How to pick the perfect hotel loyalty program for your style of road trip
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In a world where air travel is at a standstill, more travelers are starting to road trip during the coronavirus pandemic. Your car — whether a rental or a personal vehicle — is a safe haven from the outside world. That said, you’re not in your car 100% of the time. Unless you’re renting an RV, you’re sleeping in hotels either in-transit or at your final destination.
For many, this has made hotel loyalty programs and elite status even more useful during the pandemic — especially when compared to airline elite status. With the right status, you can score free room upgrades, get free breakfast and much more. On top of this, hotel status isn’t too hard to earn either — sometimes, all you need is a credit card.
On top of this, you’ll earn hotel points when you book direct with one of the major hotel groups. These points can be massively valuable since you redeem them for free stays. This makes road tripping more affordable and can help you stay at more luxurious properties that might otherwise be out of your price range.
Not all hotel loyalty programs are equal, though. Depending on how you road trip, some may work better than others for your specific type of travel. So this article, I’ll discuss which hotel loyalty program is best for your style of road trip. I’ll start by giving you an overview of each program, discuss elite status benefits and then show you the easiest way to earn status with the program.
Let’s get started!
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The big city traveler — World of Hyatt
World of Hyatt is the hotel loyalty program of choice for many TPG staff members. It has an incredibly lucrative elite status program that has industry-leading benefits like free parking on award nights, widespread lounge access and status sharing when booking awards for others. On top of this, the program has excellent redemption rates and points are relatively easy to earn.
Sounds great, right? It can be — but the hotel group’s limited footprint makes it best for those traveling to big cities. Let’s take a closer look.
World of Hyatt status overview
As discussed, World of Hyatt elite status benefits are arguably the best in the travel world. There are three different status tiers, cleverly named Discoverist, Explorist and Globalist. On the low-end, Discoverist has a baseline of benefits like a 10% bonus earning on paid stays, free water bottles, space-available access to Preferred Rooms and 2 pm late checkout.
Explorist includes a 20% bonus on points earning and gives you access to space available room upgrades. Explorist members are eligible for upgrades, excluding suites, so you may be able to score a nicer room than you paid for. This is by far the biggest benefit of Explorist over Discoverist.
Globalist, on the other hand, is the true creme de la creme of the hotel loyalty world. This tier bumps the points bonus to 30% and gives you access to standard suites for complimentary upgrades. Likewise, you have access to hotel lounges for breakfast, 4 pm late checkout and free parking on award stays — something essential for road trippers. Finally, other travelers can use your elite status benefits when you redeem points for them through the Guest of Honor benefit.
All World of Hyatt elites can earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles in addition to World of Hyatt points too. Just link your AAdvantage account to your World of Hyatt account, and you’ll earn 1 mile per dollar spent on all Hyatt stays booked directly with Hyatt. Better yet, you’ll still earn World of Hyatt points too, giving you an easy way to double-dip on your points earning.
Who is this best for?
As impressive as World of Hyatt is, it isn’t the best bet for all road trippers. The Chicago-based hotel group only has 900 properties worldwide. Most of these are in big cities, and there are few options in suburbs and along major highways — two places where road trippers may want to spend a night after a long drive.
That said, it’s hard to beat if you frequent major cities where Hyatt has a presence. The elite status benefits are second-to-none and the program the best redemption rates in the industry. It sticks to a standard award chart that has very reasonable award rates. Category 1 hotels cost 5,000 points per night and Category 8 hotels cost 40,000 points per night. That said, the company plans to introduce peak and off-peak pricing next year.
Before you pick Hyatt, think about where you’ll go on your next few road trips. If you plan to go off the beaten path, it’s in your best interest to pick another loyalty program. At the same time, World of Hyatt is undoubtedly your best bet if you’re a city traveler that wants the best experience.
How to earn World of Hyatt status quickly
Now for the bad news: it’s hard to earn World of Hyatt status. The World of Hyatt Credit Card is the hotel’s only U.S. cobranded credit card. This card is pretty generous, with its interesting bonus earning categories and a substantial welcome bonus. It does include complimentary Discoverist status, but you’ll have to spend quite a bit to upgrade.
The card includes five elite qualifying nights per year and you’ll earn two more for every $5,000 you spend on the card. There’s no limit on how many bonus elite nights you can earn. Globalist requires 60 nights to qualify, so you’ll need to spend a massive $140,000 on the card in a single calendar year to earn status from credit card spend alone.
With that in mind, credit card spending should be seen as a way to supplement hotel stays. You’ll earn elite qualifying nights on paid and award stays, so it’s relatively easy to reach the nights you need if you plan on traveling.
Unfortunately, the hotel group doesn’t offer status matches to the general public. Some American Airlines elites are eligible for an upgrade to Globalist, though, so make sure to link your accounts.
Related: World of Hyatt Credit Card review
off the beaten path road trippers — Best Western Rewards
Best Western Rewards isn’t the most popular loyalty program, but it has its place for road trips. The hotel group’s properties are generally well-priced and located in road-trip friendly locations. You’ll find them in smaller cities, suburbs and along major highways. That said, there’s still a selection of Best Western properties in major cities around the U.S. and abroad too.
That said, Best Western Rewards elite status isn’t the most exciting and it can be tough to earn points without actually staying at Best Western properties. At the same time, though, some may find it worthwhile depending on how they road trip — let’s take a closer look.
Best Western Rewards status overview
Best Western Rewards has four different elite status tiers: Gold, Platinum, Diamond and Diamond Select. Unfortunately, the main benefit to each of these tiers is earning bonus points on stay — this ranges from 15% to 50% bonus points.
Beyond this, all elite members are eligible for complimentary water and bonus points on check-in. These tiers don’t offer upgrades or other benefits seen on more lucrative programs, so don’t expect a life of luxury with Diamond Select status.
Who is this best for?
The Best Western Rewards program is really only fit for road trippers who want cheap, no-frills stays at hotels that are off the beaten path. There are 4,500 Best Western properties worldwide, and 2,000 of those are located here in North America. In the U.S., you’ll find these properties scattered around the country, including near major highways and smaller cities.
While we can’t find official word on how Best Western award nights are priced, it looks to be dynamic based on the cost of a specific hotel night. You won’t get a ton of value for your points, but the points can help you reduce the cost of a long road trip. That said, Best Western hotels are relatively inexpensive, so you’ll want to use your points to cover expensive last-minute stays when possible.
For example, a night at the Best Western Plus North Canton Inn & Suites in Ohio costs $72.75 after taxes when booking a month in advance. You can use 12,000 Best Western points for this same hotel night, giving you 0.6 cents per point in value. Alternatively, a last-minute stay booked one day in advance costs $135.12 after-tax or 20,000 points. This redemption offers 0.67 cents per point in value.
How to earn Best Western Rewards status quickly
If Best Western Rewards fits your road trip style, you can earn elite status quickly with the hotel’s two cobranded credit cards. Here’s a look at what they have to offer:
- Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard ($59 annual fee): Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in your first three billing cycles; earn another 20,000 bonus points when you spend at least $5,000 during each 12 billing cycle period. Includes Platinum status so long as your credit card account is open.
- Best Western Rewards Mastercard (no annual fee): Earn 16,000 bonus points after your first purchase; earn another 16,000 bonus points after your first Best Western stay. Includes Gold status so long as your credit card account is open.
You can also take advantage of Best Western’s ongoing status match program. The hotel group matches most major elite statuses, which are valid through Jan. 2022. All you have to do is submit a form on the company’s website.
Leave your options open — Marriott Bonvoy
With over 7,000 properties worldwide, Marriott Bonvoy gives you a ton of places to earn and redeem points and take advantage of elite status benefits. Marriott has properties in both the U.S.’s largest and smallest cities, with everywhere from Manhattan, NY to Manhattan, KY having at least one Marriott property.
Marriott Bonvoy status overview
Marriott Bonvoy has five elite status tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador. Silver has very minimal benefits, earning just 10% more points on paid stays and offering priority late-checkout. Thankfully, things get a bit more interesting with Gold status.
fThis tier earns a 25% points bonus on all stays and gives members access to complimentary space-available upgrades. When I was a Gold member, I scored a handful of nice upgrades to larger rooms and — on one occasion in Philadelphia — a Junior Suite. This is when you can really see the benefits of hotel elite status.
Platinum and Titanium status are the higher-end tiers, which are harder to earn. These come with enhanced upgrades, better late checkout, free breakfast, lounge access and other various features that make travel more enjoyable. Complimentary breakfast is by far my favorite benefit of Platinum status — on a recent road trip to Newport, Rhode Island, I was treated to a sitdown breakfast (complete with lobster!) at the Marriott Newport.
Platinum members are awarded a Choice Benefit every time they qualify or requalify for status by reaching 50 elite qualifying nights. My favorite Choice Benefit is the 5 Suite Night Awards option, which lets you upgrade to a suite. These upgrades are space-available, but I’ve found that I have a better shot at an upgrade with one of these coupons versus waiting for a standard space-available upgrade.
Finally, Ambassador status is Marriott’s top-tier status. It’s the same as standard Titanium status, but includes a dedicated Marriott Ambassador who can help you with bookings and special requests and extended late checkout. Unfortunately, Marriott recently laid off all of its Ambassadors, so the future of this status tier is unclear.
Who is this best for?
With a massive amount of properties, Marriott Bonvoy is an excellent choice for road trippers who want to keep their options open. You can use your elite status benefits regardless of where you are in the world — so when international travel is more accessible in the future, you’ll still reap the benefits of your status.
It’s also a solid option for points travelers. You can earn Marriott Bonvoy points relatively easily with cobrand credit cards issued by American Express and Chase. Plus, you can transfer in points from American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, but I don’t necessarily recommend this. You’ll generally lose value in the process.
Redemptions with Marriott Bonvoy are mostly predictable. The program issues a standard award chart that’s broken down by category. There are peak, standard and off-peak pricing built-in though pricing is generally reasonable. That said, we’ve seen prices for many properties increase during the summer months and holiday season.
You’ll generally find the best redemptions when booking mid-tier hotels. For example, a weekend night at the Residence Inn Philadelphia Airport is a whopping $285 after taxes and fees for a night in late-October. The same hotel can be booked for 25,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, giving you 1.14 cents per point in value. This is almost twice TPG’s current valuation.
How to earn Marriott Bonvoy status quickly
Just like earning Marriott Bonvoy points, you can earn status quickly with credit cards. Each of Marriott’s cobranded credit cards includes a specific status tier. Likewise, you’ll learn 15 free elite qualifying nights every year you keep your card open, giving you a headstart towards earning a higher status tier.
Here’s a look at the best credit cards for earning Marriott Bonvoy elite status:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. You’ll also enjoy an annual award night worth up to 50,000 points, $300 annual travel credit at Marriott properties, instant Gold Marriott elite status with the ability to earn Platinum with $75,000 in annual spending on the card. $450 annual fee (see rates & fees).
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. You’ll also enjoy an annual award night worth up to 35,000 points and immediate Silver status, with the ability to earn Gold status with $35,000 in annual spending on the card. The card has a $95 annual fee.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card: Earn 50,000 Marriott points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Enjoy Marriott Bonvoy Silver status thanks to the 15 elite night credits awarded by the card. No annual fee.
My favorite way to earn Marriott status, however, is with the Platinum Card® from American Express. This card includes both Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status and Hilton Honors Gold status that’s valid so long as your card is open and in good standing. Likewise, the premium travel card includes a handful of other travel benefits like Priority Pass Select lounge access and a Global Entry fee waiver.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you after using your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months. $550 annual fee (see rates & fees).
Have elite status with another program? Marriott Bonvoy offers elite status matches to many of the other major loyalty programs. Check out our full guide to hotel elite status matches for more info.
The no-frills points traveler — Hilton Honors
I have a love-hate relationship with Hilton Honors. On the one hand, I love the fact that Hilton has a ton of properties worldwide and — more often than not — they’re pretty nice. Unfortunately, however, the program doesn’t offer the best elite status perks and they’re very inconsistently distributed. As a Diamond elite, I’m upgraded from time to time, but generally, my status isn’t recognized.
On the points side, it’s super easy to earn Hilton Honors points with the program’s huge cobrand credit card portfolio. These cards often have welcome bonuses of 80,000 Hilton Honors points or more and include free night certificates, elite status and other perks. I’ll discuss that more later in the section. Unfortunately, though, the program’s pricing is ultra-dynamic and unpredictable.
Hilton Honors status overview
Now let’s talk Hilton elite status. The program has three elite status tiers: Silver, Gold and Diamond. As you’d expect, Silver benefits are pretty lackluster but are still worth mentioning. The standout features include a 20% points bonus on paid stays, fifth night free on award stays and two complimentary bottles of water at most properties.
Things get a little more interesting with Gold status, though. This tier offers an 80% bonus on paid stays and gives you access to space-available upgrades. You’re also eligible for a free continental breakfast at some properties, which can be a nice money-saver when traveling in more expensive cities. The quality of said breakfast depends on the property, but I’ve found that it’s pretty barebones at most mid-tier hotels.
Diamond status kicks things up a notch. You get a 100% bonus on paid stays, which means you’ll earn 20 points per dollar on stays. This is a huge bonus, which is especially useful for business travelers that remain loyal to a single chain. You also have access to executive lounges, premium wifi and can upgrade all the way to a one-bedroom suite.
Unfortunately, getting these benefits is a bit of a struggle. As a Diamond member, I’ve received upgrades a handful of times, but it’s inconsistent. As discussed earlier, my status isn’t usually recognized on stays at mid-tier properties. On the other hand, I’ve received upgrades at higher-end properties and have been offered access to lounges.
Who is this best for?
I think Hilton Honors status is best for the traveler who plans to pay with points and doesn’t mind lackluster elite status benefits. Despite the unpredictable award chart, you can often find good deals when traveling off-peak and staying at higher-end hotels. A night at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills is $702 after taxes when booking a week in advance. Alternatively, you can redeem 95,000 points for a 0.74 cents per point in value.
On the other hand, a weekday night at the Hampton Inn Manhattan Empire State Building is $122 when booking roughly a month out. You can use 28,000 points for the same stay, giving you 0.4 cents per point value. This is 0.2 cents per point lower than TPG’s most recent valuation.
One of the great things about the Hilton Honors program, though, is that there are no blackout dates. Sometimes prime dates will be costly in terms of points, but it could save you hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in the process. This makes the program a good option for those who want to spend as little cash as possible on stays.
How to earn Hilton Honors status quickly
Like Marriott, you can earn Hilton Honors status quickly with a credit card. In fact, you can earn top-tier Diamond status with a single credit card. These cards also include huge welcome bonuses, nice bonus categories, and — in some cases — a free night certificate every time you pay the annual fee. Here’s a look:
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account. You’ll also enjoy instant Silver status with the ability to earn Gold with $20,000 in annual spending on the card. No annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Earn 130,000 bonus points after you use your card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. You’ll also enjoy instant Gold status with the ability to earn Diamond with $40,000 in annual spending on the card. $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Earn 150,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within the first three months of card membership. Enjoy complimentary Diamond status, an annual Hilton resort credit of up $250 and a free weekend night when you renew your card and a Priority Pass Select membership. $450 annual fee (see rates & fees).
As mentioned, the Platinum Card by American Express includes free Hilton Honors Gold status too. You can activate this card benefit from the Benefits page on the American Express dashboard. Again, this status is valid so long as your Amex Platinum is open and in good standing.
Additionally, you can match your existing travel elite status to Hilton. The hotel group accepts status matches from major hotel and airline loyalty programs, giving you a chance to earn Gold or Diamond status immediately. Just note that these matches require you to stay a set amount of nights to retain status through March 2022.
Hotel status has the potential to make your road trip cheaper and more luxurious. Here, I showed you the best hotel loyalty options for various types of travelers and how to earn said status quickly. Compare these options to find which status is the best for your road trip style — it will make your road trips more enjoyable and affordable. Drive safe!
For rates and fees of the Marriott Brilliant Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.
Feature photo by OLOS/Shutterstock
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