Just gimme’ a number for my hotel loyalty points, will you?
There’s lots of “big talk” everywhere in hotel loyalty programs. Guaranteed upgrades somehow become subject to availability, free breakfast is only “free” if you overpay in the first place on the room rate and rewards points change value without warning, at the blink of an eye.
Marriott upended its award charts this week, in favor of a “the points price is the price” approach which can vary drastically from day to day. Hilton recently raised the cap on how many points a hotel can charge per night.
Sometimes, the best way to figure out the right hotel loyalty program for you, and what it will bring to you, is to ignore the words and empty promises – and just crunch the numbers.
When you take out emotion, and just look at things based on the math and what’s truly “bolted on” — aka benefits you really get, the results for which hotel loyalty programs are the most rewarding are pretty simple.
Sure, there are different exceptions for family travel, or for top tier elite guests who spend and stay big, but for most hotel stays for 98% of travelers, what you’re about to read should make your decisions blissfully easy.
And spoiler alert, the best answer may be to simply use a credit card you already have, and not even bother with hotel loyalty programs.
The first thing worth noting is that no two points programs offer identical value, and any attempt to value a certain type of points is subjective. For example, 100,000 Hilton Honors Points may not actually be worth as much as 60,000 World Of Hyatt Points.
By GSTP’s latest calculations, here’s a baseline for what points are worth which each loyalty program.
- Marriott Bonvoy Points are worth around 0.7 cents per point.
- IHG Rewards Club Points are worth around 0.5 cents per point.
- Hilton Honors Points are worth around 0.4 cents per point.
- World Of Hyatt Points are worth around 1.5 cents per point.
- Radisson Rewards are worth around 0.4 cents per point.
The simplest way to look at this, is to use these figures to create dollar amounts. So 100,000 points at half a cent per point should be worth at least $500, as would be the case for IHG here. For 100,000 Hyatt Points at 1.5 cents per point, it would be $1500.
As you can see, less of one type of hotel reward point can be more valuable than more of another, but that’s only step one of figuring out the best loyalty programs. The other side of the equation is figuring out how many points you earn, and how easily they add up.
We need to examine just how many points each hotel loyalty program offers when you actually stay at hotels, to figure out which is the most generous of them all, and worth pursuing for your loyalty.
Gary Leff of View From The Wing examined hotel loyalty programs from a simple and accurate perspective, which GSTP backs, based on the simple mathematical rebate you earn from each hotel stay, like cash back. Think 1% back, 10% back, etc.
To accurately weed through the nonsense and marketing, and come up with a good estimation for what you “really get” in return on each hotel stay, take the number of points you earn per dollar spent at each hotel brand and multiply that number by the value of each type of hotel point (like above), based on a “cents per point” basis. This creates an easy ballpark figure for your loyalty.
Basically, it’s an easy equation: points earned per dollar spent at the hotel x the value per point you should expect to get when you cash in.
If a hotel offers 10 points per dollar spent, and the hotel’s points are worth .5 cents, you get your rebate figure. The rebate tends to jump the higher your elite status. If you don’t have elite status, it’s not a concern.
Since each hotel program offers a different number of points per dollar you spend, and the points you earn from each program are worth different amounts, each hotel program ranks easily as a simple and clean rebate.
Here’s an incredibly easy to understand breakdown of the true rebate you earn from your hotel loyalty, not taking in any other loyalty factors, such as limited time points bonuses or credit card bonuses into account.
Hilton: Hilton Honors
General Hilton Honors members earn 10 points per dollar, and Hilton Honors points are worth .04 cents per point by GSTP estimation, for a 4% rebate on your stays.
Top elite Hilton members earn 20 points per dollar, for a rebate of 8%.
Hyatt: World of Hyatt
General World Of Hyatt members earn 5 points per dollar, and Hyatt points are worth 1.5 cents per point by GSTP’s estimation, for a rebate of 7.5% on hotel stays.
Top World Of Hyatt elite members earn 6.5 points per dollar for a 9% rebate on hotel stays.
General Marriott Bonvoy members earn 10 points per dollar, and Marriott points are worth .7 cents per point for a rebate of 7%.
Top Marriott Bonvoy elite members earn 17.5 points per dollar for a rebate of 12%. This is incredibly strong, and a driving factor for very frequent hotel guests to use the Marriott Bonvoy program.
IHG: IHG Rewards
General IHG Rewards members earn 10 points per dollar, and IHG points are worth .6 cents a piece, for a rebate of 6%.
Top IHG Rewards elite members earn 20 points per dollars, for a 12% rebate.
Accor: Accor ALL
General Accor ALL members earn a 5% rebate on stays and points values are fixed at €20 per 1,000 points. A €1000 stay would earn $50 back.
Top Accor ALL elite members earn a 10% rebate, which is very strong. A €1000 stay would earn €100 back.
*For Accor, US dollars and other currencies count too, but will earn slightly fewer points, or more points, depending on the value versus the Euro. For example, a £1000 stay in GBP will earn more points, because the pound is more valuable than the Euro currently.
Other Hotel Loyalty Factors Can Matter
Grabbing a hotel credit card can massively tip the scales for a loyalty program, but it’s only worth doing so once you’ve found the program that offers the rebate and perks you enjoy the most. And perks that you actually receive.
Adding a hotel credit card to your portfolio can bring up to 10X more points per dollar spent, and even include free annual nights, elite status and other things which can take a bunch of programs which are all relatively close in value, and tip the scales.
Breaking It Down: Hotel Loyalty Winners
Marriott and IHG are the most rewarding for top tier customers, while Hyatt and Marriott offer the best general member rebate. Simple enough, right?
Naturally, having a credit card from any of the brands can help push the scale in favor of one versus another, because you earn more points when you pay and potentially perks too, but stripping things away it’s that simple.
Many hotel credit cards in the USA have welcome bonuses over 100,000 points to get you started, and even elite status too, which can mean more points per dollar spent. If you’re into that, they can greatly change the math, but if you’re not, keep it simple with the above.
Don’t Forget Hotels.com!
If you find yourself constantly moving from one hotel chain to another, and don’t really care about earning loyalty points with one program, the Hotels.com loyalty program is actually the most rewarding loyalty program, offering between 8-10% back on all stays, with easy to use “free nights”.
You earn a “free night” for every 10 nights you stay with Hotels.com, and it doesn’t matter if you stay at chains, boutiques or all of the above. They all count. The value of a free night is the average price you paid per night, over the 10 nights. If every night you booked to reach 10 nights cost $250, you’d have a “free night” worth $250.
Or Just Use Your Credit Card For Hotel Booking
Capital One gives a whopping 10X points on hotel bookings made with Capital One Travel for Venture X carholders. That’s a 10% rebate (or better) based on the value of their points, which beats all chains on the “rebate” for general members.
Chase offers a similar option for the Sapphire Reserve Card with 10X on car rentals and hotels, and Sapphire Preferred also benefits from 5X on travel booked via Chase.
Your Hotel Benefits
There’s not much point comparing elite benefits at the bottom end -because they’re all almost entirely meaningless benefits – so this guide solely looks at the top end, where actually definable benefits like early check in, late checkout and other valuable benefits tend to exist.
It’s important to note that with many of these benefits, you may actually do better booking through a luxury travel agent who can secure things like free breakfast or late check out, without any elite status required. American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts also accomplishes this.
Breakfast: Yes. Late check out: Guaranteed. Upgrades: At check in.
Breakfast: Yes. Late check out: If Available. Upgrades: No guarantees.
Breakfast: Yes. Late check out: Guaranteed. Upgrades: Confirmed.
Breakfast: No. Late check out: If Available. Upgrades: No promises.
The General Outlook: Best Hotel Loyalty Program
No two travellers circumstances are exactly the same. There’s just no way to work the inner details of anyones plans or circumstances, such as credit cards or travel patterns let alone the emotional components. With that said…
From a generalist point of view, this View From The Wing take is such an accessible and easy way to look at hotel loyalty. Start here, and then work your way up the chain of emotional attachments and benefits which make an impact on your stays.
Personally, I don’t really bother. The rewards are too good from luxury travel agents and credit card rewards. If status is easy, I’ll take it, but I’ll always take the path of least resistance, which isn’t always a hotel loyalty program.
If you take a good look, you’ll find that generally speaking, Hyatt offers an average rebate and extraordinary benefits, Marriott offers a great rebate and solid benefits, Hilton doesn’t do all *that* much and that IHG offers a great rebate, but weak benefits for everyone who’s status doesn’t say Royal Ambassador.