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Picking a hotel loyalty program can be a very different decision for business travelers than it might be for leisure travelers. While the latter group is more likely to earn a majority of points from credit cards, business travelers tend to earn most of their rewards the old-fashioned way: through paid hotel stays.

In addition, when leisure travelers have to pay for their rooms out of pocket, they may be more likely to forgo rewards earned through the hotel in order to save a little money by booking through an online travel agency, a strategy that became especially rewarding in early 2018 with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card. On the other hand, business travelers (who are generally being reimbursed by an employer or client) typically prefer to earn additional hotel points and elite status by booking directly with the hotel.

So how should a business traveler select his/her preferred hotel program? Today’s guide will walk through that decision-making process.

Optimizing a Loyalty Program and Credit Card

To find the best hotel rewards program for business travelers, I examined the four major hotel loyalty programs and calculated how many points travelers can expect to earn with a combination of elite status and a co-branded credit card. I’ll then use TPG’s latest monthly valuations to determine the total value of the rewards earned per dollar spent to see which program offers the greatest return.

Hilton Honors

(Photo courtesy of Hilton San Francisco Union Square)
Hilton Honors offers a large variety of brands around the world, but is it the most rewarding for business travelers? (Photo courtesy of Hilton San Francisco Union Square)

The Hilton Honors program offers you 10 base points per dollar spent at most brands, though stays at Home2 Suites by Hilton™ and Tru by Hilton™ hotels earn just 5 base points per dollar spent on your room rate only. However, you can amplify your earnings by paying for your stay with one of its cobranded cards, each of which offers bonus points on these purchases plus enhanced earning rates through the automatic Hilton Honors elite status levels they confer. Even though TPG pegs Hilton points at just 0.6 cents apiece, this can still bring you a valuable return.

At the lowest level, the basic Hilton Honors American Express Card offers you 7x points at Hilton hotels and resorts and includes Silver elite status (with an upgrade to Gold status when you spend $20,000 on eligible purchases in a calendar year). Here’s how that translates to earnings:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 10
  • Bonus points with Silver status: 2
  • Bonus points from credit card: 7
  • Total points per dollar spent: 19
  • Return per dollar spent: 11.4%

The next card up is the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, one that awards 12x points per dollar spent at Hilton properties and confers automatic Gold status (with an upgrade to Diamond by spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year). This tier of Hilton status gives you an 80% bonus, resulting in the following earnings on paid Hilton stays:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 10
  • Bonus points with Gold status: 8
  • Bonus points from credit card: 12
  • Total points per dollar spent: 30
  • Return per dollar spent: 18%

If you do reach Diamond status (either by spending $40k or through actual stays/nights in Hilton hotels), this boosts your earning rate to 32 points per dollar spent, a return of 19.2%.

Finally, the premium Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers you 14x at Hilton properties along with complimentary top-tier Diamond status. With this status, you’ll earn a 100% bonus on paid Hilton stays, resulting in a very lucrative earning rate:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 10
  • Bonus points with Diamond status: 10
  • Bonus points from credit card: 14
  • Total points per dollar spent: 34
  • Return per dollar spent: 20.4%

World of Hyatt 

(Photo courtesy of Park Hyatt Sydney)
Hyatt may have a limited global footprint, but it can offer some terrific rewards for road warriors. (Photo courtesy of Park Hyatt Sydney)

Another hotel program is World of Hyatt, and even though its limited footprint may be challenging for some business travelers, Hyatt points are among the most valuable hotel currencies out there (1.8 cents in TPG’s most recent valuations). Regular members will earn 5 base points per dollar spent on stays, but if you also hold The World of Hyatt Credit Card, you’ll earn an additional 4x points along with Discoverist status, which offers you an additional 10% bonus. Here’s how that translates to earning:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 5
  • Bonus points with Discoverist status: 0.5
  • Bonus points from credit card: 4
  • Total points per dollar spent: 9.5
  • Return per dollar spent: 17.1%

If you reach Explorist status (after 30 nights or 50,000 base points), you’ll earn a 20% bonus. Here’s how that changes your earnings:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 5
  • Bonus points with Explorist status: 1
  • Bonus points from credit card: 4
  • Total points per dollar spent: 10
  • Return per dollar spent: 18%

Finally, top-tier Globalist members will earn a 30% bonus on base points:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 5
  • Bonus points with Globalist status: 1.5
  • Bonus points from credit card: 4
  • Total points per dollar spent: 10.5
  • Return per dollar spent: 18.9%

IHG Rewards Club

The IHG Premier card can greatly enhance your earning rates at thousands of properties around the world.

Like the Hilton Honors program, the IHG Rewards Club offers its elite members a lot of points, but these points are worth just 0.6 cents, less than those of many other programs. General members earn 10 points per dollar spent at most IHG properties, and 5 points per dollar at Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites. I’ll examine your earnings at 10x, but if you tend to stay at those two brands, you’ll need to adjust the value below accordingly.

If you have the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card from Chase, you’ll then earn an additional 10 points per dollar spent at IHG properties. The card also gives cardholders Platinum Elite status, which earns another 50% bonus on top of the 10x base points. Here’s the resulting haul of points for your IHG stays:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 10
  • Bonus points with Platinum status: 5
  • Bonus points from credit card: 10
  • Total points per dollar spent: 25
  • Return per dollar spent: 15%

One you surpass 75 elite-qualifying nights, you’ll reach top-tier top-tier Spire status, giving you a 100% bonus on base spending:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 10
  • Bonus points with Spire status: 10
  • Bonus points from credit card: 10
  • Total points per dollar spent: 30
  • Return per dollar spent: 18%

Marriott Rewards

(Photos by Shuttestock.com)
The combined Marriott/SPG/Ritz-Carlton program has some solid appeal for business travelers. (Photos by Shuttestock.com)

The newly integrated Marriott, SPG and Ritz-Carlton program offers all members 10 points per dollar spent across the combined portfolio (5x points for stays at Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites or Element properties). However, if you hold a Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card, then you’ll earn an additional 6x points on your eligible purchases plus enjoy automatic Marriott elite status, boosting your rewards even further.

The Marriott Premier Plus and SPG Amex both offer you Silver Elite status, giving you a 10% bonus:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 10
  • Bonus points with Silver Elite status: 1
  • Bonus points from credit card: 6
  • Total points per dollar spent: 17
  • Return per dollar spent: 15.3%

Gold status in the program is granted after 25 qualifying nights, though it’s also included on the SPG Luxury Card and can be earned by spending $30,000 in a year on either the Marriott Premier Plus or SPG Amex (this spending threshold will rise to $35,000 in 2019). Reaching this level would unlock a 25% point bonus, and if you use one of the cobranded cards for your stay, you’ll get the following earning rate:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 10
  • Bonus points with Gold Elite status: 2.5
  • Bonus points from credit card: 6
  • Total points per dollar spent: 18.5
  • Return per dollar spent: 16.55%

After 50 nights (or after spending $75,000 on the SPG Luxury Card in a year), you’ll reach Platinum Elite status and unlock a 50% bonus on paid stays:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 10
  • Bonus points with Platinum Elite status: 5
  • Bonus points from credit card: 6
  • Total points per dollar spent: 21
  • Return per dollar spent: 18.9%

Finally, top-tier Platinum Premier elite is earned after 75 qualifying nights and offers a 75% bonus on stays, resulting in the following earning rates:

  • Base points per dollar spent: 10
  • Bonus points with Platinum Premier status: 7.5
  • Bonus points from credit card: 6
  • Total points per dollar spent: 23.5
  • Return per dollar spent: 21.15%

Summary

As you can see from the above calculations, if you combine elite status with a cobranded credit card at any of the four major hotel programs, you’re looking at an incredibly rewarding earning structure. Here are the various rates of return you’d get on paid stays, in ascending order:

  • 11.4% – Hilton Silver status with no-fee Hilton Amex
  • 15% – IHG Platinum status with IHG Premier card
  • 15.3% – Marriott Silver status with any Marriott/SPG cobranded card
  • 16.55% – Marriott Gold status with Marriott/SPG card
  • 17.1% – Hyatt Discoverist status with World of Hyatt card
  • 18% (TIE) – Hilton Gold status with Hilton Amex Ascend; IHG Spire status with IHG Premier card; Hyatt Explorist status with World of Hyatt card
  • 18.9% (TIE) – Hyatt Globalist with World of Hyatt card; Marriott Platinum status with Marriott/SPG card
  • 20.4% – Hilton Diamond status with Hilton Amex Aspire
  • 21.15% – Marriott Platinum Premier with Marriott/SPG card

Analysis

London Marriott Hotel County Hall (courtesy of Marriott)
Based solely on the rewards you’ll earn, Marriott has a slight edge for business travelers. (Photo of the London Marriott Hotel County Hall courtesy of Marriott)

The most valuable hotel rewards per dollar spent in these programs can be obtained by earning Marriott Platinum Premier status and using a cobranded Marriott or SPG card for these stays. This combination will offer you a tremendous 21.15 cents back for every dollar you spend at properties in the combined portfolio. Each one of these credit cards will also offer 15 nights of elite credit in 2019, putting you 20% of the way towards the 75-night threshold to qualify for Platinum Premier (you can only earn a total of 15 elite night credits, even if you hold multiple Marriott/SPG cards). That means you’ll have to stay at least 60 nights to reach this tier, nearly one out of of every six nights of the year!

In contrast, the next most valuable hotel status and credit card combination doesn’t require a single night’s stay. When you have the Hilton Amex Aspire card, you instantly receive top-tier Diamond status and earn a strong 20.4 cents of value for every dollar spent.

The next best value comes from two separate combinations, both of which offer 18.9 cents of value per dollar spent:

  • Marriott Platinum with a Marriott/SPG card: You can earn this status just by spending $75,000 in a calendar year on the SPG Luxury Card, or you could qualify the “hard way” with 50 elite-qualifying nights.
  • Hyatt Globalist status with the World of Hyatt card: This status is earned through a combination of elite-qualifying nights and credits from the Hyatt credit card, which offers 5 elite nights every year plus 2 additional elite nights for every $5,000 you spend on the card.

Note that having Hyatt Explorist and Discoverist status offers nearly as much value per dollar spent: 18 and 17.1 cents, respectively.

The IHG Rewards program and the remaining mid- and low-tier statuses from Hilton and Marriott bring up the rear.

Corporate Cardholders

Bear in mind that not every business traveler has the luxury of selecting his/her own credit card when on the road for work. Many companies require all travel-related expenses to be charged to a corporate card, thus negating the bonus points for using a cobranded card at your hotel of choice. If you’re in this position, here’s a table that breaks down the earning rates and total return you’ll get at each tier of elite status for these four programs:

Program and Status Level Criteria Total Earnings Value Per Point Total Return
Hilton Silver 4-19 stays or
10-39 nights
12 points/$ 0.6 cents 7.2%
Hilton Gold 20-29 stays or
40-59 nights
18 points/$ 0.6 cents 10.8%
Hilton Diamond 30+ stays or
60+ nights
20 points/$ 0.6 cents 12%
Hyatt Discoverist 10-29 nights 5.5 points/$ 1.8 cents 9.9%
Hyatt Explorist 30-59 nights 6 points/$ 1.8 cents 10.8%
Hyatt Globalist 60+ nights 6.5 points/$ 1.8 cents 11.7%
IHG Gold 10-39 nights 11 points/$ 0.6 cents 6.6%
IHG Platinum 40-74 nights 15 points/$ 0.6 cents 9%
IHG Spire 75+ nights 20 points/$ 0.6 cents 12%
Marriott Silver 10-24 nights 11 points/$ 0.9 cents 9.9%
Marriott Gold 25-49 nights 12.5 points/$ 0.9 cents 11.25%
Marriott Platinum 50-74 nights 15 points/$ 0.9 cents 13.5%
Marriott Platinum Premier 75+ nights 17.5 points/$ 0.9 cents 15.75%

When looking at the four programs in this light, there’s a pretty clear winner: the Marriott Rewards program. Its Platinum Premier and Platinum statuses will earn you a return of 15.75% and 13.5% on your stays, respectively. Meanwhile, Hilton Honors Diamond and IHG Spire both result in a 12% return, followed by Hyatt Globalist (11.7%) and Marriott Gold (11.25%). Bear in mind that you must actually reach the corresponding qualification thresholds for each of these status levels, but for the road warriors out there, that may not be too difficult.

Other Considerations

Of course, it isn’t just about the rewards structure of a hotel program. There are a few other important factors to consider as a business traveler when you’re choosing a chain to earn your loyalty:

  1. Geographic spread: As noted above, the World of Hyatt program can be quite valuable, but it has less than 1,000 properties worldwide (Marriott has nearly 7,000). If your business trips take you to various cities, you may not always find a Hyatt property at which to stay.
  2. Convenience: On the other hand, if you frequently visit just a handful of cities or customer sites, you should take into account the convenience of the applicable properties in those areas. Even though Marriott may be the most rewarding at the top tier, it won’t do you any good if the closest property is 15 miles from your company’s corporate office.
  3. Other perks: Finally, these calculations only take into account the total value of the reward points earned, not the perks of the status itself. This can include valuable free night stays, free breakfasts and suite upgrades, so be sure to factor those into your decision-making process as well.

Bottom line

Road warriors have to weigh many factors when choosing a hotel loyalty program, and this analysis has hopefully shown you where you can receive the most valuable rewards for your hotel dollars. While there are other factors that should come into play, by carefully examining these hotel programs and the rewards structures of their cobranded credit cards, you should be able to find the best combination for your needs.

Featured image by DuKai photographer / Getty Images.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
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Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.