Loyalty programs are a challenging topic to cover well, because the unique circumstances for each individual can drastically change the merits of any given program, or benefit. What’s good for you, might not be all that useful to me.
A poor benefit for one can be heaven for another, and that’s even more true when it comes to family travel, where things like multiple rooms, breakfast and all sorts of factors come into play. In hopes of finding the best rewards for your family, here’s a look at the loyalty programs which reward family travel well…
Obviously, if you’re buying multiple rooms, you should be rewarded for each, right? Each hotel loyalty program takes a different approach to how many rooms you can earn redeemable points on, and also if you can earn “elite status” night credits, which can’t be redeemed, but count towards elite status on multiple rooms. Here’s a breakdown of how each program plays it.
- Accor ALL: you can earn points for up to two rooms.
- Hilton Honors: you can earn points for up to four rooms.
- World Of Hyatt: you can earn points for up to three rooms.
- IHG Rewards: you can earn points for up to nine rooms in USA, Canada, Europe, China.
- Marriott Rewards: you can earn points for up to three rooms.
In each case, these loyalty programs only allow you to earn elite status night credits for one room, so bringing the family won’t get you closer to elite status anytime soon, sadly. For a family who typically takes just two rooms, any of these options work, but obviously if you take more than that, you’ll begin to see some distinctions.
If you happen to be responsible for booking the travel of a few friends, IHG is clearly a great choice if you keep all the rooms on your folio, since you can take everyones points! In all instances above, the rooms must be on one bill to receive points for multiple rooms.
Accor also has an element which can be useful to heavy spenders. While you don’t get night credit for multiple rooms, all eligible expenses count towards the status points method of earning elite benefits, so you can qualify more quickly for perks based on spend alone, rather than nights.
Hot tip: If you want to see how rewarding each program is with the points you do earn per room, check out this article, which breaks the points down into a simple math based rebate. Basically, the points you receive in return vary between 4%-7% for a base guest, and climb the higher the status you earn.
The ease of earning points outside of traditional hotel stays is really dominated by credit cards.
In this regard, Hilton, Marriott, IHG and Hyatt absolutely dominate the game. Each offer similar earning rates and some also include excellent guest benefits whenever you stay, but that’s a rabbit hole you’ll need to dive down on your own. The long and the short of it is: many of these cards offer more than 100,000 points or an annual free night as part of the deal, which can get you a lot closer to your dreams.
The Chase IHG Premier Card brings a welcome bonus greater than 100,000 points, as well as a free night annually and Platinum status with IHG, for as long as you hold the card.
The Marriott Bonvoy cards can earn up to 30 nights of elite status credit, in addition to hundreds of thousands of points, free night certificates and more.
The World Of Hyatt Credit Card offers a smaller bonus, but the points go further. Plus, you earn elite status, and also earn free night certificates and other meaningful perks.
The Hilton suite of credit cards including Hilton Aspire, Hilton Surpass also bring more than 100,000 points, with little spending required, in addition to perks all the way up to top tier diamond, depending on the card.
Which Hotels Are Easiest For Using Points?
When you talk about family travel, you’re really talking about school holidays. When everyone on earth with children in school has the same – or similar – travel windows, prices skyrocket, and points availability goes downhill. Some programs are more flexible than others as to availability, which can be really meaningful.
The Easiest: Accor Hotels
Accor is the loyalty program behind Fairmont, Sofitel, MGallery, Pullman, Mondrian, SLS, Mercure, Novotel and others. Rather than working on “availability” and points charts, your points work like cash back, meaning you can apply your points toward the bill at any stay whatsoever. 2,000 points covers 40 Euros, or currency equivalent, so you can take some of the sting away, or all of it.
The “arbitrage” offered by some other programs – aka using 80,000 points to cover a $1000 room – isn’t there, but travel when you want to, for less, is.
Next Best: World Of Hyatt And Hilton
All the main hotel loyalty programs are moving towards “no blackout dates” to make their programs seem more accessible to all. The devil however, is in the details. Although every program theoretically makes rooms available every night, the amount they offer is down to the program policy.
Hyatt tends to make hotels best adhere to the “if there’s a standard room available, there must be a room with points available”, whereas IHG and Marriott properties can restrict the number of rooms they allow for points redemption. Hilton is quite similar and has a virtually identical standard room availability policy, though they charge considerably more points per night.
As expected, quite a few Marriott and IHG properties play games to limit the number of rooms booked on points, so these can be more challenging to book during school holidays and peak travel dates.
Alternative approach: Hotels.com offers a free night for every 10 you book, valued at the average nightly price for the 10 you did book. There are no blackout dates, and they can be used toward any hotel on their system. Basically, if you spent $200 a night on 10 nights, you’d have $200 to spend toward any hotel, and you don’t need to stay brand loyal at all.
Hotel benefits earned via elite status like Tinfoil, Silver, Gold, Platinum etc tend to apply only to the room the elite guest is staying in, and not any subsequent rooms. In other words, if you’re upgraded to a Club Room with lounge access because of status, the kids room won’t likely be included.
That doesn’t mean a hotel won’t go above and beyond to honour a frequent guest, or make your stay memorable, but they’re not obligated to by terms and conditions. Read as: if they do something nice, be grateful. Again, this applies to all the loyalty programs mentioned, so this is pretty much an even draw.
The exception to this rule is Hyatt “Guest Of Honor” benefits, where top elites can book a room for someone else (using points) and have their own benefits apply. It’s a great move for a top Hyatt elite travelling with family.
Referencing back to the first line of the article, there’s no one size fits all approach. A family travelling once a year, or to one region versus another will have different needs than the most frequent traveller and be represented differently by each program, but hopefully this has highlighted a few unique bits each program offers, which may speak the strongest to you.
Surprising to many US based readers, Accor has one of the largest footprints of any chain, with the caveat that most hotels are based outside of the USA and in terms of ease of redemption, and ability to earn status points on multiple rooms – you can qualify on status points or nights – makes it easier to earn perks than others, and although the points redemptions aren’t nearly as sexy, they are easy.
I’d say that makes Accor an excellent choice, but not an outright winner. Hyatt excels with being a great choice when it comes to easy redemptions, and having amongst the very highest rebate in terms of the number of points you get as a basic guest. In my mind, coupled with the ability to earn well with their credit card and the Chase credit cards which you can transfer points over into Hyatt from, they are also a top candidate.
As noted, IHG’s niche is being able to earn from up to 9 rooms, which could be great for multi family or extended family get togethers, assuming you feel comfortable robbing family members of points.
Marriott and Hilton also offer strong earning abilities, as well as easy access to perks via their credit cards, making them fair choices as well. I’d say depending where you’re located, Hyatt or Accor are best bets, followed by Marriott, Hilton and IHG.
And don’t forget about the free night benefits and massive points bonuses from credit cards either.