Posted by Ric Garrido

There is a comparison of eight major U.S. hotel loyalty programs by Ed Perkins on SmarterTravel.com with many useful quick checks of comparative features and benefits of the major hotel programs. My primary complaint is the generalization of how many paid nights are needed to earn a free award night in the different programs. There is no explanation as to how these numbers were derived.

This article critiques parts of the Ed Perkins article. I show why I think the sections on hotel program generosity in terms of free nights earning rate is not a useful comparison as presented in his article.

Another area I will not examine is the inconsistent presentation between hotel loyalty programs of credit card points earned with some cards including the hotel base points in the card earning rate and others omitting hotel base points and counting only the additional credit card points.

Useful parts of the Ed Perkins Top Hotel Loyalty Programs article

‘Earning Formula’

Earning Formula: Earn 10 points per in-hotel dollar spent at all except Hawthorn Suites. Earn five points per dollar at Hawthorn Suites. Points expire within 12 months of not earning or spending points.

Top Hotel Loyalty Programs – Ed Perkins

SmarterTravel.com June 23, 2014

‘Availability’  is what I refer to as the hotel chain’s brands. Ed’s lists are fine.

Availability: All Hilton brands: Conrad, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton, Home2 Suites, Homewood Suites, and Waldorf Astoria.

Top Hotel Loyalty Programs – Ed Perkins

SmarterTravel.com June 23, 2014

‘Alternate Airline Earning Formula’ section is basic and lists some airline partners for earning frequent flyer miles instead of hotel points. The basic concept is a hotel loyalty member can earn frequent flyer miles instead of hotel points for hotel stays.

Alternate Airline Earning Formula: Earn 500 miles per stay on American, Amtrak, Delta, Hawaiian, and United; 600 points per stay on Southwest; and similar earnings on 24 foreign lines.

Top Hotel Loyalty Programs – Ed Perkins

SmarterTravel.com June 23, 2014

In general, I don’t recommend earning miles for hotel stays unless there is a good bonus promotion. Or if you are unlikely to earn points easily to redeem for a free or discount hotel award night. Keep in mind that it does not take that many points for an IHG PointBreaks award night at 5,000 points or a Hyatt Points and Cash award at 4,000 points for a category 2 hotel.

Hilton HHonors was a great program for earning airline miles until the program changed this year and eliminated the Points & Fixed Miles earning option for 500 miles per stay with most of 50+ airline partners. HHonors now awards miles based only on the variable rate of $1 hotel spend = 1 mile.

HHonors Points & Miles variable rate is fine for HHonors program members who have hotel bills typically over $500. But those members already had that option. The takeaway in HHonors was for members who had hotel stays well under $500 and now earn fewer miles after the fixed miles per stay option was dropped.

My hotel stays are rarely $500 stays. 500 miles on a $100 hotel stay was a good deal; and even better when promotions doubled or even quadrupled those fixed 500 miles per stay.

The abstract world of ‘Generosity’ and how to calculate the rebate value of hotel stays.

The impetus for me to write this Loyalty Traveler article was the abstract description of generosity for each hotel loyalty program in the Ed Perkins article.

The basic idea is that any paid night in a hotel brand associated with a hotel loyalty program offers some percentage of hotel rebate value based on the points received from that hotel stay.

Best Western Rewards

Generosity: Stay five to 25 nights (average 16) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.

Top Hotel Loyalty Programs – Ed Perkins

SmarterTravel.com June 23, 2014

The statement above means five nights to earn one free award night has a rebate value equal to 20%. 25 nights for one free night would be a rebate value of 4%. Any rebate value less than 10% should be low enough to consider just booking through Hotels.com where 10 nights = 1 free night based on the average spend for 10% rebate.

I disagree with the numbers.

An average of 16 nights for one free night means a paid night is only a 6.25% rebate. I would not bother with hotel loyalty programs if I was getting less than 10% rebate value.

‘My issue with the piece on SmarterTravel.com is the vagueness of the generosity’ statements in the article.

  • How does Ed Perkins calculate that Best Western takes 5 to 25 nights to earn one award night with an average of 16 nights?

In practice I get 50% to 100% rebate value each year. This means if I spend $1,000 on hotel rooms, then I am getting $500 to $1,000 in future value from points and free nights earned from paid stays. I used to find it easier to get this kind of value out of Starwood and Hyatt, but that is getting harder with their high rates and limited promotions.

How is ‘generosity’ calculated by the rate award nights are earned in this data?

Here is one way to calculate award night earning rate. It may not have been Ed’s method, but a method commonly used.

Assume I pay $159 for Best Western Plus Monterey Inn on June 24 which is the rate available now for tomorrow night.

As a Best Western Rewards member I earn 10 points per $1 on the room rate. A $159 hotel stay earns 1,590 points as a member with no elite membership status in Best Western Rewards. I have Best Western Diamond membership and I would earn an additional 477 bonus points. BWR Diamond elite members receive 30% bonus points per $1 hotel spend.

One free award night is 28,000 points at Best Western Plus Monterey Inn.

The math calculation is pay $159 rate for one night at the hotel and earn 1,590 points. This rate of earning points means it will take 18 hotel nights to earn 28,000 points. (18 x 1,590 points = 28,620 points). As a Diamond elite, I would earn 28,000 points after 14 nights paying $159 per night.

Ignoring elite bonus points, it takes an average of 18 hotel nights to earn one free night at the Best Western Plus Monterey Inn when paying $159 per night.

That is the simple calculation for estimating the rebate value or ‘generosity’ of a hotel loyalty program.

Here are some problems with that approach for calculating paid hotel stay rebate value using the number of paid nights at one hotel to earn one free award night:

If the hotel rate for Best Western Plus Monterey Inn was $280 per night instead of $159, then it would only take 10 nights to earn 28,000 points and one free night. Does 10 nights instead of 18 nights make the program’s award night earning rate better?

No. I don’t consider it a better deal to earn one free night after ten nights when I am paying $280 per night.

If I was paying $70 per night, then it would take 40 nights to earn 28,000 points one free night. That is a lot of paid nights to earn one free night.

This is not the way smart consumers should play the hotel loyalty game.

Paying low rates at upscale hotels, regular rates at low-priced midscale hotels and redeeming points for high rate upscale hotels is the leverage value still available in hotel loyalty program schemes.

Best Western Rewards free hotel night in 3 nights for under $300

In real life, Best Western Rewards has a summer promotion for one free night after three stays.

Best Western summer promo

Best Western Rewards Stay 3, earn 1 free night. Register by August 10. Stay by September 1, 2014.

Using the current promotion for Best Western Rewards, I can stay at three different Best Western hotels for an average rate of $100 per stay or even less and earn one free night at Best Western Plus Monterey Inn.  Also earn 3,000 Best Western Rewards points from $300 in hotel spend for three one-night hotel stays.

In this case I only  pay $300 for three nights with three different hotel stays at some cheap Best Western hotels this summer and I earn one free night. That is a lot less money and nights than spending $2,800 and 18 nights to earn 28,000 points for one free hotel night at Best Western Plus Monterey Inn. I get that $159 room night in Monterey after spending $300 or less this summer.

This general principle applies to most hotel chains due to their recurring high value promotional opportunities each calendar year. Play the promotions across different chains or just one or two chains. You will earn free nights at a relatively fast rate compared to hotel spend and hotel nights.

For most of the past decade I earn $500 to $1,000 in hotel travel savings for every $1,000 I spend at hotels. As a frequent traveler, earning high elite status with one or two programs is also possible. Credit cards for elite status improves the earning rate for points. Credit card elite status also reduces the number of nights needed in hotels to earn status.

Play the promotions. Earn the bonuses. Splurge with free hotel award nights.

Every program has good promotions for earning points and good hotels using points for free nights or reduced cash and points nights.

Typically I ignore hotel loyalty program comparisons due to the extensive generalization of programs that does not match the experience of actually using hotel loyalty programs as a frequent guest with an eye to maximizing program value.

Ed Perkins’ hotel loyalty program comparisons for generosity value:

  • Best Western Generosity: Stay five to 25 nights (average 16) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel. [Current promotion is stay 3 times and earn one free night. I showed above how a free night can be earned for less than $300 in 3 nights this summer.]
  • Choice Privileges Generosity: Stay five to 25 nights (average 16) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel. [Current promotion is arn 8,000 bonus points after two stays.]
  • Hilton Honors Generosity: Stay eight to 28 nights (average 15) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.
  • Hyatt Gold Passport Generosity: Stay five to 25 nights (average 16) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.
  • IHG Rewards Club Generosity: Stay nine to 24 nights (average 16) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel. [I am pretty sure I will earn 5,000+ points on my next IHG stay using stackable bonus points offers. I have my eye on a PointBreaks award night for 5,000 points that will save $200 in a hotel room rate.]
  • Marriott Rewards Generosity: Stay nine to 12 nights (average 10) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.  [I do not see how this calculation matches up with the others. Marriott Rewards does not have this kind of competitive advantage over the other hotel chains?
  • Starwood Preferred Guest Generosity: Stay 10–35 nights (average 23) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.
  • Wyndham Rewards Generosity: Stay eight to 25 nights (average 17) to earn one award night at a comparable hotel.

These are all hard numbers for an abstract concept with no data to support the average values or range of values. I find this mostly useless information many readers will take to heart. At least Ed should follow up to explain how the values were calculated.

I used to write this frequently on Loyalty Traveler blog, however, I have not published this phrase in more than a year:

Promotions make all the difference when comparing hotel loyalty programs.

*****

I also need to point out that Club Carlson is the 9th program that needs to be compared when looking at major hotel loyalty programs for the USA.

Club Carlson was not considered a major program in the Ed Perkins article. Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group is a chain with 1,340 hotels worldwide in a range of market segments. Big oversight. I attended the Club Carlson Ambition 2015 hotel chain conference in Orlando four years ago. In that time the hotel chain launched Club Carlson with a consistently defined hotel loyalty program. Club Carlson launched a credit card with the most amazing annual benefit of any hotel credit card offering one free night on any award stay of two nights or more, up to 50 free nights per year for card members.

*****

 

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out current hotel loyalty program offers across all the major chains in Loyalty Traveler’s monthly hotel promotions guide.

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