A Simple Model Ranking Hotel Programs

Loyalty has two primary components: recognition and reward. That’s your elite program and your earn and burn proposition.

Hotel programs are tough to compare because you earn a different number of points per dollar spent, and redemptions vary wildly as well — the most expensive Hyatt redemption is 30,000 points while the most expensive Hilton redemption costs 95,000.

Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman

We can normalize that by looking at the number of points earned, and the value of each point. I’m not including any seasonal promotions in this analysis.

My valuation methodology is well-established, and I don’t think the values I use are especially controversial. Hilton’s new redemption program makes most redemptions worth about 4/10ths of a cent per point, and Marriott has even told us that a Starwood point is worth three times as much as one Marriott point.

Let’s compare the ‘rebate value’ you get out of each of the major hotel chains, that is how much you earn for your spending with each chain both as a general member and as a top elite with each one.

It’s harder to compare the value of various elite benefits, since those are more subjective. What is a suite upgrade worth? At different hotels, and for different stays and lengths of stay, and to different people it will vary widely. But let’s just compare some of the key benefits:

Here’s what we can say about each program:

  • Hyatt: average rebate, best benefits
  • Starwood: weak rebate, good benefits
  • Marriott: good rebate, improving benefits
  • Hilton: weak rebate, weak benefits
  • IHG: good rebate, weak benefits

Breakfast at the Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas

That doesn’t tell you what chain you should frequent. Hyatt has about 600 hotels, they may not have hotels where you travel. And they require 60 nights at those hotels to make top tier.

If you can earn benefits with Marriott or Hilton — which you can do on credit card spend alone — those could make more sense for you.

And if your travels take you to towns that have Holiday Inns, you don’t care much about being promised suites (you may still get nice upgrades at the direction of individual hotels), you’re going to get strong payback from IHG.

But this does tell us which programs offer the most value on the redemption side, and the best benefits (for those who can qualify) on the elite side.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Some random thoughts from a meeting room full of very smart people speaking a language called ‘neuroscience’ at Hilton Alexandria Old Town…

    With the swift destruction of this appropriately named ‘simple’ ranking model because the fuzzy math literally jumped out of the post, other aspects of the “model” that would also reflect the ‘bending” of facts to reach a pre-established (read: biased) ranking order did not get much attention.

    For instance, every program that offers complimentary elite suite upgrades has the same policy: at check-in, depending on availability, with what’s a suite and what’s available being at the discretion of each property. But look at what the “Thought Leader” is still peddling, after that canard was shot dead [see here: https://goo.gl/3D4piA ] and no other blogger gets near it: every other program makes “no promises” while SPG gets a “at check-in”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. They all promise to upgrade elites at check-in, SPG Plats included. Period.

    Likewise, there is no scientific basis for the repeated claim that 4 ‘confirmed’ DSUs per year — many of which go to waste because they cannot be used despite being ‘confirmed’ — are better than unlimited suite upgrades. I must be the only person who was aware of HGP’s boneheaded Diamond ‘challenge’ that gave away all the elite benefits, including 4 DSUs, before a single step had been taken toward meeting the ‘challenge’, and never went for it. Why not? I knew better. With HHonors I am able to stay in suites all year around. With DSUs, assuming they even cleared, I’d use all 4 by the end of the first quarter every year and have to pay out of pocket to see the inside of a suite afterwards. The only reason HGP made DSUs confirmable and limited them to 4 per year while explicitly eliminating suite upgrades at check in, was to ensure that 4 suite upgrades were all their Diamonds got. It is exactly what they just did with the Explorists lounge access — 4 ‘confirmed’ per year and that’s all they get, whereas MR and HH Golds have unlimited lounge access. See why a huge dose of skepticism is required when a blog claims to know what is “best in the business”?

    Bottom line: A few days ago, the “Thought Leader” boldly promised us his “modeling” and, to his credit, he’s delivered. However, the exercise left a lot to be desired because it lacked impartiality. It took the “scientific method” and turned it on its head: a desired outcome was pre-established and a model was develop based on assumptions and numbers that support the pre-ordained outcome.

    For comparison, below are links to independent modeling of same that simply gathered the best available information, crunched the numbers, and then simply let the results do the talking:

    My modeling with glossy charts: https://goo.gl/l16YYp
    Modeling done by a travel blogger who generally “gets it”: https://goo.gl/lCYsmA


  2. @Josh G – I think the Hilton cards are valuable for earning status, I’ve offered that position for years (even before there were affiliate links for such a thing). I think it’s a great idea to pick a second chain, Hilton or Marriott, and to have status with that chain via things like a credit card while focusing stays on the best benefits.

    I think that Hyatt offers the best elite benefits, and that has nothing to do with the credit card.

    You can speculatively impugne me all you want, but as usual with your contributions you do so out of sheer ignorance or willful blindness.

  3. DCS, you should have a blog for your blog posts. You should also try to be more condescending, it’s a good look.

  4. @gleff … if the price of the Hilton that night drops below an all up ¥12000 I’ll simply cancel the reward booking and go revenue. (That figure takes into account potential points earn.)

  5. @Kyle — Got anything substantive to say or just more of the same, where a commenter objects to something I wrote nut is unable to put together a coherent counter-point so they end up just attacking me.

    How many times do I need to post my blog-like pieces? See just one post before yours? The links provided in there are to blog-like posts I write and to where publish them when I have something travel-related I’d like to share. I do not need to start my own blog. I already make a lot of money being a full professor at a medical school and publishing scientific articles — nearly 150 and counting — in international journals. I have no need to compete for revenue in this medium. What I do here is my hobby. I am just like you, another reader and commenter, but unlike you, I will not ask you or anyone to start your own blog if I disagree with you. I will just skewed your with facts and logic.


  6. If only Hyatt confirmed suite upgrades were really that… 0 for 3 since I was transfigured into a Globalist. Grand Hyatt NYC considers an Executive King a Suite ugrade. My room rate was $243 and they were selling suites for $261 that night. I guess my loyalty is not worth $18. Sad.

  7. Nearly all the benefit I got from Hyatt Diamond was the amenity bonus…with that gone I really don’t care where I stay.

  8. Dude, DCS….I read your replies almost daily on this site and without a doubt, consider you one of the biggest nerds. Get a life my man, (or a girlfriend). Repeatedly hitting ‘re-fresh’ on the browser to be the first to respond as a giddy school-boy is getting tired.

    From all of us, get lost

  9. DCS Alternative Fact alert – he continues to say “all the upgrade policies are the same” when they FACTUALLY are different.

    Go to the SPG Plat page – “upgrade to select suites” is the third bullet point
    Go to the Hilton Diamond page – you won’t find the word “suite” anywhere

    For a so-called “intellectual” you are incredibly intellectually dishonest

  10. And while there is no shortage of discussions on the rebate nature of these programs…it’s tough to argue that no other top tier programs give you less for more nights stayed in hotels benefit-wise than Hilton.

  11. UA-NYC, where benefits are vague on paper is where travel hackers thrive. I’ve gotten excellent upgrades as IHG Platinum and HH Gold/Diamond just by asking. Because I and the millions of other elites are not entitled to it, most don’t bother asking. Leaving more suites for those that do. I love SPG hotels that are shifty and sneaky with suite upgrades! Means there’s definitely one available when I check in and insist on it! I loved that Hyatt didn’t officially give out unlimited suite upgrades because I got unlimited suite upgrades anyway, just by asking. I consider the unlimited suite upgrades a slight downgrade for the Hyatt program because it will make it harder for me to get a suite upgrade. I ended the year with 3/4 Hyatt DSUs remaining, but only because I got into suites 85% of the time without them.

    I could not care less that Hilton doesn’t guarantee a suite upgrade. They give free breakfast and lounge access for an incredibly easy to get elite status. And I get suite upgrades anyway. And if I ever bother spending money with Hilton, it is with an incredible rebate to boot.

    Now I just need to go crunch the numbers on Hilton CC earning… 😀

  12. @Hans – where do you typically stay? When I see examples like “in China I get an upgrade every time”, it doesn’t say much to me since basically anyone with a pulse can get a suite at any property / program in China 🙂

    I’m guessing you are Gold with Hilton then?

  13. @Gary sez: “I think that Hyatt offers the best elite benefits, and that has nothing to do with the credit card.”

    You can think that Hyatt offers the “best” elite benefits all you like (I don’t and never have), but that’s based on your own usually made up notion of “best” or standards, and not on anything that can be called factual. Your opinion is not infallible. You tried to quantify bias in this post and quickly found out that it’s not easy to do. Why should your biased opinion fare any better….

  14. @DCS. I too am a highly published academic in the sciences, though I don’t typically trot that out to score debating points on travel blogs. Please consider speaking with someone about your anger issues. I can’t imagine that your fixations on this blog are therapeutically productive (likely just the opposite), despite the immediate but ephemeral joy you take from lampooning Gary, and those who post here.

  15. @MFM — Among my most widely read papers are those that deal with neuroimaging investigations of psychopathology of the kind that’s clear in your post. Please stop ‘projecting’ and spare me the psychobabble. Go peddle it where it might make you seem “smart”. What you characterize as my “anger issues”, a real academic would come here and just see a guy having fun related to his hobby.

    I am having fun here. Are you?


  16. UA-NYC, my best upgrades have indeed been in China, especially the Hilton PEK Airport and DoubleTree Beijing, but as I just mentioned above, I have little doubt I can replicate it elsewhere, and indeed just have in Pennsylvania.

  17. @Hans Mast — You will notice commenters who are clueless about how to score complimentary upgrades mouth off the mindless travel blogosphere canard about how no one scores suite upgrades outside of Asia. The problem is that I’ve provided a heap of evidence showing that the claim is utter bunk. In fact, just this week I scored, effortlessly, an upgrade to a one-bedroom suite at Hilton Alexandria Old time — the last time I checked that was still pretty much in the Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S.A.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.