Just like US News presented a highly flawed ranking of frequent flyer programs that was mostly a ranking of the airlines themselves, they have also put out a ranking of hotel programs that is as much about “how big is the hotel chain?” as it is “do they provide any value in their loyalty program?”
As a result the biggest chains, for the most part, win. (As before, a hat tip to the indispensable Terry Maxon.)
Here are their rankings:
1. Marriott Rewards, Marriott, 4.59
2. IHG Rewards Club, InterContinental Hotels Group, 4.47
3. Best Western Rewards, Best Western, 4.39
4. Club Carlson, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, 4.24
5. Starwood Preferred Guest, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, 4.20
6. Hilton HHonors, Hilton Worldwide, 4.09
7. Wyndham Rewards, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, 4.08
8. La Quinta Returns, La Quinta Worldwide, 4.01
9. Hyatt Gold Passport, Hyatt Hotels, 3.90
10. Leaders Club, Leading Hotels of the World, 3.55
11. Le Club Accorhotels, Accor Hotels Worldwide, 3.48
12. Choice Privileges, Choice Hotels, 3.33
13. Stash Hotel Rewards, Stash Hotel Rewards, 3.04
14. Omni Select Guest, Omni Hotels & Resorts, 2.93
15. Kimpton Karma Rewards, Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, 2.80
16. Fairmont President’s Club, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, 2.14
17. YouFirst Rewards, Loews Hotels and Resorts, 1.51
50% of the Score is Based on the Size and Scope of the Hotel Chain, not the Loyalty Program
- 20% of the score is just ‘Number of Hotels in Network’ This is purely about size, not quality or value.
- 15% of the score is ‘Property Diversity’ — having different kinds of properties (resorts, city hotels, apartments) at different price points is considered good, even if most of the kinds of properties aren’t likely to appeal to a given traveler. A chain focused entirely on luxury would get knocked down here, and so would a chain focused on budget accommodations — although that has nothing to do with how valuable the loyalty program is for people who value the kinds of accommodations offered.
- 15% of the score is ‘Geographic Coverage’ — again, size matters, although this is more about scope. You may be interested in domestic properties only, but how big is the chain’s international footprint? It doesn’t matter the points cost or availability of the rooms, just that the rooms exist around the world.
The Half the Survey That Actually Has to Do With the Value of the Loyalty Program is a Hodge Podge
There are only two categories which are actually about the loyalty program in the US News ranking of hotel loyalty programs.
- 30% of the score is ‘Ease of Earning Free Night’.. how many nights you have to stay to earn a free night in each of 16 destinations. But since most hotel loyalty programs aren’t punch cards, and don’t work that way (stay X nights, get a free night) this is likely to lead to some odd results.
They are asking how many nights, at an average price point for hotels in a certain set of destinations, will it take to get a free night at a hotel in a different destination that may be of a different quality level. And they’re comparing different quality properties across chains as though they are the same.
A better metric, I think, is what I tried to lay out recently when I looked at how much spending with each chain is required for a free flight at a variety of different types of hotels — the cheapest entry level, the standard big city full service, and the top end luxury. That exercise was illuminating, for me at least.
- 20% of the score is everything else and though the survey says it is unbiased we do not know what portion of this mere 20% is upgrades, what is the ability to redeem for premium rooms rather than just base level rooms, or how much “whether points can be earned for flights and credit card purchases” factors in and the extent to which the ability to redeem points against your room folio (something that’s almost never a good idea) matters although these are all listed as the sort of things in this sand pile.
Getting Loyalty Exactly Backwards
While a loyalty program needs to be associated with hotels where you travel for it to be useful to you, in general the biggest loyalty programs are also the least rewarding.
When Marriott Rewards members speak about the program they often say they like it because there are properties everywhere, so they can earn their points no matter where they go. You can pretty fall into a Marriott or a Hilton (or related brand) regardless of destination.
But being loyal to Hyatt or to Kimpton or even Starwood is a choice. The chains are smaller, so they have to offer greater value to their frequent stay guests in order to encourage them to make that choice.
The smaller ones provide the most value through their programs because they need to do so to put heads in beds.