Hotel loyalty programs are intricately linked with airline frequent flyer programs. You can exchange hotel points into airline miles or you can earn miles from your hotel stays instead of hotel points. Miles rather than points are pragmatic for stays in an infrequently used hotel loyalty program as an incentive to open new hotel doors when a hotel in your primary program is not available.
Recent hotel promotions rival the mile-earning ability of an elite frequent flyer. Marriott Rewards offers 60,000 Delta miles for 13 stays. That is more miles than a SkyMiles Diamond Medallion earns for a LAX-SYD Delta Business Class flight. Over the past year Hyatt offered 25,000 American miles for five Hyatt stays, two-night stays earned 4,500 Virgin Flying Club miles and Mileage Plus 1K members earned 5,000 United miles per stay. Hilton offered triple miles, 1,500 miles per stay, with numerous airlines.
Here are 10 more doors for hotel miles.
Door #1: Earning Fixed miles vs. Variable miles
Fixed miles instead of points at some or all hotel brands is an option at Best Western, Carlson, Choice, Fairmont, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG (varies among airlines and brands) and Wyndham (some brands). Most hotel loyalty programs offer a fixed miles rate of 250 or 500 miles per hotel stay.
Fixed miles programs favor the low-spend traveler choosing miles over points. Spend $50 at Choice Hotels Rodeway Inn and earn a fixed rate 250 miles. Miles are more valuable than 250 Choice Privileges points–equivalent to just 100 miles.
Variable miles is the only earning style for Marriott and Starwood. Variable miles correlate directly to hotel spend. Marriott offers one to two miles per dollar depending on hotel brand. Starwood members earn two or three miles per dollar depending on elite status.
Hilton members can earn both miles and points for each hotel stay. Miles earners choose between fixed miles or variable miles. HHonors members should actively adjust earning preference to match the best miles choice with each hotel stay. HHonors Points & Miles is generally the better route for miles earners due to Hilton’s overall low points-to-miles exchange rate, with the exception of American Airlines.
IHG uses variable miles for most North American airline partners, but fixed miles is common for most international airlines. Your $100 stay at the Holiday Inn Express will earn 200 miles with United, Continental or US Airways, but the same stay earns 500 miles with Star Alliance member programs Aeroplan, Singapore Krisflyer or Miles & More.
Wyndham Rewards uses 500 fixed miles for Hawthorn Suites and Wyndham Hotels stays; however, variable miles apply for most Wyndham brands at two miles per $1.
Variable miles favor high-spend stays. Spend $2,000 for five nights in Hawaii and earn 4,000 points at the JW Marriott Ihilani or the Sheraton Waikiki rather than just 500 fixed miles for a $2,000 stay at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki.
But don’t settle for less! Sometimes the better path to miles is earning hotel points first and exchanging points-to-miles.
Door #2 — Minimum points needed to make a points-to-miles exchange
Earning points for hotel stays and then redeeming points for miles may earn far more airline miles than choosing miles directly at the hotel. Hotel points convert to airline miles at relatively good rates in most programs. An additional point to remember is hotel promotions typically exclude members who choose to earn miles from earning hotel point bonuses.
Points-to-Miles Exchange Rates (with Minimum Transfer and Equivalent Hotel Base Spend)
Base spend is the amount of hotel dollars needed to earn sufficient points for the minimum points-to-miles exchange transfer level. Elite status reduces these spend levels.
Carlson goldpoints plus: 8 points = 1 mile
(2,000 points minimum exchange = $100 to $133 base spend)
Choice Privileges: 2.5 points = 1 mile
(5,000 points minimum exchange = $500 to $1,000 base spend)
Hilton HHonors: 10 points = 1 mile
(10,000 points minimum exchange = $1,000 base spend)
Hyatt Gold Passport: 2.5 points = 1 mile
(5,000 points minimum exchange = $1,000 base spend)
IHG Priority Club: 5 points = 1 mile
(10,000 points minimum exchange = $1,000 to $2,000 base spend)
Marriott Rewards: 5 points = 1 mile (North American and UK airlines)
or 6.67 points = 1 mile (most international airlines)
(10,000 points minimum exchange = $1,000 to $2,000 base spend)
Starwood Preferred Guest: 1 point = 1 mile (most airline partners);
(2,500 points minimum exchange = $1,250 base spend)
(SPG Gold elite 1,500 points minimum, SPG Platinum elite no minimum transfer).
Wyndham Rewards: 2.5 points = 1 mile
(8,000 points minimum exchange = $800 base spend)
Door # 3: Carlson goldpoints plus requires lowest hotel spend for minimum miles transfer.
Carlson goldpoints plus has the lowest spend requirement to earn sufficient points for a miles transfer. A base earning rate of 20 points per US$1 or 1[euro] for Radisson and Park Plaza Hotels takes $100 in hotel spend for nonelite members to earn 2,000 points to transfer into 250 miles. Country Inn & Suites/Park Inn stays earn 250 miles for $133 in hotel spend at 15 points per dollar. Keep in mind goldpoints plus fixed rate is 500 miles for Radisson stays and 250 miles at Country Inn. Estimate your total spend and miles in advance, then choose points or miles for your stay to maximize miles.
Door #4: Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum elites have no minimum transfer requirement for miles
The ability to transfer the exact number of points needed for a flight award has a clear advantage. Assume you need 1,200 SkyMiles. Wyndham Rewards minimum exchange is 3,200 miles. Most programs require a minimum points transfer of 2,000 miles. You do not want 800 miles sitting orphaned in a frequent flyer account after you cash out miles for tickets.
Door # 5: Optimal Points-to-Miles Exchange Rates
Best Western, Choice, Hilton, IHG and Wyndham have static points-to-miles exchange rates. This means the exchange rate is the same whether converting 10,000 or 100,000 points into miles.
The loyalty programs for Carlson, Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood offer better exchange rates when transferring miles at an optimal level of points.
Carlson goldpoints plus optimal exchange rate is 100,000 points ($5,000 in base spend). A member earns 18,000 miles; 30 percent more miles compared to 12,500 miles using 2,000 point transfers.
Hyatt Gold Passport adds 25 percent more miles when exchanging 50,000 points for 25,000 miles and SPG adds 25 percent more miles for 20,000 point transfers, also 25,000 miles for most airline partners. Coincidentally, this equates to $10,000 in base hotel spend for both programs. Promotion and elite bonus points significantly reduce this hotel spend estimate.
Marriott Rewards has the best overall hotel loyalty program exchange rate at 125,000 points for 50,000 miles with most North American airlines ($12,500 to $25,000 base spend). Most international airlines earn 35,000 miles for 125,000 Marriott points. Carlson goldpoints plus offers a better exchange rate for some international airlines. Hyatt and Starwood are comparable programs to Marriott for miles with several international airlines.
Door # 6: SPG Airline Direct Deposit Adds Miles for Singapore, Continental and United flyers
By hotel spend the SPG 1:1 exchange actually ranks second tier for points-to-miles exchange rates behind Marriott, Wyndham and Carlson. Two points for one mile rates for Continental, Singapore and United miles make SPG a third-tier exchange program for these airlines.
SPG Airline Direct Deposit earns more miles from Starwood stays for Continental, Singapore and United flyers. SPG points earned automatically convert to miles at 1:1 rate. Airline Direct Deposit allows 20,000 points to convert into 20,000 miles with Continental, Singapore and United.
Door # 7: Southwest Airlines
Stays at all Best Western, Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham brand hotels earn 0.5 Southwest credits. Southwest free roundtrip tickets cost 16 credits. Mix and match hotel stays across hotel programs with Southwest credits rather than taking 100 miles for a Hampton Inn or Fairfield Inn.
Choice Privileges is second only to Marriott Rewards for highest Southwest points-to-miles rates.
Southwest Airlines is not a Carlson or Starwood Hotels partner.
Door # 8: Hilton brands and Wyndham Hotels hit critical mass with bmi
Hilton brand hotel stays and bmi is hotel loyalty on steroids. Earn 1,000 miles per night, up to three nights for a maximum 3,000 miles per stay, even at Hampton Inn.
Wyndham Hotels, the flagship brand of Wyndham Rewards, earn 1,000 bmi miles per night, up to 5,000 miles per stay. Other Wyndham Rewards brands earn 500 or 1,000 miles per stay.
Door # 9: Miles + Hotel Package Awards
Marriott Rewards Hotel + Air package includes seven hotel nights and 35,000 to 120,000 airline miles. Any hotel category is available and the cost ranges from 200,000 to 360,000 points. Big account balance members find the Marriott Hotel + Air package one of the best award values available from a hotel loyalty program.
Marriott Rewards Hotel + Air package buys 100,000 United miles plus seven nights in a category 5 hotel like the JW Marriott Resort Guanacaste, Costa Rica for 250,000 points. The normal points-to-miles exchange is 250,000 points for 100,000 United miles. The value of your points increases by $2,000+ with Hotel +Air packages.
Starwood Preferred Guest Nights and Flights package offers 50,000 airline miles and five nights in a category 3 hotel for 60,000 points (8,000 points discount) or category 4 hotel for 70,000 points (10,000 points discount). Continental, Singapore and United miles are 2:1 airlines and unavailable through this package.
SPG restricts the package to just two mid-level hotel categories. As with Marriott’s package, there is no requirement to redeem your airline miles in conjunction with the hotel stay. Miles are deposited directly into your frequent flyer account.
Door # 10: Which program is best for hotel miles?
Ultimately, the best hotel program for earning miles depends on your travel and spend pattern and preferred airline partners. Hotel program credit cards, elite status, promotions, the ratio of “short hotel stays to long stays” and “low spend to high spend” and the specific hotel brand are all variables affecting your miles earning potential.
Top tier hotel loyalty programs are Marriott Rewards, Carlson goldpoints plus and Wyndham Rewards, based on a simple comparison of hotel base spend and elite points and points-to-miles exchange rates. Each program has a distinct advantage. Wyndham has the highest points-to-miles exchange rate for a general member. Marriott and Carlson surpass Wyndham for best exchange rate for elite members making large points-to-miles transfers. Carlson requires the least amount of spend to earn the minimum points for a miles transfer, generally one night or two.
Best Hotel Programs for Miles
1. Marriott Rewards
2. Carlson goldpoints plus; Choice
Privileges (#2 Southwest only)
3. Wyndham Rewards
4. Hyatt Gold Passport, Starwood
5. IHG Priority Club Rewards, Hilton HHonors, Best Western Rewards, Choice Privileges