Best hotel rewards programs: How to decide which 1 is right for you

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When searching for a hotel, what matters most to you? Price? Location? Amenities? Here’s a valuable tip: If you’re not booking through hotel loyalty programs, you’re missing out on great deals and leaving money on the table. These programs offer free upgrades, luxurious rooms, complimentary breakfast, access to exclusive lounges […]

When searching for a hotel, what matters most to you? Price? Location? Amenities?

Here’s a valuable tip: If you’re not booking through hotel loyalty programs, you’re missing out on great deals and leaving money on the table. These programs offer free upgrades, luxurious rooms, complimentary breakfast, access to exclusive lounges and even free nights once you accumulate enough points. Now the question is, which hotel program suits you best?

We’ve examined nine major hotel rewards programs around the world:

Let’s take a quick look at each loyalty program so you can more easily decide which one to invest in.

Related: Best hotel credit cards

Marriott Bonvoy

The JW Marriott Essex House New York in Manhattan. MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC.

Marriott is an international hotel mega-chain. Its portfolio features over 30 brands and nearly 8,700 properties across 139 countries and territories. No matter where you’re going, there’s bound to be a Marriott hotel nearby.

A key perk of the Marriott Bonvoy program is its fifth-night-free benefit. You’ll receive the lowest-priced night for zero points when you book five consecutive reward nights. This can save you a ton of points on expensive stays, especially if you redeem your points in a high-end destination like the Maldives.

Another notable benefit is that Marriott Bonvoy members can transfer points to its 40 airline partners. Its list of transfer partners includes some of the hardest airline currencies to earn, like Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and Asiana Club.

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In terms of elite status, there are five Marriott elite status tiers. Some benefits include room upgrades, Suite Night Award upgrades and executive lounge access. However, TPG staff has found benefits inconsistent, even at properties under the same brand.

There are several cards you can use to earn Marriott Bonvoy points, but six are available to new applicants — three from American Express and three from Chase:

The information for the Marriott Bonvoy Bountiful Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Marriott is also a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, meaning you have plenty of ways to earn points.

Marriott Bonvoy is good for travelers who:

  • Aren’t sure where in the world they plan to travel
  • Want a huge collection of luxury properties
  • Want a selection of unique, non-cookie-cutter hotels
  • Frequently redeem points in five-night increments
  • Want to book extended-stay hotel rooms
  • Want to turn their points into airline miles

Related: When does it make sense to transfer Marriott points to airlines?

Hilton Honors

Hilton has a wide range of brands, including the design-centric Canopy. CANOPY/HILTON BOSTON DOWNTOWN

Hilton is another enormous hotel chain, with over 1.1 million rooms across nearly 7,400 hotels in 124 countries and territories.

Couple the hotel chain’s size with the relative effortlessness it takes to earn Hilton Honors points, and it’s clear that the Hilton Honors program may be the most all-around convenient hotel rewards option.

Hilton is an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner. For every Amex point you transfer, you’ll get 2 Hilton points. Not to mention, you may occasionally find a transfer bonus.

The hotel group also has four cobranded credit cards, all issued by American Express. You can frequently find them offering welcome bonuses of 100,000 points (or more).

Cardholders of the following American Express cards automatically get Hilton Honors Gold status (enrollment is required) for as long as they keep their card account open:

Additionally, those with the Hilton Honors American Express Card can earn an upgrade to Hilton Honors Gold status through the end of the following calendar year by spending $20,000 on the card in a calendar year.

Like Marriott, Hilton offers the fifth consecutive award night free — but you must have Hilton elite status to unlock this benefit. Thankfully, you can achieve this simply by holding a Hilton credit card. With your Hilton elite status, you’ll enjoy benefits like room upgrades, free breakfast (or a food and beverage credit on U.S. stays) and bonus points.

Hilton Honors is good for travelers who:

  • Collect Amex Membership Rewards points.
  • Aren’t sure where in the world they plan to travel.
  • Frequently stay in five-night increments.
  • Want to book extended-stay hotel rooms.
  • Are satisfied with a modest collection of (amazing) luxury hotels.
  • Are road warriors.

Related: I transferred Amex points to Hilton to book 1 of the best hotels in the world

World of Hyatt

Hyatt has a relatively small — but growing — footprint and arguably the best elite benefits. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

The World of Hyatt program is the favorite hotel loyalty program of most TPG staff.

More than 1,200 hotels participate in the World of Hyatt loyalty program in over 70 countries. Hyatt hotels are generally found exclusively in popular destinations and cities. If you’re looking for a stay in rural areas, Hyatt points likely will not serve you.

Hyatt’s award rates are relatively cheap compared to other hotels like Marriott and Hilton. For example, an upscale Hyatt hotel may cost 40,000 points, while a luxury Hilton hotel may cost 120,000 points. Perhaps most importantly, Hyatt still publishes award charts, making planning for your trip easy.

It’s true that Hyatt points aren’t quite as easy to accrue as Hilton points (Hyatt only offers two cobranded credit cards). However, Hyatt is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can also transfer Bilt Rewards points to Hyatt, which can be a great option for those who earn points on rent.

Hyatt Globalist elite status has been proven repeatedly by TPG staff and readers to be the most valuable hotel elite status. With free breakfast, waived resort fees and parking fees on award nights, consistent suite upgrades and more, it’s just about as VIP as you can get in the hospitality world.

Hyatt offers a personal credit card and a business credit card, which are both great ways to earn points.

The World of Hyatt Credit Card has a $95 annual fee and offers up to 60,000 bonus points. You’ll earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. Plus, you’ll earn up to 30,000 more points by earning 2 bonus points total per dollar spent on purchases that normally earn 1 point (on up to $15,000) in the first six months of account opening.

Meanwhile, the World of Hyatt Business Credit Card has a $199 annual fee and offers 60,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Bilt Rewards from the Bilt Mastercard® (see rates and fees) transfer to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 rate. You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.

World of Hyatt is good for travelers who:

  • Collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points
  • Earn points on rent with Bilt
  • Want luxury stays in popular destinations
  • Don’t often book hotels in smaller cities or remote locations
  • Want a ton of all-inclusive hotel options

Related: What is World of Hyatt elite status worth?

Wyndham Rewards

Wyndham Rewards has the easiest-to-understand award chart of all hotel loyalty programs. WYNDHAM

For stays in small-town America, there’s no better hotel points currency than Wyndham Rewards. Wyndham has the most properties of any hotel chain on this list, with over 9,000 worldwide. While Wyndham offers some upscale properties, most are budget hotels.

Wyndham’s economical brands — such as Super 8, Days Inn and Microtel — are ubiquitous in areas where you won’t find a Hyatt or Marriott. If your travel goals revolve around visiting towns with populations under 10,000, this is a great program to focus on.

Wyndham also offers three cobranded credit cards, all issued by Barclays, to help you earn free nights in the Wyndham Rewards program quickly. The cards offer between 7,500 and 15,000 points for every card anniversary. Additionally, you can transfer Capital One miles and Citi ThankYou Rewards points to Wyndham Rewards at a 1:1 ratio.

You can even use your points to book free nights at Vacasa properties, which charge 15,000 points per bedroom. If you look hard enough, you can find absolute steals.

Wyndham Rewards is good for travelers who:

  • Travel to small towns
  • Aren’t interested in luxury stays
  • Want free Vacasa vacation rentals

Related: 17 ways to earn Wyndham Rewards points for your next redemption

IHG One Rewards

IHG One Rewards recently revamped its loyalty program with new elite status benefits. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

The IHG One Rewards program recently received a refresh, making it compete more with the most popular hotel programs. Due to dynamic pricing, IHG hotels are often a poor value for the points. However, they’re easy to use, and IHG hotels are in almost as many locations as Hilton properties. You can also frequently purchase IHG One Rewards points at a steep discount.

IHG offers three cobranded credit cards, all of which automatically offer the ability to receive the fourth consecutive award night for free. That’s unique among loyalty programs and a better value than Marriott and Hilton’s fifth-night-free policy.

  • IHG One Rewards Traveler Credit Card (no annual fee): 5 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels and resorts; 3 points per dollar spent at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery), at gas stations and on utilities, internet, cable and phone services, and select streaming services; 2 points per dollar spent on other purchases
  • IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card ($99 annual fee): 10 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels and resorts; 5 points per dollar spent at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery), at gas stations and on travel and hotels; 3 points per dollar spent on other purchases
  • IHG One Rewards Premier Business Credit Card ($99 annual fee): 10 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels and resorts; 5 points per dollar spent at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery), at gas stations and on travel, hotels, social media, search engine advertising and office supply stores; 3 points per dollar spent on other purchases

You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Bilt Rewards points to IHG One Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. Additionally, you can use IHG points to book some Six Senses resorts. These are extremely sought-after properties and a great win for IHG points collectors.

The program revamped its elite status tiers last year, too, meaning top-tier Diamond Elite members now get additional perks like free breakfast and a dedicated support line. Elite members can also earn Milestone Rewards by staying a certain number of nights in a calendar year. Some options include an annual lounge membership, bonus points and confirmed suite upgrades.

IHG One Rewards is good for travelers who:

  • Are road warriors
  • Are satisfied with a small collection of luxury hotels

Related: How to maximize redemptions with the IHG One Rewards program

ALL — Accor Live Limitless

Accor is home to iconic brands like Fairmont. FAIRMONT CENTURY PLAZA/FACEBOOK

Accor has many hotel brands (more than 40), with a slew of upscale and luxury options.

Points in the ALL — Accor Live Limitless program are some of the most valuable (and straightforward) rewards. You can redeem them in increments of 2,000 to receive 40 euros (or an equivalent amount in dollars) off your hotel bill.

There are two areas in which Accor underdelivers:

  • The vast majority of its properties are concentrated in Europe or Asia.
  • Accor does not offer a cobranded credit card to help you earn points quickly.

Yes, Accor is a transfer partner of both Capital One and Citi. However, the transfer ratio is an underwhelming 2:1 (2 Capital One miles or Citi ThankYou Rewards points equal 1 Accor point). Still, Accor can be a great place to earn your hotel points if you’re primarily traveling in Asia or Europe.

The program has four status tiers, with the top-tier Diamond elite level offering free breakfast on weekends (or every day in the Asia-Pacific region), suite night upgrades and executive lounge access. You’ll also find brand-specific benefits at each status tier, which may include perks like complimentary bike rentals at Fairmont properties.

ALL — Accor Live Limitless is good for travelers who:

  • Travel to Europe and Asia often
  • Want a huge selection of luxury properties
  • Want a points redemption process that requires no expertise

Related: The dark horse of the hotel world: Why it’s time to pay attention to Accor

Choice Privileges

Choice Hotels has properties worldwide, with the best offerings in Scandinavia. CHOICE HOTELS

Choice places third behind Wyndham and Marriott for the number of properties it has worldwide. Its brands, such as Comfort Inn, WoodSpring Suites and Quality Inn, are no-frills experiences. However, the Choice Privileges program can serve you similarly to Wyndham Rewards in that its participating hotels are more prolific in smaller towns. It has also now integrated properties from the Radisson Rewards Americas program into its portfolio.

Choice is famously valuable for anyone staying in Scandinavia, as hotels in the region can be costly — but award stays at Choice Hotels remain extremely reasonable. Also, there are many properties to choose from, and the program regularly offers discounted redemption rates through its Sweet Spot Rewards promotion. Additionally, the brand intermittently offers notable promotions that allow you to earn enough points for a free night after completing relatively simple tasks.

In terms of earning points, Choice now offers two cobranded credit cards, and you can also transfer Amex points and Capital One miles to Choice at a 1:1 ratio. Citi points transfer to Choice at a better 1:2 ratio. This halves the price of Choice awards if you’re redeeming Citi points.

Unfortunately, Choice Privileges’ elite status tiers don’t bring much to the table. There are limited room upgrades and only a handful of brands that offer complimentary breakfast to top-tier elite members.

Choice Privileges is best for travelers who:

  • Are road warriors
  • Travel to Scandinavia
  • Travel to small-town America
  • Aren’t concerned about free stays in luxury hotels
  • Don’t value extensive elite status perks

Related: The ultimate guide to redeeming Choice points

Best Western Rewards

Best Western Rewards leaves much to be desired, with few perks. WILL BARTON/GETTY IMAGES

Best Western has suffered due to low marks in its luxury hotel offerings and a relatively small hotel portfolio.

That said, the Best Western Rewards program’s top-tier elite status is easy to earn if you have even mid-tier elite status from a competing hotel chain. Historically, Best Western has offered status matches via email.

Best Western collaborates with First National Bank of Omaha to issue two credit cards. Like Choice, its elite status tiers bring very little value, with only minor benefits.

Best Western Rewards is good for travelers who:

  • Want free breakfast without elite status
  • Don’t care about free luxury hotel stays

Related: The best no-annual-fee hotel credit cards

Radisson Rewards

Radisson has some nice properties, but its loyalty program is lacking. ARIANA ARGHANDEWAL/THE POINTS GUY

Radisson used to have an incredible loyalty program. Over the years, it’s stripped any noteworthy value from it.

Radisson has never offered a formidable number of hotels, and only a few of them are notable.

Until recently, there were two Radisson loyalty programs: Radisson Rewards Americas used to cover North and South America, but those properties have now joined Choice Privileges. The rest of the world uses the Radisson Rewards program.

This international bend means Radisson Rewards no longer offers a U.S. cobranded credit card and has no transfer partners. Your only way to earn these points is by staying at hotels. Even if you earn enough points for a free stay, the value of your redemptions will be minimal.

Radisson Rewards is good for travelers who:

  • Limit their travels to Europe and other destinations outside North and South America
  • Don’t care about free luxury hotel stays

Related: How to choose a hotel loyalty program

Bottom line

A hotel can be far more than just a place to rest your head. Loyalty programs can dramatically enhance your vacation — and even make it practically free.

We encourage TPG readers to sign up for all hotel loyalty programs, as there is generally no out-of-pocket cost to join. Even if you don’t think you’ll stay at a certain hotel chain, circumstances may dictate otherwise. You will be glad you enrolled beforehand and will fund your future vacations with minimal effort.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Business, click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Business Platinum Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Bilt Mastercard, click here.
For rewards and benefits of the Bilt Mastercard, click
here.

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