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Best hotel rewards programs

Choosing the right loyalty program for you

Summary

The best hotel loyalty program for you depends on your lifestyle and travel patterns. Here’s a look at the four most popular programs and who they’re best suited for.

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It’s been an interesting couple years for travel, with COVID-19 grounding most people and countries at times opening then closing borders as they continue to monitor the Coronavirus worldwide. Nevertheless, the most intrepid explorers manage to find their way to their destinations one way or another.

The pandemic has resulted in a couple of silver linings for travelers: A number of airlines and hotel chains have extended elite status and lowered qualification requirements for earning and maintaining status.

See related: Best rewards credit cards

Below, we’ll take a look at four of the world’s most popular hotel chains and compare their merits to find the best rewards programs for your needs.

Marriott Bonvoy: Most versatile

It is impossible to discuss hotel loyalty programs without mentioning Marriott. Marriott became one of the largest hotel chains in the world following its 2016 acquisition of the Starwood Hotels corporation.

Ease of use

The company boasts thousands of properties over dozens of brands worldwide, including some of the world’s most luxurious chains such as the St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton brands. Furthermore, the hotel merger combined two popular loyalty programs under a single structure, Marriott Bonvoy. This means that, no matter where you go, you’ll most likely be able to find a Marriott property to stay in.

Value of points

CreditCards.com values Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.8 cents apiece. While this number can vary by the booking you choose, it remains a good benchmark for you to evaluate what you can book with points versus cash.

Earning and using points

Now that we’ve established the value of Marriott Bonvoy points, let’s talk about all the ways you can earn them. The most straightforward way, of course, is to earn them through hotel stays, but you can also sign up for a co-branded Marriott Bonvoy credit card through Chase or American Express, shop through shopping portals or take advantage of plenty of other earning opportunities.

For fans of Chase’s popular travel credit cards, you can easily transfer points from your Chase Ultimate Rewards account to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1 ratio. However, you may also transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to IHG and Hyatt, so Marriott is not unique in this regard.

Furthermore, you can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to your Marriott Bonvoy account at a 1:1 ratio, making Marriott’s loyalty program one of the most robust options when it comes to acquiring and transferring points from other accounts.

Once you have some Bonvoy points, it’s time to use them, especially since they expire if your account is inactive for over 24 months. Marriott points are extremely flexible, and the chain’s hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms, at over 7,000 properties worldwide, ensure that you have plenty of opportunities to use your rewards.

See related: How to transfer hotel points

Elite perks

Marriott also offers some seriously competitive perks for its elite status members, and they get better the higher up you move. Depending on your status level, you can get free breakfast, lounge access in select hotels, promotions, bonus free nights and far more.

Credit cards

The Marriott Bonvoy program includes a slew of credit cards that offer generous opportunities to earn extra points on your everyday expenses through both Chase and American Express, like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Card or the high-reward Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. An extra perk is that many of the cards earn you bonus points for every dollar spent on Marriott hotel bookings.

See related: Earn up to 75,000 points with Marriott Bonvoy cards

Hilton Honors: Best for splurging

Like Marriott, Hilton properties can also be found around the world, offering a variety of brand experiences such as long-term stays at a chain hotel or an aspirational luxury suite. Further, Hilton’s famed hospitality makes every stay feel homey and consistent no matter where you travel.

While the Hilton Honors points system isn’t most economical, the program may be ideal for travelers with limited vacation time who want to enjoy the perks of elite hotel status.

Ease of use

Hilton boasts nearly one million hotel rooms on six continents, ensuring that you’ll never have to worry about finding a suitable place to stay, no matter where you go. The Hilton family also encompasses more than a dozen brands, from the affordable DoubleTree to the Waldorf Astoria.

Value of points

While Hilton’s global footprint is vast enough to ensure you can find a stay anywhere in the world, the value of its points is less reliable. Hilton Honors points are among the more inflated travel currencies, and it will take more points than you think to earn one decent award night.

CreditCards.com values each Hilton Honors point at just 0.5 cents apiece – half the value of a typical rewards program point.

Earning and using points

While Hilton’s points may be of low individual value, you can earn them very easily through multiple channels. As always, booking hotel stays or signing up for co-branded credit cards to earn the introductory bonuses are great ways to rapidly boost your Hilton Honors points stash. But you can also earn points through a dining program, car rental programs or even on Lyft rides.

You can also transfer points from your Amex Membership Rewards account to your Hilton account at a ratio of two Hilton Honors points for every Membership Rewards point. Since CreditCards.com values American Express Membership Rewards points at 1.19 cents apiece, this is a reasonable rate of transfer if you need to top off your Hilton account for an upcoming reservation.

However, the Hilton loyalty program won’t be a great fit for you if you primarily use a Citi or Chase credit card. Hilton isn’t compatible with Citi ThankYou points or Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfers.

Elite perks

The Hilton Honors rewards program treats its members very well, with perks ranging from complimentary bottled water and a free fifth night on rewards stays up to milestone bonuses and executive lounge access at the highest tiers of membership. All these statuses include point bonuses on hotel reservations, meaning that every dollar you spend as an elite status member will accelerate your progress toward the next tier.

Credit cards

One outstanding aspect of this loyalty program is the co-branded Hilton credit cards issued by American Express. Through these Hilton credit cards, you can become a Hilton elite member automatically – like when you hold the the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card* – or through spending with the card.

IHG Rewards Club: Most budget-friendly

The IHG Rewards Club program is ideal for travelers whose hotel stays don’t follow a consistent pattern. If you revel in modest small-town properties as much as you do five-star hotels, IHG may be a great fit for you.

Ease of use

With just under 6,000 hotels around the world, you’ll have no issue finding an IHG-owned place to stay. While the InterContinental hotels are the signature brand under the IHG portfolio, it’s likely that you’re also familiar with its more affordable brands, such as the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express.

Value of points

Unfortunately, IHG points aren’t worth much more than Hilton Honors points. CreditCards.com values each IHG Rewards Club point at just 0.55 cents apiece. With that said, you’ll need a high number of IHG points for each award night, even on relatively low-cost properties.

However, the programs value to you depends on how much use you can get out of IHG, especially if you focus your point redemptions on rewards nights rather than flights or gift cards.

Earning and using points

IHG offers a handful of ways to earn Rewards Club points beyond the obvious routes of booking hotel reservations and spending on IHG co-branded credit cards. You can also earn points through delivery food from Grubhub, renting a car or reserving tables with OpenTable.

Unfortunately, you can’t transfer points into your IHG account from any of the major card issuers, so this isn’t ideal for Chase, American Express or Citi cardholders who prefer to put all of their spend on a flexible travel card.

Elite perks

IHG elite status perks aren’t as swanky as those of Marriott and Hilton. At the mid-tier status, you may receive a complimentary room upgrade (if available), and your reward nights have no blackout dates.

At the top tier of elite status, you’ll qualify for a Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® Five Star® upgrade. There are several other smaller benefits within the program, but overall, IHG member status doesn’t stack up well against the other chains in this guide.

Credit cards

IHG only offers two credit cards: one with no annual fee and one premium card. With the higher-earning one, the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card, you can expect to earn up to 26X points spent on IHG hotel reservations, 5X points on gas, groceries and restaurant spend and 3X points on all other expenses.

See related: Which IHG credit card is best for you?

World of Hyatt: Best customer service

While Hyatt has a significantly lower number of hotels in its portfolio – just under 1,000 compared to the thousands owned by each of the other three chains – Hyatt loyalists love the World of Hyatt rewards program above all else. We weren’t kidding about their customer service. Hyatt claims to prioritize customers’ safety and wellbeing by keeping its spaces clean and interacting with you digitally, at participating hotels.

Of course, Hyatt may not be the right chain for many, but for the right traveler, this brand may very likely claim your lifelong loyalty.

Ease of use

As mentioned before, Hyatt has over 850 properties worldwide, so this is not the best rewards program for the traveler who needs a chain that can be booked in Kalamazoo and Kilimanjaro.

However, Hyatt makes up for its lack of quantity in quality. Hyatt properties offer consistent quality and boutique experiences across all its brands, from the Joie de Vivre to Andaz to Grand Hyatt, and they can be found in many of the world’s most interesting destinations.

Value of points

Hyatt offers one of the most competitive loyalty programs in the hotel game, with a whopping 2 cent value apiece on World of Hyatt points, by CreditCards.com valuations. Even better, redemptions are relatively cheap, beginning at just 3,500 per night on award stays at the lower-tier hotels during off-peak season.

Earning and using points

As mentioned above, Hyatt really shines when it comes to redemptions and earning opportunities. If you find a property in your desired destination that suits your travel needs but don’t have enough points in your Hyatt account, you can also easily transfer what you need from Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio.

However, Hyatt has the same issue that Hilton does: Neither American Express Membership Rewards nor Citi ThankYou points convert into the Hyatt rewards program.

On the bright side, Hyatt rooms begin at a low rate of 5,000 points per night for standard rooms on the lowest-category hotels and top out at a peak of 40,000 points on the high end – easily beating any other program in this comparison guide.

Elite perks

World of Hyatt status is both beneficial and easy to obtain with the right tricks under your belt. The bottom-tier Discoverist status includes perks such as late checkout, bonus points per stay, free water and premium Wi-Fi. Additionally, this status can be earned through traditional hotel stays as well as through status-matching against M life Rewards, the loyalty program of MGM Resorts. Better yet, you can also earn Discoverist status simply by holding the World of Hyatt Credit Card.

At the top tier, the Globalist status will get you many other perks, including room and suite upgrades when available, expedited check-in, waived resort fees, free parking on free nights and complimentary breakfast.

Credit cards

Hyatt has two credit cards: the World of Hyatt Credit Card and the World of Hyatt Business Credit Card.  A mainstay of the hotel program, the World of Hyatt Credit Card will earn you 9 points per dollar on Hyatt stays. But if you rarely stay in hotels, you may get the best value out of either the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, since Ultimate Rewards points can transfer directly to Hyatt.

See related:World of Hyatt Credit card vs. Business card

Other top programs

These four hotel programs are among the largest on the market, but they are not, of course, the only ones. There are a few other top hotel programs suited for all kinds of different travelers, so feel free to shop around and read up on them before committing to one.

Wyndham Rewards

With over 9,000 hotels all over the world, Wyndam Rewards is nothing to scoff at. Whether you’re booking a stay at a luxurious Wyndham Vacation club resort, a room in a casino destination or an idyllic cottage in Europe, you’ll earn 10X points or 1,000 points, whichever is more, for every qualified stay. Wyndham is attractive mostly for its geographic reach and incredible variation in its kinds of properties.

You can earn points in different ways, such as booking a few nights in their hotel network, online shopping with qualifying retailers or spending on a Wyndham Rewards Earner® Card*.

Choice Privileges

Another top-rated hotel program, the Choice Privileges rewards program allows you to book at over 7,000 locations, with many of its hotels pledging to operating more environmentally and sustainably. If you haven’t heard of Choice Privileges, perhaps the names Comfort Inn or Cambria Hotels may ring a bell.

Nonetheless, Choice Privileges points are valued at 0.6 cents, a small valuation compared to some other programs. You may earn points through staying at a Choice Hotel, referring a friend, transferring points from American Express Membership Rewards and more. The Barclay Choice Privileges Visa Signature card* also earns you 5X points on its bonus categories and 2X points on general purchases.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, the best hotel loyalty program for you is whichever one you can earn toward and use the most often. You can’t go wrong with any the programs discussed, although your personal situation will dictate which one makes the most sense for you based on geography, ease of earning and usable perks.

*All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card, Wyndham Rewards Earner Card and Barclay Choice Privileges Visa Signature card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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