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Rewards Programs

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 are best suited for.

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2020 has been an interesting year for travel. Most of us have been grounded for several months now due to COVID-19. But country borders around the world are beginning to reopen, while hundreds of domestic destinations await intrepid explorers, from national parks to wineries to gorgeous beach islands.

The coronavirus 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 in 2020 and 2021.

See related: Best rewards credit cards

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

Comparing hotel rewards programs

Marriott BonvoyHilton HonorsIHG Rewards ClubWorld of Hyatt
Best for: Travelers who value versatility and consistency in a loyalty programInfrequent travelers who want to earn status and points via credit card spendBudget-minded travelers looking for a good deal for their pointsTravelers who love a great customer experience

Major players

Every hotel rewards program has its pros and cons, and you can’t go wrong with any of the four chains we compare below. Marriott, Hilton, IHG and Hyatt are the biggest hotel brands in the world, with thousands of global properties apiece. Furthermore, each of these major chains boasts a competitive loyalty program that caters to most travelers’ needs, offering top-notch elite status benefits, points earning schemes, co-branded hotel credit cards and resort options. Ultimately, the best choice for you will be the one that best fits your lifestyle and travel patterns.

Best for most travelers: Marriott Bonvoy

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 on six continents, you will 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 provides a good bench mark for you to evaluate what you can book with points versus your dollars.

Earning and using points

Now that we have 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.

You can easily transfer points from your Chase Ultimate Rewards account to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1 ratio, making this loyalty program very versatile if you’re a fan of Chase’s popular travel credit cards. However, transferring Chase points to your hotel account is also an option with 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. Marriott points are extremely flexible, and the chain’s hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms 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, with bonus points for every dollar spent on Marriott hotel bookings.

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

Best for infrequent travelers looking for a new credit card: Hilton Honors

Like Marriott, Hilton properties can also be found around the world, offering a variety of brand experiences from economical long-term stays to aspirational luxury suites, while Hilton’s famed hospitality makes every stay feel homey and consistent no matter where you are traveling.

While the Hilton Honors points system isn’t the “cheapest” out there, 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 aspirational Waldorf-Astoria.

Value of points

While Hilton’s global footprint is vast enough to ensure you can find a stay anywhere in the world, its value is a little less guaranteed. Hilton Honors points are among the more inflated travel currencies around, and it will take more points than you think in order 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 one 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 up your Hilton account for an upcoming reservation.

However, the Hilton loyalty program won’t be a great fit for you if you primarily pay your bills with 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 fifth night free on award stays up to milestone bonuses and executive lounge access at the highest tiers of membership. All of 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.

See related: The benefits of elite status with Hilton Honors

Credit cards

One outstanding aspect of this loyalty program is the co-branded Hilton credit cards issued by American Express. All three of Hilton’s elite status tiers can be earned by credit card usage alone, either as a free benefit on the top-tier credit card – the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card* – or through spending on everyday purchases.

Best for economically minded travelers: IHG Rewards Club

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 InterContinentals hotels are the signature brand under the IHG portfolio, it’s likely that you’re also familiar with some of 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. This is because you will need a high number of IHG points for each award night, even on relatively low-cost properties.

That being said, your individual value of the program will depend on how much use you can get out of IHG, especially if you tend to focus on lower-end redemptions. Since IHG operates on a fixed-point rate for its redemptions, you will be able to get better value over popular travel times, such as the holidays or summer vacation.

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. One of the more unique options includes earning on Groupon purchases, where you can earn up to 10 IHG Rewards Club points per dollar spent.

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 card holders 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. While room upgrades (when available) are complimentary with mid-tier status, this perk doesn’t apply to award stays. At the top tier of elite status, you’ll qualify for discounts on Hertz car rentals. There are several other smaller benefits within the program, but overall, IHG 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 more valuable of the two options, the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, you can expect to earn 25 points per dollar spent on IHG hotel reservations, 2 points per dollar on gas, groceries and restaurant spend and 1 point per dollar on all other expenses.

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

Best for Chase loyalists who value amenities, perks and experiences: World of Hyatt

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.

Hyatt won’t 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 just over 900 hotels worldwide, so this is not the best rewards program for any 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 5,000 per night on award stays at the lowest-tier hotels.

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 you don’t have enough points in your Hyatt account, you can also easily transfer what you need from Chase Ultimate Rewards at an instant, 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 besting any other program in this comparison guide.

Elite perks

World of Hyatt status is both beneficial and easy to attain 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, and 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, Globalist status will get you many other perks, including room and suite upgrades when available, early check-in as well as late checkout, waived resort fees and complimentary breakfast.

Credit cards

Hyatt has just one credit card, but it’s a good one. 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.

Final thoughts

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 of the four programs we’ve compared here, although your personal situation will dictate which one makes the most sense for you based on geography, ease of earning and usable perks.

*Information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire 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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