U.S. News & World Report released its rankings of 17 hotel rewards programs today. Do you agree with their results that Marriott Rewards is top hotel rewards program? What about IHG Rewards Club, Best Western Rewards and Club Carlson rounding out the top four hotel rewards programs for 2014-15?
Marriott Rewards is no surprise. This program comes out on top in many hotel rewards programs comparisons including Marriott Rewards wins Hotel Program of the Year for the Americas for the past 3 years in the Freddies.
This article looks at the U.S. News & World Report rankings for 17 hotel rewards programs. I question some of the criteria giving these programs the best of the best of hotel rewards programs for members.
Why were Club Carlson (#4), Starwood (#5), Hilton (#6) and Hyatt (#9) beat by IHG Rewards Club and Best Western Rewards in this annual ranking of hotel rewards programs? I will look closely at the U.S. News & World Report study and comment with my take on their findings.
Analysis of U.S. News & World Report hotel rewards program rankings
All in all, U.S. News & World Report is a good resource for comparing hotel rewards programs. Frequent guests with elite status will likely have different opinions on what makes a hotel loyalty rewards program best. Hotel stay elite benefits, hotel program promotions for bonus points, miles and free nights are major factors which allow me to make money writing about travel deals.
I want to use the release of U.S. News & World Report Best Hotel Rewards Program Rankings to point out differences in program features that I find important for my travel. I will start with the top hotel rewards program.
#1 Marriott Rewards (4.59 of 5 stars)
Pros: Marriott has a large global footprint with more than 4,000 hotels. Marriott Rewards has Hotel + Air Package rewards for airline miles and seven hotel nights that can be used with any hotel reward category including Ritz-Carlton hotels and all airline partners. Marriott Rewards special partnership with United Airlines gives 10% more miles with Hotel + Air packages compared to American or Delta. Loyalty Traveler post – Marriott Rewards Hotel + Air Package Rewards for United and other airlines (Feb 5, 2014).
Cons: U.S. News & World Report’s study states Marriott Rewards accounts can be closed without activity for two years. I do not consider this a con for the program. In reality, Hilton HHonors is the only hotel program that I have read reports of members having their accounts closed due to inactivity. In my personal experience, I lost all my Hilton points several years ago for inactivity after many years of Hilton HHonors Diamond membership. I earned points in Marriott Rewards and then went some seven years with no activity and my account was never closed or points deleted. Loyalty Traveler post – Hilton HHonors Dumped Me This Week (10-9-2009).
My Take: One con issue with Marriott Rewards are the number of brands where hotel points are earned only for room rate and not incidental spend while staying at the hotel. Room rate only earning brands include Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, TownePlace Suites, Ritz-Carlton, Gaylord Resorts, AC, Edition and Moxy. Incidental spend at hotels only earn points for JW Marriott, Marriott, Renaissance, Autograph Collection and Marriott Vacation Club.
Incidental spend earns points with many hotel loyalty programs like Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood.
The U.S. News summary of Marriott Rewards Cash + Points rewards is weak. Marriott Cash and Points is unlike any other program and not truly a cash and points reward option where you can book a hotel reward night for fewer points with a cash supplement. Loyalty Traveler Tutorial: Marriott’s Cash + Points Rewards with 5th Night Free (Jan 28, 2014)
U.S. News & World Report survey looked at hotel reward night rates in 16 cities as one of their comparisons for programs and concluded rooms at high category hotels cost a large number of points. No shit! That is true for any hotel loyalty program, except for Kimpton Karma where an earned free night is good for any hotel in the system.
The distribution of hotels in reward categories within Marriott Rewards is one of the most equitable of any hotel loyalty program with the vast majority of hotels in the lower hotel reward categories. Loyalty Traveler – Reality Check: Marriott tops Hilton for Category 1 and 2 Reward Night Hotels in USA (October 21, 2013).
In the Hilton HHonors program review for the U.S. News report is this line:
I find this totally out of place for Hilton HHonors since Marriott Rewards actually has a unique partnership with United Airlines Mileage Plus allowing reciprocal elite benefits. Loyalty Traveler post – RewardsPlus launches for Marriott Rewards and United Mileage Plus members (July 15, 2013).
Be sure to register for the Marriott Rewards United Mileage Plus promotion to earn 1,000 bonus miles along with Marriott Rewards points per Marriott full-service hotel brand stay from July 23 to October 31, 2014. Loyalty Traveler – Earn United miles and Marriott Rewards points July 23-Oct 31, 2014.
United Airlines is a poor points-to-miles transfer partner for Hilton HHonors members at only 1,000 miles for 10,000 HHonors points. Marriott Rewards members get a 20% discount on points needed for United Airlines Mileage Plus miles compared to other airlines. Marriott Rewards members can convert 8,000 Marriott Rewards points into 2,000 United Mileage Plus miles.
One fact that few frequent guests will argue with is Marriott Rewards has the toughest standard for reaching high elite membership which is why few points and miles bloggers push Marriott Rewards. I have Marriott Silver elite status earned by staying 10 nights per year, but 50 nights for Gold elite is way beyond my loyalty to Marriott. I can earn top elite in two other hotel rewards programs for the same number of 50 nights by frequent one-night stays and award stays. Hyatt and Starwood only take 25 stays in a calendar year for high elite membership with amazing benefits.
Elite Benefits: A common complaint about Marriott Rewards elite membership is limited benefits compared to other major programs. I do not have personal experience as Marriott Platinum to give an anecdotal assessment to benefits I received as Hilton HHonors Diamond, Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond or Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum. It takes 75 nights to reach Marriott Rewards Platinum and that is about how many nights I stay in hotels each year. I have had top elite status with one or more hotel programs every year since 2000. I have never been Marriott Rewards Platinum. I can say that I have received several room upgrades as a Marriott Rewards Silver elite, but not to suites.
Promotions: Since the recession year promotions of 2009-11, I think Marriott Rewards recurring MegaBonus has been one of the best offers in hotel programs. Two stays earn one free night at a Category 1-4 or 1-5 hotel. Unfortunately, the value of this promotion free night certificate has diminished with Marriott Rewards hotel category inflation over the past two years with a large number of category 4 and 5 hotels moving to category 6. Loyalty Traveler post: Marriott MegaBonus 16 days hiatus and why Category 4 Certificates have less value in 2014 (Jan 15, 2014).
Look No Further Best Rate Guarantee: Marriott Rewards is one of the easiest programs for getting a reduced room rate using Marriott’s Look No Further Best Rate Guarantee. Find a lower rate for the same room on a competitive third party online travel agency and Marriott reduces the rate 25%. Nearly all my Marriott stays are reduced rate best rate guarantee stays. Marriott approves claims with less hassle than any other hotel chain. I have written dozens of articles on hotel best rate guarantees that can be found in this Loyalty Traveler Best Rate Guarantee list.
Marriott Rewards is a popular program. Hotel brands are standardized and provide a range of room rates in different hotel market segments. that is both a positive and a negative attribute. Fairfield Inn and TownePlace Suites are affordable hotel brands for low coat paid stays and Ritz-Carlton is firmly in the luxury market segment and available reward nights for Marriott Rewards members. Points have real value with easy to reach rewards.
Expand the conversation. What do you like or dislike about Marriott Rewards?
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.