Anything Jay Sorensen writes, Scott covers. This study by IdeaWorks is better than similar efforts they’ve made to rank airline frequent flyer programs.
This effort seeks to determine the rebate value that your spend has with the largest hotel loyalty programs, and estimate the value of a hotel point.
They come close to offering reasonable estimates of the value of points from IHG Rewards Club, Hilton HHonors, Starwood, and Marriott (although they slightly overvalue those points).
They declare Marriott to offer the biggest rebates:
The first thing you’ll notice is that they only rank 4 programs. The second thing you’ll notice is that three of the four cluster fairly close together.
Starwood has always been weakest for rebating in-hotel spend. However it’s important for a consumer to understand, though, how members intend to use their points. Hilton points are exceptionally valuable at their lowest-tier hotels. The study shows, accurately, that Marriott, IHG Rewards Club, and Hilton all offer similar return on spend. Starwood lags here, however they do have more aspirational hotels worth spending your points at than competitors do.
Fundamentally, important things missed in this survey are that smaller programs are the most rewarding. You can walk down any street and fall into a Marriott or Hilton hotel, and it takes effort to be loyal to a smaller chain so they tend to spend more on their frequent guest programs. Club Carlson, for instance, offers higher return on spend but isn’t included in the survey. I’m not sure how meaningful it is to crown Marriott tops of only four programs compared.
I ran some numbers for the base programs. I wanted to see what kind of return per dollar spent you get in the form of free nights from each of the chains using the earning tables for a general member.
- What hotel program offers a free night after the least amount of spending?
- What hotel program will let you redeem a free night in a big city after the smallest investment?
- What hotel program will let you access its most expensive, most aspirational hotels for the least amount of spending?
I then looked at how the answers change for elite members of programs (because of elite bonuses).
While Starwood is the least generous overall in terms of rewarding in-hotel spend, they have good elite bonuses that partially make up for it. Club Carlson clearly wins in terms of value even more for top elites than general members. Of course, Club Carlson’s properties need to work for you in order for this to matter.
A hotel rewards program is also not just “return on spend for free nights” – the benefits offered to members, especially members staying with a chain frequently, matter here as well. Marriott does not offer their most frequent guest promises of suites, or even guaranteed late checkout.