Best Hotel Programs Rewards by Traveller Type

by Neil McPherson
12 August 2019

14 September 2019 updated to reflect the September 2019 changes to SLH tiers.
5 October 2019 updated to reflect the launch of WorldHotels rewards
.
22 August 2020 updated to reflect changes in property locations by programs


Best hotel rewards programs can get you free nights in rooms like this

Introduction

Selecting the best airline and hotel and airline loyalty programs for you can help  save significant cash and result in a more comfortable trip.

This comparison of the best hotel reward programs forms the basis of our planning for loyalty rewards programs to help you.


For best program rankings based on spend to qualify for "free" rewards nights, you can jump straight down to the end to see who the winners are (drum roll please...😊).

Otherwise, use the Table Of Contents and follow the links to find out why they were selected and what the subtle differences are between programs and traveller types.

If you decide you wish to join (or "transfer" with a status-match) we have included links to the various programs for convenience.

Contents

What makes the best hotel rewards program for you?
How the programs generally work
Hotel Rewards programs compared
Ensure the comparison is "apples with apples"
Summary of the different traveler types:
the "Road Warrior"
Self-employed with frequent stays
Tier status gained from a credit card
Leisure travel or infrequent stays
Observations & Conclusions
Winners by traveller type
Joining a hotel rewards program


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Aim of the comparison - find the best programs for  you

After airline frequent flyer programs, people travelling a lot (especially for business) are then either surprised to learn that hotel programs also exist, or want to know which is the best hotel rewards program.

This isn’t as simple a question as it first seems. There are many complexities in the programs and each company seeks to attract and retain as many loyal travellers as possible by differentiating their offers. So a better question is “which is the best hotel loyalty program for you ?” given your preferences and what is most important to you:

The first few are personal and subjective, but the last can be considered with lots of modeling. Then once you have a short-list, you can overlay your own preferences to come up with the one(s) best for you.
Some results surprised me. I hope you find the insights interesting.

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How the programs work

Most hotel programs are based on earning points via spending on room stays and those points can be exchanged for reward nights. Those points and/or your number of stays determine your status or tier level, which in turn determines what benefits (late check-in, breakfast etc) you may receive. Most programs offer a "status bonus" or "tier bonus" where you earn more points for the same stay, compared to someone on a lower tier. This means that you will qualify faster for a free stay.

Other tier perks may include potential suite upgrades, complimentary breakfast, access to executive lounges (with complimentary food and refreshments) or the ability to transfer points (at a sensible rate) to airline partners that match your needs.

There are broadly two types:  

It is this second type of  programs where there is greatest opportunity to find exceptional value deals through smarter use of your points, although the introduction of peak/off-peak pricing is reducing such opportunities - so you need to look a bit harder for the best savings and exceptional property stays.

Some programs let you use your points for shopping online (generally not great value)  or transport options (either redeem for say car rental or transfer to an airline loyalty program to later redeem for flights).

One exception is GHA Discovery where its rewards are special local experiences, rather than free nights. Points are only valid within the group (unlike airline frequent flyer programs where say Qantas program miles can be used for BA flights).


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Eliminate some options based on your travel patterns vs their geographic spread

Other comparisons rate programs based partly on a "geographic spread" score. But if a program has a wide spread elsewhere, but not in the area that your travel is concentrated, that score isn't relevant to you. For example if a program covers Asia, Oceania, ME & Africa and the Americas well, it would score highly on that basis. But if all of your travel is in Europe and Asia, how relevant is that high score?
A better approach is to eliminate the programs that have footprints which do not align well with your own specific intended travel destinations. THEN look at comparing the remaining options.

From the charts below you can see that Anantara has a presence mostly in Asia, with none in the Americas. This will make it difficult to earn points locally by Americans, even though their future awards stays may be planned for Asia.
Similarly for Melia, with attractive properties in Europe and LATAM, Australians may find it difficult to accrue loyalty points for that much desired European holiday. Fortunately, Melia sells its loyalty points at a reasonable price, so that may be a solution for Australians.

Alternatively, using a credit card that is either co-branded or has them as transfer partners is an option.

Chart 1  shows properties by brand and region (as at June 2020). It shows clearly how Marriott and Hilton out-scale the other brands.

Graph showing hotel 		properties in geographic regions by brand


Chart 2  - Removing Marriott and Hilton from Chart 1 makes it easier to compare the remaining brands.     

Graph showing hotel 		properties in geographic regions by brand (ex Marriott and Hilton)


So step 1 - eliminate any programs that are definitely not going to suit you BEFORE starting your comparison.

For example, my travel patterns don't include the Americas, so the first 4 regions are most relevant for me. From them, I see that:


So in my case, I can probably eliminate Anantara and Shangri-La from my short-list. Perhaps also IHG, which would leave a short-list for my travel patterns of Marriott, Hilton, Radisson, SLH and WorldHotels.

Your list may well differ from this. A traveller who spends most of their time in Asia could find Shangri-La suits them very well, even though the footprint is smaller than that of say Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt.

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Comparing apples with apples

Step 2 - make the comparison as fair and relevant as possible.

I compared the schemes from a pure "cost" perspective, for various types of travellers. The programs were ranked based on  "the lowest spend on paid stays that is required to earn one free night or five free nights” . This is equivalent to either (i) a business stay or weekend away, or (ii) a longer vacation.

So essentially the comparison is looking for the best hotel rewards program for free nights. A look at the qualitative aspects of programs (the perks that make a stay more enjoyable) will be covered later.

To ensure the comparison was on an "apples with apples" basis, the following assumptions/adjustments were made.

  1. The reward rooms in each case were assumed to be the chain's standard room and all paid stays were assumed to be in the same standard room. Notably, World of Hyatt enables its travellers to redeem points for differing levels, including suites, whereas most programs' rewards stays are for the standard room.
  2. Some chains at differing status tiers offer complimentary breakfast (or lounge access). Where this is not provided, a standard USD 50 cost per night is assumed.
  3. To standardise the level of room being considered (hotels have varying tiers of properties, requiring differing amounts of points), a Level 5 Marriott property was set as the benchmark.
  4. I then realigned some chains' levels for consistency (eg. is the "amenity" of a Category 5 at Wyndham the same as a Category 5 or Category 4 at Marriott?). This as far as I can see is the only subjective part of the approach.

Marriott category 5 was selected as the standard because :


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Different traveller types

Not every traveller is the same, or has the same situation. So I came up with 4 broad traveller situations and listed the 5 best (lowest spend required for the free stays) for each in a table.

Choose the one that sounds most similar to yourself and you will see which program is best for you, given your likely/existing elite tier level just prior to using the free stay.

The business traveller or "Road Warrior"

This person travels frequently, with their employer paying for their stays. For them, costs are not an issue (although there may be constraints imposed on their choices). The key benefits they seek are tier status (for a more comfortable stay and faster points accumulation) and using their points for free weekends or vacation stays. Complimentary breakfast is not a high priority, as their employer will be paying for it if it is not provided anyway. Late check-in and early check-out are also appreciated, so they can squeeze as much into the day as possible.

Note that SLH properties are in the luxury range, so not all employers will have them on their approved list.

Table 2  - Best programs for business travelers - Rankings based on number of  nights  stayed (at current elite status).

Earn a Single Night Member Elite tier 1 Elite tier 2 Elite tier 3
Best
Melia & SLH WorldHotels WorldHotels
2nd Wyndham Rewards Wyndham Rewards Wyndham Rewards
3rd
Radisson Rewards Marriott Bonvoy Marriott Bonvoy
4th
Accor, Hilton, IHG, Marriott Accor, Hilton, IHG, Marriott Accor, Melia, Shangri-La


Table 3  - Best programs for business travelers - Rankings based on  number of stays  (at current elite status)

Earn a Single Night Member Elite tier 1 Elite tier 2 Elite tier 3
Best
SLH Invited SLH Invited WorldHotels
2nd Melia Rewards WorldHotels Shangri-La
3rd
Hilton Honors Melia Rewards Hilton Honors
4th
Radisson Rewards Hilton Honors Radisson 

The elite credit card member

Some elite credit cards around the world offer automatic tier status with different hotel programs. For example, the AMEX Platinum charge card provides Elite Tier 2 status with Hilton, Bonvoy (the Marriott rewards program), Radisson, Shangri-La and Melia. For these folk, they receive the tier bonuses for points earned, without explicitly paying for stays to achieve the tier status.A person who retained their tier status from last years activity could be in a similar position.

In 2020, Accor combined all its related loyalty programs (eg that of Fairmont) into a single consistent program Accor Live Limitless or "ALL". This analysis is based on the new program design released when this announcement was made.

It is also not aligned with a credit card, although for "business travellers", purchasing an IBIS Business card provides automatic "Gold" status for approx EUR 90 / GBP 65 / USD 100 / AUD 150. Not all countries offer a wide variety of credit cards that are co-branded with a hotel chain. In Australia, there are none at all. The US has many, while the UK is in-between.

In many instances it is possible to status-match instead though. The key benefits folk in this group seek are typically an accelerated points accrual, as the automatic status does not (usually) come with status points, so to move to the next tier the traveller will need to start from scratch to satisfy the usual stays or spend criteria for any higher level.


Table 4  - Best programs - Rankings based on spend required (at current elite status) for  one  free night.

Earn a Single Night Member Elite tier 1 Elite tier 2 Elite tier 3
Best My Millennium My Millennium My Millennium Shangri-La
2nd Wyndham Rewards Wyndham Rewards Wyndham Rewards WorldHotels
3rd WorldHotels WorldHotels Hilton Honors Melia Rewards
4th Melia Rewards Melia Rewards WorldHotels My Millennium
5th Shangri-La World of Hyatt Shangri-La Marriott Bonvoy


Table 5  - Best programs - Rankings based on spend required (at current elite status) for a  five  night reward stay.

5 night stay Member Elite tier 1 Elite tier 2 Elite tier 3
Best My Millennium My Millennium Hilton Honors Marriott Bonvoy
2nd Wyndham Rewards Wyndham Rewards My Millennium Shangri-La
3rd Marriott Bonvoy WorldHotels Wyndham Rewards Hilton Honors
4th Shangri-La Melia Rewards Marriott Bonvoy WorldHotels
5th Melia Rewards Jumeirah Sirius WorldHotels Melia Rewards


Self-employed with Frequent Stays

Self-employed folk have a keen eye on their spending and seek value for money.

The key perks they seek are typically complimentary breakfasts or lounge access and low redemption requirements for a given level of room and/or free upgrades or access to suites if travelling with others. Flexibility for late check-in and early check-out is also appreciated, as plans can change quickly for them.


Table 6  - Best programs - Rankings based on spend required (at current elite status) for  one  free night

Earn a single night Member Elite tier 1 Elite tier 2 Elite tier 3
Best My Millennium My Millennium My Millennium My Millennium
2nd Wyndham Rewards WorldHotels WorldHotels WorldHotels
3rd WorldHotels Melia Rewards SLH Invited IHG Rewards
4th Melia Rewards Shangri-La Accor ALL Accor ALL
5th Shangri-La Accor ALL IHG Rewards Hilton Honors


Table 7  - Best programs - Rankings based on spend required (at current elite status) for a  five  night reward stay.

Earn a single night Member Elite tier 1 Elite tier 2 Elite tier 3
Best My Millennium My Millennium My Millennium My Millennium
2nd Wyndham Rewards WorldHotels WorldHotels WorldHotels
3rd Marriott Bonvoy Melia Rewards Hilton Honors IHG Rewards
4th Shangri-La Hilton Honors Melia Rewards Hilton Honors
5th Melia Rewards Shangri-La IHG Rewards Melia Rewards

The Leisure or Infrequent Traveller

This person doesn't make as many stays throughout the year as the other categories, and so is less likely to reach the upper tiers in any programs. The key benefits they seek are (i) better perks at a member or perhaps Elite Tier 1 level (for a more comfortable stay) (ii) the ability to purchase points at a reasonable cost to use their points to lower the cost for vacation stays, or (iii) the flexibility to transfer the points to airline programs at a fair rate. For these folk, the first two columns in tables 6 and 7 are relevant.


Rankings based on spend required (at current elite status) for  one  free night = Millennium, WorldHotels*, Accor.

Rankings based on spend required (at current elite status) for  five  free nights = Millennium, Melia, WorldHotels, Hilton / IHG. (Bonvoy if elite tier status unlikely).

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Observations & Conclusions

Shangri-La Golden Circle  seems to be attractive at the upper tier. It has a strong presence in Asia, but less so elsewhere. It also has a relationship with Singapore Air’s Krisflyer where you may link accounts to earn points on both programs for a single activity. If your travel is concentrated in Asia and you fly with Singapore Airlines, this would be a good choice.

Melia Rewards  – this chain has a reasonable footprint, concentrated in Europe and South America, with some in Asia, but none in Oceania. You would need to be able to stay regularly in these locations to earn award nights, which may not suit everyone.

MyMillennium Rewards  - this chain has a reasonably small footprint, somewhat concentrated in Europe and South America, with some in Asia, but none in Oceania. You would need to be able to stay regularly in these locations to earn award nights, which may not suit everyone.

Marriott and Radisson –  both are large chains (Marriott the largest by far), offering many options to earn and redeem points. Marriott has a greater number of aspirational properties for “special” stays. It is also the only program with worthwhile conversion to frequent flyer programs (other than Melia).

Hyatt  is similar to Marriott and Radisson, but with a much smaller footprint, concentrated in the USA. It is overcoming this with strategic alliances (Small Luxury Hotels) and acquisitions (Thompson Hotels, Alila). Upper-end properties are very attractive, but earning points other than via stays is not as easy as with most other chains.

Hilton is the second largest chain (behind Marriott) and rewards its travellers with the best middle tier benefits, mostly due to the complimentary breakfast and bonus 5th night for elites (something the Marriott rewards program offers at all tier levels, but keeps complimentary breakfast available only to its highest tiers).

IHG Rewards  also is part of a large chain and has a wide range of properties ranging from budget to the upper-end, so something for everyone. They have regular “point breaks” promotions where participating hotels offer stays at heavily reduced amounts of points. These promotions often offer better value than other chains’ promotions.

WorldHotels  is a luxury chain that was acquired in early 2019 by  Best Western  which historically has been stronger in the budget to mid-market. Best Western has properties outside the major cities, while the other programs have their properties concentrated there (as well as resorts). This program may be a sleeper, in that once fully integrated (anticipated late 2019) the WorldHotels properties would make very attractive properties for which to redeem Best Western Rewards points.

SLH  (Small Luxury Hotels) is another luxury chain that is not owned by Hyatt, but recognises and provides the ability to earn and redeem World of Hyatt points. Very nice properties. There are some differences between benefits when booking through Hyatt (higher price but with points) compared to booking through SLH (lower price but does not earn points).


Separate articles detailing the above programs individually will follow.

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Best Hotel Loyalty Program by Traveller Type

Status gained from credit card spending

  1. My Millenium
  2. WorldHotels
  3. Hilton Honors

Self-employed with Frequent Stays

  1. My Millenium
  2. WorldHotels    
  3. Accor ALL Meliá Rewards (tie)

Business Traveller aka the "Road Warrior"

  1. WorldHotels
  2. MeliáRewards
  3. Hilton Honors  / Radisson Rewards

Leisure Traveller or Infrequent Stays

  1. My Millenium
  2. WorldHotels
  3. Accor ALL / MeliáRewards (tie)


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Next steps - signing up

So while there is no single best hotel rewards program, hopefully the above has helped you identify which one is best for you .

Any surprises?

Thinking of joining a program to get some of those free nights?

Have you spotted another hotel program that suits you more than your current one?

It is easy to join all of these programs and costs nothing.  Links to the various programs are included for convenience.


Accor Live Limitless Best Western Rewards Hilton Honors
I Prefer Marriott Bonvoy My Millennium
MeliáRewards WorldHotels Rewards World of Hyatt
IHG Rewards Golden Circle Radisson Rewards

Status-matching


If you are already a member of a program, you need not about having to start from scratch to attain the same status level in a new program. You can apply to the program of your choice for a "status-match", whereby you:

(i) tell them that you are a member of a program with "xyz-status" and wish to apply for a status-match

(ii) it often helps if you say why you want to join the new program (eg changed travel patterns)

(iii) they may ask for proof of your current program status (screen shot of an account) or how many stays you had last year. Provide this detail and if successful you are generally matched within days.

(iv) not all programs will match at all. Some programs only match to a few other programs (eg Hyatt, Shangri-La). Some will provide you with a "challenge" (complete x stays within a period to retain the tier). Best Western and WorldHotels will match to almost anyone, no questions asked.

The table below gives an indication of which programs' status tiers approximately match. It seems to vary a little and online submission of a form (where possible) seems to give better results than email for some reason.

Note that the status will only last for 12 months or so and then you must re-qualify. Some programs will only give you one opportunity to status-match. So choose your timing well for your request.


Good luck!

Let me know if you succeed and at which program tiers you went from and to.

For hints on how to extract the maximum value from your membership and tips on points planning and travel, subscribe to our free email service.  We don't like spam either and so we aim to only send you information that is relevant to you.    .

Table - likely status match tiers across programs

Program

Accor

WorldHotels match

Hilton Honors match

IHG status match

Tier 1

-

Gold

-


Tier 2

Silver

Platinum

Silver

Gold

Tier 3

Gold

Diamond

Gold

Platinum


Tier 4

Platinum

Diamond Select

Diamond

Spire

Tier 5

-

-

-

-

Program

Bonvoy status match

Radisson Rewards match

World of Hyatt

Golden Circle match

Tier 1

-

-

N/A*

Gold

Tier 2

Silver

Gold

-

-

Tier 3

Gold

Platinum

Discoverist

Jade

Tier 4

Platinum

Diamond

Explorist

Diamond

Tier 5

Titanium

-

Globalist

-

Tier 6

Ambassador

-

-

-


* World of Hyatt only status-matches with MGM Resorts' M Life.  It does offer challenges to AAdvantage Executive Platinum members.

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