In other sections I covered flexibile points programs and airline mileage programs and now it is time to talk hotel points. Everyone talks about airline miles, but less press is given to hotel points. Maybe that’s because it’s often easier to find good hotel bargains, or maybe it’s because there are so many good alternatives to hotels: camping, B&Bs, rentals, etc. Whatever the reason, I can tell you that I love hotel point programs. When you want to stay in an expensive city: New York, London, Paris, etc., nothing beats free nights in the heart of the city! And, unlike most bargain hotel options (Priceline, Hotwire, etc.) stays booked with points are almost always fully refundable — that is, you can cancel for free and get all of your points back.
Hotel points can be earned primarily via paid stays at hotels, credit cards, and transfers from flexible points programs. The value of points varies widely from one hotel chain to another. For example, Hilton charges 95,000 points per night for their top properties, but Hyatt charges only 30,000 points per night for theirs. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Hyatt program is better, though. Hilton points are easier to earn, so 95,000 points for a top tier hotel could arguably be a bargain. The relative value of points is an important factor, though, when transferring points from other programs. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points, for example, can be transferred 1 to 1 to Hyatt, Marriott / Ritz, or IHG Rewards Club. In most cases, transfers to Hyatt are a much better deal since the relative value of their points is much higher than the other programs.
What are points worth?
It is very difficult to estimate the value you will get when redeeming hotel points. If you use 30,000 points to stay in a $1000 per night Hyatt in Paris, for example, you arguably get 3.3 cents value from each point. If you use the same number of points to stay in a $300 room in Chicago, though, you get only 1 cent value from each point. Instead of estimating the value of each point, the chart below shows the points needed for free nights in each major hotel chain. It also shows the amount of money one would have to spend within each hotel chain in order to earn free nights. Note that using a hotel branded credit card and/or obtaining elite status with a hotel will increase your point earning substantially beyond the numbers shown in the chart.
|Points earned per $ for stays||Points needed for free night,
|* Points needed for free night, highest tier||$ spent at hotel to earn free night, lowest
|$ spent at hotel to earn free night, highest tier|
|Wyndham||10 (or 1,000 points.)||15,000||15,000||$1,500 (or 15 stays)||$1,500 (or 15 stays)|
*Some brands earn less points per dollar spent.
There are some interesting findings in the above chart. For example, you can see that you would only have to spend $450 at Club Carlson or $333 at Hilton to earn a free night in their lowest tier hotels.This is a bargain compared to Starwood in which you would need to spend $1,500 to earn a low tier free night! A similar pattern is seen at the high end. You would have to spend $3,500 at Club Carlson to earn a top tier free night, whereas you would have to spend $17,500 at Starwood! This does not mean I dislike the Starwood program – far from it. If you can earn points in other ways (e.g. credit card sign-ups, and credit card spend) you will usually find that Starwood points go further than points from other programs, possibly because they are so hard to get. You can see in the chart that Starwood and Hyatt have lower point requirements for high end hotels than most other chains. This leads to an interesting conclusion: with all else being equal, chains like Hilton and Club Carlson are great options for earning points when spending money for hotel nights, whereas chains like Starwood and Hyatt are great options for obtaining points through credit cards and promotions.
Summary of Top hotel programs
- Brands: Radisson, Radisson Blu, Park Plaza, Park Inn, Country Inns & Suites, Quorvus Collection
- Relative value of points: Low
- Points earned through stays: Very High
- Best uses for points: Free nights.
- Notes: The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa card automatically gives cardholders Gold status.
- Brands: Conrad, Waldorf Astroia, Hilton, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, etc.
- Relative value of points: Low
- Points earned through stays: High
- Best uses for points: Cash and points (Hilton calls it “Points and money”) options make your points go further; Hilton elite members qualify for 5th day free awards.
- Notes: Cash and points awards are hard to find. Award stays count towards elite status.
Review: I find Hilton hotels to be mostly high quality across all levels. Hilton is the easiest program in which to get meaningful elite status. They frequently run promotions that make it easy to get to Gold status which gives you room upgrades, free breakfast, free internet, and more. You can also get Gold status from two different co-branded credit cards. Unfortunately, Hilton charges astronomically high rates for free nights at high end hotels.
- Brands: Hyatt, Andaz, Park Hyatt, Hyatt Place, etc.
- Relative value of points: High
- Points earned through stays: Low
- Best uses for points: Free nights; free suite nights, cash and points for Categories 2 through 6.
- Notes: One of the few chains to allow points to be used for suites (Hilton also allows it, but charges an exorbitant number of points). Award stays do not count towards elite status.
Review: Hyatt hotels tend to be high quality, so using points for stays can be a bargain. Compared to the other chains Hyatt has far fewer properties, so opportunities to use points may be limited.
- Brands: Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Renaissance, Marriott, Courtyard, Springhill Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, etc.
- Relative value of points: Medium
- Relative ease of earning points: Medium
- Best uses for points: Fifth night free awards (See: Maximizing Marriott’s 5th Night Free on Longer Stays), PointSavers (when available)
- Notes: As of 11/1/2015, award stays count towards elite status. High level elite status is hard to obtain and has inconsistent value.
Review: Of all the chains, I find Marriott hotels to be the most consistent in delivering good quality experiences from their lowest-end brands to their highest. With respect to the value of their points and point-earning potential, Marriott is in the middle of the pack.
- Brands: InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, StayBridge Suites, and Candlewood Suites
- Relative value of points: Low
- Best uses for points: Special PointBreaks awards offer hotel nights for only 5,000 points per night. Participating hotels change regularly.
- Notes: Get near top level Platinum elite status simply by getting the Chase IHG Rewards Club card.
Review: IHG Rewards Club hotels are all over the map in terms of quality. Their top of the line Intercontinental hotels are fantastic. Points earned on stays can be amazing if you sign up for all available IHG club promotions prior to your stay, but only sign-up for promotions you are targeted for or your account may be shut down.
- Brands: Sheraton, Aloft, Westin, W Hotels, St Regis, etc.
- Relative value of points: Very high
- Best uses for points: Cash and points awards make your points go much further; 5th night free awards; Nights & Flights (redeem 70K SPG points for 5 hotel nights + 50K airline miles); transfer to miles (20K SPG points becomes 25K airline miles! See: Transfer Partner Master List)
- Notes: Very easy to redeem SPG points for high value awards. Cash and points, when available, can be a great way to stretch your points further. This is also the only hotel points program in which transfers to airline miles can be a bargain. Award stays count towards elite status.
Review: I love the consistent high quality of Starwood’s higher end hotels, but I find their Sheraton brand to be hit or miss. SPG’s cash and points program, when available, can be a huge boon for stretching points further.
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