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Do you find yourself staying with the same hotel brand as often as before? Hotel loyalty has its perks like free room upgrades and earning more bonus points on stays than standard members. But, while most hotels are expanding their global footprint, your brand loyalty may not be as valuable as before.
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Hotel Loyalty Programs Not As Valuable
Hotel loyalty programs not being important is a bold statement to make. However, ongoing changes to the travel industry make it easier for travelers to access perks that were once reserved for the most loyal guests. Another leading reason is that hotel points don’t have the same value as before.
Let’s take a closer look at why staying with one loyalty program isn’t as valuable as before.
Automatic Hotel Loyalty Status
In the past, you needed to stay 40 nights, for example, to achieve a mid-tier or upper-tier loyalty status. This is still the case for most programs. However, more travel credit cards offer elevated hotel loyalty status.
Instead of spending hundreds of dollars in hotel reservations over several months to reach a tier, you can pay a small annual fee and enjoy the same status for the entire year.
The best hotel credit cards offer a free anniversary night that can be worth more than the annual fee. Some travelers only keep a hotel credit card for the anniversary night, upgraded loyalty status, and preventing their existing points balance from expiring.
These travel credit cards offer an instant loyalty status bump (enrollment required):
- Hilton Honors Card from American Express (Hilton Honors Silver status)
- The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (Hilton Honors Gold status)
- IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card (IHG Platinum Elite status)
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card (Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status)
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card (Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status)
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite)
- The World of Hyatt Credit Card: (World of Hyatt Discoverist status)
Note that many of the cards listed above also have some of the best limited-time credit card offers available. The annual fees for these cards range from $0 for the first year to up to $550 per year. It’s easy to enjoy the benefits of being a “Gold” or “Platinum” member even if you only stay at that hotel brand one or two nights a year.
Many times, those reward nights and other perks will be more valuable than the annual fee.
Award Nights Cost More
We roll our eyes when we hear our older relatives talk about how a pack of bubble gum or their first car only cost them a small amount versus today’s prices. Well, inflation also affects airline miles and hotel points.
Many award travelers dread the perennial award night price changes that hotel loyalty programs do. It’s common for hotels to move certain hotels into a more expensive category. To be fair, several properties downgrade into a lower category. But in recent years, the prevailing trend is for hotel nights to cost more.
If you typically stay at the same hotel when you visit a repeat destination, you may have experienced these price increases yourself. The award rate may have been 20,000 per night a few years ago may now cost 30,000 points, for example.
Another trend is having off-peak and peak season pricing instead of one standard rate for all 365 days of the year. The most recent loyalty program to adopt this policy is the World of Hyatt. Marriott Bonvoy uses a similar pricing tool.
Also, hotel points tend to have a redemption value of less than one cent each. The average credit card point is worth 1 cent or more. It can be easier to save your points for award flights or cash statement credits to get more value.
Credit Card Point Transfers
Select travel credit cards from American Express, Chase, and Capital One let you transfer rewards points directly to partner airlines and hotels. While credit card points are usually most valuable for award flights, you may appreciate booking hotel nights with points.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points can transfer at a 1:1 ratio to these hotel loyalty programs:
- IHG Rewards Club
- Marriott Bonvoy
- World of Hyatt
Even if you have basic hotel loyalty status, these point transfers make it easy to book award nights.
Related: Best Chase Credit Cards
Loyalty Programs Merge
Hotel loyalty has also been tested with recent program mergers. IHG recently absorbed Kimpton Hotels.
The highest-profile merger in the hotel space has been Marriott Rewards acquiring Starwood Preferred Guest and creating the Marriott Bonovy loyalty program that offers both Chase and Amex Marriott Bonvoy Credit Cards.
Starwood Preferred Guest was a perennial favorite known for its low award night prices. Now, it can feel like you’re paying “Marriott prices,” which is an initial sticker shock due to different point valuations. For example, 1 Starpoint converted into 3 Bonvoy points.
More Loyalty Tiers
Some hotel loyalty programs have added additional membership tiers. One example is IHG Reward Club and the Spire Elite tier that requires 75 qualifying nights or earn 75,000 points to reach this status. Previously, Platinum Elite was IHG’s highest tier, only requiring 40 qualifying nights or 40,000 points.
Another thing to keep in mind is if you will use the exclusive benefits that come with higher loyalty tiers. You are more likely to get complimentary room upgrades at international locations where vacancy rates are higher than in the United States. Also, can you use the premium internet, reservation guarantee, or late checkout benefits?
Are the additional perks worth the extra effort? That answer depends on your travel habits.
Vacation Homes and Boutique Hotels Are Popular
Booking sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and even Hotels.com makes it easier to find vacation homes and boutique hotels. For a competitive nightly rate, these chain hotel alternatives can give you better amenities and privacy.
While there are plenty of high-quality hotels with comfy beds and free breakfast, travelers don’t always want a cookie-cutter hotel experience simply to earn hotel points or stay with a familiar brand.
The experience at each hotel brand can also feel interchangeable. Sure, there are some notable differences between staying at a Hampton Inn and a Holiday Inn Express. But to a first-time guest, they are both a mid-tier brand offering free breakfast, on-site workout rooms, and similar sleeping accommodations.
Summary of Hotel Loyalty Programs Importance
Hotel loyalty can still be worth pursuing if you insist on staying with a specific brand, or you can benefit from the upscale membership benefits. However, more travelers like the flexibility of staying at the best property regardless of the hotel loyalty portfolio. The travel experience can be more valuable than loyalty awards.
Which hotel loyalty program is best?
The best hotel loyalty program can depend on where you travel and the type of property you prefer. As one of the largest hotel portfolios in the world, Marriott Bonvoy has plenty of places to earn points and redeem points. You also have lots of travel brands that can fit your travel needs.
Although smaller, the World of Hyatt loyalty program is another annual favorite. One reason why is that the award nights cost less than competing programs. For instance, many award nights cost 15,000 points or less for a mid-portfolio tier award night. These same properties may cost as much as 30,000 points with others.
Which hotel points are worth the most?
World of Hyatt hotel points tends to have the highest average redemption value on average. Your points can usually be worth up to 2 cents each. This is high as many hotel points are worth between 0.5 and 1.0 cents each with most hotel loyalty programs.
How do hotel loyalty programs work?
Hotel loyalty programs are similar to airline frequent flyer programs. It’s free to join, and there are multiple membership levels. Each higher level offers more benefits such as complimentary amenities, late checkout, and earning more points per stay.
You reach these higher membership tiers by staying a minimum number of nights or earning a certain amount of hotel points in the calendar year. Once you reach that level, you typically maintain that status for the remaining months of this year and all of next year. You will need to meet the same requirements each year to keep your loyalty status level.
Some hotel loyalty programs offer co-brand credit cards. The cards that charge an annual fee usually offer automatic loyalty status upgrades.
One example is the Chase IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card offering instant IHG Platinum status (plus other ongoing benefits).
New cardholders can earn IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card earns 140,000 Bonus Points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
The annual fee is $99. Check out our review of the IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card for more details.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.