Hotel rewards programs are important, both to the travelers who join them and to the chains that run them. Roughly 18% of frequent travelers become loyal to a given hotel brand primarily because of its rewards program, according to Deloitte, and the average Millennial business traveler is actually willing to pay an extra $41 per night to stay at a hotel that belongs to his or her loyalty program. What’s more, hotel chains reap an average of 50% more revenue from customers who belong to their loyalty programs than those who do not, according to a study from the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University.
Questions nevertheless remain in the minds of many consumers. For instance, is it really worth pledging allegiance to a specific hotel chain when travel-comparison websites and disruptive lodging services could yield lower prices on a case-by-case basis? And, assuming that it’s feasible to commit to a given chain, how does one go about identifying the most-rewarding option?
While much ultimately comes down to personal preference and geography, it is possible to cut through the complexity inherent to hotel rewards programs and compare options on equal footing. In the interest of helping consumers make more-informed travel decisions and ultimately maximize their savings, CardHub did just that. We compared the rewards programs operated by the 12 largest U.S. hotel chains in terms of properties owed using 21 key metrics, including point expiration policies, the presence of blackout dates, brand exclusions, rewards value and more. These metrics collectively speak to each program’s expected value for travelers with three different hotel spending profiles: Light ($487 per year), Moderate ($779 per year), and Heavy ($1,461 per year).
Complete results can be found below, along with a custom calculator that will allow you to personalize the results based on your own budget.
- Wyndham Rewards is the best hotel loyalty program for travelers of all spending levels, earning an overall CardHub score of 71.85 for each profile.
CardHub Score By Traveler Type
- When you only consider the value of rewards earned through each program, without taking into account any other important characteristics, such as blackout dates and point expiration policies, Wyndham Rewards is still the best program across spending levels, followed by Drury Gold and La Quinta. By this metric, Starwood Preferred Guest is the worst program for all spending levels.
Rewards Value Per $100 Spent
- Best Western is the only hotel chain that offers points that do not expire due to account inactivity. All other hotel points expire after 12 to 24 months of inactivity.
- None of the hotel rewards programs allows members to earn points on reservations booked through third-party websites, such as Kayak.com or Expedia.com.
- One-third of hotel programs do not allow users to redeem points for award nights at all hotel brands and properties.
- Buying points is a generally a bad deal, with program members having to pay 19% more than their points are worth on average. Consumers who do not have enough points to book a room are better off using the “points and cash” option offered by all chains.
Many aspects of a hotel rewards program are binary in nature: a program either has a certain feature, or it doesn’t. However, much also depends on the amount of money that you spend with a given hotel each year. And while the Light, Moderate and Heavy hotel spending profiles used in this report cover roughly 60% of people, according to Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, it’s certainly understandable if you want a more personalized recommendation.
The following calculator will provide just that. Simply input the amount that you budget for hotel stays each year, and we’ll apply the methodology and data used for this report to your individual situation.
The following table illustrates the number of points that each hotel rewards program received in the scoring categories included in our methodology.
|Scoring Categories||Maximum Score||Hilton HHonors||Marriott||Choice||IHG||Wyndham||Club Carlson||Starwood Preferred Guest||The Ritz-Carlton||Hyatt||Best Western||La Quinta||Drury|
|Total Number Of Hotels||6.00||3.47||3.13||4.93||3.83||6.00||0.81||1.29||0.03||0.48||3.23||0.65||0.06|
|Total Number Of Hotels In Top 10 Us Cities||3.00||2.64||3.00||1.93||1.71||2.05||0.22||0.71||0.06||0.53||0.93||0.48||0.02|
|Total Number Of Hotels In Top 10 International Cities||2.00||1.22||1.01||1.29||2.00||1.28||0.48||0.62||0.08||0.19||1.87||0.03||0.00|
|Value Of Rewards Heavy Traveler||25.00||15.08||24.42||23.45||15.68||25.00||18.05||1.99||18.45||23.91||13.86||23.98||23.91|
|Value Of Rewards Moderate Traveler||25.00||12.08||17.36||18.48||12.62||25.00||13.35||1.99||18.45||18.45||9.71||23.98||23.91|
|Value Of Rewards Light Traveler||25.00||12.08||17.36||18.48||12.62||25.00||13.35||1.99||18.45||18.45||9.71||16.99||23.91|
|Earning Points For On-Site Expenses||3.00||3.00||3.00||0.00||3.00||0.00||3.00||3.00||3.00||3.00||0.00||0.00||0.00|
|Do Reservations At All Of A Program’s Hotel Brands Earn The Maximum Number Of Points?||5.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||5.00||5.00||5.00||5.00||5.00||5.00||5.00||5.00|
|Room Redemption Volatility||2.00||0.20||1.50||1.52||1.60||2.00||1.32||0.35||1.87||1.50||1.65||1.70||1.73|
|Percentage Of Hotels With Award Night Availability||6.00||5.52||5.36||4.56||5.67||5.18||5.97||5.49||5.55||5.78||5.72||5.90||6.00|
|How Far In Advance Can Reservations Be Made?||4.00||4.00||4.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00|
|Ease Of Achieving Top Membership Status||2.00||1.29||1.18||1.87||1.06||2.00||1.26||1.03||0.00||1.69||1.76||1.87||2.00|
|Number Of Transfer Partners With No Fee||2.00||1.53||1.33||0.53||1.37||0.63||0.80||1.30||1.33||0.87||0.77||0.30||0.07|
|Can Points Be Purchased At Fair Value?||2.00||0.00||0.00||2.00||0.00||2.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||2.00||2.00|
|Can Earnings Be Shared Between 2 Or More Accounts For Free||2.00||0.00||2.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||2.00||2.00||0.00||0.00||2.00||2.00||0.00|
|Can You Reinstate Lost Earnings?||2.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||2.00||0.00||0.00|
|Valuable Membership Level Perks Heavy Traveler||5.00||3.00||2.00||3.00||2.00||1.00||4.00||1.00||1.00||3.00||2.00||3.00||0.00|
|Valuable Membership Level Perks Moderate Traveler||5.00||2.00||1.00||3.00||1.00||1.00||1.00||1.00||1.00||0.00||0.00||3.00||0.00|
|Valuable Membership Level Perks Light Traveler||5.00||2.00||1.00||3.00||1.00||1.00||1.00||1.00||1.00||0.00||0.00||2.00||0.00|
|Total Heavy Traveler||100.00||56.10||67.94||64.04||58.18||71.85||64.30||39.27||50.11||64.21||65.78||57.14||57.37|
|Total Moderate Traveler||100.00||52.10||59.88||59.07||54.12||71.85||56.60||39.27||50.11||55.75||59.63||57.14||57.37|
|Total Light Traveler||100.00||52.10||59.88||59.07||54.12||71.85||56.60||39.27||50.11||55.75||59.63||49.15||57.37|
Ask The Experts: Assessing The Value Of Hotel Rewards Programs
Hotel rewards programs can be difficult to understand and compare, given the often-opaque complexity of their terms. And while this may prompt hesitancy in the minds of time-crunched travelers worried about getting ripped-off, the appeal of travel subsidies in the form of free nights is a powerful opposing force. For a deeper understanding of what both consumers and hotel chains get from these programs and how they impact the behavior of both parties, we posed the following questions to a panel of leading hospitality and consumer studies experts. You can check out their bios and responses below.
- Who benefits more from hotel rewards programs: consumers or hotel chains?
- How do hotel rewards programs impact consumer behavior?
- Do you think consumers under- or overvalue the benefits of hotel rewards program membership?
- To what extent do you think mergers, acquisitions and alliances of individual brands impact hotel loyalty?
This report compared the loyalty rewards programs operated by the 12 largest hotel chains in the U.S., based on number of properties, using publicly available information and company policies posted online. Where policies were incomplete or ambiguous, we confirmed them with the respective hotel chain’s customer service department. Once data collection was complete, we reached out to the public relations departments of each hotel chain to confirm our findings. All chains confirmed the information, with the exception of Choice, Hyatt and Drury, which did not.
The scoring framework used to evaluate each program, and ultimately identify the best option for different types of consumers, can be found below. Most of the metrics were first graded on a 100-point scale. Generally, full points were awarded to the best-performing program for that metric, while the zero-point level was set slightly below the worst program’s result. Point allocations for more-binary metrics that did not use this 100-point scale are explained below.
1. Geographic Coverage (total score: 15 points)
- Light Traveler: Makes $40,000 – $59,999 per year and spends roughly $487 on hotel accommodations
- Moderate Traveler: Makes $60,000 – $99,999 per year and spends roughly $779 on hotel accommodations
- Heavy Traveler: Makes $100,000 – $200,000 per year and spends $1,461 on hotel accommodations
- If members earn the maximum number of points on hotel expenses other than room reservations (such as food and beverage, telephone, laundry, pay-per-view movies, entertainment and recreational facilities) = Full points
- If consumers do not earn the maximum number of points on expenses other than the room = No points
- If consumers are awarded the maximum number of points for reservations at all of the hotel brands under a chain’s umbrella = Full points
- If consumers are not awarded the maximum number of points across all hotel brands = No points
- If consumers are awarded points when booking stays through a third party (for example, booking websites such as kayak.com and expedia.com) = Full points
- If consumers are not awarded points when booking stays through a third party = No points
- If a rewards program allows members to redeem their points for any hotel brand within the hotel chain = Full points
- If a rewards program does not allows members to redeem their points for any hotel brand = No points
- If a rewards program does not have blackout dates for award nights = Full points
- If a rewards program has blackout dates = No points
- If reservations can be made 1 year in advance = Full points
- If reservations cannot be made 1 year in advance = No points
- If reservations can be made 36 hours in advance = Full points
- If reservations cannot be made 36 hours in advance = No points
- If the hotel chain earns a profit of 15 % or less on the transaction = Full points
- If the profit is higher than 15% = No points
- If earnings can be shared between two or more accounts for free = Full points
- If earnings cannot be shared between two or more accounts for free = No points
- If you can reinstate lost earnings = Full points
- If you cannot reinstate lost earnings = No points
A. Total number of hotels (max score: 6 points)
We collected the total number of properties each rewards program has worldwide, across all brands according to their official websites.
B. Country coverage (max score: 4 points)
We collected the total number of countries in which each rewards program has properties.
C. Total number of hotels in top 10 U.S. cities (max score: 3 points)
We tabulated the total number of hotels for each program within a 50-mile radius of the 10 best places to visit in the U.S., according to tripadvisor.com.
D. Total number of hotels in top 10 international cities (max score: 2 points)
We tabulated the total number of hotels for each program within a 50-mile radius of the 10 best international travel destinations, according to tripadvisor.com.
2. Value Of Rewards (total score: 25 points)
Using lodging expenditure data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and household income data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Travel Association, we created three consumer spending profiles:
These profiles, which reflect the fact that U.S. consumers spend an average of 0.97% of their annual income on hotel accommodations, helped us to more-accurately assess the value that members would glean from each hotel rewards program, as they feature graduated status levels that provide different earning rates and redemption options based on amount spent. Temporary promotions, such as holiday deals, have not been taken into account. Earning rates were calculated for the second year of program membership.
After tabulating the number of points that each type of traveler would earn via each hotel’s loyalty program, we calculated the value of those earnings based on the average value of a point when redeemed for a free night. Average point values were determined by comparing the cost of a three-night reservation purchased with dollars and points, respectively, in 20 of the most popular global travel destinations: 10 domestic and 10 international. Quotes were obtained for weekday and weekend travel during each destination’s high and shoulder travel seasons. Dollar costs were then divided by point prices, and the quotients were averaged to obtain an overall average point value for each program. Fees and taxes were excluded unless a given program’s points were attributable to such costs.
3. Earning Limitations (total score: 15 points)
A. Earning points for on-site expenses (max score: 3 points)
B. Do reservations at all of a program’s hotel brands earn the maximum number of points? (max score: 5 points)
C. Third-party booking (max score: 7 points)
4. Redemption Options (total score: 25 points)
A. Brand exclusions (max score: 2 points)
B. Room-redemption volatility (max score: 2 points)
We divided the minimum number of points needed to book a room by the maximum in order to get a sense of the magnitude of the difference that exists in award night pricing.
C. Blackout dates (max score: 7 points)
D. Percentage of hotels with award night availability (max score: 6 points)
We determined whether award nights could be booked at each of the properties in a given program within a 50-mile radius of the city center in the 10 best places to visit in the U.S., according to tripadvisor.com, using four different sets of dates that include: high season weekend/weekdays and shoulder season weekend/weekdays.
E. How far in advance can reservations be made? (max score: 4 points)
F. Short-notice reservations (max score: 4 points)
5. Additional Features & Policies (total score: 15 points)
A. Point expiration (max score: 5 points)
We determined if and when points expire due to account inactivity with each loyalty rewards program.
B. Ease of achieving top membership status (max score: 2 points)
Based on the lowest room rate collected for each hotel program, we calculated the total spending needed to accumulate the requisite nights / stays / points for top membership status.
C. Number of transfer partners (max score: 2 points)
We identified the total number of travel partners to which points can be transferred free of charge.
D. Can points be purchased at fair value? (max score: 2 points)
We calculated how much it will cost to purchase the maximum number of points permitted per year by each program and how much those points would be worth upon redemption, on average.
E. Can earnings be shared between two or more accounts for free (max score: 2 points)
F. Can you reinstate lost earnings? (max score: 2 points)
G. Valuable membership level perks (max score: 5 points)
After initially examining each hotel program, we created a list of membership perks that we believed to be most-valuable to consumers, regardless of membership level. The list comprises: late check-out, room-rate discounts, free health club and spa access, free room upgrades and priority / express check-in. We then used our consumer profiles to determine which perks each type of consumer would receive via membership in each program. Each perk is worth one point, which means that a program offering all the aforementioned perks would receive a full score.