Travel Hacking 101: Hotel Rewards Programs
What Hotel loyalty programs provide the most value for a given stay?
Is it Marriott, Hyatt, Starwood or Hilton?
What co-branded credit card should I use to earn free nights the fastest?
As a frequent business traveler, these are common questions I ask myself when determining where I should stay and what credit card I should use to get the most bang for my “loyalty” buck.
Every hotel loyalty program offers a different amount of “base” points per dollar spent at properties in their program, with varying amounts of “bonus” points, depending on your level of elite status.
To further complicate things, there is a wide range of points required for a “free stay” depending on the property type and associated hotel chain, making it very difficult to compare the value of one program to another. For example, Starwood's highest end St. Regis properties typically require 30,000-35,000 Starpoints per stay. Whereas a Ritz Carlton property in will cost you up to 70,000 Marriott Rewards points for a free night.
In an effort to clarify this a bit, I decided to perform an exercise comparing low, mid and high-end hotels in each of the major hotel chains to get a feel for what the value of a given hotel point actually is. I analyzed hotels in different locations across the globe, at different times of the year, to get a complete picture of their program and point value.
Here are my findings (this represents the value of 1 hotel point):
- Starwood: 2.26 cents per point
- Hyatt: 1.78 cents per point
- Marriott: .99 cents per point
- IHG/Priority Club: .67 cents per point
- Hilton: .58 cents per point
So I guess this means you get the most value from stays at Starwood. Right?
No. This is just the value of a given point, you will receive a different number of points with each stay depending on what property you stay at and the number of points awarded per dollar spent.
The table below takes into consideration the number of points your receive (and associated value) for every $1 spent on a room at the property.
Interesting that brand with the highest value per point, Starwood, has the lowest value when you stay at their properties.
What does this tell me?
My personal opinion, based on this data, is that Marriott should be your first choice for getting the most value out of your hotel stays, with Hyatt coming in second.
With two important exceptions to Marriott – Residence Inn and Townplace Suites only offer 1/2 the points of other Marriott properties, so if you stay at one of these properties, you are actually getting one of the worst earning properties of all the hotel chains.
However, your credit card strategy should be different. Putting sign up bonuses aside, Starwood offers the best value for your credit card spend. Since most cards give you 1 point for $1 spent (not including $ spent at their property), you want to use the credit card of the program with the highest point value per dollar, which is clearly Starwood.
To sum it up here is my ranking of the programs for both stays and credit card spend:
For Hotel Stays:
For Credit Card Spend (with co-branded credit card):
Keep in mind, this analysis is purely based on the value of a point. If you are a road warrior, you may also want to take the value of their elite program into consideration. Check out our reviews of the various elite status offerings:
Also note that there is not a hard value per point as each redemption will have a slightly different value depending on the going rate for the hotel room at the time of booking. If you want a different perspective of the hotel point value, as well as a list of many others not covered here – go to ThePointsGuy.com, where he does a monthly valuation review of hotels, airlines and credit card points.