Choosing a hotel loyalty program is a very personal decision as there is no one size fits all answer as to which program is best. Everyone is looking for something different from a hotel group.
In this post, I wanted to compare some of the top hotel loyalty programs. While there won’t be any “winners” and “losers” here, I wanted to share the pros and cons of the big programs so hopefully people can consider these points to decide what makes the most sense for them.
What makes a hotel loyalty program good for leisure travelers?
I thought it would be interesting to look at hotel loyalty programs from a leisure traveler’s perspective. Why? Well, business travelers may not have to work hard at all to earn elite nights, and their hotel stay decisions may be dictated by corporate contracts, where to stay for work, etc.
For leisure travellers, things are a little different. Here are some of the things I think make a hotel loyalty program good for non-business travelers:
- Easy to Earn Status – Leisure travelers must earn elite status on their own, so it’s worth considering the effort required to earn status
- Breakfast free — While business travelers typically have an expense account, leisure travelers generally appreciate perks like free breakfast because it can save you big bucks
- Guaranteed Elite Perks – While “subject to availability” perks are better than nothing, there’s something really nice about securing the perks that matter most to you before your stay
- A large global footprint – it’s difficult to remain loyal to a hotel group. The larger the hotel group, the easier it is to stay loyal
Pros and Cons of Big Hotel Loyalty Programs
Let me share with you what I think are the pros and cons of the major hotel loyalty programs. I don’t think there is a single program that is best for everyone, but hopefully this is a good starting point for people to decide which program makes the most sense for them.
I will focus on Hilton Honors, IHG One Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt, the largest hotel loyalty programs in the United States that have co-branded credit cards, many emerging hotels, etc.
Hilton Honors is the best program for easy status and how fast you can earn points.
In my view, Hilton Honors benefits include:
Hilton Honors cons, meanwhile, include:
- Hilton Honors isn’t great when it comes to guaranteeing benefits, as late checkouts aren’t guaranteed and suite upgrades are at the hotel’s discretion
- Of these four loyalty programs, Hilton Honors is the only program that doesn’t offer confirmed suite upgrades that can be requested in advance, which isn’t great for planning a special stay
IHG One Rewards
IHG One Rewards is the program that has improved the most over the past few years, although I’m still not sure where to place it. The loyalty program has recently been relaunched and is much more lucrative than before.
From my perspective, the benefits of IHG One Rewards include:
- IHG has a large global footprint with over 6,000 properties worldwide; In particular, there are many limited services and cheaper hotels that many leisure travelers appreciate (conversely, these hotels may offer limited perks for elite members).
- IHG One Rewards makes it easy to gain status, especially with the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card (Verification) and IHG® Rewards Premier Business Credit Card (Verification); You can earn IHG Platinum status just for owning the card and IHG Diamond status by spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year
- The IHG Milestone Rewards program offers some amazing benefits that members can select when they exceed certain elite night thresholds, including confirmed suite upgrades, Club Lounge access, F&B credits and more
- IHG One Rewards has pretty good points collection rates between IHG’s standard collection rates, elite status bonuses and global promotions
The downsides of IHG One Rewards, meanwhile, include:
- IHG One Rewards is weak when it comes to guaranteeing benefits, as late check-out and suite upgrades are entirely at the hotels discretion and are not guaranteed benefits
- Among these programs, IHG One Rewards is the biggest unknown when it comes to the execution of certain elite benefits, as the current implementation of the program is still new
Marriott Bonvoy is probably the most comprehensive hotel loyalty program in terms of a combination of large global footprint, easy-to-achieve status, and solid elite perks.
From my point of view, the benefits of Marriott Bonvoy include:
- Marriott Bonvoy Platinum members and above receive solid benefits, including breakfast at most brands, suite upgrades based on availability, guaranteed 4pm late check-out at non-resorts, etc.
- Marriott Bonvoy offers Suite Night Awards that are eligible as part of the Choice Benefits program; While they’re not as useful as Hyatt’s suite upgrade awards, they’re better than nothing
- Marriott has a tremendous global presence with over 8,000 hotels worldwide
- Marriott’s co-branded credit cards allow you to earn up to 30 elite nights per year as I earn this with the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card (review) and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® card (review) and that gets me 60% of the way to platinum status; You could then achieve Platinum status by staying just 20 nights, which shouldn’t be too difficult for most
Marriott Bonvoy cons, meanwhile, include:
- Marriott Bonvoy is notorious for over-promising and under-delivering. So in practice, you might find that Elite benefits are similar to Hilton Honors
- Marriott Bonvoy isn’t great when it comes to consistent elite benefits across brands; For example, at brands like Ritz-Carlton and EDITION, elite members don’t get free breakfast
world of Hyatt
World of Hyatt is probably the strongest hotel loyalty program, but status is also the hardest to earn, and Hyatt has the smallest global footprint.
From my point of view, the advantages of World of Hyatt include:
- World of Hyatt Globalist status is the most valuable hotel status and is best when it comes to recognizing elite benefits, from late check-out to suite upgrades
- World of Hyatt has the strongest breakfast benefit of any major hotel group, including a hot restaurant breakfast with a tip when a hotel doesn’t have a lounge
- World of Hyatt offers the best confirmed suite upgrades of any hotel program as Globalist members receive at least four of them through the Milestone Rewards program, each of which can be used to confirm a seven-night suite at the time of booking
- World of Hyatt has Guest of Honor, where Globalist members can share their elite benefits with friends and family when redeeming points; This is particularly useful when booking multiple rooms
- World of Hyatt waives resort and destination fees when redeeming points for all members and on all stays for Globalist members
From my point of view, the disadvantages of World of Hyatt include:
Which hotel loyalty program is the best is very subjective and I don’t think there is a single right or wrong answer. To consolidate my opinion and recommendations:
- Hilton Honors is great for the super easy status and generous rates for earning points, especially with ongoing promotions
- IHG One Rewards just keeps getting better, but I also have a hard time recommending IHG as the only hotel loyalty program
- Marriott Bonvoy makes it easy enough to earn status with credit cards and offers solid perks, but not on par with World of Hyatt
- World of Hyatt is the very best when it comes to elite status, but it’s also the hardest to earn
What do you think is the best hotel loyalty program?