Aug052014

2014-15 Best Hotel Rewards Programs U.S. News & World Report

No surprise to see Marriott Rewards at top of 2014-15 Best Hotel Rewards Programs in the just released U.S. News & World Report study.

The surprise for me is finding IHG Rewards Club and Best Western Rewards in the number 2 and 3 spots. Club Carlson is number 4. SPG comes in at number 5.

  1. Marriott Rewards
  2. IHG Rewards Club
  3. Best Western Rewards
  4. Club Carlson
  5. Starwood Preferred Guest
  6. Hilton HHonors
  7. Wyndham Rewards
  8. La Quinta Returns
  9. Hyatt Gold Passport
  10. Leaders Club (Leading Hotels of the World)
  11. Le Club Accorhotels
  12. Choice Privileges
  13. Stash Hotel Rewards
  14. Omni Select Guest
  15. Kimpton Karma Rewards
  16. Fairmont President’s Club
  17. Loews You First

The survey is a good read for advantages and disadvantages of hotels and airlines reward programs.

There is no one hotel loyalty program that caters to the needs of every traveler. Each rewards program targets different preferred lodging styles — such as boutique or business-friendly — and guest requirements. Some programs offer greater flexibility and prioritize earning points for free nights; others emphasize special members-only perks, like free amenities. To make the most of your membership, you’ll want to select a program that adheres to your travel style and affords benefits you deem worthwhile. To help you narrow down your options, U.S. News identified 17 of the most prominent hotel loyalty programs and evaluated them using a signature methodology that weighs factors such as added benefits, the average number of paid nights required to earn a free stay and the ease of earning and using rewards. Before you enroll in a program, check out the programs that cemented a place on our list of the Best Hotel Rewards Programs for 2014, and find the program that best fits your needs.

U.S. News & World Report – Best Hotel Rewards Programs

U.S. News & World Report examined 17 hotel rewards programs and ranked them based on specified criteria.

  • Number of Hotels in Network (20 percent weight)
  • Property Diversity (15 percent weight)
  • Geographic Coverage (15 percent weight)
  • Ease of Earning Free Night (30 percent weight)
  • Additional Benefits (20 percent weight)

The 17 hotel rewards programs were examined and assigned point values in each category.

Number of Hotels and Geographic Coverage

Number of hotels (20%) and geographic coverage (15%) account for 35% of the ranking points in this U.S. News & World Report survey. The hotel chains in the bottom half of the rankings from #8 La Quinta Returns to #17 Loews You First all have under 1,000 hotels aside from Choice Privileges and Le Club Accorhotels.

The main issue with the 2,000+ hotels of Le Club Accorhotels is the France-based chain has barely any hotels in North America.

The main issue with Choice Hotels with over 6,000 hotels, mostly in the U.S. is the 30-day window for booking reward stays in the region you reside. This program has the most restrictive booking window for free nights with points of any hotel rewards program. A U.S. based member without elite status can only book a reward stay within 30 days of arrival. Reward stays for other regions of the world can be booked within 60 days of arrival.

Elite membership benefits not a factor in rankings.

The absence of elite membership provides a fair playing field for comparisons of hotel programs for the infrequent guest. For Loyalty Traveler readers, the elite benefits are likely the primary consideration in ranking hotel rewards programs.

Promotions can make all the difference between programs.

As a frequent guest for the past 15 years working the promotions and elite benefits of different hotel rewards programs, hotel stay elite member amenities and promotion bonuses for hotel stays are the advanced benefits that are much harder to evaluate in hotel program comparisons. These make up probably 30% or more weight of what I would consider most important to a hotel loyalty program member. In fact, considering elite benefits and promotions are not included as factors in this U.S. News & World Report survey, then geographic coverage is not as significant a factor for the hotel guest. Unless you are looking at elite member benefits, then geographic coverage does not matter. Stay at the hotel chain that offers the best value for your stay.

In general, I like the U.S. News & World Report survey methodology, however, I find room for argument with some of the pros and cons listed for individual hotel rewards programs.

A closer Loyalty Traveler examination of the individual hotel rankings in the U.S. News & World Report 2014-15 Best Hotel Rewards Programs will come in subsequent posts. I will comment on specific pros and cons listed in the U.S. News & World Report survey for individual programs. There were several points listed in individual programs that jumped out as incomplete information. I will add opinions on promotions and some elite benefits that I feel should be factored into a comparative ranking of hotel loyalty programs.

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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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About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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