Gary Leff of View from the Wing compared hotel loyalty programs for InsideFlyer in the July 2014 issue. He ranked six hotel loyalty programs based on a traveler type who stays in hotels frequently enough to earn high elite status and wants to stay in the best rooms and use their points for best value properties on vacations. Hyatt, Starwood and InterContinental Royal Ambassador top his list of best hotel loyalty programs, with Hilton, Marriott or IHG as large chain backup loyalty programs.
As a counterpoint, this article looks at hotel loyalty programs for some other major chains. This is the perspective of a traveler who does not have employer-paid travel and does not spend $40,000 on any credit card. The ideal travel budget for lodging is less than $100 per night. Earning points for free hotel stay awards is the main objective of hotel loyalty programs for this traveler. There are many hotels in midscale and economy hotel brands where free breakfast and WiFi are standard benefits, regardless of elite status.
Country Inns & Suites offer complimentary breakfast at nearly 500 upper-midscale hotels in the U.S. Radisson, Radisson Blu and Park Inn offer another 700 hotels around the globe. Club Carlson Visa card members receive automatic Gold elite status. They also receive one free night on award stays worldwide of two nights or more. There are 2-for-1 and 4-for-2 free night rates available to Gold elites at hotels in Europe, Middle East and Africa. Club Carlson is one of the fastest earning hotel programs for free nights relative to hotel spend.
IHG Rewards Club
InterContinental Hotels Group offers extensive locations with nearly 5,000 hotels worldwide and free WiFi available to IHG Rewards Club members, whether a hotel guest or not. Over 2,200 Holiday Inn Express hotels offer complimentary breakfast. PointBreaks award nights at 5,000 points are one of the best bargains in hotel programs. Points and Cash awards allow purchase of 10,000 points for $70. Multiple bonus points promotions may be combined, allowing members to sometimes earn more than 5,000 points on a $100 paid stay. The downside of IHG Rewards Club is that standard award nights cost 30,000 to 50,000 points per night in many urban and resort areas.
Choice Hotels, with over 6,000 hotels in eleven brands, is the second largest global chain by number of hotels. Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Mainstay Suites and EconoLodge offer free breakfast at over 4,000 hotels. Choice Privileges’ recurring promotion for 8,000 points after two stays allows savvy members to earn around 50 points per $1 in spend. One of the gems of Choice Privileges is discount seasonal awards in major European cities when rates at select hotels drop to 8,000 and 10,000 points per night.
Best Western Rewards
Best Western has over 4,000 hotels worldwide with about half outside the U.S. Many hotels offer complimentary breakfast. The proximity of Best Western hotels to U.S. National Parks surpasses any other hotel chain. All Best Western hotels earn 10 points per dollar. Most hotels offer award nights for 20,000 points per night or less. The Best Western summer 2014 promotion is one free night voucher at any Best Western hotel in North America after three stays. The free night voucher is worth 36,000 points at some hotels.
Wyndham Worldwide is the world’s largest hotel chain by number of hotels with over 7,500 hotels in 12 major hotel brands. More than 5,000 hotels across the U.S. are Wyndham brand economy hotels including Days Inn, Microtel Inn, Super 8 and Travelodge, with average rates under $65 per night in 2014. Ramada, Baymont Suites, Wingate and Hawthorn Suites are midscale hotels with $60 to $85 average rates per night. Wyndham Rewards members earn 10 points per dollar at all brands, except five points per dollar at Hawthorn Suites. In addition to regular points earned, Wyndham Rewards offers 6,000 to 20,000 bonus points for members who stay 20 nights in a calendar year. The bonus amount is based on average hotel spend. Wyndham Hotels offer several upscale resort locations for award travel. Ramada Worldwide has hotels for international travelers in 59 countries outside the U.S., including more than 100 hotels in Europe.
What is your traveler perspective?
There is no denying that many loyalty program members are looking for a vacation hotel to luxuriate in urban Paris or isolated Maldives. Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood await you.
An upcoming trip takes me to one of the world’s most expensive countries – Norway. There are no Starwood, Marriott, IHG, Hyatt or Hilton brand hotels in Norway. Hotel loyalty points with Club Carlson, Choice Privileges and Best Western provide a selection of over 100 hotels in Norway for award nights using hotel points. Hotel loyalty programs meet the needs for many types of travel and travelers.