Which Hotel Progam is Most Rewarding?

In response to a post on Starwood Hotels in-hotel points-earning, reader Greg wrote:

Based on your comment about SPG not a great program based strictly on hotel revenue, which program do you think is the greatest value, and in turn, easiest to get rewards?

My somewhat meandering answer:

Easiest redemption is Starwood and now Hilton since they’re now advertising no capacity controls as well. (Starwood is going to have to come out with something new, at least for Platinum members, since Hilton has matched their unique selling proposition. I predict that they will.)

Starwood has plenty of properties that I actually want to redeem at, much more so than Hilton, but that’s a function of my luxe preference.

And Starwood is a great place to accumulate points via credit card spending in order to redeem for hotels (or to transfer to miles in those programs offering 1:1 transfers plus transfer bonuses, and LanChile is 1:2 + bonuses).

My only point earlier was that Starwood isn’t good for spending money at Starwood Hotels and expecting to get hotel room redemptions quickly, or at least as quickly as with their competitors.

I choose to stay at Starwoods in spite of the in-hotel earning, in exchange for the better elite treatment they provide, rather than because of the in-hotel earning.

Which program is most rewarding will depend on

  • your stay patterns, do you have lots of 1-night stays or longer stays? (if the former, per-night offers are most rewarding)
  • your statuslevel , Starwood is certainly better for Platinums on one night stays than for other members, given the 500 point per stay bonus given to Platinums at checkin.
  • what are your reward goals? You want to earn points that will get you the quality of hotel you’re after.

And then of course recurring promotions change the calculations a bit, Starwood has had tons of promos the last couple years whereas Hilton really hasn’t.

Marriott is a terrible elite program in my view, it’s just not generous with upgrades. A few years ago they explicitly wrote suite upgrades out of the terms and conditions of the program. But their travel package awards are a great redemption value. Low point redemptions are poor value at Marriott, but put together a few hundred thousand points and redeem for stays and miles…

Hilton is a terrible elite program at the top tier, Diamond is virtually indistinguishable from Gold except at specific hotels (but Gold is the best mid-tier out there). Redemption has gotten much better. But outside of a few Conrads they tend not to offer the luxury factor I want for my vacation redemptions. Still, earn points and miles, and credit the miles to British Midland (and use your bmi miles for premium class Star Alliance redemptions via their cash and points award chart) and you’re in good shape!

Hyatt is pretty good at the Diamond level, though suite upgrades can be scarce especially in Asia where even lounge access isn’t guaranteed. Faster Free Nights is one of the best ongoing promos ever. Not enough properties, though. And no credit card partner.

Intercontinental Hotels has Priority Club as its points program but the separate Ambassador program for status (and Royal Ambassador for top tier). The Royal Ambassador program is the single best elite level out there, the best upgrades, 8am checkin in addition to late checkout, and drinks are free from the minibar. Problem is there just aren’t enough Intercontinentals out there.

Royal Ambassador gets you Platinum status in the Priority Club program, which is the most inconsistent top elite level there is, plus who really wants to step down from an Intercontinental hotel and stay at a Holiday Inn? (Admittedly there are some decent Holiday Inns outside the U.S.)

The Priority Club points program rather than elite recognition is outstanding, though, since the bonuses are so easy to come by. But their co-branded credit card offers very weak points-earning.

The right program really depends on your stay patterns and reward interests.

Personally, I like Starwood Platinum for the occasional suite and I love Interconitnental Royal Ambassador for its benefits. But I divorce my stays from my credit card and other partner earning, they’re really two separate decisions. And as I say, I like Starwood in spite of its in-hotel earning rather than because of it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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