When it comes to getting bang for your family vacation buck, there's nothing like scoring a free hotel stay or a nice upgrade. But it's all too easy to get obsessed with chasing points and lose sight of whether you are getting good value.
It's important to understand how loyalty programs rope us in and influence our travel decisions. According to Deloitte, roughly 18 percent of frequent travelers become loyal to a given hotel brand primarily because of its rewards program, and some travelers are willing to pay more to stay at a hotel that belongs to his or her loyalty program. In other words, they lose sight of whether they are making smart decisions.
Best Travel Rewards Programs for Freebies & Perks
The quest to amass points can sometimes encourage travelers to make poor choices. Always weigh each purchasing decision carefully, and do comparative pricing in order to know whether it's truly worth staying at a hotel chain solely to rack up points.
Best Hotel Loyalty Programs
Don't have time to research which hotel loyalty programs are worth joining? US News & World Report has done the legwork for you. Its annual rankings identify 28 hotel and airline loyalty programs with the most rewarding perks. In its 2017 study, Marriott Rewards topped the list for the Best Hotel Rewards Programs.
The top five programs are:
- Marriott Rewards
- Wyndham Rewards
- Choice Privileges
- World of Hyatt
- Best Western Rewards
Wyndham Rewards allows members to redeem free nights at more than 7,800 hotels. In the past year, Wyndham has debuted new membership tiers and additional benefits, such as early check-in, late checkout, free amenities and suite upgrades. Choice Privileges and Marriott Rewards tie at No. 2 with both programs offering visitors a variety of lodging options and price ranges.
CardHub Study: Best and Worst Loyalty Programs
The Marriott Rewards program lets members earn rewards points for stays in 17 affiliated brands, including The Ritz-Carlton, Courtyard Marriott, Renaissance and more. In addition to hotel stays and room upgrades, you can redeem points for spa and dining gift cards, merchandise or for unique experiences, such as concerts and sporting events. Plus, Marriott Rewards points can be used to pay for TSA Precheck applications and flights through more than 40 airline rewards programs like United MileagePlus and Delta SkyMiles.
Expert Tips: Choosing Travel Rewards Programs
Wyndham Rewards was the number one program according to CardHub's 2015 Hotel Rewards Study, which examined the rewards programs offered by the 12 largest US hotel chains based on 21 key metrics, including point expiration policies, the presence of blackout dates, brand exclusions, rewards value, and more.
CardHub's report identified the best and worst hotel rewards programs for three different spending profiles: Light ($487 per year), Moderate ($779 per year), and Heavy ($1,461 per year). Collectively, these three groups collectively represent roughly 60 percent of cardholders.
Want to fast forward to find the best loyalty program for your own family? The report also featured a custom calculator that allows you to personalize the results based on your own hotel budget.
Wyndham Rewards was deemed the best hotel loyalty program for travelers of all spending levels, earning an overall CardHub score of 71.85. When looking at all three spending groups, the next best hotel loyalty programs were Drury Gold and La Quinta.
Best Western is the only hotel chain that offers points that do not expire due to account inactivity. All other hotel points expire after 12 to 24 months of inactivity.
Starwood Preferred Guest is the worst hotel rewards program across all three spending groups followed by the Ritz-Carlton, according to CardHub's study.
Other Key Findings
- None of the hotel rewards programs allows members to earn points on reservations booked through third-party websites, such as Kayak.com, Hipmunk.com, or Expedia.com.
- One-third of hotel programs do not allow users to redeem points for award nights at all hotel brands and properties.
- Buying points is a generally a bad deal, forcing program members to pay 19 percent more than their points are worth on average. Consumers who do not have enough points to book a room are better off using the “points and cash” option offered by all chains.
US News & World Report's travel rankings are based on an analysis of expert and user opinions for a mix of opinion and data, in an effort to make rankings more useful than simply providing editors' personal opinions.
CardHub compared the loyalty rewards programs based on number of properties, using publicly available information and company policies posted online. To score each program, most of the metrics were first graded on a 100-point scale. Generally, full points were awarded to the best-performing program for that metric, while the zero-point level was set slightly below the worst program’s result. Find more details here.