over 600 hotels seeing as how the free nights can be used at any Hyatt property.

    • Thanks!
      Crowd sourced proofreading, as Gary L says.

  9. Very nice summary, very useful. Any chance you might add Best Western, Wyndham and Accor on the benefit comparison?

    • Thanks.

      I mean, they don’t have lounges, or suite upgrades, and all that. So it’s basically a points only program.

    • There are lounges in some Sofitels and upgrades based on availability from gold.

    • For Platinum, Accor does have lounges in some places (spent time in a really nice one in Borneo with breakfast, snacks and evening buffet) plus they give a free bar drink or two, upgrades, internet, ect. Plus they have a large footprint, as do the other two I mentioned, with thousands of locations.

  10. Great job! You are the best at putting together guides to really set out the topic.

  11. Great to see you posting again and a great resource. Thank you!



  12. Back with a bang? Glad to read the classy Drew. Hope your health is fine now. Looking forward for more.

  13. Drew, now that you are back responding to posts. Would you be so kind and reply to your post of January 1, 2016. “3 (Temporary) Credit Card Bonuses We Jumped On”. Many of us are waiting to hear how you evaded the 5/24 Chase rule.

  14. Marriott Platinum can be earned with 75k spend on the Ritz credit card.

    Considering that Marriott includes Ritz properties at the high end, it was pretty eye-opening to see that the spend required to earn a free night at a top-tier MR property is a fraction of the amount of spend required for a top-tier Starwood (e.g. Luxury Collection) property.

    I suspect that the merger means that SPG will lose its redemption strength (affordable low tier) and MR will lose its relatively cheap top-tier redemptions. Time to burn those MR points on some long overdue Ritz nights.

    Thanks for the insight!

  15. Drew, another great source of info! Something I’m struggling with is stays that are a mix of free nights and paid nights. If I am staying 3 nights but only have enough points for 2, I’ll pay for the first night, then book the next 2 on points. If I’m upgraded, typically I’ll get the upgrade for all 3, but I think that’s just a YMMV result. My concern is our honeymoon in Fiji, I have enough points for 2 nights (and my credit card reward night coming due in April). My plan is to buy the Suite (not the basic 30k point reward room) and then book 2 nights in the reward room, and just hope that they keep me in the suite for the whole stay. What is the official policy on this? Can’t find anything anywhere on it. Thanks as always, keep up the great work!

    • This is for IHG by the way, forgot to mention that.

  16. Hey Drew, cool chart. One thing I spotted is that the bottom tier of SPG is 3k, so a 30k bonus on the card gives 10 nights, not 6 as shown on the graphic.

  17. Hey Drew,

    I really appreciate the effort that went into this, and it seems like a great tool for future reference. Two questions though, why did you decide to go with a pie chart for the “number of total properties” graphic? That makes it seem like those are ALL the hotel rooms in the world. Also curious why you decided to leave out Wyndham.


  18. Not in the graphic but I’d add that you get 1 free night a year as a Fairmont Platinum. Also get $100 annually in food/spa credit.

  19. Great work, however I think the results are a bit deceptive. For example, is the Starwood result based upon the outliers of those ridiculously expensive properties that no-one would be staying at? I think what would be more relevant would be a comparison by some of the most popular locations. ie. Bangkok, Sydney, San Francisco, Paris as they are likely popular redemption options.

    However, as I say fantastic work, you have given me food for thought as to where I should direct my loyalty going forward.

  20. Used to travel extensively and the company always had us stay at Marriott brands. Over the time since about 1990 I earned a little over 3,000,000 points and they showed over 300 nights stayed. My son-in-law now travels like I used to, but his company puts them up in Hiltons.

    I think it just boils down to where you want to stay and how nice you want to stay.

  21. Free breakfast is also a benefit of Hilton Gold status.

  22. You’ve hit the big time Drew. Doctor of Credit just linked to this page with a nice compliment.

    • Sorry couldn’t stop laughing at this comment. Nothing personal here. Are you a newbie to this hobby? Drew is THE best miles/points travel blogger out there. Even other bloggers look to learn from him. I don’t see DOC anywhere close. DOC is more of an expert on bank/cc bonuses you can say. Drew will never go big time because of that reference. He is already there.

  23. As always, great content.

  24. Hey thanks for putting this list together. What about promotions? For example choice hotels promotion of getting a free night at over 1,500 of their properties after completing just 2 stays with them now ?

  25. Nice blog. It has not been very active for last couple months. Hope all is going well?!?!

  26. This is one of the best blogs. Why haven’t you been active lately? Miss you very much.

  27. Has anyone heard from Drew? Are you ok buddy?

    • I’ve been curious too, cause not much activity lately. I love this blog and hope all is well.

    • Ditto. Hope everything is okay. I miss your posts!

  28. we need more posts when is a new article coming?

  29. These charts are fantastically useful and beautiful.

  30. Thank you, but one subject of importance to me is which program has the most hotels in Europe sleeping 4 to a room as one free night. Any idea? I have found that Hyatt is almost impossible, and Hilton fairly good at allowing 4 to a room.

  31. Hi,
    free breakfast is also available for Gold Hhonors members.


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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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