Which Hotel Chain Rewards Frequent Guests the Most for their Nights?

I’ve looked at which hotel programs are the most rewarding with points for your nights at their properties.

In doing that, I used the ‘base’ earning rates for each program (how many points a general member earns).

But that’s not the situation faced by many readers who have elite status with their favorite program. Programs generally give their elite members more points than general members. And elite bonuses vary widely across programs.

Here’s the top-tier elite earning for the six programs I’m looking at.

While Starwood is the least generous overall in terms of rewarding in-hotel spend, they have good elite bonuses that partially make up for it. Gold and Platinum members earn a 50% bonus (3 points per dollar instead of 2) and Starwood’s Platinum members who spend 75 nights a year or more with the chain earn a 100% bonus (4 points per dollar spent).

Hyatt offers the most modest elite bonus to their Diamond members, just 30%.

Hilton actually comes in just behind — they say they give Diamonds a 50% bonus but that bonus only applies to ‘base’ earning and not to the ‘extra’ 5 points per dollar members earn by selecting “points and points” as their earning style. In other words, a base member can earn 15 points per dollar, and a top tier Diamond 20 points. I call that a 33% bonus, even though Hilton says it’s 50%.

Note that I’m not including the effect of per-stay bonuses. Starwood lets Platinums choose 500 points if they don’t want free breakfast (at hotels without a club lounge). Hyatt is generous at 1000 points per stay for giving up the food and beverage amenity. Hilton’s 1000 points on the other hand is paltry given the inflated numbers they use in their award chart.

So let’s re-ask the questions:

  • What hotel program offers a free night after the least amount of spending for top tier elites?
  • What hotel program will let top tier elites redeem a free night in a big city after the smallest investment?
  • What hotel program will let top tier elites access its most expensive, most aspirational hotels for the least amount of spending?

Keep reading to see which hotel programs reward their elite members’ travel dollars the most.

Again, remember that I am ignoring factors that are very important for some travelers — especially elite travelers — like other elite benefits (upgrades!) as well as promotions. I also ignore ‘point saver’ and ‘cash and points’ awards — I’m just looking at the basic reward chart.

(Click to enlarge)


    * Assumes Points + Points earning style
    ** Assumes high season where applicable
    *** Assumes base-level room; excludes premium room awards; for Marriott excludes Ritz-Carlton reward nights; does not account for SPG hotels that charge 70,000 points

Club Carlson clearly kicks butt in terms of value even more for top elites than general members.

Starwood looks better for top elites than general members — still not generous, but not cringe-worthy either.

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 a good overview of the points required per spend, but there are a couple items to consider. With Marriott and Hilton, they have a book 4 nights and have the fifth night free, so this reduces both the average cost of expenditures and the total points needed by 20 percent. Hilton’s devaluation was truly awful, but they at least have countered some of it by offering double or triple points promos which help to earn more points quickly.

  2. Great post. This really puts it in perspective but I wonder what the answer would be if you layered in the bonus points from using a chain specific credit card when generating the on-property spend?

  3. @chitownflyer the Hilton bonus promos started a couple of years at least before the devaluation. SPG offers 5th night free on awards.

  4. For leisure travelers, elite status from stays is useless. That’s why I prefer Hilton. Can get tons of low cost points and earn elite status via CC spend.

  5. With a hotel credit card you can earn even more. IHG for instance gives you elite status and another 5 points per dollar in hotel and incidental spend, and when you redeem you get a 10% rebate in points which is not the same as fifth night free but still a nice extra.

  6. Nice analysis.

    Starwood rocks if you just look at credit card spend, which is by far most of my generation for any program.

  7. @Gary
    Some discussion elsewhere just bought me to this post about 8 months late, but there is a lot, like some of the assumptions, that I could take issue wit. However, I will just raise one.

    Your bias against Hilton comes through in this post. You did the math (mostly) correctly, found out that Hilton offers better value than your two favorite programs, GP and SPG, in terms of spend per free night and decided to understate this result!!! I’d seen your thorough write-ups here (http://viewfromthewing.com/2013/02/26/which-hotel-program-is-most-rewarding-for-free-nights-the-results-will-surprise-you/) and here (http://viewfromthewing.com/2014/06/26/hotel-program-rewarding-spend-answer-may-shock/) where you gushed about how GP offered the best value and tried to minimize SPG’s clearly very poor value. However, when your own analysis above shows HHonors to offer better value than either SPG or GP on almost every measure, you provide no program by program analysis as you did before. Why is that?

    Now, if you carry your analysis above a bit further and include points earned from co-branded credit cards, you’ll see that HHonors fares even much better than your two preferred programs. I kept telling everyone that the purported cataclysmic “devaluation” of HHonors points was a myth but bloggers kept spreading the canard about how bad it was. Well, your own analysis revealed that the purported terrible devaluation of HHonors points was not as bad as claimed, why did you not say anything to set the record straight? Currently, HHonors offers better value than GP or SPG when earnings from co-branded CCs are included, at least for the top elites in the three programs [HHonors and GP offer about the same value when the CC earnings are not included while GP is absolutely awful]. Can you now set the record straight and state that? Alternatively, you could simply link to my post here (https://milepoint.com/forums/threads/rate-hilton-hhonors.95128/page-2#post-2415303), where I did the math to show it … 😉

  8. @DCS you sure don’t give up fighting that good fight. The Hilton program still has uses, it is far less valuable than it used to be. It’s the most rewarding at the very low end but way overpriced at the high end. Co-brand credit cards are a separate issue (this is about the program rewarding in-hotel spend, not how rewarding their credit cards are) but do not materially change this analysis in any case. And Hilton Diamond still isn’t materially better than Gold… 😛

  9. Totally ridiculous. I raised legitimate issues and all you do is sound condescending.

    I am beginning to understand some folks’ recent visceral and vicious reaction to your style of blogging and posting.

    Please address the issue I raised and you will see just how truly condescending you are. But you know what? Someone who does not believe his own math numbers in this business is fooling no one but himself 😉

    You do a lot better when you advocate for the consumer rather than for the service providers or businesses. A good example is your marvelous stuff about the shenanigans going on at DL. Why sell yourself short by carrying the water for Hyatt GP and SPG, two subpar programs, by constantly understating HHonors positives? [e.g., Hilton just recently unveiled their lucrative targeted promo in which members are awarded 100,000 points or fast-tracked to Gold or Diamond and much more, and all you had about it was a single paragraph, while the other Hyatt Kool-Aid drinking blogger, “Lucky”, did not even mention it! It was left to what I consider the most balanced and informative loyalty blog to spread the good news: http://loyaltylobby.com/2015/02/02/hilton-hhonors-targeted-offers-started-100000-bonus-points-for-diamonds-double-triple-points-gold-fast-track-check-post-your-offers/ .

    Are you really so blind that you cannot see how limited and limiting both GP and SPG are? More of your readers probably would do better with other programs and your own math showed it. Why not come out and share this with them? Why the self-delusion?

  10. @DCS I think I’ve responded quite reasonably on many posts, many times, and nonetheless despite those responses get in response snide comments like calling me a cheerleader for certain programs when I offer argument and analysis. Getting the same responses back despite those arguments and facts is why I tire of the back and forth on this issue. 😉

    You’re really ending on a 100,000 point targeted offer from HHonors? I thought that was great for some readers, it gets them a night at any Hilton or two nights at the Embassy Suites Portland Downtown. What percentage of HHonors members had that opportunity? I’m a Diamond member and was not targeted..

  11. @Gary

    This is exactly the same non-response responses that I get.

    I call you cheerleader for “certain programs” precisely of the issues that I raised, which you ducked instead of responding. You did the math, the numbers came out, they showed HHonors to be the more rewarding program in terms of spend per free night, and you did not spell this out to your readers. Will you do it now that you have been called upon it?

    What is tiring is your repeating the same falsehoods again and again, ignoring all arguments showing you that you are wrong. Case in point: you made this ridiculous comment again in your prior response: “And Hilton Diamond still isn’t materially better than Gold…” even though it has been debunked multiple times. To set things straight for your readers, I will debunk it once more and will keep posting this every time you make the claim.

    That you and other bloggers who do “brand advocacy” blogging (anything Hyatt is the “best in the business”) keep claiming that “Hilton Diamond isn’t materially better than Gold”, simply says that for such loyalty bloggers the concept of “better” is limited to free breakfast and free wifi. For some of us savvy travelers, the claim that “Hilton Diamond isn’t materially better than Gold” is simply ridiculous because we take free breakfast and wifi for granted, and instead consider suite upgrades, which have a HUGE monetary value, as the ultimate top elite perk. Suite upgrades are NOT a perk that HH Golds enjoy, while it is a written HH Diamond perk. Therefore, it is simply ridiculous to keep claiming that “Hilton Diamond isn’t materially better than Gold”. In addition, HH Golds can see the inside of an exec lounge ONLY IF they are upgraded to the exec floor, which happens only about 50% of the time, whereas exec lounge access is a guaranteed perk of HH Diamonds without preconditions. There is also “Diamond Force” among many other advantages of HH Diamonds over HH Golds that one would think bloggers who write about these things all the time should be aware of. I am sure that you are fully aware but simply choose to misinform your readers. Is it not time to stop that? Is it not time to tell them, e.g., that the purported cataclysmic “devaluation” of HHonors was a myth created and perpetuated by bloggers, and that HHonors remains one of the most rewarding programs in spend per free night 😉

    BTW, The reason there is a big jump in benefits between Hyatt Platinum and Hyatt Diamond is that the GP Platinum “elite” status is “elite” in name only. For all practical purposes GP has only one elite status, its Diamond, and from where I stand the benefits of GP Diamond are, at best, equivalent to those of HHonors or Marriott Golds, who get as many complimentary suite upgrades as GP Diamonds get with their 4 “confirmed” suite upgrades. No wonder HH Gold perks strike you as equivalent to those of a Diamond, but you got wrong which Diamond…It is GP Diamond, in which case we are full agreement! 😉

    Finally, you again gave a non-response response to my question on the recent HHonors targeted 100K offer. The point was that you all but ignored it although the blogosphere was abuzz with it since it was by far the most lucrative targeted offer by any program. You also tried to minimize the value of 100,000 HHonors points. No, 100K points get you a LOT more than a night at Embassy Suites. They would get you a night at any category 10 hotel, easily valued at up to $1,000. To put it in terms that would mean something to you, what you did is like telling your readers that getting ~30K Hyatt GP points for free is no big deal. That is right, 100K HHonors points are worth ~33K Hyatt GP points — enough for a free night Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome. See why people should stop taking you seriously?

    HHonors clearly does not take you seriously because they did not target you with this lucrative offer, which was actually done in a very smart way. People were targeted based on what their accounts revealed about their level of activity. You did very little with your Diamond so you got nothing. The pattern appeared to be as follows:

    ** Diamonds who just missed making Diamond again weree offered a challenge to regain it + 100K points if they succeeded.

    ** Diamonds who redeemed extensively, like me, were offered 100,000 points + double points during the week + triple points during weekend of the promo period to replenish their points.

    ** Diamonds with limited recent activity were offered just 100K points.

    ** Diamonds with no activity, like you, got zilch.

    ** Golds who may have been close to making Diamonds were fast-tracked to Diamond.

    ** Folks who just made Gold were offered double stay count as a way to help them make Diamond.

    ** Anyone who was not plugged into the program got nothing.

    That’s smart stuff from a very smart and mature hotel loyalty program! 😉

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