It’s time for the third annual comparison of hotel loyalty programs! Not much has changed since last year, though I have made some tweaks to the information I included as well as the presentation. Comments are always welcome as these tend to be works in progress. (Last updated February 21, 2015.) A separate post comparing airline loyalty programs has also been published.
Information is organized into three tables for bottom, middle, and top tier status. Since not all programs have a middle tier, I’ve included the bottom tier for those programs and shaded it. I think this provides useful comparison as in some cases the bottom tier is actually quite competitive (e.g., SPG Gold Preferred status). In addition to clicking on the images below, you can also download a PDF containing all three tables.
Notable changes from last year’s version:
I’ve removed Kimpton InTouch since its acquisition by IHG suggests there may be many changes coming soon. Even if that prediction is untrue, it is a small enough program that I didn’t think it was worth including. For similar reasons, InterContinental’s Ambassador program was dropped the year before. Industry consolidation makes my job a lot easier.
I’ve removed Internet access from the list of benefits. All of these programs now offer free Internet access to members with and (sometimes) without elite status. A comparison of those offers is available in a separate post.
I’ve removed which credit cards offer elite status. I think this information is sufficiently detailed that it would be better explained in its own post, which will be provided later this week.
Caveats to remember:
People always complain about some of the judgement calls I make. If you’re new to this, know that I try to look at published, guaranteed benefits. I have clearly identified two sections in each table based on my opinion. For the rest, I look at what the hotel publishes on its website, not people’s own experiences with the brand, which may be better or worse.
If a hotel promises an upgrade to a preferred room that may include a suite, it does not mean a suite upgrade is guaranteed. I view overly broad benefits with skepticism. Any hotel has the option to go beyond its published benefits; I’m interested in what you could take to a general manager as a complaint.
Additional items listed under “General Information” may include my personal opinion. I like to believe that opinion has some basis in reality. But I provide the comments section below for you to argue in favor of your preferred hotel chain.
If you want to better understand what I mean by the “cost” to earn award points for a redemption, check out my earlier analyses that attempt to weight award charts by the relative ease of earning points. Just one example: Hilton has nominally expensive awards, but it offers so many points that they continue to be competitive. Note that this analysis is still significantly flawed because it does not weight average award cost by the distribution of hotels at each award tier.
Comparing Bottom Tier Elite Status
Executive Summary: There’s no good reason to settle for Silver status with Hilton or Club Carlson, or Gold status with IHG. All of these programs offer easy opportunities for status at a higher tier with a credit card. Platinum status with Hyatt is less and less valuable now that Internet access is a company-wide standard and the bed type guarantee was eliminated. Gold status with Starwood is reasonably valuable but the most difficult to achieve on this table.
There may be some better credit card offers than the ones I’ve listed in this particular table, but because those credit cards would automatically grant higher status, it would be incorrect to combine the two. The better card offer is listed on subsequent tables.
Comparing Middle Tier Elite Status
Executive Summary: SPG Gold status still looks competitive, but Hilton HHonors Gold may be the winner. Club Carlson Gold is also a contender. The major drawback of Marriott Gold status is that it can only be earned through nights and not stays. With 50 qualifying nights, you could earn top-tier status with Starwood or Hyatt.
Comparing Top Tier Elite Status
Executive Summary: Hyatt Diamond status continues to be a leader — at least, it’s my favorite — in part because of the generous upgrade and breakfast benefits as well as a new feature that lets you share your elite benefits with a friend or family member. SPG Platinum is valuable, as well, but I have personal reservations about consistency in brand quality. Both chains suffer from a relatively small number of properties. Hilton Diamond and Marriott Platinum offer more properties in exchange for what I consider slightly weaker benefits.
Club Carlson has great benefits and offers an especially large number of bonus points, but it continues to lack a strong luxury presence (Radisson Blu is in many cases comparable only to a Grand Hyatt, not a Park Hyatt or Andaz). And IHG… well, I wish they made Platinum status more difficult to obtain and improved the perks. The main value of that program is being able to buy all the award points you could ever need.
Guess what? Some credit cards include free elite status with hotels. The American Express Platinum Card is one example, with free Gold status for both Starwood Preferred Guest and Hilton HHonors. Click on the CardMatch tool below to see if you’re eligible to apply. Sign-up bonuses of up to 100,000 points may be available. (Benefits last verified on October 8, 2015.)