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The best hotel rewards programs in the world

Aug. 25, 2022
16 min read
side view of young woman with an orange suitcase in the hotel
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What’s the most important thing to you when looking for a hotel? Is it price? Location? Amenities?

Here’s a tip: You’re leaving money on the table and missing out on all the best possible deals if you’re not booking through hotel loyalty programs. You can receive things like free upgrades, expensive rooms, complimentary breakfast, access to special lounges — even completely free nights once you've earned enough points.

But which hotel program is right for you?

We’ve examined nine major hotel rewards programs around the world. Each has its own strengths and is, therefore, better for certain types of travelers. They are:

Let’s take a quick look at each loyalty program so you can more easily decide which one you should invest in.

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Marriott Bonvoy

The JW Marriott Essex House in Manhattan. MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC.

Marriott Bonvoy is an absolute force when it comes to sheer volume.

With its absorption of Starwood (TPG’s previous favorite hotel loyalty program) a few years ago, it now has nearly 1.5 million rooms in 8,000 hotels across 131 countries and territories — over 500 luxury hotels and thousands of budget hotels to choose from. No matter where you’re going, there’s bound to be a Marriott hotel nearby.

Marriott’s got a slew of cobranded credit cards issued by both Chase and American Express. It’s also a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, meaning you’ve got plenty of ways to earn points.

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Another key perk of Marriott Bonvoy is its “fifth-night free” benefit. When you book five consecutive reward nights, you’ll receive the lowest-priced night for zero points. This can save you a ton of points on expensive stays, especially if you redeem your points in the Maldives or another high-end destination.

Another huge win for Marriott Bonvoy is the ability to transfer its points to more than 40 airline partners. Its list of transfer partners includes some of the hardest airline currencies to earn, like Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and Asiana Club.

You can transfer points at a 3:1 ratio (3 Marriott points = 1 airline mile). Also, when you transfer in increments of 60,000 Marriott points, you’ll receive an extra 5,000 airline miles. So 60,000 Marriott points effectively equals 25,000 airline miles.

In terms of elite status, there are five Marriott elite status tiers. Some benefits include room upgrades, Suite Night Award upgrades and executive lounge access. However, TPG staff has found benefits to be inconsistent, even at properties under the same brand.

Marriott Bonvoy is good for travelers who:

  • Aren’t sure where in the world they plan to travel.
  • Want a huge collection of luxury properties.
  • Want a selection of unique, non-”cookie cutter” hotels.
  • Frequently redeem points in five-night increments.
  • Want to book extended stay hotel rooms.
  • Want to turn their points into airline miles.

Related: When does it make sense to transfer Marriott points to airlines?

Hilton Honors

Hilton has a wide range of brands, including the design-centric Canopy. CANOPY/HILTON BOSTON DOWNTOWN

Hilton is another enormous hotel chain, with nearly 1 million rooms across 6,400 hotels in 118 countries.

Couple the hotel chain’s size with the relative effortlessness it takes to amass Hilton points, and Hilton points may be the most all-around convenient hotel rewards.

Hilton is an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner. One Amex point equals two Hilton points, and you may find a transfer bonus from time to time. The hotel group also has four cobranded credit cards, all issued by American Express. You can frequently find them offering welcome bonuses of 100,000 plus points.

Related: I transferred Amex points to Hilton to book one of the best hotels in the world

Similar to Marriott, Hilton offers the fifth consecutive award night free — but you must have Hilton elite status to unlock this benefit (which you can achieve simply by owning a Hilton credit card). Elite status benefits include room upgrades, free breakfast and bonus points. Just note that you'll get a food and beverage credit instead of a full breakfast on U.S. stays.

Hilton Honors is good for travelers who:

  • Collect Amex Membership Rewards points.
  • Aren’t sure where in the world they plan to travel.
  • Frequently stay in five-night increments.
  • Want to book extended stay hotel rooms.
  • Are satisfied with a modest collection of (amazing) luxury hotels.
  • Are road warriors.

World of Hyatt

Hyatt has a relatively small footprint but arguably the best elite benefits. HYATT CENTRIC DOWNTOWN NASHVILLE/FACEBOOK

Hyatt is the favorite loyalty program of most TPG staff. Its only real problem is its small global footprint.

There are more than 1,600 hotels that participate in the World of Hyatt loyalty program, including partner hotel brands like MGM Resorts and Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Hyatt hotels are generally found exclusively in popular destinations and cities. If you’re looking for a stay in rural areas, Hyatt points likely will not serve you.

Related: Why Hyatt elite should book through MGM when visiting Las Vegas

Hyatt’s award rates are relatively cheap when compared to other hotels like Marriott and Hilton. For example, a five-star Hyatt hotel may cost 30,000 points. But a five-star Hilton hotel may cost 120,000 points. Perhaps most importantly, Hyatt still publishes award charts, making it easy to plan ahead for your trip.

True, Hyatt points aren’t quite as easy to accrue as Hilton points (Hyatt only offers two cobranded credit cards). However, Hyatt is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards — and there is an abundance of ways to earn those. You can also transfer Bilt Rewards points to Hyatt.

Hyatt Globalist elite status has been proven repeatedly by both TPG staff and readers to be the most valuable hotel elite status in existence. With free breakfast, waived resort fees and parking fees on award nights, consistent suite upgrades, etc., it’s just about as VIP as you can get in the hospitality world.

World of Hyatt is good for travelers who:

  • Collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
  • Want luxury stays in popular destinations.
  • Don’t often book hotels in smaller cities or remote locations.
  • Want a ton of all-inclusive hotel options.

Related: What is Hyatt elite status worth in 2022?

Wyndham Rewards

Wyndham Rewards has the easiest-to-understand award chart of all hotel loyalty programs. WYNDHAM

There’s no better hotel points currency than Wyndham Rewards for anyone looking to stay in small-town America. It’s got the most properties of any hotel chain on this list, with over 9,200. While Wyndham does offer some upscale properties, its bread and butter are budget hotels.

Wyndham’s economical brands, such as Super 8, Days Inn, Microtel etc., are ubiquitous in areas that you won’t find a Hyatt or Marriott. If your travel goals revolve around visiting towns with populations under 10,000, this is a great program to focus on.

Wyndham also offers three cobranded credit cards, all issued by Barclays, to help you earn free nights quickly. The cards offer between 7,500 and 15,000 points each year you renew your card. Additionally, you can transfer Capital One miles to Wyndham Rewards at a 1:1 ratio.

You can even use your points to book free nights at Vacasa properties, which charge 15,000 points per bedroom. If you look hard enough, you can find absolute steals.

Wyndham Rewards is good for travelers who:

  • Collect Capital One miles.
  • Travel to small towns.
  • Aren’t interested in luxury stays.
  • Want free Vacasa vacation rentals.

IHG One Rewards

IHG One Rewards recently revamped its loyalty program with new elite status benefits. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

IHG One Rewards recently received a refresh, making it nearly a competitor with the most popular hotel programs for the first time. IHG hotels are often a poor value for the points thanks to dynamic pricing. However, they’re easy to use and IHG hotels are in almost as many locations as Hilton.

IHG offers three recently-revamped cobranded credit cards, all of which automatically offer the ability to receive the fourth consecutive award night for free. That’s unique among loyalty programs and a better value than Marriott and Hilton’s fifth-night free policy.

IHG recently added the ability to book Six Senses resorts with IHG points. These are some extremely sought-after properties and a great win for IHG points collectors.

In addition, the program recently revamped its elite status tiers. Now, top-tier Diamond Elites get free breakfast and finally have a dedicated support line. In addition, elites can earn Milestone Awards which are earned when you stay a certain number of nights in a calendar year. Some awards include an annual lounge membership, bonus points and confirmed suite upgrades.

IHG One is good for travelers who:

  • Are road warriors.
  • Are satisfied with a small collection of luxury hotels.

Related: An IHG upgrade to a club-level room doesn’t mean you’ll have access to the Club Lounge

Accor Live Limitless

Accor is home to iconic brands like Fairmont. ROBERT ALEXANDER/GETTY IMAGES

Accor has many hotel brands (more than 50), with a slew of upscale and luxury options.

Accor points are some of the most valuable (and straightforward) rewards in the points and miles game. You can redeem them in increments of 2,000 to receive 40 euros (or equivalent in U.S. Dollars) off your hotel bill.

For example, according to the current exchange rate. If you book a stay that costs $550, you can redeem 26,000 points and $13 for your stay. That’s pretty amazing.

There are two areas in which Accor underdelivers:

  • The vast majority of its properties are concentrated in Europe or Asia.
  • Accor does not offer a cobranded credit card to help you earn points quickly.

Yes, Accor is a transfer partner of Capital One miles. However, the transfer ratio is 2:1 (2 Capital One miles = 1 Accor point), so it’s far from a no-brainer destination for your Capital One miles. If you're primarily traveling in Asia or Europe, though, Accor can be a great place to earn your hotel points.

The program has four status tiers, with the top-tier Diamond elite offering free breakfast on weekends, suite night upgrades and executive lounge access. You'll also find brand-specific benefits at each status tier, like complimentary bike rentals at Fairmont properties.

Accor Live Limitless is good for travelers who:

  • Collect Capital One miles.
  • Travel to Europe and Asia often.
  • Want a huge selection of luxury properties.
  • Want a points redemption process that requires no expertise.

Related: The award traveler’s guide to Accor Live Limitless

Choice Privileges

Choice Hotels has properties all over the world, with the best offerings in Scandinavia. CHOICE HOTELS

Choice Privileges places third behind Wyndham and Marriott for a number of properties worldwide. Its brands, such as Comfort Inn, WoodSpring Suites and Quality Inn, are nothing special. However, this loyalty program can serve you similarly to Wyndham in that its hotels are more prolific in smaller towns.

Choice is famously valuable for anyone staying in Scandinavia, as hotels in that area are exorbitant — but award stays at Choice Hotels remain extremely reasonable. Also, there are lots of properties to choose from.

In terms of earning points, Choice offers one cobranded credit card. You can also transfer Amex Membership Rewards points and Capital One miles to Choice at a 1:1 ratio and Citi ThankYou points at a better 1:2 ratio. This effectively cuts the price of Choice awards in half if you're redeeming Citi points.

Choice intermittently offers substantial promotions that allow you to earn enough points for a free night for relatively simple tasks.

Unfortunately, its elite status tiers don't bring much to the table. There are no room upgrades, and its limited benefits include reserved parking, bonus points earning and late checkout.

Choice Privileges is best for travelers who:

  • Are road warriors.
  • Travel to Scandinavia.
  • Travel to small-town America.
  • Aren’t concerned about free stays in luxury hotels.

Related: The award traveler’s guide to Choice Privileges

Best Western Rewards

Best Western Rewards leaves much to be desired, with little perks. WILL BARTON/GETTY IMAGES

Best Western Rewards has suffered due to low marks in its luxury hotel offerings mixed with a comparatively small portfolio of hotels.

That said, Best Western’s top-tier elite status is super easy to earn if you’ve got even mid-tier elite status from a competing hotel chain. In my experience, they’ve been happy to match if you email them.

Best Western teams up with First National Bank of Omaha to issue two credit cards. Like Choice, its elite status tiers bring very little value, with only minor benefits on offer.

Best Western Rewards is good for travelers who:

  • Want free breakfast without elite status.
  • Don’t care about free luxury hotel stays.

Related: Hotel elite status match and challenge offers for 2022

Radisson Rewards

Radisson has some nice properties, but its loyalty program is lacking. ARIANA ARGHANDEWAL/THE POINTS GUY

Radisson used to have an incredible loyalty program. Over the years, it’s stripped any noteworthy value from it.

Radisson has never offered a formidable number of hotels. Its main focus is in Europe, and the properties that are in the U.S. are concentrated mostly on the East Coast. To boot, it’s got a low number of memorable hotels in general.

Further, there are now two Radisson loyalty programs. Radisson Rewards Americas covers North and South America, while the rest of the world uses Radisson Rewards. Both programs have similar elite status and redemption structures, and you can transfer points between the two. However, that might change once Choice completes its Radisson Rewards America acquisition.

It's worth noting that Radisson Rewards no longer offers a U.S. cobranded credit card and has no transfer partners. In turn, your only way to earn these points is by staying at hotels. If you earn enough points for a free stay, your best bet is to redeem them through the Radisson Rewards program at European properties which tend to offer the most value.

Radisson Rewards is good for travelers who:

  • Limit their travels to the East Coast and Europe.
  • Don’t care about free luxury hotel stays.

Bottom line

A hotel can be far more than just a place to rest your head. Loyalty programs can dramatically enhance your vacation — and even make it practically free.

We encourage TPG readers to sign up for any and all hotel loyalty programs. Even if you don’t think you’ll stay at a certain hotel chain, circumstances may dictate otherwise. You will be glad you enrolled beforehand — and you’ll be funding your future vacations with zero effort on your part.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.