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Choosing to be loyal to one or more hotel chains involves as much art as science. The right choice for any reader is also heavily dependent on individual travel patterns, preferences, budget, etc. But I thought I would share my thoughts about the criteria that one might choose to consider when deciding whether to be loyal to one or more hotel chains. Today’s post will deal with general criteria, whilst a future post will look at the benefits for more frequent hotel guests interested in obtaining elite status.
Number of Hotels in Portfolio
It is hard to be loyal to a hotel chain when there are only a few hundred properties to choose from. But, on the other hand, very few travellers will actually require 30+ same-chain hotels in a major city, with nothing to choose from in secondary cities. But that said, the best proxy we have for “hotels available where you need them” is the total number of worldwide properties. (data sourced from Wikipedia)
- Marriott Rewards – 6,700+ hotels
- IHG Rewards Club – 5,400+ hotels
- Hilton Honors – 5,400+ hotels
- Le Club Accor – 4,300+ hotels
- Radisson Rewards – 1,100+ hotels
- World of Hyatt – 700+ hotels
Of course… if “hotel where I need it” is your main consideration, you probably don’t care about the hotel brand / chain and just act as a free agent, booking whatever hotel (or Airbnb) is most suitable for each situation.
I cannot possibly judge which hotel chain properties charge rates appropriate for the budget of every reader. But I can certainly rank the major hotel chains by their generosity of paying rebates to those informed consumers who book via a cashback website such as Topcashback or Quidco. If your company’s travel policy allows you to book your own hotel rooms within a certain budget, you probably love high-cashback hotel chains!
- IHG Rewards Club – usually a minimum of 8%, with special promotions taking the top rebate to as high as 15+%
- Le Club Accor – 2% for budget brands, with special promotions reaching 15% for the full-service brands
- Marriott Rewards – usually found in the 5-8% range
- Radisson Rewards – usually found in the 5-7% range
- Hilton Honors – 1% for Honors members. Sometimes more via avios.com. Always a struggle to get paid.
- World of Hyatt – 0%
Value of Base Points Earned
When you book a hotel chain stay directly (instead of via an online travel agency), you will earn points from your hotel stay. Here is my evaluation of what those points are roughly worth, without considering any elite status bonuses.
- World of Hyatt – 5 points per US dollar spent –> approximately an 8.5% rebate
- Marriott Rewards – 10 points per US dollar spent –> approximately an 8% rebate
- Radisson Rewards – 20 points per US dollar spent –> approximately an 8% rebate
- IHG Rewards Club – 10 points per US dollar spent –> approximately a 5% rebate
- Hilton Honors – 10 points per US dollar spent –> approximately a 5% rebate
- Le Club Accor – 2.5 points per euro spent –> 5% rebate
Some of these hotel chains offer far fewer points when booking budget or low-service hotel brands, so you need to be wary of the likes of Staybridge Suites, Ibis, etc.
It’s worth keeping in mind that points (and cashback) are only paid on the pre-tax room rate and any foreign currencies are often converted to US dollars at an atrocious FX rate. So those % rebates should be adjusted downwards slightly.
Many fans of Hilton, IHG, etc. will respond to criticism of the low base point rebate by muttering something along the lines of “but their promotions are good…” This is the most subjective element of this post, but here is how I would rank the promotions typically offered by the major hotel chains.
- IHG Rewards Club – has typically been the most lucrative hotel chain with its individually-targetted Accelerate promotions. A recent shift to “double points” (for many) is concerning, as this simply results in an additional, underwhelming 5% rebate.
- Hilton Honors – few, if any gaps, between promotions. Double/triple points is attractive to big spenders (5-10% added rebate). Per stay bonuses (the current 2,000 points per stay, last year’s 2,500 Lufthansa miles, etc.) can provide amazing rebates on cheap one-night stays (often including award stays).
- World of Hyatt – unreliable… usually only a few months per year are covered by a promotion. However, the “stay X nights and receive Y points” can be incredibly lucrative, as award stays are also eligible.
- Marriott Rewards – Megabonus has long been underwhelming (low category award nights). More recent efforts involve an underwhelming 2,000 points (i.e. £12-13) for a 2-night minimum stay
- Le Club Accor – either I just haven’t noticed or Accor has given up on chain-wide promotions
- Radisson Rewards – ditto…
Responsible Customer-Friendly Award Charts
It’s all well and good to earn a nice chunk of hotel points from hotel stays and promotions, but if the hotel chain is directly or stealthily devaluing its award chart faster than Venezuela, those points are less valuable to collect.
- Marriott Rewards. By retaining the equivalent of SPG’s 1:1 airline mile conversion policy, Marriott points continue to retain substantial value as airline miles in dozens of different programmes. The addition of peak / off-peak pricing will probably be seen as a devaluation, and Marriott also has prior experience at stealthily moving hotels into higher award categories.
- World of Hyatt. Hyatt hasn’t changed their award chart in years, even when revamping the entire programme in 2017.
- Le Club Accor. Although not lucrative, 2,000 points continues to equal a 40 euro hotel voucher.
- Radisson Rewards. Appears to have stabilised with most decent hotels costing 70,000 points per night.
- IHG Rewards Club. No published award charts. New levels added fairly consistently. (current maximum 70K per night) IHG’s policy on award night availability is also poor, meaning many members are unable to actually spend their points when desired.
- Hilton Honors. No published award charts. Essentially Hilton Honors offers “dynamic pricing” on award nights, which means it is difficult to even know how many points one needs to accumulate for a holiday at any specific Hilton property.
Best Rate Guarantee Policies
Most people don’t have the time or the inclination to attempt Best Rate Guarantee claims. But I am one of those rare individuals and here is how I’d rank the major chains.
- Marriott Rewards – not quite as good as the old Starwood Preferred Guest, but still the easiest chain for receiving approvals
- Hilton Honors – occasionally possible to have a claim approved, over the phone or via the claim form
- World of Hyatt – only likely to be approved if the lower rate is found on Hotels.com or Booking.com. A $50 voucher is either great value (one night stays) or irrelevant (long, expensive stays).
- IHG Rewards Club – still nearly impossible to have claims approved, despite changes lowering the cost to IHG and its hotels
What matters to you might not matter to somebody else. But as you can see, it is hard to reach a scientific, albeit subjective, conclusion about the “best” hotel chain to be loyal to… and that is before considering elite status qualification and benefits, something I’ll cover in a future post.
What do you think about my rankings? What do you look for in a hotel chain?