But you still must ask yourself: Do you really need a hotel rewards card?
Give credit to these loyalty programs.
On Tuesday, travel site ThePointsGuy.com named the top 10 hotel loyalty programs, and the Starwood Preferred Guest program came in at No. 1. Wyndham Rewards, World of Hyatt, Hilton Honors, and Le Club AccordHotels rounded out the remaining top five spots on the list.
Starwood won because of its “high percentage of luxury properties, rewarding elite status program and vast geographic spread,” according to a statement released with the data. Luxury properties include Starwood-owned brands as the Luxury Collection and St. Regis Hotels, and you can stay at, say, a Four Points by Sheraton property but, in theory, use your points toward at St. Regis stay. As far as elite status, repeat clientele who earn this classification within a hotel’s loyalty program enjoy certain perks, like free in-room amenities, late checkout, room upgrades when available, and more.
Overall, the biggest factor in determining these rankings was the ease and value of earning and redeeming points, which accounted for 40% of the weight in ranking these programs. Other factors included the number of hotels and rooms available (10% of the weight in the rankings), perks (10%), quality of the elite status offerings for qualifying members (10%), percentage of luxury properties that comprise a brand’s portfolio (7%), and other elements, such as the availability of co-branded credit cards (5%). Other perks that travelers who are members of these loyalty programs might get include late check-out, free breakfast with elite status, or complementary in-room WiFi.
The full list of The Points Guy’s best hotel loyalty rewards programs is as follows:
- Starwood Preferred Guest
- Wyndham Rewards
- World of Hyatt
- Hilton Honors
- Le Club AccorHotels
- Marriott Rewards
- IHG Rewards
- Best Western Rewards
- Choice Privileges
- Club Carlson
Plus, most hotel loyalty programs are free to sign up for, so there’s little downside to registering. That’s one reason Nick Ewan, an analyst at ThePointsGuy.com who collaborated with Bankrate to compile these findings, says that it’s simply “throwing away free money” to not participate in them — assuming you travel to those hotels fairly frequently.
However, while the savings on hotel loyalty programs can really add up, loyalty points are generally only awarded to travelers who book directly with the hotel company itself, says Nick Ewan, an analyst at ThePointsGuy.com who collaborated with Bankrate to compile these findings. In other words, want those Marriott points? Better book right with Marriott — not through Orbitz, Priceline, or any other third-party booking engine. (He notes that the hotels still often offer competitive rates for travelers who are part of their loyalty programs anyway, negating the need to search some of these booking aggregators for cheap deals).
Another issue to consider about hotel loyalty programs: when they expire. Ewan also says you shouldn’t sit on your points too long, as “many of these programs have expiration dates.” He adds: “I encourage every [traveler] to investigate those individual policies. The last thing you want to do is have those points expire,” though sometimes it’s in your favor to compile as many points as you can to score an “aspirational vacation” at an expensive dream property.
Many hotels also want you to sign up for their hotel-branded credit card, which may offer more incentives than the associated loyalty program — you might be able to transfer your hotel points to airline miles to snag a free flight, for instance.
But, “before you consider any credit card, you always want to first look at the interest rate… If you’re carrying debt month to month, credit card interest rates are so expensive,” so you might want to abstain from registering for the time-being,” says Kimberly Palmer, credit card expert for NerdWallet.
That said, Palmer said the Starwood Preferred Guest Card with American Express is a strong option. “It has good redemption rates, there’s a ton of value that you’re getting, [but] it does have an annual fee.” Plus, it comes with no foreign transaction fee — so you won’t get punished with 3% rates, or the like, if you swipe your card overseas.
Other cards Palmer likes include the Marriott Rewards Premier Card, or more flexible cards that reward many kinds of travel like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Citi Double Cash Card. Both offer cash back incentives and other perks for consumers.
“The biggest takeaway is that you want to make sure that you’re using a credit card that give you the best awards for what you spend,” Palmer concluded. “Otherwise you might be better off with a more general credit card.”
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