Top Hotel Loyalty Programs

Posted June 27, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Hotel loyalty programs have never had the marketing and financial clout of airline frequent-flyer programs. Nevertheless, they remain a useful tool for serious travelers. Accordingly, we've compared the programs of the seven giant multi-brand hotel chains that dominate the North American markets as well as single-brand Best Western, and we rounded up the rest.

Editor's Note: We did not include each program's laundry list of minor benefits and partnerships, and our findings refer to North American or U.S. memberships; rules in other countries vary.

 

(Photo: Best Western)

Best Western Rewards

Availability: All Rewards-branded accommodations.

Earning Formula: Earn 10 points per in-hotel dollar spent, excluding some discounted room rates and rates booked through travel agents, including online. Points do not expire.

Alternate Airline Earning Formula: Earn 600 miles per stay on Southwest; 250 miles per stay on Air Canada, Alaska, American, Delta, and United; and 250–500 miles per stay on 18 foreign-line programs.

Redeeming Formula: Free nights are based on point "prices" that vary by location, season, and expected occupancy, mostly in the 8,000–36,000 point range.

Generosity: Stay five to 25 nights (average 16) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.

Airline Transfer: Best Western points can be transferred to Air Canada, Alaska, American, and Southwest.

Membership Benefits: Entry-level benefits are minor. The first substantial benefits, at Gold (which requires 10 stays or 10,000 points), are the best available room and snack or beverage. Earn up to 30 percent bonus points at higher levels.

Credit Card: Best Western Rewards MasterCard (Barclays) offers 15 points per dollar on qualifying hotel charges and one point per dollar on other purchases.

 

(Photo: Andrea Rugg Photography for Choice Hotels International)

Choice Privileges

Availability: Most hotels in all Choice brands: Ascend, Comfort Inn, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria Suites, MainStay Suites, Suburban, Econo Lodge, and Rodeway Inn.

Earning Formula: Earn 10 points per in-hotel dollar spent at most brands and five points per dollar at Econo Lodge, Main Stay, Rodeway, and Suburban. Points expire after two calendar years.

Redeeming Formula: Free nights are based on point "prices" that vary by location, season, and expected occupancy, mostly in the 8,000–36,000 point range.

Generosity: Stay five to 25 nights (average 16) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.

Airline Transfer: Choice points can be transferred to Air Canada, Alaska, American, Southwest, Spirit, and United, as well as to several foreign lines.

Membership Benefits: Entry-level benefits include late check-in, high-speed Internet (at all except Rodeway), local calls, and newspaper (most brands). Earn up to 50 percent point bonus at higher elite levels.

Credit Card: Choice Privileges Visa (Barclays) offers 15 points per dollar on qualifying hotel charges, two points per dollar on other purchases, and enrollment bonuses up to 30,000 points. This is useful only for Choice points and offers poor cash value.

 

(Photo: 2014 Hilton Hotels & Resorts)

Hilton HHonors

Availability: All Hilton brands: Conrad, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton, Home2 Suites, Homewood Suites, and Waldorf Astoria.

Earning Formula: Earn 15 points per dollar spent on hotel accommodations and services at all except Hampton, Homewood, and Home2. Earn half points at Hampton and Homewood and quarter points at Home2. Points expire within 12 months of not earning or spending points.

Alternate Airline Earning Formula: Earn 10 points per dollar spent on hotel accommodations and services at all except Hampton, Homewood, and Home2. Earn half points at Hampton and Homewood and quarter points at Home2. In addition, for every dollar spent at Hiltons, earn one mile on Air Canada, Alaska, American, Amtrak, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, and United; one point per $2 at JetBlue and Virgin America; and other earnings on several foreign lines.

Redeeming Formula: Free nights are based on point "prices" that vary by location, season, and expected occupancy, some at 5,000 but mostly in the 20,000–50,000 point range.

Generosity. Stay eight to 28 nights (average 15) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.

Membership Benefits: Entry-level benefits include late checkout and no additional charge for your spouse (subject to conditions). The first substantial benefits, at Gold (which requires 40 nights in a calendar year), are access to fitness centers, no-charge Wi-Fi at some locations, complimentary breakfast at Hilton Garden Inn, and room upgrades at Conrad. Earn bonus points up to 50 percent at higher elite levels.

Credit Card: Your best option is HHonors Surpass Card (AmEx), which offers automatic Gold status, 12 points per dollar at Hiltons (but no points on other purchases), and 60,000 bonus enrollment points for a $75 annual fee.

 

(Photo: Hyatt Hotels)

Hyatt Gold Passport

Availability: All Hyatt brands.

Earning Formula: Earn five points per in-hotel dollar spent. Points expire within 24 months of not earning or spending points.

Alternate Airline Earning Formula: Earn 500 miles per stay on American, Amtrak, Delta, Hawaiian, and United; 600 points per stay on Southwest; and similar earnings on 24 foreign lines.

Redeeming Formula: Award-stay points are based on point "prices" that vary by location, season, and expected occupancy, in the 5,000–39,000 point range.

Generosity: Stay five to 25 nights (average 16) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.

Airline Transfer: Choice points can be transferred to Air Canada, Alaska, American, Southwest, Spirit, and United, as well as to several foreign lines.

Membership Benefits: Entry-level benefits include late check-in, high-speed Internet (except Rodeway), local calls, and newspaper (most brands). Earn up to 30 percent point bonus at higher elite levels.

 

(Photo: LarsZahnerPhotography)

IHG Rewards Club

Availability: All IHG brands: Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza, Even, Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, Hualuxe, InterContinental, and Staybridge Suites.

Earning Formula: Earn 10 points per in-hotel dollar spent at most brands and five points per dollar at Candlewood and Staybridge. Points do not expire.

Alternate Airline Earning Formula: Earn two miles per dollar on Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, and United, except one mile per dollar at Candlewood and Staybridge. Earn 500 miles per stay on Air Canada and similar earnings on 50 foreign lines.

Redeeming Formula: Award-stay points are based on point "prices" that vary by location, season, and expected occupancy, in the 10,000–50,000 point range.

Generosity: Stay nine to 24 nights (average 16) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.

Membership Benefits: Entry-level benefits include no-charge Internet, late checkout, and daily newspaper. Earn up to 50 percent point bonus at higher elite levels.

Credit Card: IHG Rewards Club MasterCard (Chase) offers five points per dollar on qualifying hotel charges, two points per dollar on selected other purchases, one point per dollar on general charges, an annual "free" night, 10 percent point rebate, and enrollment bonuses up to 60,000 points.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Marriott Rewards

Availability: All 14 Marriott brands: AC Hotels, Autograph, Courtyard, Edition, Fairfield Inn, Gaylord, JW Marriott, Marriott, Moxy, Renaissance, Residence Inn, Ritz-Carlton, SpringHill Suites, and Towneplace Suites; plus earnings only at Marriott Executive Apartments and ExecuStay.

Earning Formula: Earn 10 points per in-hotel dollar spent at JW Marriott, Autograph, Renaissance, and Marriott, five points per dollar at Residence Inn and Towneplace Suites, and 1.5 points per dollar at the earning only brands. Points expire within 24 months of not earning points.

Alternate Airline Earning Formula: Earn one to two airline miles per dollar on Air Canada, Alaska, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, United, Virgin America, and 26 foreign lines, and 600 miles per stay on Southwest.

Redeeming Formula: Per-night award points are based on point "prices" that vary by location, season, and expected occupancy, in the 6,000–45,000 point range and in the 20,000–70,000 range at Ritz-Carlton. There are no blackout dates, but reduced "point saver" rates are sometimes available.

Generosity: Stay nine to 12 nights (average 10) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.

Airline Transfer: Marriott points can be transferred to miles on Air Canada, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, and United, as well as on 26 overseas airlines.

Membership Benefits: There are no entry-level benefits. The first substantial benefits, at Gold and Platinum (which require 50 nights), are room upgrades, complimentary premium Wi-Fi, access to lounge or free breakfast (except resorts), late checkout, and free local calls. Earn up to 50 percent bonus points at higher elite levels.

Credit Card: Marriott Rewards Visa (Chase) offers five points per dollar charged at hotels, two points per dollar on air tickets, and one point per dollar on other charges. Enrollment bonuses include 50,000 points and a free night.

 

(Photo: 2014 Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.)

Starwood Preferred Guest

Availability: All Starwood brands: Aloft, Element, Four Points, The Luxury Collection, Le Meridien, Sheraton, St. Regis, W Hotels, and Westin.

Earning Formula: Earn two Starwood points per in-hotel dollar spent. Points expire if you do not earn or spend points.

Redeeming Formula: Award-stay points are based on point "prices" that vary by location, season, and expected occupancy, some as low as 4,000 but mostly in the 10,000–35,000 point range.

Generosity: Stay 10–35 nights (average 23) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.

Airline Transfer: Starwood points can be transferred to miles on Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, and United, as well as many foreign lines. There is a 25 percent bonus for transferring 5,000 points, which is an outstanding deal.

Membership Benefits: Entry-level benefits are minimal. The first substantial benefits, at Platinum (which requires 25 stays or 50 nights), are room upgrades, complimentary Wi-Fi, access to club/fitness facilities, late checkout, and guaranteed room availability up to 72 hours in advance. Earn 50 percent point bonus at higher elite levels.

Credit Card: Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) AmEx offers an additional two to three points per dollar for in-hotel charges, one point per dollar on all other purchases, and enrollment bonuses of up to 30,000 points. The annual fee is $65 after the first year.

 

(Photo: Wyndham Hotel Group)

Wyndham Rewards

Availability: All Wyndham brands: Baymont Inn, Days Inn, Hawthorn Suites, Howard Johnson, Knights Inn, Microtel, Ramada, Super 8, Travelodge, Wingate, Wyndham, Wyndham Grand Collection, Wyndham Garden Hotels, and Tryp.

Earning Formula: Earn 10 points per in-hotel dollar spent at all except Hawthorn Suites. Earn five points per dollar at Hawthorn Suites. Points expire within 12 months of not earning or spending points.

Alternate Airline Earning Formula: At most Wyndham brands, earn two miles per in-hotel dollar spent on Air Canada, Alaska, American, Amtrak, Hawaiian, United, and several foreign lines, and 600 points per stay on Southwest.

Redeeming Formula: Award-stay points are based on point "prices" that vary by location, season, and expected occupancy, mostly in the 5,500–30,000 point range.

Generosity: Stay eight to 25 nights (average 17) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.

Airline Transfer: Wyndham points can be transferred to Air Canada, American, Delta, or United.

Membership Benefits: Entry-level benefits are minimal. The first substantial benefit, at Gold (which requires 20,000 points), is a free night, up to three times per year.

Credit Card: Wyndham Rewards Visa (Barclays) offers 15 points per dollar on qualifying hotel charges and two points per dollar on everything else.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/Photodisc)

Other Chains

Many other North American hotel chains operate loyalty programs, including Carlson, Delta, Fairmont, Gouverneur, Kimpton, La Quinta, Leading Hotels of the World, Loews, Omni, and Red Roof, along with the Stash Hotel Rewards program, which serves independent properties. Most follow the same earn/redeem patterns of the larger chains. Among the large North American chains, Motel 6 is unique in not offering a loyalty program.

Many large chains based outside of North America also operate similar loyalty programs—some, such as Accor, operate some hotels in North America; others, such as Melia, do not. Check on the programs of any chains you regularly use.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/Purestock)

Takeaways

You might as well join the loyalty program of any hotel where you stay. Enrollment costs nothing, and several programs give at least minor benefits as soon as you join. If you value hotel points but are only an occasional traveler, try to focus your stays on those programs in which points do not expire.

Most programs that offer airline-miles earning require that you select either the hotel points or the air miles. If your focus is on airline miles rather than hotel points, the loyalty programs of Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Wyndham are favorable. Hilton's unique double-dip earning in both hotel and airline programs is especially attractive, as is Starwood's transfer option.

Many travelers have concluded that the Starwood credit card, with its potential 25 percent transfer bonus, is a better bet than some airline cobranded cards. But if you don't care for airline miles, you can stick with the hotel points.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Top Hotel Loyalty Programs.

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