An Updated Simple Model Ranks the Best 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.

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, IHG Rewards Club points are worth 6/10ths of a cent, and Marriott points worth about 7/10ths (I’m reducing how much I value a single Marriott point by about 12.5% based on based on what we know about their new award charts).

Grand Hyatt Hong Kong

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.

This is updated with Hilton’s new earning structure (but doesn’t factor milestone bonuses like 30,000 points after 60 nights stayed) and uses Marriott’s earning that will start August 1.

General Top Elite Value General Top Elite
  Member Earn Member Earn Per Point Member Rebate Member Rebate
Hilton 10 20 $0.004 4% 8%
Marriott 10 17.5 $0.007 7% 12%
Hyatt 5 6.5 $0.014 7% 9%
IHG 10 20 $0.006 6% 12%

Hilton really took a whack at base earning when they eliminated ‘earning styles’. Base members used to earn “10 + 5” points per dollar and now just earn 10. They’re competitive at top tier with their threshold bonuses.

Marriott and IHG are both rewarding of top elites for their spending, but Marriott’s new program offers stronger elite benefits.

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:

Suite    Late Dedicated
  Upgrades Breakfast Checkout Concierge
Hilton No Promises Yes If Available No
Marriott At Check-in Yes / Most brands Guaranteed Yes
Hyatt Confirmed Yes / Full breakfast Guaranteed Yes
IHG No Promises No If Available No

Breakfast at the Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas

Here’s what we can say about each program:

  • Hyatt: average rebate, best benefits. Hyatt’s strength is how well they treat top elites at full service properties, their weaknesses are the size of their footprint and their weak points bonus for top elites.
  • Marriott: good rebate, improving benefits. If Hyatt’s footprint doesn’t work for you, the Marriott program is rewarding for free nights and starting August 1 should have strong benefits.
  • Hilton: weak rebate, weak benefits
  • IHG: good rebate, weak benefits

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. I like their program best but I can’t always stay at Hyatt.

Marriott’s new program is really good but the requirement of $20,000 spend in addition to 100 nights to earn top tier status strikes me as insane, especially with so much select service growth in the Asia market — someone staying at the Chinese hotels they offer might need 300 nights to hit their spend threshold for top tier status.

Fortunately you can earn Hilton Diamond and Marriott Platinum via credit card spend alone, so for some members those will be a sweet spot — even though Hilton Diamond is weak on published benefits, lacking a promise of suite upgrades (any suite upgrades are purely the result of an individual hotel’s generosity) or even guaranteed late check-out.

Club Lounge at the Conrad Bangkok

Of course 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.

This model does help clarify 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, 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. ONLY four hotel programs? I have two Hilton cards but would rather stay at Radisson all day long because Hilton properties have ridiculously hard bedding and those 40 pound comforter contraptions! In lots of locations there aren’t any of these four chains is also another consideration.

  2. Rebate value should consider the 10% rebate on redemptions for certain Ambassador members and additional 10% for the IHG card holders. The new IHG card has a one night free on 4 or more nights redemptions using points. Definitely IHG is the winner in that category.

    While never used the Marriott Concierge, I find the Hyatt one useless on most stays.

    You can earn the Marriott Platinum status after 1/1/2019 for just having their credit cards 2 SPG cards and 2 Chase Marriott cards = 60 elite night credits.

  3. @Kalboz
    The elite night credits aren’t stackable 2019 and beyond. If you have 2 SPG cards and 2 Chase Marriott cards you’ll get 15 elite night credits.

  4. So, to the extent that any clarity is possible, what’s the conclusion? I agree that Hyatt doesn’t have enough of a footprint. Of the remaining three, which chain offers the best redemption per dollar spend put on their credit cards?

    I am the kind of traveler who doesn’t spend much time in the hotel rooms, except that you have to have some place to sleep at the end of the day! So, I don’t care about suite upgrades, but breakfast would be nice.

  5. Pretty much concur here. Hyatt and Marriott points are easy to earn and easy to burn – and now elite benefits are close as well. IHG is easy to earn but the fewest redemption opportunities for top hotels, particularly in USA. Rarely pay to stay at Hilton since the great deval, and the award chart is a lie.

  6. Hyatt is good but way too limited on locations to be most peoples main program. Hilton is too devalued. Marriott and IHG are the top programs based on locations and values. Radisson is too limited in locations much like Hyatt.
    You leave out the value of IHG Ambassador top status that offers upgrades etc. I personally think Marriott and IHG are about equal in value and quality of hotels at most locations on average. I actually think points are a bit easier to earn with IHG and the 10% point rebate for card holders can add up. Ambassadors also get free night certs and bonus miles or status gifting at renewal. Royal Ambassador even more.

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