Which Hotel Chain Gives You the Most Bang for Your Buck?

Reader Xavier Ashe asks,

Most of your analysis of hotel programs have to do this the high end hotels. I’m a family man, and usually burn my Hilton points on Embassy Suites and Homewood Suites. Of the big chains, which has the best low end point spend. I am still mourning the loss of the point stretcher awards at Hilton. I did a whole week near the beach for 35k points once.

Let’s take a look at each program’s base level — how much you have to spend with each hotel program in order to earn enough points for a free night at their lowest redemption tier.

This doesn’t included bonuses of course, but with Hilton I’m assuming that you choose to earn “points and points” rather than points and miles. It also doesn’t incorporate earning from the credit card you use when paying for rooms, either. And it’s looking at free award nights only — not cash and points awards.

But it does give us a basic level of comparison.

While Hilton has gotten a lot more expensive for redemptions at their upper tier hotels, they are really cheap for bottom-tier redemptions.

The picture also changes when we look at how much a top tier elite member has to spend at a given hotel chain to earn enough points for that same free night at the lowest-tier hotel. Note that the brand new introduction of IHG’s ‘Spire Elite’ level increases the top bonus earning for 50% to 100% and thus reduces the spend required for an introductory level redemption.

Of course looking at the lowest tier redemption doesn’t necessarily match everyone’s needs or even most folks’ needs. Even though the question is about “low end point spend” I bet what’s really being asked isn’t those ‘category 1’ redemptions often in countries with the lowest cost of living. Rather it’s about nice mid-level properties — just not the top end luxury.

I prefer using my points to stay in places I wouldn’t ever spend money for, to leverage my points for aspirational stays. I totally get that many people stretch their points to stay longer and make great trips with family possible.

That can be done at the lowest redemption category. My award booking partner Steve emailed last week about the Hilton Salalah Resort in Oman which is a category 1 hotel.

Beach is over 2 miles long and about 75-100 yards wide. Absolutely empty even though hotel is full.

If you look to the left on beach there is nothing but sea (to the right is a monstrous port with about 20 cranes.. intriguing looking). The service is great.

The property is definitely not cutting edge but surely not shabby. More than acceptable especially for 5000 points per night. The room is perfectly fine… Food on property is more than fine…

Hotel is a few kilometers from town but a couple of restaurants within walking distance. There are no other hotels on the beach within sight. So take that sense of isolation for what it’s worth to you.

Between all my family Hilton HHonors credit card sign up bonuses we have about 130 category 1 free nights. So it was worth checking this place out firsthand. It is consistent with most tripadvisor reviews.

Is salalah worth staying for about a third of a year?? The math of 130 free rooms is pretty compelling for what most folks would judge this a solid 3.5 to 4 star property.

The hotel is 15 min from center of town. The town is compact and clean and a clutch of pedestrian friendly side streets with relatively genetic shopping offerings and a bunch of crazy inexpensive and delicious Indian Chinese and Arabic restaurants.

The hotel dinner offerings include an outdoor seaside restaurant that was quite good.

As Salalah is not actually on the American traveller bullseye. The locals are both fascinated and thrilled to have us. Expect exemplary if not fawning treatment.

You can certainly stretch your 5000 point per night redemptions, whether with Hilton HHonors or carefully chosen IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks (which aren’t included in the analysis above).

Although I’d bet the real question is about mid-tier redemptions.

As a result, what matters most is which chain has the hotels that match your redemption patterns — hotels in the right places (Does Hyatt or Starwood have a big enough footprint for you) and at the right quality level (do you want to stay at most Radissons)?

Then whether or not the rest of the features of a hotel chain work for you matter. Are you going to be an elite member? Does the chain’s benefits make sense for you — will you get suite upgrades? what about breakfast? Will the chain even honor elite benefits on reward stays (IHG doesn’t require their hotels to for most benefits)?

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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  1. Living in the Southwest, there is often not many brand name hotels in the touristy National Parks area of the four corners. My second favorite hotel program is Best Western. They have some very nice hotels in the most unexpected places. Very little spending to earn a free room. I used points in Carcassonne, France to stay at the BEST WESTERN Le Donjon Les Remparts. This little gem is located right in the heart of Carcassonne’s medieval citadel. You must cross a true draw-bridge to get to the property. I would rate this at least a 4 star property. Very delightful property with a magical location. Best Western also does Status Match if you have preferred status with any other hotel program.

  2. Good analysis. Would love it if you took it a step furthur and hit on the topic I think most would enjoy knowing more about…which mid tier properties are best bang for buck when accumulating points on co branded credit card? Clearly u mentioned it at the end but a post about earning pts per $ spent on co branded credit card or transferable pts into a stay at a mid tier property is what i think most want to know. personally have 2 young kids….inspirational properties arent fun but also we are not willing to stay in a dump. Enjoy hyatt place type properties but what gets me a quicker reward at that type level hotel. Spg card? Hyatt card? Ihg card? Wyndham card?

    Just my thiughts on what type of breakdown id like to see as rarely do i ever stay in areas that category 1 hotels even exist

  3. It look likes IHG Danang penisula resort in Vietnam Blocked all reward nights booking . Anyone know anything about this ? Please help.

  4. Gary:
    If your looking at Mid Scale properties and redemptions primarily in North America, your readers would be wise to check out LaQuinta Inns and the LaQuinta Returns program.
    Its straightforward, consistent, honest, great customer service and very flexible. Been a member for nearly 20 years and have gotten more free night awards than any other hotel chain and its not even close. Properties are usually on the level of a Best Western, Hampton Inn or on the lower end a Comfort Inn.
    Two things I really like is that you can redeem a Tier One award for any of their properties (6000 points) and pay a $15 upgrade charge for each subsequent tier. Thus a Tier 4 award (15,000 points can be redeemed for the Tier One level + $45, Very reasonable. Room upgrades given to elites never expire even if your no longer an elite. Like Best Western or Choice privileges they often do a promotion where two stays will earn points for another free night stay. They offer a Credit Card (Visa) and have a number of partners for additional point earning opportunities.
    Often overlooked by travel bloggers as they do not have upscale properties and a restricted to North America. Sorry for sounding like a commercial and I have no vested interest in La Quinta.
    Steve T.

  5. I would quibble with a thing here or there, but overall the analysis is mostly correct.

    I would simply add that anyone who does not pay for their stays with a co-branded credit card is not playing the game with a full deck 😉

  6. @Gary –You would know that better than I would since you have a better perspective on the various cards, but for me it has generally been that the biggest bang is had by using a CC co-branded for a given hotel or airline program. The AMEX Surpass or Citi Reserve visa gets one the most points/$ for spend at HHonors properties, and the UA Explorer or UA Club card would get one the most miles (2/$) for UA-related spend.

  7. @DCS for full service domestic Hyatts you want to use the SPG Business Amex — 5% OPEN rebate + 1 Starpoint > 3 Hyatt points. For IHG Rewards Club even the bonused card earning is weak, I’d go with Chase Sapphire Preferred. For Starwood you want to use their own cards. For Hilton the Amex Surpass is most valuable. For Marriott their own card vs Sapphire Preferred is close to a wash.

  8. Like I said, you’d have a better perspective on which non-co-branded cards do better. I am surprised that the SPG AMEX does better on Hyatt stays than Hyatt’s own Chase visa card!

    I am not so sure about the CSP being better than IHG’s own co-branded card @ 5points/$.

  9. @Gary — With respect to the IHG credit card vs. CSP “spend per free night”, the subjective valuations in terms cpp are not entirely convincing…

  10. “As Salalah is not actually on the American traveller bullseye. The locals are both fascinated and thrilled to have us. Expect exemplary if not fawning treatment.” And it’s only a literal stones throw from the Yemen border. Sounds like a great place to take the family Steve. SMH.

  11. @Gary — Does that ignore your own disclaimers that your valuations must ultimately be seen as inherently “subjective”? 😉

  12. @UnLuCkY: Actually, having just been there I can say that Salalah is brilliant and perfectly safe. The tribal and spice-trade history make it highly unusual and much more cultured that the shopping-malls-and-luxury-high-rise idiocy of Dubai and Doha. It’s also gorgeous. In the summer, it has a bizarre monsoon that makes it as green as Ireland — half of the Arabian peninsula shows up to cool down. The sultan (whose mother comes from Salalah and who grew up there) wields absolute power and relies on a military trained both by the British and the Iranians, so there’s nothing coming across that border.

    That said, I must say that the Hilton looks forlorn, set in a no-man’s land right next to the gargantuan port. Port + offshore tanker traffic means no ocean swimming for me. The Marriott has a better beach, but Marriott misrepresents its resort as being in Salalah. It’s 80 km away, in Mirbat.

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