Which Major Hotel Program Is Best?

What’s the best hotel program? There are two elements to loyalty marketing: recognition and reward. The former is the elite program, how you treat your best customers. The latter is rebate for their spend.

When considering which hotel program is best, you’re going to want to look at your own circumstances and the things that matter most to you. For instance,

  • Does the chain have hotels in the places you stay, that match your price point?
  • How rewarding are they for the kind of customer that you are, a road warrior doing 60-100 nights a year or someone who gets recognition for their credit card?

However we can make some overall claims about best that will not apply to every member, every time, with their own subjective preferences. We can do this by looking at the overall earn-and-burn program, and by comparing the major elite benefits each program offers.

Which Hotel Program Rewards You Most For Spending At Their Properties?

It can be harder to compare hotel program earning than to compare airline programs because hotels have currencies that are each on their own (often inflated) scale. A Hilton Diamond earns 20 points per dollar spent at most Hilton properties, while a Hyatt Globalist earns just 6.5 points per dollar. That doesn’t make Hilton more rewarding, since the value of each point is different.

Fortunately I’ve already done the work to come up with a value of each program’s points, so we can compare how much value each chain gives back to its members by multiplying the number of points earned per dollar. Here I do this for a general (base) member and for a top elite member.

General Top Elite Value General Top Elite
Member Earn Member Earn Per Point Member Rebate Member Rebate
Hilton 10 20 $0.0040 4% 8%
Marriott 10 17.5 $0.006 6% 10%
Hyatt 5 6.5 $0.0140 7% 9%
IHG 10 20 $0.0050 5% 10%

Looking just at base earn doesn’t tell the full story for IHG or Hilton.

  • IHG lets its top elites have choice of 25,000 bonus points or gifting status to a friend on qualification, so some members will want to add 25,000 points to their calculation, adding perhaps 15% (and in edge cases twice that) to the rebate value the member receives (worth ~ $125).
  • Hilton is the most consistent offering promotions, which are usually competitive to what other chains are doing, and often more competitive. Hilton also gives threshold bonuses of additional points on hitting night thresholds. What’s more, their premium cards can be lucrative when used at their hotels (but are usually ok at best outside of their hotels).

As Hilton Executive Vice President Jeff Diskin once explained they adopted a strategy of taking value out of the base program and using promotions to keep customers on the hamster wheel.

[B]eing over indexed in terms of the base level doesn’t give you enough payback…We are actually recognizing that it’s much more important to have promotional activity in the marketplace to segment divide and conquer and put different initiatives in place for different groups of travelers. Not just by their tier level but also by the type–if they’re resort stayers or meeting planners–versus just having a core proposition which we over indexed.

Overall Hilton gives you a lot of points. Their points aren’t worth so much. You have to engage with their promotions and card to make up for the difference.

IHG points aren’t super valuable, though they too hand out a lot of them. You can’t use those points for anything other than a base room (no premium awards).

Marriott gives out a lot of points and even dropping award charts the combined mix generates value to members, even if it’s less value than three years ago when I viewed their points as being worth nearly 30% more.

Hyatt has a strong earn-and-burn proposition at the base level, but offering just at most a 30% elite bonus – when other chains offer as much as 100% – is a weak spot.

Which Hotel Program Offers The Best Top Elite Status?

Here too there’s nuance between the programs and it doesn’t much matter to you if you can confirm a suite at booking off the cheapest rate at the Park Hyatt New York if you only ever stay at inexpensive lodging in Des Moines.

best hotel program delivers suite at park hyatt new york
Suite Living Room, Park Hyatt New York

However we can compare the core benefits of each loyalty program at the top tier level fairly easily:

Suite  Late Dedicated
Upgrades Breakfast Checkout Concierge
Hilton No Promises Yes/F&B Credit If Available No
Marriott At Check-in Yes / Most brands Guaranteed Not Really
Hyatt Confirmed Yes / Full breakfast Guaranteed Yes
IHG No Promises No If Available No

Hilton offers ‘upgrades’ but each hotel, more or less, gets to decide what that means. Some are generous and many are not. If a hotel has an open standard suite, and refuses to upgrade a Diamond member into it, they haven’t violated any rules of the program. Hilton doesn’t guarantee late check-out although hotels are encouraged to offer it. They no longer even guarantee free breakfast at U.S. hotels, their long-standing differentiator (they even offered this to Gold members who got their status from a credit card). Instead they offer U.S. members a food and beverage credit that’s far more flexible, but may not buy more than a cup of coffee after tax and tip.

IHG doesn’t offer much in the way of promised benefits. There’s no promise of suites, club lounges, or breakfast. Late check-out isn’t guaranteed.

Marriott promises a lot but often doesn’t deliver. Even their $20,000 minimum spend, 100-night Ambassador members no longer get a dedicated Ambassador – just a reservations team to email, and members report that it can take days to hear back. They do promise suite upgrades and guarantee late checkout, and increasingly hotels are returning to honoring breakfast benefits where applicable. Considering they compete mostly against the largest chains (Hilton, IHG) their elite program is still.. better. Put another way they can get away with failing to deliver on promises because it’s not like others promise much.

best hotel program offers breakfast at marriott boca raton
Marriott Boca Raton Breakfast

Far and away the best top elite tier of the four programs is Hyatt, which not only guarantees late check-out and (full) breakfast at full service properties or club lounge access, but actually lets members earn confirmable upgrades – a suite at time of reservation. 60-night elites receive a dedicated concierge, a single point of contact to email or call with all Hyatt-related issues, though I think the program has room for improvement to reach the levels that some Starwood Ambassadors once delivered. And Hyatt’s program (on the redemption side) even offers a path to premium suites, not just standard suites.

These aren’t the only benefits out there, for instance Marriott offers Ambassador members the ability to request and hopefully confirm early check-in or very late checkout (based on a 24 hour clock from arrival). Hyatt lets top elites gift their status for a stay when redeeming points for someone else, and waives resort fees for top elites on paid stays (for everyone on redemption nights, like Hilton) and gives top elites free parking on award nights as well. But the above benefits are the major ones applicable most of the time to most elite members, I think.

So What Does This Mean For Your Stays?

Smaller chains can provide exceptional value, and have to provide that value to be competitive. You can pretty much walk down the street, trip, and turn up in a Marriott or Hilton so they may not need to work as hard. But if a chain has less than 20% of the rooms of one of those players, it takes effort to be loyal and therefore the chain needs to give the customer a reason to go out of their way.

It’s no surprise that Hyatt’s elite program is better, and that Starwood’s used to be. And Hyatt has grown its footprint, I still think of them as a 700 hotel chain – when they’re at around 1000 hotels not counting several hundred partner hotels where you can earn status and use points. That pales in comparison to ‘7000+’ hotels and they aren’t in as many small cities.

What I actually like best is that even as Hyatt has devalued its points somewhat with the introduction of peak and off-peak redemption pricing, they’ve done so in a seemingly balanced and fair way, and they’ve made other moves to improve the program such as introducing premium suite redemptions which can be a surprisingly good value on a points upgrade.

My advice is go with Hyatt if you can earn 60 elite nights (their credit card helps) based on your stay frequency and patterns. Then supplement that status with a credit card elsewhere to avoid the worst treatment when you can’t stay with Hyatt. If your patterns don’t work for that, go with a bigger chain and attenuate expectations accordingly.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is proof for a certain amateur on FlyerTalk that was known.

    I just wish Hyatt had better LS options, HPs are so meh…I despise Marriott and all it stands for, but I have always liked the Aloft (a Starwood creation) as a more budget option, and think AC Hotels (an acquisition, not created by Marriott) are quite sharp & contemporary

  2. I vote with my wallet… and Hyatt, with the smallest footprint of the 4, has earned my business. Even if it means a little extra effort. Hope they stay small enough to continue needing to earn it. Seems like the bigger they get, the less they try. Current wacky 2021 totals for me across for all…

    Hyatt 209 nights
    Marriott 148 nights
    Hilton 128 nights
    Hotels. 27 nights
    Airbnb 7 nights
    Friends & Family 6 nights
    Flatbed 1st class 4 nights
    IHG 3 nights
    Misc 3 nights

    Obviously Hyatt, Hilton & Marriott include extra nights for spend, carryover or Covid. But I’ve lived 365.25 in some combination of the above for the last 7+ years. And the Hyatt app is my first stop when booking a room.

    My next 3 nights will be dog sledding. Add 3 more to the misc category. Chasing it with 2 nights burning cat 4 free nights at a Hyatt. And that’s the negative for the program, blackouts on using the certs and limited time to use them. So it’s often use em or lose em.

    And yes… being a total D-Bag with my totals. But they are accurate and Hyatt deserves the love. Please stay gold pony boy.

  3. 1) Re “IHG points aren’t super valuable, though they too hand out a lot of them. You can’t use those points for anything other than a base room (no premium awards).” I have often found Holiday Inn Express properties that allow redeeming for a junior suite for the same amount of points as a base room. 2) I have found over the last year that for my stay pattern (at Hampton/Holiday Inn Express-type properties) that IHG points have been much more valuable than Hilton points. E.g., several times I have found HIX rooms (and sometimes jr suites) for 12-18,000 points when the Hampton nearby wanted north of 30,000 points for a base room.

  4. @ Gary — Economics means that IHG worth <0.5 (almost continuous purchase price) and Hyatt worth <1.68 (lowest purchase price). I would value these currencies at 0.4 and 1.6, making IHG even worse and Hyatt even better than you show above. Hyatt PLEASE don't screw us over like Marriott and IHG!!

  5. For elite status benefits, I am with Hyatt.

    For points earning and redeeming for and from hotels, it’s the likes of Choice hotels that provides me maximum bang for my buck.

    And yet I rack up most of my hotel points from Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton anyway.

  6. @GUWonder, at Choice hotels and similar, you’re better off paying the Priceline rate, realizing an immediate cash discount, instead of playing the points game.

  7. There are so many overpriced hyatt places in the US offering little more than a Holiday Inn express or hampton inn and charging a 20-30% premium for the pleasure. All the above is worthless dribble without some context on the value of paid rates. Hyatt frequently fails on that measure. Hyatt is primary valuable for independent partner hotels and for most of those there is no benefit to having elite status. 80%+ of my hyatt stays are award nights at partner hotels. IHG actually gets the majority of my spend. Outside the US they often have the deepest network and competitive pricing. I pay for the room I want – zero risk of being disappointed. Redeem for base room and take paid upgrade if I want one. No drama. Fourth night free with credit card is one of best values out there.

  8. Hyatt has done a great job selling people crappy hotels (like US Hyatt Place) that are no better than an Econolodge, at premium prices

    You gotta hand it to them for strong branding and the ability to separate people from their money for mediocre product.

  9. That’s nonsense. Fairfield and HIX are close to Econolodge and La Quinta. HP is more akin to 4P and Hampton.

  10. There’s 2 kinds of Hyatt Places. One is the orange brick exterior, formerly AmeriSuites. Those properties suck very big cock. The other kind of Hyatt Place are the newer ones that were built to Hyatt spec.

  11. I don’t understand how people value IHG points at $0.05 a pop.

    My last redemption was for a HEX property in NYC for 20k points. Room would have cost $155.03 (that includes $22.98 in taxes; no resort fee) under the rebated “exclusive member rate.”

    That’s a value of $0.08 per point ($0.0775, to be precise).

    This has been my last redemption, but it’s not an isolated case. You can get 0.8 to 1.0 cpp at midscale IHG properties all the time.

    I think most bloggers’ value estimate is biased as they’re likely only considering aspirational properties. (Because as a blogger, those properties are the ones gives you the clicks and page impressions and that’s all bloggers like Gary care about.)

  12. John, IHG sells points for $0.05, maybe 0.06 a pop on a bad day. No way points are worth more than that.

  13. GLN2LW,

    I’m better off earning the points from the Choice stays than using PCLN and Hotwire —but it’s a particularity of how I redeem them.

    Overall, I get a higher return on the money out of points earned from stays booked at Choice properties than I do out of points earned from stays booked at Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and Marriott.

  14. What makes a hotel program “major”? By the number of hotels, Hyatt doesn’t compare. Every other program mentioned has at least six times the number of properties.

  15. @ Miamiorbust — Hyatt is primarily valuable for Park Hyatt, Andaz, Thompson and (generally, non-US) Grand Hyatt. I’m guessing that you do not frequent those properties.

  16. My two cents? As a Hilton Diamond (earned thru stays not cc), I am thinking of switching to Hyatt. So what could Hilton do to change my mind?

    1) Dedicated concierge (how do they even NOT have that?)
    2) Executive Lounge in every hotel Hilton-level and above
    3) Free parking, or at least a discount, in those places that don’t have free surface parking

  17. Value is based on what you need it for and what you get out of it. .

    On a recent family visit
    $125 for a HI Express vs $180 for a Hilton. when all I am there is from 11pm until 8am, I do not use the pool, gym, i get free parking at both, beds at both are both nice, both gave me frig in room. HIE gave me free breakfast (was not the best, but I did not really need it). Hilton gave me a $16 less my $12 gold that I could have paid $8 for at the local breakfast shop. They both gave me free wifi. I never turned on the TV at either.

    When we were in Tokyo, the Intercontinental had a better location then the Hilton, both gave us the same services

    We have found Hyatt does not meet our needs as they do not have the locations for our travel requirements. I do not have a need nor do I want to pay $250 a night to visit family in Maine when I am only in the hotel to rest.

    You can NOT compare IHG at $.05 vs Hyatt $1.68 when one can purchase an Intercontinental room behind Buckingham Palance 473 GBP Hyatt is down the street at 356 GBP. BUT IS MEMBER ONLY . But World of Hyatt benefits are not included.

  18. @ Tomri — What? For a random date I chose, the IC Park Lane is 111,000 points (416 GBP at 0.5cpp) and the Hyatt Churchill is 25,000 points (315 GBP at 1.68 cpp), so yeah, the 0.5 and 1.68 are VERY comparable. Plus, you can’t walk an entire mile between the Hyatt and Buckingham Palace? Do you spend your entire time in London hanging out with the Queen?

  19. No one here understands the “value” of points currencies so just stop talking about it. A Hyatt point is not worth, say, 1.5 absolute cents, nor is a Hilton point worth about 0.5 absolute cent. Therefore, you cannot compare 1.5 cents per HYATT point vs 0.5cent per HILTON point and say that the Hyatt point is worth more, and the reason should be obvious: a cent is cent but point is NOT a point because different programs award a different number of points for the SAME number of cents spent. Cent PER Hyatt point cannot be compared directly with cent PER Hilton point because they are apples and oranges!!!

    Simple math to show how they can be compared:

    Base earn rate for a WoH Globalist is 6.5 points/$.
    A HH Diamond’s base earn rate is 20 points/$.

    20/6.5 = 3, which is the factor for converting HH points to WoH and vice versa.

    Here’s the conversion of cents PER Hyatt point to cents PER Hilton point:

    1.5 cents/WoH point * 1 WoH/3 HH point = 0.5 cent/HH point.

    The conversion by simple dimensional analysis is trivial and incontrovertibly correct.

    1.50 cents per HYATT point are worth exactly the same as 0.5 cent per HILTON point.

    Do similar trivial analyses and you will seen that all points currencies are worth exactly the same after an appropriate and necessary points currency conversion.

    It is utterly stupid and clueless to compare just the cents when points currencies are not interchangeable. Just because they are both called “cents” doesn not mean that SG cents and US cents are interchangeable and can be compared directly!!!

    Simple stuff that somehow eludes 100% of self-anointed “travel gurus” who purport to rank the “best” hotel programs when they are utterly clueless.

    Because Hyatt does not award the single most valuable perk in hotel loyalty – 4th or 5th award night FREE – it is one of the worst programs in the the business. Couple that with the small footprint and anyone that plays the game with a “full deck” scratches their head at the level of misinformation and cluelessness that passes for travel blogosphere dogma or wisdom.

    G’day.

  20. BTW, I will post the above comment every time a stupid blogpost like this one is recycled and pushed as some nugget of wisdom when it is utterly clueless and contains nothing but falsehoods.

    Genug is genug!

  21. @DCS: You need to calm down…or perhaps take up a hobby! This is fun & games…it’s a diversion…no one here is taking it THAT seriously. Happy Holidays!

  22. @WB – What the hell are you talking about?! Travel IS my hobby and it is being desecrated daily by self-anointed “travel gurus” purporting to be part of some high priesthood that can lecture the masses about the “best” in travel (my dearest hobby) like in this nonsensical, utterly inaccurate post.

    The notion that “no one here is taking it THAT seriously” is also just nonsense. The forum host does and so do thousands, including in this very thread, who echo the same garbage about how Hyatt points are worth more…blah…blah…blah…based on nothing but cluesslessness. I bet you too are just as clueless about it as they.

    G’day.

  23. @ DCS — Yes, of course a Hyatt point is worth 3x a Hilton point (well, actually 4x). I think that 90% of readers understand that concept, although obviously some don’t. Otherwise, what are you ranting about? Hilton is good in many ways similar to Hyatt because they generally meet expectations. The best hotel program should be measured by its performance relative to what it promises to deliver. Marriott is the absolute worst because they basically lie to their elite members. IHG is not far behind with their thieving serial devaluations of late and inconsistent delivery of benefits. Hyatt ALWAYS delivers to me what at least what I expect (usually more), and Hilton usually does as well.

  24. @Gene – You are clueless for repeating something I just got through debunking with grade school-level math.

    You are correct that 90% of the readers “understand” that iconcept that is cluelessly perpetuated in blogposts like this one and turned into dogma through mindless repetitions by uncritical readers like you. Stop drinking the kool-aid!!!

    Repeat after me: All points currencies are created equal.

  25. @ DCS — If it weren’t for its 5th night “FREE,” Hilton points would be worth even less than 0.4. Just think, If Hyatt added this best-of-all-benefits-ever-offered-by-a-hotel-loyalty-program, Hyatt points would be worth 5x Hilton points!

    Since all points are equal, I would love to trade you my Hilton points 1:1 for your Hyatt points. Let me know when you are ready.

  26. @Gene – Sadly, I fall in the 0.0001% that gets it, as I am the only one that gets it. I would’ve been happy if as many as 10% got it. I have blogpost that graphically explains loyalty math to dummies. I will clean it up during this year-end holiday and do a quantitative blogpost that will forever educate the masses about the value of points currencies.

    That is a promise and the math is even more trivial than above because it is graphical.

    Stay tuned for the great debunking.

    G’day.

  27. @ DCS — If it weren’t for its 5th night “FREE,” Hilton points would be worth even less than 0.4. Just think, If Hyatt added this best-of-all-benefits-ever-offered-by-a-hotel-loyalty-program, Hyatt points would be worth 5x Hilton points!

    – 5Gene

    You are still clueless and treating the “cents” in the nominal values of points as absolute cents. Here the points, getting 0.4 cents/HILTON point the exact SAME as getting 1.2 cents/HYATT points!!!!!!!!!!

  28. I see the offer and it just further reveals your cluelessness.

    Hilton points trade 3:1 with Hyatt points because for the same spend I earn 3x more HH points so that your offer is utterly stupid. Just like trading Chase points for Marriott points 1:1. The scales are different and favorable for Hilton and Marriott because members are forced to redeem HH or MR points at their respective properties instead of transferring externally earned points that do nothing for a company’s bottom line. That is too sophisticated for you to understand, but the transferability of Chase points to Hyatt is a disadvantage, just like the transferability of star points to miles was bad for Starwood, which is no more…

    Gotta go. I am now at Hilton’s iconic The Drake hotel in Chicago, where I just scored a complimentary suite upgrade!

  29. @DCS: I stand by my original comment…which was…for those keeping score:

    You need to calm down…

  30. @WB – Fine, but I firmly stand by mine as well, and urge you to drink less kool-aid, that self-anointed “travel gurus’ ” opium for uncritical minds like yours…

    Byebye!

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