How to choose a hotel loyalty program

Jul 26, 2020

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We’ve been delving into hotel loyalty programs recently here at TPG, starting with Marriott Bonvoy, which is the world’s largest.

You may be loyal to a particular airline, or its loyalty program for the simple reason that it is the airline you like to fly or that it has the most/best flight options from where you’re based. But hotel loyalty programs are different. In a major city, there may be respectable properties from every major hotel group, so choosing the program that is best for you is not so simple. You’re unlikely to be ‘held captive’ to one hotel group as you might be if you lived in a hub of a particular airline.

Airlines may partner with a number of different programs. But hotels are usually only a member of one hotel group, so if you like a certain hotel brand you likely only have one corresponding hotel program on offer.

There are a number of major global hotel loyalty programs to choose from, each with properties in dozens of countries:

  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • World of Hyatt
  • Hilton Honors
  • IHG Rewards
  • Accor LeClub
  • Wyndham Rewards
  • Radisson Rewards

If you want to choose one hotel program to focus on, here are our tips to help you decide.

Park Hyatt Shanghai. (Photo by Danielle Vito/The Points Guy)

Pick Hotels In Which You Want to Stay

This might seem obvious, but there’s no point choosing a program — no matter how good it is — if you don’t want to stay in its properties. If you love Hyatt hotels but hate Hilton hotels, it doesn’t make sense to switch to stay in hotels you don’t like, purely for its loyalty program.

That being said, the major hotel groups have many different brands (Marriott alone has 30 different brands), so even if you don’t like one brand within a group, there may be other brands you might not have stayed in before that may surprise your.

Determine If the Program Has Properties In the Destinations You Want to Visit

In order to maximize the value of a hotel loyalty program, you should try and stay in its properties as often as possible. In major cities like New York or London, there will be multiple properties from each major program from which to choose.

But looking at a region like Scandinavia, for example, there are hardly any Hyatt Group properties, while Radisson Blu is huge in the region. So if you were traveling extensively to Scandinavia and wanted to earn hotel points in one program and have a range of property choices, it would make sense to choose Radisson Rewards rather than World of Hyatt.

Worldwide, Bonvoy has more properties than any other hotel group, and a large number of these are in the United States. You’re likely to find a Marriott option in every major city. Accor has the most properties in Europe.

If your dream redemption is in, say, The Seychelles, make sure the program you are considering has a property there.

Hilton Tel Aviv. (Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy)

Set Goals for Your Hotel Program

One of most enjoyable parts of investing your time and spend in any loyalty program is planning how to use the benefits. If you travel regularly, you may want to gain elite status as quickly as possible to enjoy benefits like late checkout, room upgrades and free breakfasts.

You might have a credit card that earns hotel points, or you might have a credit card that earns a transferable currency, so combining this with points earned booking nights at hotels within that program will build your points balance nicely.

Or, you may have your eye on an aspirational redemption like an overwater villa in the Maldives for that once-in-a-lifetime trip.

No matter how big or small, easy or hard to achieve those goals, it’s important to set them first before diving into a loyalty program. You should be more engaged with the program if you have specific goals to work towards. The more specific the goals, the better. These goals can be as simple as, ‘I want to stay in a suite for cheap one time’, through to, ‘I want to ensure an overwater villa in XXX destination at the time of booking a lower category room purely on points’.

Gran Canaria Radisson
Gran Canaria Radisson. (Photo courtesy Radisson)

Choose the Program That Will Help You Achieve Those Goals

If, looking at the hotels in which you wish to stay, and checking that there properties in the destinations to which you are likely to travel, you still have a few programs to choose from, it’s time to look at the finer details of the program to help you decide. This is where the goal or goals you have already set come into play.

If your goals are to gain top tier status as soon as possible, look at the number of nights you are required to stay before gaining that status. For example, the highest status levels in the Hilton, Hyatt and Radisson require 60 nights of hotel stays, while the highest Marriott and IHG status levels require 75 nights.

Similarly, if you are deciding between five-star properties in the Maldives, one program may charge 50,000 points per night for that villa, while another program might charge 85,000. TPG values hotel loyalty points differently, which explains why different programs charge different amounts for what seems like similar properties. In general, Hyatt and Accor points are worth the most, with IHG and Hilton points worth far less.

Unfortunately, there’s no one single program that is perfect for every goal or travel pattern. For a wider choice of global properties, consider Marriott Bonvoy. For excellent elite status benefits, consider World of Hyatt. For complimentary status through cards, consider Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards or Marriott Bonvoy.

You can check out a detailed comparison of each major hotel loyalty program here.

Featured image by Katie Genter / The Points Guy

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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.

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