What Hotel Loyalty Program Is Actually The Best?

The Points Guy site ran a serious of posts dubbed “Battle of the Hotels” where I expected them to compare programs to each other and declare what’s best or rank order them. Instead they made a case of what’s good about each program (with some limitations noted): Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, and Hilton. What they didn’t do was actually do much comparison between programs. There wasn’t really a battle.

I have no such fear. Against my own interests, and without concern for angering the people I know at the programs, I’m willing to call out the good, bad and ugly to come up with a conclusion of what’s actually best.

Comparing Earning Points Across Hotel Programs

Since I publish what I believe each program’s points are worth including an explanation of my methodology, it’s easy to take the points earned in the program, value them, and make comparisons across chains.

Two years ago I went through that exercise, along with evaluating the elite benefits of each program, to develop a simple model for ranking the best hotel loyalty programs.

Let’s start with comparing the value of points earned for spend at their hotels. Since hotel currencies are more or less on different ‘scales’ and not standard – you earn a different number of points per dollar, but redeeming hotels costs different numbers of poitns, too – we need to normalize.

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 $0.005 5% 10%

The Best And Worst Things About Each Hotel Program

There are two basic components to any loyalty program, recognition and reward, or put another way elite benefits and earn and burn. There’s no (almost) no program that’s all bad, or all good. And so there’s no program that is perfect for every traveler. The relative importance of having hotels everywhere you need to go, earning free nights versus elite benefits, and which elite benefits you value most will determine the program that’s best for you.

Here are the major pluses and minuses of each of the major hotel programs:


    • Strong footprint, there are Hilton properties everywhere

    • Easy to earn status via credit card, albeit that may not be worth a lot beyond breakfast

    • Decent earning and redemption, once you factor their promotions making up for weak standard earning

    • Weak elite benefits, there’s no promise of suite upgrades or even late check-out

    • Without promotions their basic earning structure is the least rewarding of the major chains

    • No award chart makes devaluations easy to hide

Conrad Koh Samui


    • Clearly the best elite program, with suite upgrades confirmable at booking and full – not continental breakfast offered as well as consistent delivery of late check-out benefit not to mention the ability for top elites to gift their status for a stay when using points for someone else.

    • The most rewarding hotel credit card for ongoing spend beyond just using it at the chain’s own properties.

  • The only strong hotel transfer partner of a credit card earning program. You can move Chase points to Hyatt and get good value, not something that’s the case when you transfer American Express Membership Rewards to Marriott or Hilton for instance.

    • Smallest footprint of the major hotel chains, you may have to inconvenience yourself to stay loyal to Hyatt

    • Lowest points bonus for top elites make an otherwise-rewarding program weaker for earn and burn.

Park Hyatt Sydney


    • Large footprint

    • Lucrative earn and burn, factoring in promotions

    • Good credit card benefits, like 4th night free on award stays

    • Weak elite benefits, suite upgrades aren’t promised, there’s no guarantee of late check-out and don’t bet on breakfast at full service properties.

    • Elite benefits aren’t even promised on award stays, and there’s no option to even redeem more points for a better room (meaning you may not even want to use your points on a resort vacation)

    • No award chart makes devaluations easy to mask.

Intercontinental Singapore


    • Large footprint, they’ve got plenty of hotels most of the places you’ll go

    • On paper the best elite program of the largest chains, promising suites when available and at the highest levels 24 hour check-in and a dedicated concierge.

    • Weak promotions make a strong basic earn and burn proposition fail to outshine competitors

    • Changes to the program without notice undermine trust, it’s hard to bank the currency and to trust that promised benefits will be there. (See for instance here, here, here, here and here just since they launched the new program a year and a half ago.)

    • Inconsistent program execution at the hotel level. Properties game the chain left and right, find loopholes to deny benefits, and simply ignore things like upgrades.

    • Poor problem resolution, in my experience I can’t even count on getting a response if I email for help.

St. Regis Abu Dhabi

Which Program Is Best?

Hyatt has a lucrative earn and burn program, hampered by a limited number of hotels relative to competitors – about 1000 places to use your points versus 6000 or more elsewhere – and by modest elite bonuses.

If Hyatt’s footprint works for you, I find their program best. My own take is that it’s worth focusing on Hyatt if you can. However you probably need a “backup program.”

My backup program is Marriott. It’s only worth focusing on Marriott if you earn Ambassador status, which requires both 100 nights and $20,000 spend. Even there member experience is mixed. I’m no longer an Ambassador (I lost my Ambassador in 2018) but I still have Platinum status. Oddly I do not have lifetime Platinum. When Marriott merged its program with Starwood’s much of my past activity was lost. At one point they showed I had only 3 years of status at the Platinum level. Eventually that jumped up to 13 years, then down to 10 years and up to 11. However I’m still missing nights. I also have Hilton Gold my from Amex Platinum.

My ranking of programs:

  1. Hyatt
  2. Marriott
  3. Hilton
  4. IHG

It pains me to rank Marriott so highly because there’s no program with a bigger gap between expectations (promises) and delivery at this point. However – even with new limitations on being able to use your points, and significant devaluation of those points – they sill offer more nice hotels, better earn and burn value, and better benefits than Hilton does.

Until Hilton turns its suite upgrade test into a permanent elite benefit and offers guaranteed late check-out, its status won’t have significant value in my opinion. And it will still have a weaker earn and burn proposition than Marriott.

Meanwhile IHG doesn’t have rich elite benefits, doesn’t offer what little it has on award stays, and doesn’t offer a path for members to get a better than base room when redeeming points. The lack of transparency in the program is another strike.

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. Gary,

    Your list is exactly mine ! When I was pounding the road warrior mode after making LFT now Titanium with Marriott I went over to Hyatt making Diamond for years like Marriott I found internationally better recognition and benefits than in the US, other than the hotels I stay at monthly.

    I also agree the franchise owners/managers are gaming Marriott on providing benefits to their loyal travelers “Arnie” needs to listen to his loyal travelers whom are deserting him and when the market turns and there’s a pull back or recession he and his franchise owners will regret their arrogance to us. mark my words, I have seen this picture show before.

  2. The Points Guy is no different than the drug dealer in the hood. They pimp credit cards and provide advertising copy masqueraded as news.

  3. I’d flip Marriott and Hilton on my rankings. For the business traveler, getting free breakfast with gold status is a huge get. Marriott devalued this far too much in my opinion, in addition to many other aspects of their now crap Bonvoy program.

  4. I’m an anomaly as my program is Accor. We travel often to Vietnam where one of the best properties is located. They may be short of hotels in the US, but our “footprint” includes NY, Philly< DC with occasional trips to Chicago and LA.

    I got their new Diamond status and should have it again by the end of May. The benefits may not always be guaranteed although they now have suite upgrades (I got 8 for this year, but am lucky enough to often get the suite without burning the credit)

    The nice thing about ALL points is that they are always worth the same amount: 2000 points is 40 euros so they are useful no matter the price of the room. The best(my strategy anyway) is earn until you hit status, then spend the points until you use them all.

    If you are top 2 statuses, you automatically get access to Club Lounge with breakfast(can also eat in the restaurant unlike Hilton). Unfortunately, no US properties have lounges and you don't get the benefit (at least not yet) at Fairmont. You only get free weekend breakfast if no lounge.

    I have Marriott, Hilton, IHG just because and found Hilton crummy, if you are gold, you get breakfast but only in the lounge which is not even as good as a Hampton.

    IHG gives free night each year with the credit card and we used ours plus some points for Prague AND they are upgrading us for our "loyalty."

  5. A hugely important fact that most commentators overlook constantly. Hyatt manages the majority of its upscale properties across all brands, on every continent. Marriott doesn’t manage hardly any hotels in North America. Only internationally are upscale brands somewhat managed by Marriott. Even Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott, once exclusively managed by Marriott, are increasingly franchisee-operated. This makes a huge difference in the execution of elite status benefits.

  6. Meanwhile IHG doesn’t have rich elite benefits,

    I might consider striking the word “rich” from that statement. Their elite benefits are (A) a 1/2 liter bottle of water and / or (B) 500 points, worth about $2.00. In addition, on two occasions, I’ve gotten a drink coupon for the bar.

    I believe, on one occasion, I was told that I’d been upgraded but, unless that hotel had rooms somewhere without actual beds, it’s hard to believe that was the case.

  7. That’s a solid comparison and ranking, Gary. I’d also rank Hyatt first in principle for the reasons you stated.

    A shame about the Chase 5/24 rule. If not for that, my wife and I would get the Hyatt credit cards and stay at Hyatts far more often than we do.

    I’d also very reluctantly rank Marriott second for the same reasons as you. In addition, Marriott does have lots of points-to-miles airline transfer partners, many of them unique to Marriott (i.e., not linked to Amex, Chase, Citi, etc.).

    One caveat here – I guess, one of many – is that if you’re staying at an expensive hotel for several days, the complimentary Hilton Gold breakfast can be worth a lot in terms of both the quality of the breakfast spread (especially in much of Asia) and the savings on the cost. Under those circumstances, I’d rank Hilton above Marriott.

  8. a tremendous Pro for Marriott is if youre high enough up their totem pole you get Guaranteed 4pm checkout, no dice rolling like with HH or IHG. Thats a biggie for me , none of the being told OK I can give you Noon instead of 11am, gee thx like by HH

    IMO after Hyatt they all STINK

  9. Thanks Gary! Great comparisons here, much better than the opinion articles that I see from TPG nowadays. I like your small caveat about Marriott, which I think they should rank at the bottom (#4) with status below Ambassador. I am Titanium and NO BREAKFAST.

  10. @ LarryinNYC — Please continue bashing IHG, while I get free upgrades to suites and access to Club lounges around the world at InterContinentals. I wouldn’t want the secret to get out. Combined with the old and new Chase IC credit cards, it costs me a whopping 189,000 points ($870 by my valuation) or less for a 4-night stay at almost any InterContinental in the world. Can’t be beat.

  11. Obviously, individual experiences vary wildly. For the most part, I have had great experiences with Marriott and now have lifetime titanium status. This summer at a Signature location, I was denied a request to use my guaranteed upgrade on a reward reservation, but on arrival was upgraded to a $2500/night suite that was the best room I have ever stayed in.

    I was formerly Hilton Diamond but switched because of so many negative experiences with no acceptable restitution offered. IHG has become my secondary program and that has worked well for me. With their various promotions, I can quickly rack up enough points for a weekend stay at a Kimption or Indigo property and don’t have to deplete my Bonvoy points that I use for longer stays and/or hotel/flight packages.

    I like Hyatt, but I have stayed away from them because they do not have properties in many of the places I regularly stay, nor do they have properties at the many of the destinations where I want to use my points.

  12. As a mere gold member of both Hilton and Marriott, I see almost no perks at Marriott properties, while I get valuable breakfast (and actually the occational upgrade) at Hilton.

  13. My experience at IHG properties in Europe and Asia has been quite good. I am just a Platinum but get upgraded quite regularly. If an upgrade isn’t available, some other amenity gets added, so can’t really complain.

  14. I have been top status with Hyatt and with Hilton. There is NO COMPARISON. Hyatt all the way.

    Forget some trivial difference in earn and burn rates. Hyatt Globalist, if you can get there, blows everyone else away. So many advantages, I cannot begin to cover them here.

    I will never give up Globalist.

    And when the new high/low redemptions come out, for WOH credit cardholders during the current promo, you might get to redeem as low as 2k net. The free buffet breakfast alone for Globalists at certain hotels can be worth that.

    Get the CC and start spending/staying.

    And how anyone can deal with Marriott these days is completely beyond me. They screw you guys in a different new way every couple weeks.

  15. Because of 5/24 I can’t yet get a Hyatt Card. I do have 4 different Hilton cards and can generate lots of points via non-hotel spend. That’s not possible with Marriott. So for me Hilton is #1 and the others are tied.

  16. I’ve been forced to stay at Marriott properties for the last few months – my employer having a nice discount there and/or other properties not being close enough. I have to admit that I have grudgingly come to like Marriott – at least as a Titanium (got it by mistake in 2019 when their new Bonvoy rewards was all screwed up, barely kept it for 2020 through CC and nights).
    – I’ve never had a hassle with 4pm checkout
    – The staff at all but one Marriott property has been very friendly and actively try to remember me
    – Club lounges are more ubiquitous than Hilton and tend to be slightly better for the most part – as good as Regency Clubs, on average. (But not as good as Grand Clubs)
    – Other than some Sheratons, about every property I’ve stayed at has been decent.
    – They really are everywhere

    I guess I would agree with Gary’s ranking. For me, staying loyal to Hyatt wouldn’t be an option – and I think I’d place Marriott very close to Hyatt.

  17. I’ve stayed in hotels from each of the chains you’ve listed but finally decided to go with Marriott for the reasons you listed. The Marriott Courtyard is my favorite. I like their restaurant options and I like having Starbucks in the hotel. At Courtyard, and maybe others, I have the option of getting a $10 food credit per day for each person in my room, so when my wife travels with me we have a $20 per day food credit. I’ve never had trouble using my points as long as I plan ahead, and on several occasions I’ve used them very close to my time of stay.

  18. @Gene: Would certainly love to hear how you’re achieving suite upgrades and club lounge access at IHG properties — since suites are specifically excluded from terms of the program and lounge access is nowhere mentioned. I mean, surely you recognize that you’re getting exceptional upgrades, ones that are not even contemplated by the actual terms of the program?

    First off, are you Ambassador? I’m a lowly Platinum (not earned, from the credit cards — I have both) so perhaps that accounts for it? Do you push for upgrades (I never ask)? Are you a frequent enough stayer that you’re known to the staff or management of the hotel? Do you have a very high number of paid nights per year? Are you traveling primarily in Asia?

    For whatever reason, your experience does not match mine and it doesn’t match what I hear from other people who belong to IHG.

  19. @Lucas – as a longtime, lifetime Marriott member (lifetime Titanium) I can tell you that the current Gold on Marriott is really the old Silver. At one time Platinum was the top w Gold requiring 50 nights. When Marriott and SPG merged programs to create Bonvoy the Titanium level was added which pretty much pushed Gold down to the old Silver level. To compare comparable benefits between Hilton and Marriott you really need to compare Hilton Gold to Marriott Platinum and I think you will find they are pretty comparable.

  20. Gary,

    Can’t argue with the rankings since I agree Hyatt (even though I rarely stay there anymore and don’t have any points in my account currently) has overall nicer properties (mainly due to lack of lower end offerings that the other chains offer) and better recognition. However, I would argue they HAVE to do better on elite recognition due to the smaller footprint. That being said, if the footprint works by all means go with Hyatt.

    Of the others I agree w ranking based on, if nothing else, the overall footprint and offerings of their properties. Marriott has more high end than Hilton and, with the exception of Intercontinental and Kimpton, IHG has very few. The programs to me are pretty similar (maybe a non-issue for me since I have way too many points in each of them). I like upgrades but generally get a decent room and not too picky. As for breakfast, I watch my health and would only get something like fruit, low fat yogurt or mainly boiled eggs (or egg whites) so I’m ambivalent on breakfast (really isn’t a good idea to load up on breakfast if you are watching weight or overall cardio health but that is a different discussion). Basically I get value out of all 3 of the “other” programs. While I only get a standard room at pretty generic properties mostly with IHG you can earn an absolute boatload of points using their card and stacking which let’s me book Holiday Inn Expresses for 20-25K points a night on my many travels. Retired and travel a lot alone domestically (and some internationally) so this helps. Again – realize my situation is unique but the programs all work well for me – BTW Marriott Lifetime Titanium, Hilton Gold (Diamond for 15 years and likely hit that again this year) and IHG Platinum.

  21. As usual excludes the midlevel status comparison which is probably the most attainable for your readers (in part due to credit card EQNs). Here Hyatt still has an edge with the lounge passes, though Hilton is not far behind with the free breakfast for Golds. Marriott really tanked when it removed lounge access for Golds.
    Also consider the value of CC reward nights. While not directly related, IC free nights > Hyatt Cat 4 > Hilton weekend night > Marriott 35-50k nights. But of course this depends on your travel patters.

  22. For my profile – lower nights but very high spend – IHG Royal Ambassador has been wonderful . I stay mostly in Intercontinentals and have had excellent upgrades and great service . Marriott is by far the worst for my profile . There is no way to earn status via spend with Bonvoy – a feature that is available for all the other programs . Marriott works good for the 100 night road warrior but not for the high spend / low night traveler . Additionally , I have NEVER had to ask for an upgrade at an Intercontinental or Kimpton – they are almost always assigned in advance and the one time it didn’t happen that way , it was done at check -in without me having to mention it .

  23. I assume you get more value from flying premium. Furthermore assuming one does not have infinite points should you splurge points on hotel programs at all?

  24. Insightful post–thanks, Gary. As a SPG guy for years, I’m disappointed with what the program has become under Marriott. I’m voting with my feet (and dollars) and moving over to Hilton.

  25. IHG has late checkout for elites. https://viewfromthewing.com/ihg-rewards-club-finally-adding-late-check-benefit/

    In fact they unofficially will let you stay even later for some levels.

    I’m an IHG fan so I’m biased as I’ve gotten so much value out of the IHG brand over the years however I rank Marriott as better. I like their hotels better overall but they make it harder to earn points and harder to reach higher elite levels but once you do they pay off. Hilton used to be good but they have devalued so much they aren’t even on my radar for business, leisure or award stays. It’s like the Weimar republic at Hilton these days to me. To rate IHG points equal or below Hilton isn’t accurate in my book. Oh and Hyatt isn’t even a factor to me. Sure I love their hotels and think they offer great benefits but they don’t have enough properties for most people. Heck, Choice, Radisson, Best Western, Wyndham and RHL all have more hotels than Hyatt. I do like Radisson but again they struggle to have locations that meet my needs but I would rank their value and elite benefits on this list against most of these chains.

  26. @Boraxo I’d tend to disagree. I’d expect most folks that have an interest in Gary’s blog to be pretty frequent travelers. With credit card boosts, it’s not that hard to obtain top level, or next to top level, in any major chain except maybe Hyatt.

    Hilton gold is almost as good as diamond and is free with the card. The Marriott Gold you mention is NOT mid-level – platinum is. Titanium is exactly the same as Ambassador in any relevant way and platinum is pretty good too.

  27. Gary, you are the best! Objective and meaningful comparisons. Much better than the other bloggers only luring readers to apply for credit cards.

  28. Outside of Intercontinental, I am Platinum Elite. That status and with about $4.50 I can get a cup of brewed coffee in the morning. This is terrible.
    How many times have I walked past the restaurant when leaving HI and see employees doing nothing except for the 4-6 people at the tables.
    I know there is instant coffee in the room, but a cup of coffee and some toast and jam would go a long way in my book. Cost?? ~ $1-2.

  29. @ LarryInNYC — Sorry, I should have specified Royal Ambassador. For RAs, Club access is guaranteed and most suites are available for upgrades, but are not guaranteed.

  30. I understand your ratings, but I am a Marriott silver, so I get almost nothing from Marriott other than my 2 free 35k night certs, and with massive devaluation, those are worth much, much less. I do better with Ihg where I get the 4th night free on award stays and a 10% point rebate by having both Ihg cards. I am a Hilton Diamond, which here in the States, never gets me an upgraded room. I’ve done better with my Ihg platinum. I love Hyatt, but I am only a Discoverist. So for me, I would go Hyatt, Ihg, Hilton, then Marriott. Hilton would be higher, but their award redemption has gone off the charts!

  31. Seems like this is very road warrior focused. For those of who spend 30-40 nights a year, Hyatt isn’t a workable proposition given that you get nothing out of it until the highest end of the status chain.

  32. @Gene: I have to say that I consider Royal Ambassador (or even Ambassador) completely separate from the IHG loyalty program. To get Royal Ambassador you need to (1) Pay for Ambassador status, (2) be a high value customer (that is, paying rack rate or close for plenty of nights each year) and (3) get invited to the Royal Ambassador program.

    That’s great but I absolutely promise you that regular IHG loyalty program members at the Platinum level (and, I’m pretty sure, at top-level Spire as well) are not getting anything at all like the benefits that you’re getting.

  33. I’d be curious to see what the numbers would be with applicable credit card purchases and how this affects the multiplier (Bonvoy Brilliant with Titanium status), (WOH/Hyatt Global), (Amex Hilton Aspire/Diamond). Can never seem to find anything about this.

    What would a $5K purchase on respective credit card look like with this in mind?

  34. @AC
    Agreed, but Hilton Gold is much easier to achieve (or just get from a credit card) than Marriott Platinum.

  35. Requiring 50,000 points to spend one night at the Hilton Garden Roslyn is outrages and that does not include breakfast..

  36. The funny thing with Courtyard as a brand is that the breakfast food, while hardly inexpensive and sadly not complimentary unless your $10 per person voucher covers it, is actually better food than the average Marriott, Renaissance, Sheraton or Westin M Club/concierge/executive/club lounge breakfast.

    I do think Radisson and Accor should be included.

  37. FNT Delta Diamond gets the heart of the issue. I’m lifetime Platinum Elite but the last few years I’ve had all kinds of issue that just never happened when I started with Marriott over 30 years ago. I think it matters a lot more than people think that the founder is still running the place because when Bill Jr. stepped back that’s when I saw the attitude change. The Pritzkers still run Hyatt and hopefully will keep the sparkle that the Marriott family let go.

  38. @Austin787 – we are in TOTAL AGREEMENT here. How can people rank Marriott #2? You kidding me?

  39. So you’re getting 9% rebate on spend as a hotels.com customer for their program at base level.

    You’re not limited to a particular chain’s hotels. This is REALLY important outside the US, in my experience.

    Does that make them the best loyalty program if you won’t hit top elite and don’t want to invest in the co-brand credit card?

  40. For midlevel elites using affinity credit cards, & applying Gary’s point valuations, the ROI is Hilton =12%, Marriott =13%, Hyatt = 14% and IHG = 15%. Of course Hilton offers free breakfast to Golds at their top properties, and none of the others do, so the real ROI may be higher for families and others who can’t expense it. Personally I think Marriott is a bit overvalued at .007 after seeing the effect of the peak rates at high end properties where we all want to use our points.

    In my case I have 9 years Marriott Plat but will have a tough time earning year 10 with the elimination of the meeting loophole. So I will continue to favor Hyatt, which has pretty good coverage for me. And maybe dump IC Ambassador, absent a major increase in city travel…

  41. @Boraxo:

    Those are important caveats. As long as you’re investing in the co-brand credit card (and you are willing to waive 2% cashback baselines).

    So it would seem that Hotels.com is the way to go until you hit a midelvel elite point + are willing to invest in the cobrand card? Does that include annual fees and free nights in your valuation?

  42. I have debunked the claims made here ad nauseam, but like bad weed, they persist or keep growing back!!!

    The math is all “fuzzy” and wrong, as are most so called “simple models”. The assumptions that are made drive the results. If you have a biased blogger who wants to make a biased point, the assumptions made would be just as biased… and invariably wrong.

    Suppose one does not value a Marriott point at 0.7cpp or a Hilton point at 0.4cpp, then the results change! See how subjective that is? Also note that to try to make the pre-determined and biased point, earnings from each program’s highest earning co-branded credit card have been *conveniently* left out, which makes no sense since no one who plays the game with a “full deck” would ever do a revenue stay at a hotel in program that they patronize without paying for it with that program’s co-branded CC!!!

    In short, the math presented here has no basis in reality because it is designed to support a biased point. If you want to see the claims here debunked and real math that depends on no subjective or biased assumptions, then follow the link to TravelRealtityCheck, which I provide in the next comment to keep this one from being held in moderation.

  43. Promised link to get some TravelRealityCheck on the relative ‘rebates’ earned in the various programs that depend on no subjective assumptions: http://bit.ly/2SBPe5K

    Rebates for programs not included can similarly computed since the methodology is clear and grade-school-level tough. 🙂


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