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

By Holly Johnson. Last updated 15 November 2017. 0 comments

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Whether you travel frequently for business or pleasure, hotel loyalty has its perks. If you plan the bulk of your stays with a single brand of hotels, you can earn special hotel status and all the benefits that come with it – plus a huge stash of points.

Before you pledge your loyalty to a specific chain, however, it pays to see what each one offers. While some make it easier than ever to earn points and free hotel stays, others are most lucrative if you carry their hotel rewards credit cards. Furthermore, some hotel brands have a much larger footprint than others, making them a smarter choice when your travel destinations vary. (See also: How to Get the Most Value From Hotel Reward Points)

To help you decide, we compared the benefits from the top hotel programs in the U.S. and abroad. Here’s how they compare in terms of ongoing benefits and point accumulation.

Starwood Preferred Guest

As a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, you’ll earn 2 points per $1 spent at Starwood properties. Gold members earn 3 points per $1 spent, and Platinum members earn 3 or 4 points per $1 spent, depending on the particular stay. But every other kind of spend earns just 1 point per dollar spent. You can also earn additional points spent at Starwood properties if you use the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.

The biggest benefit of the Starwood Preferred Guest program is just how diverse it is. You can use your points to stay in either Starwood Preferred Guest or Marriott properties, use them to book a “nights and flights” package, or transfer them to over 150 airline transfer partners. Better yet, free hotel stays at SPG properties start at just 2,000 per night – and even higher end Category 4 properties are just 10,000 points per night. For the moment, you can also transfer your SPG points to Marriott at a 1:3 ratio. When you transfer 10,000 starpoints, for example, you end up with 30,000 Marriott points.

  • Points earned for paid stays: 2 points per $1 spent at SPG properties, or 3 or 4 if you have status. Earn additional by using a co-branded SPG credit card.
  • Portfolio: 1,300 properties worldwide (Brands include Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, W Hotels, and more.)
  • Pros: There are myriad ways to use your points, from low-end SPG properties to high-end St. Regis, W, and Westin Resorts. You can also book packages with the Nights & Flights program, or transfer your points to airlines or Marriott Rewards.
  • Cons: Starpoints are notoriously difficult to earn, making them a tough choice if you want to rack up a ton of points fast.

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

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Holders of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express can earn another two points per dollar spent at participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels, and one point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases. There is $95 annual fee for these cards that is waived the first year. Terms apply. See rates and fees.

Click here to learn more and apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express today!

Hilton Honors

The Hilton Honors program went through a revamp in early 2017, although most of the changes came on the redemption end of the spectrum (not on the earning side). With the Hilton Honors program, frequent travelers earn 10 points per $1 spent at Hilton properties. On top of that, those with Hilton Silver status earn a 15 percent point bonus, those with Gold status get a 25 percent bonus, and top tier Diamond members get a 50 percent bonus. Co-branded Hilton credit cards also offer a bonus when you use your card to pay for Hilton purchases. 

While Hilton points are easy to accumulate, they aren’t worth a lot. Low-end Hilton properties cost as little as 30,000 points per night, but higher end properties can run 80,000 points per night or more. With that in mind, the Hilton Honors program is usually best for people who have a lot of paid stays each year – and those who use their Hilton credit cards. While you can earn a ton of points quickly, free stays aren’t cheap.

  • Points earned for paid stays: 10 points per $1 spent, plus a 15-50 percent bonus for status
  • Portfolio: 5000 properties worldwide (Brands include Waldorf Asotira, Contrad Hotels, Canopy, Curio, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, and more.)
  • Pros: Hilton Honors points are easy to earn, especially if you use a co-branded credit card.
  • Cons: It takes a ton of points to score a free hotel night. 

IHG Rewards Club

InterContinental Hotels Group offers plenty of value for frequent business travelers and leisure travelers. First, you’ll earn 10 points per $1 spent at IHG properties like Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and InterContinental Hotels. Earn 5x points at Staybridge Suites or Candlewood Suites. On top of that, you can earn additional points on IHG purchases made with their co-branded credit card.

IHG has 5,000 properties in 100 countries, ranging from those in the luxurious InterContinental Hotels brand, all the way down to your average roadside Holiday Inn Express. It even offers all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and Jamaica – and yes, you can book them with points. Redeeming points for free hotel nights costs as little as 10,000 points and as much as 60,000 points, depending on the hotel brand and location. With that in mind, the IHG Rewards program is usually best for people who want to stay in many different types of hotels with as many options as possible.

  • Points earned for paid stays: 10 or 5 points per $1 spent, plus an additional points with the co-branded credit card
  • Portfolio: 5,000+ properties worldwide (Brands include Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and more.)
  • Pros: With so many properties under its umbrella, you’ll almost always find an IHG hotel where you’re going. Use your points to book anything from a funky Hotel Indigo, to a luxury InterContinental, to a family-friendly Holiday Inn.
  • Cons: IHG has a smaller selection of higher-end hotels, making it a poor choice for luxury travelers.

Additionally, members can choose to earn miles instead of points for qualifying stays. Mileage earning rates vary per airline.

Marriott Rewards

Many frequent travelers choose Marriott Rewards as their hotel loyalty program of choice, and for good reason. Points are easy to earn, and the hotel brand has a ton of choices – especially now that it’s merged with the Starwood Preferred Guest program. With Marriott Rewards, you’ll earn 10 points per $1 spent at Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Courtyard properties (only 5 points per $1 spent at Residence Inn), plus a bonus that corresponds with your status. Silver, Gold, and Platinum members earn 20 percent, 25 percent, and 50 percent bonuses on their base points, respectively. It’s also worth noting that you can earn additional points paying for your Marriott stays with a co-branded credit card.

Since the Starwood Preferred Guest program merged with Marriott Rewards, you can now transfer points between the two. When you do, the transfer ratio is 3:1, making 100,000 Marriott points worth 3,333 Starpoints. This benefit makes it easier to find a property you want to stay at anywhere across the globe. And let’s not forget you can use your Marriott status and points to book free nights at Ritz Carlton properties, too.

  • Points earned for paid stays: 10 or 5 points per $1 spent, plus additional points with a co-branded credit card. Then earn a 20 percent, 25 percent, or 50 percent bonus based on status.
  • Portfolio: 4,000+ properties worldwide (Brands include Renaissance, Courtyard, Springhill Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, The Ritz-Carlton, and more.)
  • Pros: With so many properties, it’s easy to find a place to stay or use your points. And since you can use Marriott points to stay at SPG or Ritz Carlton properties, you have more options than ever.
  • Cons: Marriott properties aren’t always cheap, especially in points. While there are a few Category 1 properties, which cost 7,500 points, most of Marriott’s properties cost more. Staying at a basic Marriott near an interstate will set you back 25,000 points or more, and their high-end properties cost 45,000 points per night.

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. 

Club Carlson

The Club Carlson hotel brand is scattered throughout Europe, Asia, the U.S., and Canada, although there are also properties in South America, the Middle East, and Africa. In total, the brand offers more than 1,000 hotels worldwide, with Radisson, Radisson Blu, and Country Inn & Suites as some of their most popular brands. The good news about Club Carlson points is that they’re particularly easy to earn, especially if you have their co-branded credit card. Also, with Gold status, you’ll earn a 35 percent bonus on the points you earn for paid hotel stays.

Category 1 Club Carlson properties start at just 9,000 points per night, but redemptions surge to 70,000 points per night for their highest end hotels. This means that you’ll need to earn a ton of Club Carlson points if you hope to stay in their nicest properties.

  • Points earned for paid stays: 20 points per $1 spent at Club Carlson properties, plus a 35 percent bonus if you are a Gold member
  • Portfolio: More than 1,000 properties worldwide (Brands include Radisson, Quorvus Collection, Park Plaza, Park Inn, and more.)
  • Pros: Points are easy to earn, and free hotel stays start at just 9,000 points per night.
  • Cons: Club Carlson has a fairly small footprint, especially in the U.S. And if you want to stay at higher end properties, you’ll need a ton of points.

World of Hyatt

World of Hyatt is another smaller hotel program with plenty of options in the U.S. and abroad. Program members earn 5 points per $1 spent at Hyatt properties, plus additional points when they pay with a co-branded credit card.

Those who reach the new Discoverist status receive a 10 percent on paid stays, while next-tier Explorist status receives a 20 percent bonus and top tier Globalists receive a 30 percent point bump. While reaching Globalist status requires 60 paid nights, 100,000 base points, or 20 qualifying meetings or events in a year, you’ll be rewarded with upgraded rooms, club access, free parking, and waived resort fees, among other benefits.

With more than 700 properties in more than 56 countries, Hyatt offers a diverse range of hotels. From high-end Park Hyatt all the way down to Hyatt Place, you can use your points for nearly any type of travel.

  • Points earned for paid stays: 5 points per $1 spent, with a 10, 20 or 30 percent bonus for members of various elite status tiers.
  • Portfolio: 700+ properties worldwide
  • Pros: It takes a while to accumulate points. However, free nights at Category 1 properties start at just 5,000 points.
  • Cons: Hyatt is barely represented in certain parts of the world, making it a poor choice for frequent travelers who want plenty of options.

Before you pledge your loyalty to a specific hotel brand, take some time to figure out which would benefit you most. Which hotel brand offers the largest selection of properties where you want to travel? And, which co-branded hotel credit card could you benefit the most from? Just like anything else in life, the right answer is different for everyone. By doing some research upfront and figuring out your own travel goals, you can find the best loyalty program for your needs.

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