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 room rate and rewards points change value without warning, at the blink of an eye.

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, 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, what you’re about to read should make your decisions blissfully easy.

Points Valuations

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.

Your Hotel Rebate

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. Like, is it 1%, 10%, 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, he took the number of points you earn per dollar spent at each hotel brand and then multiplied that number by the value of each type of hotel point (like above), based on a “cents per point” basis, which creates an easy ballpark figure for your loyalty.

Basically, it’s an easy equation: points earned per dollar spent  x the value per point you should expect to get when you cash in.

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.

But Other 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.

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.

Right now, Marriott and Hyatt have the most compelling credit card offers, but Hilton is the only one offering top tier elite status outright. You can view current card offers here.

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.

Marriott Bonvoy

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.

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.

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.

Marriott

Breakfast: Yes. Late check out: Guaranteed. Upgrades: At check in.

Hilton

Breakfast: Yes. Late check out: If Available. Upgrades: No guarantees.

Hyatt

Breakfast: Yes. Late check out: Guaranteed. Upgrades: Confirmed.

IHG

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.

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.

Does this help clarify hotel loyalty programs?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation

18 Comments

  1. None of this is equal. You could have all the earning and benefits in the world but if you have a smaller footprint it’s not the same. For example you cover Hyatt but they have less properties than Radisson. Good post in general. Not trying to be negative just seems like all travel bloggers want to push Hyatt at the best and I’m not that convinced.

  2. Gil,

    Can you please caption your photos?

    There are several AMAZING hotel views this article, and I want to go there – but I have no idea where they are.

    Thx 🙂

    1. From top to bottom:

      Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
      Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
      Hilton Abu Dhabi
      Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills
      Ritz-Carlton Abama, Tenerife
      Intercontinental Da Nang
      Le Meridien, Bora Bora
      St Regis Maldives Vommuli

  3. “Gary Leff examined hotel loyalty programs from a simple and accurate perspective, based on the mathematical rebate you earn from each hotel stay, like cash back.”

    ‘Simple’, yes I agree. Whereas ‘accurate’ is quite subjective. The premise that his rebate values for hotel loyalty programs are accurate is based on the reader having no dispute to his assessment for the ‘points value’ part of the equation.

    The points value Gary Leff uses are his own subjective values. Gary shows in his own writing that One Mile at a Time and The Points Guy have different point values, by as much as 50% difference from his own.

    So why should we accept Gary’s point value determinations as more precise and accurate than the other two bloggers?

    Average values are relative.

    You write that 60,000 Hyatt points might be two nights at a hotel that might have room rates over $1,000 per night, whereas 100,000 Hilton points might not pay for one hotel night.

    That is all hotel redemption specific to a property at the time of redemption. The basic rule is hotel points have no value until redeemed.

    How much you get per point is determined only when you redeem them for a hotel stay.

    I redeemed 20,000 Hilton points for a hotel stay next month that is priced at $455.
    My points value for 20,000 points is far higher than $80, if I go by the ‘accurate’ points value of $4/1000 you show for Hilton.

    I spent $455 for 7 Hilton brand hotel nights in July and earned 10,000 Hilton points. My actual rebate on Hilton spend was 50% based on my next redemption.

    Will I get that rebate value every time? Unlikely. But I certainly average a far higher rebate on my hotel stays than the points values given by OMMAT, TPG and VFTW.
    There is no way to look at the value of points and rebate value without consideration of hotel loyalty program promotions.

    I don’t bother with the average value of a point. I look at my hotel stays one transaction at a time. I analyze hotel room cost and how much of a bonus I will get towards a free night for my hotel spend.

    I generally get close to one free night for every two or three paid nights throughout the year across loyalty programs. Choice, Radisson, Best Western and Wyndham also play a large part in my hotel plans since these programs often have far higher rebate potential than Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott for places I travel.

    My only paid Marriott stays in the past year earned one free category 5 night during last winter’s MegaBonus. My $225 in spend for two Marriott stays earned a free night that had a published rate of $332.

    I had no Marriott elite status at the time. My rebate value on Marriott spend was significantly higher than 7%. Promotions make all the difference when earning points through paid hotel stays.

    1. Ric,

      I can’t help but get the feeling from your comment that you get the impression that I have no clue what I am talking about here, and I’ve just blindly followed some sort of logic train. I too have points valuations, I too have a fairly decent grasp on this industry we write about, and I chose Gary’s approach over all others here because it’s a base value people can bank on. Can they do better? Of course they can, that’s what quarterly bonuses and 2x promos, even 3x promos are for. But for someone looking at the most basic proposition of a loyalty program, this is hard to argue against, unless you just want to make a .01 move in any direction.

  4. @mojo

    Top to bottom…

    Park Hyatt Maldives, Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, Hilton Abu Dhabi, Andaz Tokyo, Ritz Abama (Tenerife), Intercontinental Vietnam, Le Meridien Bora Bora, St Regis Maldives.

  5. Marriott offers breakfast at some hotels to top tier elites, but far from all. Windbag Miles recently wrote about getting only a $18 credit at the Conrad Chicago with top tier status. The only chain that I’ve found to offer free breakfast consistently to top elites is Hyatt.

    Also, @Ric makes some good points. It’s tricky ground.

  6. It might be helpful to count credit card earning for stays as well, since that varies greatly by brand as well.

    Also, to be fair, Hilton typically runs some of the best and most consistent promos (along with some IHG Accelerate). In fact, I cannot recall the last time Hilton wasn’t giving out at least double points.

  7. Don’t take my comment personally.

    As someone who wrote a hotel points valuation article for Inside Flyer in 2010, my attitude to setting a point value to any currency has developed over the years to a belief that generalized points values are meaningless for points and miles.

    The value of points and miles is far more nuanced and dependent on the kind of air travel and hotel room you seek and your own acquisition cost. A person earning points and miles from credit cards compared to a person earning points and miles from travel on planes and stays in hotels have highly variable acquisition costs.

    Still, the basic rule is points and miles have no value until you redeem them. Once you have redeemed miles or points, then you can determine their value based on your own acquisition cost.

    1. I agree with you completely and understood exactly what you were trying to say. Gilbert’s response came across as very thin skinned and not sure exactly why he is so defensive.

      I do set point values (my own are generally in line w TPG but I have dropped Marriott to .7 from their .8). I don’t use Gary’s “rebate” methodology when deciding where to stay. I’m lifetime elite on both DL and AA plus lifetime Titanium w Marriott so no need to chase miles/points with those. Also, Diamond Hilton, Explorist Hyatt, Platinum IHG, Diamond Plus Caesars (get pretty much all my stays comped) and Gold MLife so stay when and where it works best for me.

      I agree with you that points, while have a theoretical value, are worth nothing until redeemed. When I go to use points I typically look at properties in the area from a couple of programs where I have points (plus Amex travel options available through my Platinum card) and make an informed decision. Then I use points ONLY if I get more than my value for them. If not I just pay for the stay. I’m lucky to be in position to pay for any stay or flight in any class hotel or airline cabin I want without worrying about the cost so that makes my decisions really easy.

      1. Retired Gambler, with respect, do you understand how inside baseball this all is, compared to 99% of travelers. Status with all the chains? What’s the point? Aside from Marriott Titanium, that sounds like a lot of credit card spend or annual fees, just to have questionable hotel benefits. On the virtue of days in a calendar year, that can’t all be from nights spent in hotels.

        Most travelers, certainly the ones that this is written for, potentially have one elite status, or none. They are looking to find which loyalty program is best suited to their spending, which will reward them with the best nuts and bolts benefits and the most points as they progress.

    2. I agree with Ric mostly. You have to take bonus earnings and credit card earnings into account as part of the analysis as well.

      Also my own personal redemption values far outweigh the minimal points valuation that Gary Leff has provided and even outweigh TPG and others. Now part of that may be that if the redemption value is too low then I will pay cash. I’m also looking at Amex Offers and have used my AX card instead of my Hilton, IHG, Bonvoy cards in many cases since these offers many times give up to 20% back.

      As an example over the past 4 years I average .9cents per Hilton point, 1.5cents per IHG point and 1.9cents per Marriott point. Granted I’m usually redeeming at higher end properties which gives you better value but those redemption values are far greater as I stated before.

      The only true way to evaluate points redemptions is once you actually redeem points for a booking.

  8. Many bloggers tried to put more definite value to hotel loyalty points, but the true is that that value is very relevant to every individual reservation and how those points were earned. The redemption values: XX,000 points = Free room are on the constant adjustment from the hotel programs themselves, and the price of acquiring points vary individually from $0 to unknown (or infinity in math).
    And on-demand award values like at Hilton makes it impossible to calculate even a medium value for any redemption at any particular property at any particular time frame. So mathematically it is a difficult task – not as easy as you imply. Although your effort (or rather Mr. Leff’s is noted).
    In my opinion, a person saves money if one redeemed hotel/resort stay at a lower cost compared to the cost of acquiring points for such redemption. So if 20,000 points saved you $109 for that night, and you got those points for $9 cost, then value of 20,000 points = $100 ($0.05 pp). But another award may be different.

    And if you’re looking for simple Rebate Value, then probably look at Hotels(.)com as it offers 10% average rebate on all reservations (if using 10th night Free option consistently); or check Orbitz for almost year-round discounts of 10-15% Off hotels – giving more potential for cash savings.

  9. There’s a HUGE difference between “yes” at Marriott on the breakfast as an elite vs “yes” at Hilton! At some Marriott properties it’s actually “no” like at Editions and then only a $10 F&B credit at others!

  10. There is one thing alone that I believe sets Bonvoy (Marriott, former SPG) above the rest, which is of course the fact that they transfer to approximately 38 different airlines. This is such a huge bonus to me that it stands out over the rest. Not that I don’t like staying at the IHG Le Grand in Paris, or at Hyatt properties. Since premium cabin airfare usually costs more than hotels, I have been using Marriott points to fly Lufthansa J class through Asiana’s awards to and from Europe for years. Staying at Marriott with status buys airfare.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *