Although frequent flyer point programs usually get more attention, hotel loyalty program benefits are an important element of hotel choice among lots of travelers. And if you’re not sure which program is “best,” the folks at WalletHub have calculated ratings for all the major hotel chain programs.
In its ratings, WalletHub assigned the most ranking weight to the value of hotel rewards as a percentage of your spending. WalletHub also calculated ratings for three levels of travelers: heavy, moderate, and light. I suspect that most SmarterTravel readers probably fall into either the heavy or moderate groups. Scores are out of a maximum 100 points.
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The Overall Best Hotel Reward Programs
Here are the overall winners, and how they were graded on a scale of one to 100 for heavy and moderate travelers:
Wyndham Rewards: 74 for heavy travelers, 73 for moderate travelers
Best Western Rewards: 72 heavy travelers, 69 moderate travelers
Radisson Rewards: 72 heavy travelers, 67 moderate travelers
Marriott Rewards: 65 heavy travelers, 61 moderate travelers
Choice Privileges: 62 heavy travelers, 59 moderate travelers
World of Hyatt: 62 heavy travelers, 56 moderate travelers
Hilton Honors: 61 heavy travelers, 56 moderate travelers
La Quinta Returns: 57 heavy travelers, 57 moderate travelers
Drury Gold Key Club: 54 heavy travelers, 55 moderate travelers
IHG Rewards Club: 45 heavy travelers, 43 moderate travelers
The Best Hotel Rewards Programs for Your Dollar
The best hotel rewards winners ranked by reward value (return per $100 spent) are:
Wyndham Rewards: $14 for heavy travelers, $14 for moderate travelers
Radisson Rewards: $14 heavy travelers, $13 moderate travelers
La Quinta Returns: $14 heavy travelers, $14 moderate travelers
Drury Gold Key Club: $12 heavy travelers, $12 moderate travelers
Marriott Rewards: $12 heavy travelers, $11 moderate travelers
Choice Privileges: $11 heavy travelers, $10 moderate travelers
Best Western Rewards: $11 heavy travelers, $10 moderate travelers
World of Hyatt: $11 heavy travelers, $10 moderate travelers
Hilton Honors: $11 heavy travelers, $9 moderate travelers
IHG Rewards Club: $7 heavy travelers, $7 moderate travelers
Both the relative positioning and the numerical scores for all 10 chains are nearly the same for all levels of traveler, a conclusion that also extends to light travelers, with only a few minor variations.
Top-scoring Wyndham and Best Western manage a substantial number of brands in the upper midscale, midscale, and budget categories, where reward formulas tend to be simpler. Wyndham is unique in that the points required for an award room are the same for all participating hotels. Chains that include upscale brands generally have more complex programs that return somewhat less than at their simpler competitors.
Through most of the rankings, chain-to-chain differences are fairly small; probably not enough to drive hotel choice as much as individual hotel locations, prices, and features do. But what stands out starkly is the big gap between IHG and the other big upscale chains. There are no indications about whether or when IHG might try to close this gap.
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Best Hotel Reward Programs Rating Factors
WalletHub employed a highly detailed rating system, including multiple individual factors in five broad categories: geographic coverage, value of rewards, earning limitations, redemption options, and individual features and policies. WalletHub’s website features a custom calculator allows you to enter your own best hotel reward program-rating factors.
None of the rated loyalty programs costs anything to join, so it makes sense for just about any travelers to join the programs of any hotel chains at which they’re likely to stay. These days, many chains feature unadvertised discounts to loyalty members—although they’re often pretty minor discounts—and most chains limit free W-iFi to guests who book through the chain’s website or individual hotel. But loyalty-program bookings aren’t always the cheapest: Despite rigorous denials from the chains, third party sites sometimes have lower prices.
Hey, nobody promised you this would be simple, right?
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.