Which Hotel Rewards Program Is Best?

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By now every traveler is familiar with loyalty programs sponsored by airlines, car rental companies and hotels. Piling up reward points that can be used to get free flights, car rentals and hotel rooms has probably become something of a national pastime among Americans who travel a lot.

To them, perhaps, it is no surprise that not all those reward points were created equal. Among infrequent or moderately frequent travelers, however, figuring out which program is best may be more trouble than it’s worth.

That’s where IdeaWorksCompany and Switchfly come to the rescue, at least as it concerns hotel rooms. The two firms have combined to conduct 1,305 queries for key hotel brands in six global frequent guest programs: Choice Hotels International Inc.’s (NYSE: CHH) Choice Privileges; Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.’s (NYSE: HLT) Hilton HHonors; Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC’s (NYSE: IHG) IHG Rewards; Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.’s (NYSE: HOT) Starwood SPG; Marriott International Inc.’s (NASDAQ: MAR) Marriott Rewards; and Wyndham Worldwide Corp.’s (NYSE: WYN) Wyndham Rewards.

According to the report, “For each query, the lowest reward price in points was recorded along with the corresponding room price in US dollars. The value provided by points was adjusted to consider the different rates of point accrual for the programs. The result provides an average ‘reward payback’ for each program … .” Here are the results:

  • Wyndham Rewards: 13.6% reward value for every dollar spent on hotel room rates
  • Marriott Rewards: 9% return
  • Choice Privileges: 8.5% return
  • Hilton HHonors: 7.7% return
  • IHG Rewards: 7.4% return
  • Starwood SPG: 5.6% return

These returns are averages. When IdeaWorksCompany and Switchfly searched through the data for the survey period (August 2016 through February 2017) they discovered some really outstanding deals and some not-so outstanding. Here are the highest and lowest reward paybacks for the period studied:

Source: IdeaWorksCompany

The researchers concluded:

Reward payback represents just one method of comparing hotel loyalty programs. But for those consumers intent on maximizing the return on a dollar, euro, or peso spent on overnight accommodations, the results can be very dramatic. Very few everyday choices in life yield paybacks that can range from 2 to 39 percent.

Details and more discussion are available at the IdeaWorksCompany website.