How to pick the right hotel chain for you
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Despite unprecedented consolidation within the hotel industry in the last few years, there are still several major chains around, each with its own distinct loyalty program. While it can be hard enough for longtime loyalty members to plot out a powerful points strategy with hotels, if you’re new to hotel points altogether, it can feel downright impossible to pick the right program for your needs.
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The good news is: You don’t necessarily need to settle on one since each program has its strengths and weaknesses. Taking the time to learn the ins and outs of each hotel chain and its loyalty program could mean earning free nights and elite status faster, so you can enjoy your travels even more.
Among the major factors you should consider are:
- Earning points: Do you earn 2 points per dollar? 20 points? Something in between? Does the program have other partners where you can transfer points to and from? Answering these questions will help you determine which program you can earn points with fastest.
- Award costs: Look at the award charts of each chain to see how far you might be able to stretch your points for free nights and other rewards. Also, consider how much an award chart has changed lately and whether it’s been for the better. Or not.
- Credit cards: Some hotel chains have a single cobranded credit card, while others have several. Which ones best fit your financial needs and habits?
- Elite status: The requirements for earning elite status and the perks you receive can vary dramatically from chain to chain.
- Global footprint: The total number of properties a hotel company fields around the world will determine your opportunities for both earning and redeeming points.
- Coronavirus precautions: For travelers who are rethinking their loyalty due to the pandemic, there are many additional factors to take into consideration. Each brand has a slightly different approach to cleanliness standards; change and cancellation policies; and free-night credit extensions. Some of the cobranded credit cards have even introduced temporary perks to help travelers maximize their purchases while staying home. So, while the guide below should give you a good sense of how the hotel brands stack up during normal travel times, remember to carefully consider how each is responding to COVID-19 as well, especially if you plan to travel in the near future.
If you don’t know where to start, check our monthly points valuations for a benchmark of the value you should expect from each type of hotel points. Now, for the details on all the major brands — and our insights on what kind of traveler may be best suited for each program.
Best for: Beginners looking to explore
The basics: Its merger with Starwood made Marriott the world’s largest hotel company, with over 7,300 properties in 134 countries. Confusing for many travelers, the company now oversees 30 brands ranging from The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis at the high end to Westin and Sheraton in the middle, and Aloft, Moxy and Four Points toward the budget side of the spectrum. Marriott even entered the luxury vacation rental market with its new Homes and Villas by Marriott (HVM) collection.
Earning: Marriott Bonvoy members earn 10x points per dollar at most hotels. Stays at Element, Residence Inn and TownPlace Suites earn 5x, while certain other stays only net 2.5x per dollar. Points typically expire after 24 months of no account activity.
Redeeming: Marriott Bonvoy has shifted to a more dynamic pricing model for award nights with peak and off-peak pricing. Hotels in its eight categories range from 5,000 to 100,000 points per night. You can save up to 20% through PointSavers awards, which range from 4,000 to 90,000 points per night.
To put that into perspective, mid-level Category 5 properties such as the W Chicago Lakeshore or the Marriott Puerto Vallarta cost between 30,000 and 40,000 points per night. These are good ways to redeem the annual free night certificates (up to 35,000 points) that come with the chain’s cobranded credit cards such as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.
Marriott also has cash and points rates that range from 1,500 points plus $55 up to 57,500 points plus $440, so your value may vary.
Elite status: Marriott elite status currently has five tiers. Silver is achieved at 10 nights per year and includes benefits like a 10% points bonus on stays and availability-based late check-out. You can hit Gold with 25 nights and receive a 25% points bonus plus premium in-room internet.
Platinum is reached at 50 nights and includes 50% bonus points earning on stays, late check-out to 4 p.m. and welcome amenities. Titanium Elites stay 75 nights or more per year and receive 75% bonus points and upgrade access to some suites. Finally, Marriott Bonvoy members who stay 100 nights per year and spend $20,000 or more on stays receive Ambassador status including a personal loyalty concierge (hence the term Ambassador) and 24-hour windows for checking in and out.
Credit cards: Marriott Bonvoy members have fantastic choices when it comes to cobranded credit cards, thanks to the brand’s partnerships with both American Express and Chase.
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card is currently offering new cardholders 100,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. It comes with a free night certificate each cardmember year worth up to 35,000 points and confers automatic Silver status by way of 15 nights of automatic elite credit each year. The card earns up to 17x Bonvoy points per dollar spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3 points per dollar on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on gas stations, grocery stores and dining, and 2 points per dollar on everything else and costs $95 per year. Read our full credit card review.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card is the current top-tier card and costs $450 per year (see rates & fees). Its benefits include an annual free night at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program (certain hotels have resort fees) worth up to 50,000 points and automatic Gold status. The card earns 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, 3x at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2x on all other eligible purchases. Cardholders also get up to $300 in statement credits toward eligible purchases each account year at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, Priority Pass lounge access and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee statement credit (up to $100), among other benefits. Read our full card review for more details. Enrollment required for select benefits.
Those are just two ways to start earning Marriott points and status, but there are other Marriott Bonvoy credit cards that may be right for you.
Other partners: Marriott Bonvoy is a 1 to 1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. If you have a card such as The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card, you can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to Marriott as well.
Verdict: Given Marriott’s huge global footprint, variety of brands and excellent credit card slate, it’s a great choice for travelers who want lots of variety and flexibility.
For more information, check out these posts:
- Your ultimate guide to Marriott hotel brands
- The award traveler’s guide to Marriott Bonvoy
- Best ways to earn points with the Marriott Bonvoy program
- How to redeem points with the Marriott Bonvoy program
- What is Marriott Bonvoy elite status worth in 2020?
Best for: Travelers who put most of their spending on credit cards
The basics: Though outstripped by Marriott, Hilton has more than 6,100 properties worldwide in 118 countries. Its 18 current brands include luxurious Waldorf Astoria hotels, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, the quirky Curio Collection and more budget-friendly options including DoubleTree and Embassy Suites, among others.
Earning: Hilton Honors members earn 10x base points per dollar on Hilton purchases at most brands, but only 5x at certain ones like Home2Suites and Tru. Points generally expire after a mere 12 months of inactivity.
Redeeming: Of the major chains, Hilton’s award pricing is the most dynamic and Hilton Honors no longer even publishes an award chart. That said, most hotels will cost between 5,000 and 120,000 points per night. Members can now use a mix of cash and points that works out to saving about 1,000 points per $3 to $6 in room rate increases. That’s not a great value for your Hilton points, but can be important if you’re saving for a better redemption down the line.
Elite status: Hilton Honors elite status comes in three tiers. Silver requires four stays or 10 nights per calendar year and confers 20% bonus points on paid stays (so 12x instead of the normal 10x), plus perks like a fifth night free on award stays. To reach Gold, you’ve got to complete 20 stays or 30 nights, or earn 75,000 base points (equivalent to spending $7,500 at hotels). At this level, you’ll earn 80% bonus points on Hilton purchases (so 18x per dollar), a chance of room upgrades and free breakfast at most hotels.
Diamond status is the top tier and takes 30 stays or 60 nights, or earning 120,000 base points. Diamonds get a 100% points bonus, free premium internet, better upgrades and club lounge access at some hotels, among other perks. You can hit Silver, Gold or Diamond status automatically depending on which Hilton credit card you carry.
Credit cards: Hilton Honors boasts one of the most robust cobranded card slates in the travel rewards space. Here are the two to focus on, though.
If you’re just getting into the game, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is probably the way to go. Its welcome offer is 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, you can earn up to $130 in statement credits on eligible purchases made on the card at any of the Hilton family hotels in the first 12 months of membership.
The card earns 12x points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases; 6x at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; and 3x on all other eligible purchases. Cardmembers receive automatic Hilton Honors Gold status and can upgrade to Diamond after $40,000 in purchases in a calendar year. (enrollment required for select benefits). Plus, they earn a free weekend night after spending $15,000 on purchases in a calendar year. The card has an annual fee of $95 (see rates & fees).
If you’re really ready to commit to a serious relationship with Hilton, consider the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. It costs $450 per year (see rates & fees), but is loaded with perks. Its current welcome offer is 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. It earns 14x points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases; 7x on flights booked directly with airlines or through AmexTravel.com, direct car rental bookings and at U.S. restaurants; and 3x on all other eligible purchases. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Cardmembers receive complimentary Honors Diamond status and a free weekend night award every year that’s good and most properties. They can also access Priority Pass lounges and take advantage of the up to $250 in Hilton Resort statement credits and an up to $250 airline incidental fee credit, among other perks. Enrollment required for select benefits.
Due to the pandemic, Hilton is extending the validity of free weekend nights issued May 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, for two years rather than one. These certificates will also be valid any day of the week, not just weekends.
Other partners: Hilton is an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner. So, if you have a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card, you can transfer points to Hilton at a 1 to 2 ratio. Through Oct. 31, 2020, Amex is offering 40% bonus points on these transfers.
Verdict: Hilton is another great brand for folks just getting into the points game since you can earn a ton of points and enjoy the perks of elite status simply by signing up for one of its credit cards.
For more information, check out these posts:
- The award traveler’s guide to Hilton Honors
- Best ways to earn points with the Hilton Honors program
- How to redeem points with the Hilton Honors program
- What is Hilton Honors elite status worth in 2020?
Best for: Great award redemption values at high-end hotels
The basics: The smallest of the major chains, Hyatt currently comprises more than 900 hotels in 65 countries with 20 brands, ranging from budget-friendly Hyatt Places to design-forward Thompsons and luxurious Park Hyatts. The program also has interesting partnerships with independent luxury hotels around the world thanks to its collaboration with Small Luxury Hotels, and a strong footprint in Las Vegas particularly thanks to its team-up with M Life Rewards.
Earning: Members of World of Hyatt earn 5x base points per dollar spent at associated hotels. Points typically expire after 24 months of no account activity.
Redeeming: Hyatt’s award chart offers probably the best value of any program. Its hotels fall into eight categories with free nights ranging from 5,000 to 40,000 points each. The planned World of Hyatt award chart changes that were to take effect March 22, 2020, are postponed until 2021. This includes the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing at all hotels and planned award category changes, with the exception of a handful of properties. When the award chart changes do go into effect, the price range will be 3,500 to 45,000 points per night.
Through World of Hyatt’s points and cash option, members can spend between 2,500 and 15,000 points plus 50% of the standard room rate on award nights on hotels in Categories 1 through 7. Those in Category 8 are not currently available for this type of redemption.
Elite status: World of Hyatt currently has three elite status tiers. To hit entry-level Discoverist status, you need to stay 10 nights or earn 25,000 base points (equivalent to spending $5,000) per year. This is also a standard benefit of the World of Hyatt Credit Card (which has a $95 annual fee). Benefits include upgrades to preferred rooms and free premium internet, plus a 10% points bonus on stays, among other perks.
Explorist requires 30 nights or 50,000 base points and includes perks like 20% bonus points, better upgrade availability and four club lounge access awards each year. Globalist status requires 60 nights or 100,000 base points, and confers four confirmed suite upgrades on paid and award stays, club lounge access or free breakfast at most properties and waived resort fees, among other perks. Read our complete guide to World of Hyatt elite status for more details.
Credit cards: Hyatt currently only has a single credit card open to new customers. The World of Hyatt Credit Card has a $95 annual fee and is currently offering up to 60,000 bonus points (30,000 Bonus Points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 more Bonus Points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spend on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 in the first six months of account opening).
The card earns 4x points per dollar at Hyatt, 2x on local transit and commuting as well as at restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, on flights purchased directly from the airline and on fitness club and gym memberships. It earns 1x on everything else and includes automatic Discoverist status, plus a free night each year redeemable at a Category 1 to 4 property worth up to 15,000 points. Read our full card review for more information.
Other partners: Hyatt and American Airlines launched an interesting partnership last year with reciprocal status and benefits for elites. Hyatt also teamed up with Lindblad Expeditions. More importantly, though, World of Hyatt is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, you can top up your account quickly and easily.
Verdict: Though only offering a small footprint, World of Hyatt is an excellent all-round choice thanks to the range of its properties and reasonable redemption rates for award nights. Automatic elite status through its cobranded credit card and the partnership with Chase are two more pros in its pocket.
For more information, check out these posts:
- Best ways to earn points with the World of Hyatt program
- How to redeem points with the World of Hyatt program
- Your guide to maximizing redemptions with Hyatt
Best for: Racking up points quickly and budget-conscious stays
The basics: InterContinental’s IHG Rewards is a loyalty program comprising 17 brands including InterContinental, Kimpton, Hotel Indigo and Holiday Inn, with nearly 5,900 properties spread across more than 100 countries. Its recent acquisition of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas added a compelling collection of luxury resorts to the IHG portfolio.
Earning: Members earn 10x base points per dollar spent on rooms and other IHG purchases at most of the associated brands. Points expire after 12 months of inactivity. IHG introduced dynamic award pricing this year, meaning properties can price award nights up and down just like cash rates, depending on factors such as demand, peak travel times and how much a cash stay costs.
Redeeming: Free nights cost anywhere from 10,000 to 70,000 points each (though some of the highest-end hotels can cost over 100,000 points per night). IHG also offers mixed points and cash awards that are usually the equivalent to buying points for 0.5 to 0.7 cents apiece.
Elite status: IHG Rewards Club has three tiers of elite status. Gold requires 10 nights, or earning 10,000 elite-qualifying points ($1,000 spending) in a year, and includes perks like late check-out, welcome amenities and a 10% points bonus on stays. Platinum status requires 40 nights or 40,000 points, but comes as a standard benefit of the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card. Members earn 50% bonus points and have a better chance of room upgrades. Spire Elite is the program’s top tier and is achieved with 75 nights or 75,000 points. Members earn 100% bonus points on stays (so 20x per dollar) and have the best shot at upgrades.
Credit cards: IHG’s main cobranded credit card is the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card. It’s currently offering 125,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening The card earns 10x points per dollar on IHG purchases (this adds up to 25x thanks to base earning and the fact the card comes with automatic Platinum status). It accrues 2x at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, then 1x on everything else. Cardholders get a reward night when you redeem points for any stay of 4 or more nights and an award night after each account anniversary year, redeemable at hotels costing up to 40,000 points.
Other partners: Like Hyatt, IHG Rewards Club is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. So, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred card, you can transfer your points to the program at a 1:1 ratio.
Verdict: Though IHG Rewards Club points tend to yield lower values than some other programs, given how easy it is to rack them up and the cobranded card’s benefits, it’s still a great brand for travelers with mid-range budgets.
For more information, check out these posts.
- Maximizing IHG Rewards Club for family travel
- How to redeem points with IHG Rewards Club
- What is IHG Rewards Club elite status worth in 2020?
Best for: A simple return on spending at a wide range of hotels
The basics: You may not be as familiar with the Europe-based chain Accor, but it counts household names including Fairmont, Sofitel, Banyan Tree, Raffles, Mercure, Ibis, Mantra and Novotel among its nearly 40 brands, and has 5,000 hotels in 110 countries.
Earning: Le Club Accorhotels’ earning formula is a bit hard to grasp, but members earn 25x points per 10 euros ($11) at most brands, and just 12.5x at Ibis, Ibis Styles and Mama Shelter. Travelers earn even fewer points at Adagio and Adagio Access properties.
Redeeming: Members can redeem 2,000 points for 40 euros (about $44) off their bill. This works out to a return on spending of 5% back. That might not sound amazing, but given the relative value of other hotel points and having to deal with award availability, this’s a pretty solid deal. And that’s not even taking into account elite earning rates.
Elite status: There are four tiers of status with Le Club Accorhotels (becoming ALL — standing for Accor Live Limitless). You hit Silver at 2,000 status points, which is equivalent to accruing 10 nights or 800 euros ($880) in eligible spending. Members then earn 31x points per euro and get a welcome drink and late checkout. Reach Gold with 7,000 status points, equivalent to 30 nights or 2,800 euros ($3,080) in spending. This includes room upgrades, early check-in and late checkout plus an earning rate of 37x points per euro.
Platinum status requires 14,000 status points, which is equivalent to 60 nights or 5,600 euros ($6,160). At this level, you receive access to club lounges and suite upgrades. To attain Diamond status, you need 26,000 status points, equivalent to spending 10,400 euros ($11,440) with no stay requirements. This tier includes four dining and spa rewards worth 25 euros each ($27.50), gifting Gold status to another, and complimentary breakfast on weekends.
Credit cards: There are no Accor-branded credit cards currently available in the U.S.
Other partners: As of February, Accor’s loyalty program is now a Capital One transfer partner. Since Capital One miles transfer to ALL at a 2:1 ratio (1,000 Capital One miles equals 500 ALL Rewards points), you’d need to transfer 4,000 Capital One miles to receive 2,000 ALL Rewards points and get $44 off your stay. The program also partners with some airlines and other companies, including an Air France-KLM tie-up.
Verdict: This is simply a cash-back program by another name, but a 5% rate of return on spending is nothing to ignore.
Related: The best starter travel credit cards
Best for: Niche stays in smaller markets
The basics: With just around 1,400 hotels worldwide, this midsize chain might not be your main choice, but it’s still important to remember it exists before swearing your unwavering loyalty to another brand. Its family of seven brands includes Radisson Blu, Radisson Red, the Radisson Collection, Park Inn and Park Plaza, among other labels.
Earning: Basic members earn 20x points per dollar on Radisson purchases, and points typically expire after 24 months of no activity.
Redeeming: The Radisson Rewards program breaks down redemptions into standard and premium rooms across seven categories of hotels. Standard rooms range from 9,000 to 70,000 points, while premium ones will cost between 13,500 and 105,000. You can also redeem a mix of cash and points for standard rooms at rates that range from 5,000 to 20,000, plus a cash copay that can be quite substantial, so we typically recommend you avoid this.
Elite status: Radisson Rewards has three tiers of status. You hit Silver after nine nights or six stays and receive benefits such as 2x extra points per dollar and a 10% discount on food and beverage at hotels. Gold requires 30 nights or 20 stays and will earn you 25x points per dollar and a 15% discount. Reaching Platinum status requires 60 nights or 30 stays and will earn you 35x points per dollar, confer a 20% discount and free breakfast at most properties.
Credit cards: Radisson fields two personal credit cards and one on the business side. The standout is the Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card. Its annual fee is $75, but it offers sign-up bonuses of up to 85,000 points when you spend $2,500 in the first 90 days. Cardholders earn 10x points per dollar on Radisson purchases and 5x on everything else, plus a free night certificate for every $10,000 spent per cardmember year up to $30,000 total. The free night can only be redeemed at hotels within the U.S., which is a bit limiting. You also get 40,000 bonus points for renewing your card each year plus automatic Gold status.
Other partners: Radisson points can be converted into airline miles with more than 20 partners, but the ratios are not great, so we don’t recommend this.
Verdict: The lack of many truly high-end hotels stateside might put off some travelers, but if Radisson’s brands are in destinations you want to visit, it may be worth the effort to master this program.
The information for the Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Best for: Budget travelers seeking a good rate of return
The basics: Don’t forget about this global chain, which includes 9,300 hotels in more than 90 countries across 20 brands that include Days Inn, Ramada, Travelodge, Tryp and Wyndham Grand.
Earning: Wyndham Rewards members earn 10x points per dollar on room rates, or 1,000 points per stay — whichever is greater. Points generally expire after 18 months of account inactivity.
Redeeming: Straight-up award nights cost 7,500, 15,000 or 30,000 points each, depending on the hotel. Wyndham Rewards members can also book “go fast” awards at cash-and-points rates of 1,500, 3,000 or 6,000 points apiece plus cash copays that vary.
Elite status: There are currently three tiers of elite status, starting with Gold which you earn after completing five nights. Members at this level earn 10% more points on stays, have access to preferred rooms, late check-out and a dedicated customer service line. Folks who stay 15 nights or more qualify for Platinum status, which includes additional benefits such as earning 15% bonus points, early check-in times, a status match to the Caesar Rewards program and car rental upgrades with Avis and Budget.
Wyndham Rewards Diamond status is earned after 40 nights. The additional perks at this tier include earning 20% bonus points, eligibility for suite upgrades, a welcome amenity at check-in and the ability to confer Gold status on another member. Check out this post for shortcuts to earning Wyndham status.
Credit cards: Wyndham currently fields two cobranded credit cards through its issuer partner, Barclays. The Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature has a $75 annual fee and is offering a welcome bonus of up to 30,000 points (15,000 after your first purchase and an additional 15,000 once you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days). It earns 5x points per dollar on Wyndham purchases and 2x at gas stations and grocery stores as well as on utilities, then 1x on everything else. Cardmembers receive automatic Platinum status.
The no-fee Wyndham Rewards Visa offers a bonus of 15,000 points after its first use and earns 3x points per dollar on Wyndham purchases, 2x in the same categories as its premium counterpart and 1x on everything else. Cardholders are automatically made Gold elites.
Other partners: This year, Wyndham also became a transfer partner with Capital One, with points transferring at a 2 to 1.5 ratio (1,000 Capital One miles will become 750 Wyndham Rewards points). The program also partners with over a dozen airlines with whom members can earn 1 mile per dollar spent on stays, or convert their hotel points to airline miles at a 5 to 1 ratio (for the most part), which is generally a terrible value.
Verdict: This is a good beginner program thanks to great earning rates and even better redemption values. Just don’t expect to stay at any super luxurious properties if you’re swearing your allegiance to Wyndham.
The information for the Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Although there are fewer major hotel chains these days, the good news is that travelers still have several fantastic loyalty programs to choose from. Which one is right for you will depend on where you tend to stay when traveling, what kinds of awards you hope to book, whether you will be able to maximize the benefits of one credit card over another and if you can hit elite status. Some travelers may also want to consider how the hotel brands responded to the pandemic, both in terms of hospitality and cleanliness, as well as more temporary policies.
Take some time to strategize your travel plans and goals, and then see which of these hotel loyalty programs will be the best fit for you.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Amex card, click here.
Featured photo by Ryan Patterson.
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