How to choose the best hotel loyalty program for you

Apr 9, 2020

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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

Loyalty breeds loyalty, and unless you change jobs or move, many travelers find themselves sticking to the same airline and hotel brands year after year to maximize the perks of their elite status, all while requalifying for the next year. TPG reader Adam wants to know how to go about picking a hotel chain to be loyal to if he’s starting from scratch …

I currently maintain Marriott silver elite status. My partner and I have no other current hotel affiliations. She has travel upcoming and we’re wondering what the best mainstream hotel chain is to continue to maximize our rewards? She almost certainly will be able to reach the minimum qualifications for the base tier of rewards on most hotel chains. Should she choose Marriott, so we can double up our points and rewards? Or should she choose Hilton, IHG etc so we can diversify and have status with multiple chains?

TPG READER ADAM

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Obviously the answer to this question will be personal, and depends on a lot of factors including where you live, where you travel most, whether you travel for work or leisure more, and whether you prefer luxury hotels or more budget-friendly properties. Adam didn’t mention how many nights he and his partner spend in hotels each year, but here are a few general ideas you can think about to help make this decision for yourself.

Doubling up versus diversifying

Adam mentioned the possibility of doubling up, with his partner earning Marriott Silver status even though he already has it. Marriott Silver is not especially valuable; in fact TPG Senior Editor Nick Ewen only values it at $45 a year. You can also get it quite easily by holding Marriott Bonvoy credit card like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or even the no-annual-fee Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card.

It’s worth mentioning that there’s no inherent value to both partners holding the same level of elite status. You can’t double up on the benefits, and you might even find yourself frustratingly splitting stays between two accounts to help both partners requalify, instead of consolidating them to one account and reaching a higher tier. The only potential benefit is earning more points in one program, but before you go down this path you’ll want to check out the rules for combining points in different loyalty programs.

Related: Choosing the best Marriott Bonvoy credit card for you

If you care about free night awards

So what should you do if you’re starting from scratch? The answer depends on what exactly you’re looking to get out of your loyalty, and how much you’re willing to supplement your actual hotel stays with the correct travel rewards credit cards.

If your primary concern is racking up points and certificates to redeem for free nights, then World of Hyatt is likely to be your best bet. Not only does Hyatt have a “cheap” award chart (with free nights starting at only 5,000 points per night and topping out at 30,000 to 40,000 points for top-tier properties), but you can top up your balance easily by transferring points at a 1:1 ratio from Chase Ultimate Rewards. Add in the The World Of Hyatt Credit Card, which offers automatic Hyatt Discoverist elite status and an anniversary free night award at category 1 to 4 properties, and for most award travelers, Hyatt becomes the best program to pick for free nights.

Related: Hotel credit cards that come with an annual free night

If you care about elite benefits

If you’re chasing those luxurious elite benefits, like free breakfast, suite upgrades, and bonus points, you’ll have a different set of criteria for picking a hotel chain to be loyal to. Again, while this is a very personal decision, it’s easy to make some general recommendations based solely on the number of nights you stay in a hotel each year.

0 to 20 nights

Even infrequent travelers can enjoy top-tier elite status with a major hotel chain just by adding a single credit card to their wallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond elite status to all cardholders in exchange for a $450 annual fee (see rates & fees). That fee is further offset by a number of statement credits, including and up to $250 annual Hilton resort statement credit, up to $250 annual airline incidental fee credit, up to a $100 luxury property credit and more. If you don’t travel enough to earn status the old-fashioned way but you still want the luxury perks of a top-tier elite, no card will get you there faster than the Hilton Aspire.

Related: What is Hilton elite status worth?

20 to 60 nights

If you fall into this group of frequent travelers but not complete road warriors, set your sights on the Marriott Bonvoy program. Thanks to a very generous policy change earlier this year, it’s now easier than ever to earn a high level of status with Marriott. Specifically, Marriott members can now earn up to 30 elite-night credits a year towards elite status: 15 from holding any personal Marriott credit card (like the aforementioned Bonvoy Bold and Boundless or the premium Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card) and another 15 from holding any Marriott business card, like the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.

Earning Platinum status with Bonvoy usually requires 50 elite nights a year, but if you’re getting 30 from credit cards you only have to spend 20 nights in an actual hotel. While Platinum isn’t the top tier in the program, it does come with suite upgrades and free breakfast at most brands (though Ritz-Carlton hotels are a notable exception), and the ability to pick a Choice Benefit like Suite Night Awards after reaching the 50-night mark.

You can also use these 30 elite-night credits to lower the threshold to qualify for Marriott Titanium status down from 75 nights a year to 45 actual nights in a hotel bed. I’ve held Titanium status for the last several years now, and greatly enjoy receiving suite upgrades at Ritz-Carlton properties (which Platinum members are not eligible for) and the ability to select a second choice benefit after reaching the 75-night mark.

Related: What is Marriott elite status worth?

60 or more nights

If you’re actually staying 60 or more nights in a year, you’d be able to qualify for top-tier elite status in any of the three major hotel loyalty programs (though you’d need to hold at least one Marriott card to earn Titanium status). If we go by valuations alone, Hyatt Globalist takes the lead with TPG’s Nick Ewen valuing it at over $5,000 a year. Still, you’ll need to analyze your travel patterns and pick the brand with the best options in the cities you frequent and an award program that works well for you. You really can’t go wrong being top tier in any program.

Related: The best top-tier hotel elite status for families

Bottom line

Picking a brand to stay loyal to through dozens if not hundreds of nights and thousands of dollars is a very personal decision, but it’s important to know what you’re hoping to get out of the relationship. Whether you prioritize free night awards, elite benefits, or some combination of both, knowing what you’re after makes it easier to set a plan and stick to it.

Thanks for the question, Adam, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

For the rates and fees of the Amex Hilton Aspire card, please click here.

Featured image by 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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