Carrie and I both wanted to redo our Hotel Rewards Program infographic and my post on the best rewards program.
The infographic does a good job of giving a visual display for the following areas:
- Number of hotels
- Which brands have the most 4/5 star hotels
- Which loyalty programs earn free nights most quickly
- Status benefits
- Best credit cards
The rest of the post will discuss some of the things not included in the infographic and more details…
Best Hotel Rewards Program Infographic
Reach: # of Hotels
Total # of Hotels:
- Wyndham = 8,689
- Marriott = 7,409
- Choice = 6,653
- IHG = 5,748
- Hilton = 5,669
- Accor = 4,803
- Radisson = 1,303
- Hyatt = 974
# of Luxury Hotels:
The old infographic looked like this (back when T&L did an annual feature of the “Top 500 Hotels”):
The top two brands were Marriott & SPG… And SPG was bought and folded into Marriott. So now Marriott is the best in terms of number of hotels and having the most luxury hotels.
No longer having the Top 500 list, we decided to use average star ratings by brand.
Obviously Marriott has by far the most 5 star hotels, followed by Accor, IHG, Hyatt and Hilton.
But in my opinion, the best way to know this metric is to look at hotels in whatever destinations you travel to most or want to travel to. That will give you a good reference. You’ll see most of the big brands have nice hotels in most major cities across the world.
Earning Free Nights
My addendum to this section is that I personally earn way more free nights from promotions.
For promotions and earning free nights alone, there is nothing comparable to IHG.
Due to how lucrative IHG promotions can be, we lived out of 4/5 star hotels for years averaging $700 a month or less, and spent the majority of our time in IHG hotels.
See my post on IHG Promos Are Still A Great Way To Earn IHG Points.
Not included: 4th night free benefits + Free Nights
First, Hyatt gives you a free night at each status level. The first two tiers they give you a category 1 – 4 certificate, and when you reach Globalist they give you a free night cert for category 1 – 7 hotels!
Similarly, Marriott gives you a free night (up to 40,000 points) after you hit 75 nights.
Second, I think one great benefit with some of these programs is the 4th and 5th night free benefits.
Here is a chart (taken from the post)
|IHG Ambassador||$200||BOGO cert|
|Kempinski||10 nights||3rd night voucher|
|Hilton||Silver||5th night free (on reward nights)|
|Marriott||any member||5th night free|
|IHG||with IHG Premier credit card||4th night free (reward night)|
Upgrades: Hyatt is better than Marriott
- Hyatt upgrades
- 4 upgrades = 2 after 50 nights + 2 after 60 nights
- + earn 10,000 points or a suite upgrade every 10 nights until 100 nights (an extra upgrade/10k points at 70, 80, 90, and 100 nights)
- Max 7 night stay
- 4 upgrades = 2 after 50 nights + 2 after 60 nights
- Marriott upgrades(upgrades are per night)
- 10 upgrades = 5 after 50 nights + 5 after 75 nights
- Confirmed 5 days before arrival!
- Again, 1 upgrade = 1 night
4 Hyatt upgrades could be worth 28 nights, and 10 Marriott upgrades are worth 10 nights (you even need one your 5th night on the 5th night free benefit).
Hyatt allows you to upgrade whenever available, and Marriott only lets you confirm 5 days ahead (then they check once a day after that, which is odd).
Plus, it takes longer to earn the Marriott certs which are fewer and harder to earn.
Best Status From Credit Cards
- Marriott Platinum (incl. lounge access & breakfast)
- Amex Marriott: After $75k spend
- Hilton Gold (incl. breakfast)
- Hilton Amex Ascend Card
- Hilton Amex Business
- Hilton Diamond (incl. lounge access & breakfast)
- Hilton Amex Aspire Card
- Hilton Amex Ascend Card: after $40k spend
I’ll also note that Marriott has cards that earn 15 elite nights credit.
Conclusion: Drew’s opinion on the best loyalty programs
Loyalty does cost more.
In my experiments I posted about in “You’re doing it wrong: Hotel Loyalty“, customers end up paying significantly more money per night on average just by being loyal to a brand and therefore limiting their optionality.
Therefore, most people would save significant amounts of money by not being loyal to a single brand. Those people might be better off chasing free night promotions (like we do), using Hotels.com 10% rewards, and checking out our Top 9 Ways Of Getting Hotel Discounts.
Then you can use the money you save by increasing your optionality (in terms of brands, hotels, booking sites, etc…) to pay for the benefits you like – i.e. suites when you need, breakfast when you want, club lounge access when you want.
Again, I personally choose to chase the best promotions (usually IHG) and therefore am not loyal (and can therefore take advantage of sites like Roomer, where I’ve gotten super cheap 5 star hotels and even a presidential suite that took up nearly an entire floor in San Fran).
However, people are not always paying more for loyalty and it still makes sense for a lot of people.
There are many people who have to stay in one particular city or hotel, and getting status is as simple as signing up for the program.
And there are a ton of people who gain status via business travel their work pays for… In which case, why not get lounge access and upgrades when work is footing the bill?
Hyatt is the best, IMO.
Hyatt wins in every category except # of hotels, which they are working hard to improve by growing their global reach.
But in terms of free nights, benefits, or anything else… Hyatt wins.
For example, look at the chart on earning a free night. Marriott is the least rewarding, and the only programs to earn free nights quicker than Hyatt are Choice, Wyndham, and Radisson, which are mostly 2 and 3 star hotels with very few nice hotels, whereas Hyatt has more 4 and 5 star hotels than 2 and 3 star hotels.
Then, consider that Hyatt’s upgrades are significantly better than Marriott’s. A single upgrade can be 7x more valuable as you can redeem for a 7 night stay. However, the big issue with Marriott is that you can only use it when availability is the worst, 5 days before arrival. It’s a terribly limiting restriction on what could be a decent benefit.
Remember, no one else is even giving out suite upgrades. Hyatt seems to have everything.
Also, Hyatt has the unique ability to redeem points straight into suites and the ability to upgrade a cash reservation with a few points. In terms of upgrades (club room or suites), no one compares to Hyatt. It’s not even close.
Additionally, I think Hyatt can have decent promotions and there are other earning tricks. For example, on our List of Hotel Best Rate Guarantees I see you can earn 5,000 Hyatt points just for finding a better rate!
Is Marriott Bonvoy a disaster?
The transition to Marriott’s new program has been nothing short of a disaster, which is made even more concerning by the fact that the CEO denies any issues.
What kind of issues are we talking about?
- A security issue caused a leak of personal information of Marriott members, including credit card and passport numbers!
- Marriott’s CEO went on TV and defended why they should continue to store our passport info… even though they don’t need it stored, and few countries require it.
- They recently majorly devalued their program. Many hotels aren’t honoring elite benefits… which kind of makes status worthless if you don’t get the benefits.
- Missing points / benefits – JT of TPG noticed he alone had 183,000 Marriott points missing.
Furthermore, their customer service has been a disaster.
In general there have been so many disasters that once loyal Marriott customers have created sites like bonvoyed.com.
I personally had an episode on my one single Marriott night in 2019… Which is that the hotel didn’t have my reservation.
I did a cash and points booking and neither was deducted but I had a confirmation. When I got to the hotel they told me I had to pay ~$500 for the night.
WHAT!? I have a reservation with points.
The hotel was nice enough to check me in and it was my job to settle the issue before check out (when I was supposed to pay $500).
When I reached out to Marriott on twitter, they blamed me and told me not to “purchase points” within two weeks of a stay. Huh?
In short, I’m completely avoiding Marriott as a real rewards program. If there is a deal and it makes sense, I’ll certainly stay in one. But in terms of sites I check, it’s not remotely in my consideration.
Of course, YMMV! And I normally base my loyalty (or lack there of) on the math alone… which is where Marriott is the worst program.
Yet, Marriott has the biggest reach. So if you don’t care about actually using your benefits, earning free nights, and customer service, it could be a good program.
Hilton, replacing Marriott?
I think Hilton could be a good second option to Marriott.
Gold and Diamond status are possible with a credit card, giving lounge access and breakfast.
This alone is a possible advantage over both Hyatt and Marriott!
If you didn’t notice, Hilton has the lowest spend to earn a free night (not including 5th night free), with and without status. You could earn a free night at a category 1 hotel after only $250 spend!
And with Diamond status, Hilton has one of the lowest costs to earn a free night at a top category hotel (again, not including 5th night free adding even more value).
And that’s not including credit card spend, for which the Hilton cards have a high category bonus for spend on Hilton hotels.
This makes Hilton both high ROI and with a status that is easy to earn via cards. It’s a great combo.
What’s better is that I have just Hilton Gold status from one of the credit cards and just last month I got lounge access and breakfast included with my cheap reservation at a Hilton. I’ve done better with Hilton Gold than any other mid-tier status, by a long shot.
Ultimately, the right answer is “it depends”. It depends on where you travel, who is paying, how many nights you do a year, what you value and where you want to redeem your points.
Hopefully this infographic makes it easier to cross compare programs, but you’ll learn the most just by looking at points prices for where you want to travel.