While I just did a piece on hotel loyalty programs that was fairly critical (using data), this post is really meant for those who are looking to compare loyalty programs.
Perhaps your work pays for your stays, or you can actually do 60 stays a year. This post will use charts to compare a few things:
- Chart of Hotel Loyalty Benefits (and how to earn status)
- Chart of earning free nights based on status
- Comparison of Hotel Promotions
Most Hotel Benefits Are BS
First, let me explain that nearly every single hotel chain gives free wifi for doing nothing more than giving your info. Yet, every single program benefits page includes things like “wifi”, “being able to earn and use points”, etc. In other words, they advertise things that are inherent to the program as “benefits”.
For example here is a screenshot of Marriott’s Silver status “benefits” (with my comments in red):
6 of the 10 “benefits” are not benefits of the status, but simply how the program works, and are things advertised on the “Members” benefits page (meaning, it’s just a part of signing up).
The only tangible “benefit” I see is a 10% points bonus.
This Chart Is For Real Benefits
This is how desperate these loyalty programs are to convince you that there is any value.
And this is why I only put tangible benefits in my chart: Breakfast, Lounge Access, confirmed suite upgrades, and points/free nights.
As shown above, these programs are desperate to prove there is any value in committing a quarter of your life to their hotel chain, so they make up and advertise useless benefits.
Except for IHG…
IHG sums up their list of benefits and how to earn their status pretty concisely:
IHG only lists 10% points bonus and 50% points bonus for their benefits for their first two tiers.
And amazingly, IHG is the only major chain to not offer any status that gives free breakfast or lounge access.
Chart of Hotel Loyalty Program Benefits
Condensed Chart Of Hotel Benefits (sorted by nights)
Since so many statuses have no benefits beyond bonus points (like all IHG status levels) I wanted to also put in a shorter chart with levels that actually have benefits and sort by the number of nights required.
When I use this view it becomes apparent that Hyatt is one of the only programs with real benefits at the lower tiers.
- Marriott is the first program to give both Breakfast and Lounge access at 50 nights, and suite upgrades.
- Hilton is first program to give free breakfast at 20 stays / 40 nights.
- Besides Shangri-La which gives free breakfast at 10 stays / 20 nights.
- Hilton Amex Ascend card and Hilton Amex Business card both give free breakfast via gold status.
- Hyatt is the first to get lounge passes and suite upgrades.
Spend To Earn Free Nights
Latest promotions for each chain:
|Brand||Promo||Bonus points per $100 stay||Promo||Bonus points per $100 stay|
|IHG||Faster Free Nights||15,000||Faster Free Nights||10,000|
|Marriott||Double Points||2,000||1,000 points per night||2,000|
|Hyatt||1,500 a night||1,500||Extra points||1,500|
|Radisson||Earn 1,000 points a stay, with bonuses up to 70k after 20 nights||6,000||Double Points||2,000|
|Hilton||2k a night||2,000||2x – 3x||3,000|
The value of the promotions:
|Brand||Average points per stay||% of a free night at lowest category||% of a free night at highest category|
In the case of IHG, this is a major difference, and with others programs it simply betters the ration of spend to free nights shown in the earlier chart.
IHG is hit / miss as well, as each promotion is personalized. But since I used the best case scenario for other programs I decided to be consistent and take the best example from my wife’s and my accounts (which had similar promotions). So it was best of two, plus, it’s easy to create a new account.
Free Night Certificates
One huge benefit from different programs is the ability to get free night certificates or 5th nights free. Here is a quick contrast of free nights (not including credit card free night certificates):
|Hyatt||5 different brands||Category 1-4 cert|
|Hyatt||30 nights||Category 1-4 cert|
|Hyatt||60 nights||Category 1-7 cert|
|Marriott||75 nights||Free night up to 40,000 points|
Hyatt obviously is leading in this area, with Marriott being the only other option, but after 75 nights, which is a lot.
Omni Free Nights
Also note that Omni’s rewards program gives free night certificates based on the points you earn.
- You get 1 Omni free night certificate after 20 credits.
- You earn 1 credit per night.
- Platinum and Black members earn double credits, and you get Platinum status after 10 nights.
Note that you can only earn and redeem at Omni branded hotels.
If you have Platinum status, this actually isn’t a bad deal. There are many Omni hotels that are only $100 a night, and there are some (like in San Fran, LA, NYC, etc…) that consistently cost more than $300.
However, they only exist in the US, Canada and Cancun, and mostly major cities. But if you have work travel in these cities, it might not be a bad way to rack up free nights every 10 nights.
Hotels.com Free Nights
Better yet, might be hotels.com rewards, which gives a free night every 10 nights.
All it does is average your cost of the last 10 nights and covers a hotels up-to that value.
As I wrote about in 9 Ideas For Getting Hotel Deals, the Cap1 Venture card gives 10% back on hotels.com as well. This is one of the easiest ways to get 20% back and choose whatever hotel you want.
Most hotel promotions are not this good and not this easy.
More Free Night Benefits:
|IHG Ambasador||$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)|
4th and 5th night free benefits are awesome ways to stretch your points out! Hilton offers it with Silver status which comes with a credit card, IHG gives it via a credit card, and Marriott always offers it.
Also remember to check out the Citi Prestige 4th Night Free benefit, if you already have that card. Beginning in September, you can only use it twice per year, but if you’re already paying for nice hotels, it can be a huge benefit.
For myself personally, no brand offers enough value for me to commit 60 nights a year, and none ever has. When I’ve stayed 60 nights in one year (or many more), it was always chasing promotions to earn lots of points or free nights.
As I said, in my You’re Doing It Wrong on Hotel Loyalty post, you can objectively get more savings than value by not being loyal and the benefits they gave you can simply buy with points or cash. Hyatt allows you to use points to upgrade to club rooms and suites. No need to be loyal.
That being said, if I had a job that put me in a lot of hotels, and I could only pick one chain, it would be close between Hyatt and IHG.
IHG doesn’t have any benefits for lounge access or breakfast at all (which is lame), but they are the most gameable in terms of earning via promotions.
Hyatt is the best at offering benefits and free nights and points promotions. They have a great rewards program, great hotels, and lots of free night certs and upgrade certs.
Even mid category hotels I’ve stayed in have been amazing (like the one in Kuala Lumpur, Hamburg, Bali, etc…). And the top tier ones are beyond amazing (like PH Shanghai and Tokyo).