We’ve seen re-launches of several hotel programs during the pandemic. Smaller programs like GHA Discovery and Shangri-La Circle are brand new. GHA, which has around 500 hotels but is adding several hundred more, was just a benefits program – but now offers cash rebates to spend at their properties (‘Discovery Dollars’). I really wish I had more opportunities to stay with both chains.
IHG Rewards has branded as IHG One Rewards – the one meant to signal that they’ve now ‘unified’ their brands, with all new elite benefits that even apply at Kimpton and Intercontinental hotel properties.
At the Freddie Awards in New Orleans on April 21 the most under the radar programs cross three regions of the world – up and coming programs delivering the most value but voted on by fewer than 10% of those casting ballots – were World of Hyatt (Americas), GHA Discovery (Europe and Africa) and Shangri-La Circle (Middle East, Asia and Oceania).
In the Americas, Marriott won program of the year – a category they’ve dominated over the years.
- They have a huge footprint, so they’re everywhere you want to be
- They have outstanding aspirational luxury properties
- With the exception of a few of their best hotels, award availability is very good
- And they have arguably the best published benefits of any large hotel program, certainly better than Hilton’s.
The problem with Marriott is consistency. Too many hotels fail to deliver promised benefits at the property level, or skirt rules on breakfast. And Marriott’s customer service isn’t helpful, often making up excuses to justify whatever a hotel does rather than advocating for members.
Marriott certainly wins my award for most frustrating program. But that’s a function of the disconnect between the programs promises and on-property reality.
In contrast, Hilton rarely disappoints because it promises so little.
- No guaranteed late checkout
- No advance suite upgrades
- Not even suite upgrades, hotels are allowed to upgrade to suites but are under no obligation to do so, if there are empty entry-level suites and a top elite doesn’t get it at check-in the hotel has done nothing wrong under the terms of the program.
Conrad Bora Bora
Hilton no longer even promises breakfast in the U.S., offering an on-property food and beverage credit instead – flexible for those who wouldn’t do hotel breakfast anyway (or that’s expensing it) but in an amount too low to cover the cost of breakfast at many hotels, think of it as a discount that might encourage even more spending at the hotel.
IHG’s new program is an unquestionable improvement,
- Free breakfast for top tier Diamond members that spells out what a hot breakfast is (it’s not even merely continental)
- Confirmed suites out of revenue inventory, bookable within 14 days of arrival (but only on post-paid rates, no awards or prepaid rates)
- Club lounge access as a benefit choice
The IHG One Rewards program still lacks guaranteed late check-out, but I’d now take their program over Hilton’s and confirmed suites start as an option after staying just 20 nights. So for a member slogging it out for 20 nights in a Holiday Inn Express, and splurging on a paid Intercontinental or Kimptom resort vacation, this is an incredible opportunity – and not just for top tier elites.
Marriott isn’t very rewarding for entry level elites. Neither is Hyatt. But they’re the best programs for road warriors, probably, Marriott because of its ubiquity and occasionally living up to its promises and Hyatt for consistently delivering at a higher level than any other program but without the presence in smaller cities and towns.
IHG and Hilton are better for lower tier elites, since the primarily Hilton benefit – that food and beverage credit, or club lounge access – applies to Gold members and IHG offers compelling benefits at 20 nights.
If you’re going to reach 60 nights (through a combination of hotel stays and credit card spend, potentially) and the footprint works for you then Hyatt is the overall winner.
- The breakfast benefit is spelled out, full buffet or a hot entree’, plus coffee and juice not either-or.
- Open standard suites aren’t just available (and promised!) at check-in, they’re confirmable in advance with earned suite upgrade certificates, a 60-night Globalist earns 4 a year and a lifetime Globalist who requalifies earns 8. At 70, 80, 90, and 100 nights an additional confirmed suite is available as a choice benefit and each one is valid for up to 7 nights.
- Not only is 4 p.m. late check-out guaranteed at non-resort properties I do not recall the last time this wasn’t pro-actively offered at a hotel.
- Globalists can even gift their status for a stay when redeeming points for someone else.
- And points can be redeemed not just for standard suites, but for premium suites too, and the rates are often quite good (contra Marriott and Hilton).
Alila Marea Encinitas
If there’s a drawback to Hyatt, it’s that while the program is generous with rebates for base members, elite bonuses are the most limited of the chains. As a result Marriott and IHG become more rewarding for actual on-property spend.
Hyatt won the award for being the most under the radar and, effectively, underappreciated program. They’re not under the radar to blog readers. If you know, you know. But for the mass consumer market, Marriott offers the best mix of footprint and benefits, even if there’s so often a gap between program promises and reality.