Breakdown of Benefits and Value of the Best Hotel Rewards Programs and Credit Cards

By Jason Steele. Last updated 14 September 2017. 0 comments

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While airline reward credit cards enjoy more attention, hotel reward credit cards can be surprisingly valuable. The reason is that airlines are making fewer seats available for mileage awards, and charging more miles for privilege of doing so.

On the other hand, many hotel chains now offer any available standard room for an award, with no blackout dates or capacity controls. Many programs also have airline partners that you can transfer points to, so you have more options on how to spend your points. Here is an assessment of the value the major hotel loyalty programs, and their co-branded credit cards.

Starwood Preferred Guest

The Starwood Preferred Guest program includes over 1,300 hotels and resorts, in nearly 100 countries, over eleven brands: St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W, Le Meridien, Westin, Sheraton, Design Hotels, Tribute Porftolio, aloft, element, and Four Points.

SPG is a favorite among frequent travelers due to the high points value of Starpoints (around 2 cents per point). Free award nights start at 3,000 Starpoints with no blackout dates. Upgrades start at 1,000 Starpoints. If you redeem five nights, you get the fifth night free (except for Category 1 and 2 hotels). You can also get 50% off regular RACK rates by spending 1,000 Starpoints and booking up to 5 nights.

Starpoints can be redeemed for flights through SPG's web portal, which includes over 150 airlines without blackout dates. Redemption starts at 10,000 Starpoints for tickets up to $150. Members can also transfer Starpoints to frequent flyer miles at a 1:1 exchange ratio for most airlines. Get 5,000 bonus Starpoints per 20,000 transferred in a single transaction. Starpoints can also be transferred to rail miles with Amtrak at a 1:1 ratio.

Starpoints can also be used to redeem stays at participating Caesars Entertainment hotels, and also earn 2 Starpoints for each eligible $1 spent at Caesars Entertainment hotels. Additionally, members can use and earn Starpoints when purchasing tickets to participating Broadway shows.

Moments by SPG allows members to purchase or bid on special events in music, sports, and culture. Other ways to spend your Starpoints include gift cards, donating to charity, or even sharing points with others in your household.

Preferred Guest level members earn two points per eligible dollar spent at Starwood properties. Gold and Platinum members earn three Starpoints for every eligible U.S. dollar spent.

Members can also earn 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent on eligible Delta flights. Platinum members get priority check-in, priority boarding, complimentary upgrades, and first checked bag free. Gold and Platinum members get similar benefits for Emirates.

Hilton Honors

Hilton Honors includes more than 4,600 hotels and resorts worldwide include brands such as Conrad, Canopy, Curio, DoubleTree, Embassy suites, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites, and the Waldorf Astoria. Hilton Honors points are worth about a half a cent each.

Award nights start at 5,000 Honors points, with no blackout dates. Silver, Gold and Diamond elite members receive every 5th night free on reward stays of 5 consecutive nights or more.

Points can be converted into miles with over 60 airline and rail partners or redeemed for car rentals, cruises, or gift cards. Like SPG, Hilton @Play offers members special events for redemption. Points can also be transferred to friends and family or donated to a charity of your choice. Hilton Honors will make an equivalent cash donation for every Honors point donated.

Members earn 10 Honors points per eligible dollar spent at a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio (except Home2 Suites, which earns 5 points). Members can also choose to earn 5 bonus points per eligible dollar spent or 1 mile per eligible dollar spent. Get a 15% bonus when you reach Silver status, 25% bonus when you reach Gold status, and a 50% bonus when you reach Diamond status.

Members can sign up for Hilton Honors Dining and earn up to 8 Honors points per dollar spent dining at one of over 10,000 locations in the program. Members can also earn extra points by using Shop-to-Earn Mall to make online purchases.

IHG Rewards Club

IHG® is the world's largest hotel company, with over 5,000 hotels including brands such as Intercontinental hotels, Hualuxe, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Even Hotels, Staybridge Suites, and Candlewood Suites. IHG points are worth about three quarters of a cent toward free night stays.

Reward nights redemption start at 10,000 points, with no blackout dates. Points can be redeemed for miles at a 10:2 rate for most airlines. Or use points to purchase travel with almost any airline or hotel.

Points can also be redeemed for merchandise, gift cards, and digital rewards like ebooks and games. Points can be transferred to another member or donated to IHG's disaster relief program.

Members earn 10 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels (except Staybridge and Candlewood, which earns 5 points per dollar). Members can also earn 125 points per rental day with Hertz, Avis, or Budget rental cars, and 5 points per dollar at over 10,000 participating restaurants and clubs through IHG Rewards Club Dining. Additionally, members can choose to earn miles instead of points for qualifying stays. Mileage earning rates vary per airline.

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

Finally, earn even more points when they use the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card. It offers five points per dollar when you stay at an IHG hotel, double points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, and one point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Cardmembers can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. Cardmembers also get a free night's stay each year of card membership at over 5,200 hotels worldwide, and platinum elite status which includes benefits like priority check-in, automatic 10% points rebate on redemptions, complimentary room upgrades, and more. There is a $49 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year.

Marriott Rewards

Members Rewards includes over 4,500 Marriott brand hotels, spanning 15 brands in 70+ countries. Brands include JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Edition, AC Hotels, Vacation Club, Courtyard, Springhill Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Gaylord Hotels, Moxy, The Ritz-Carlton, Residence Inn (5 points), Towne Place Suites (5 points).

Members earn 10 points per dollar spent (except at Residence Inn and Towne Place Suites which earns 5 points). Members also earn 2.5 points per dollar spent on room rates at Marriott Executive Apartments and ExecuStay. Marriott points are worth about three quarters of a cent toward free night stays, although this program has capacity controls that restrict award redemptions. Also, starting February 2016, points will expire if there is no qualifying activity for 24 months. Members can also choose to earn air miles with over 30 airline partners instead of Marriott points.

Hotel reward nights start at 7,500 points. Members can also take advantage of various travel options, including Air + Car and Hotel + Air packages. Points can be transferred to airline loyalty programs (at various transfer rates). Points can also be redeemed for merchandise or gift cards, to pay for Priority Pass, transferred to another member, or donated to charity.

United MileagePlus members can take advantage of the RewardsPlus program, which allows Marriott Rewards members to receive a 20% discount when converting points to MileagePlus award miles. Also receive 10% more MileagePlus miles when redeeming points for a Hotel+Air Package.

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Those who hold the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card will also receive five points per dollar spent at participating Marriott and SPG properties, double points at on rental cars, restaurant purchases, and airline tickets purchased directly with the airlines, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. There's no limit to how many points can be earned. Cardholders receive a free night stay each year at a Category 1-5 location after the account anniversary date, and 15 Elite Credits guaranteeing Silver Elite Status or better. Additionally, every $3,000 spent earns 1 credit toward Elite status. Plus, earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. There is an $85 annual fee for this card.

Club Carlson

Club Carlson covers more than 1,000 hotels worldwide, and include budget brands in the United States such as Radisson, as well as boutique brands overseas such as the Radisson Blu. Other brands are Quorvus Collection, Park Plaza, Park Inn, and Country Inns & Suites. Points are worth a little more than half a cent each towards free night stays.

Award night stays start at 9,000 Gold Points with no blackout dates. Gold Points can also be redeemed during stays for in-room hotel items such as movies, laundry credits, room upgrades, and more. Other ways to redeem points include gift cards, prepaid cards, charity donations, and airline miles with over 20 partners.

Members earn a remarkable 20 points per dollar spent at Club Carlson properties. Members can also earn points through their car rental partners or even shopping at FTD (1,500 points per purchase).

Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card

Additional points are available with the Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® card. Earn 10 points per dollar spent at Club Carlson hotels, and five points per dollar elsewhere. Cardholders also get 40,000 points each year with card renewal and Gold Elite Status. Cardholders also receive a free night stay at a Carlson Rezidor hotel every year by spending $10,000 on purchases annually and renewing their card. There is a $75 annual fee.

World of Hyatt

The World of Hyatt program covers over 600 locations worldwide. Despite its size, Hyatt points are very valuable, and can usually be redeemed for about two cents each towards free night stays.

Standard awards start at 5,000 points and upgrades start at 3,000 points. Members can also use their points during their stays for dining and spa purchases. Free car rentals with Avis start at 6,000 points per day.

Members earn five points per dollar eligible dollar spent at Hyatt. Discoverists members earn a 10% bonus and Globalist members earn a 30% bonus on points. Members can also earn 500 points per qualifying rental through Avis or 500 miles per stay with 28 participating travel partners. Points can also be converted to miles through participating airlines.

The Hyatt Credit Card

Finally, the Hyatt Credit Card allows members to earn another three points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels, two points at restaurants, airline tickets purchased directly from airlines, and car rental agencies, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Cardholders get Discoverist status and one free night every year at any category 1-4 property. The card has a $75 annual fee. New cardholders get 2 free nights at any Hyatt hotel or resort worldwide after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months after account opening.

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