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Which is the best hotel loyalty scheme? – an introduction

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Starting tomorrow, I am launching a series of posts on the seven major hotel loyalty schemes.  Each programme will be covered in two posts, to be run on the same day.

The first will look at ‘the facts’, such as the number of nights required to earn status.

The second post will be a discussion of the best and worst aspects of that programme.

At the end, I will take a look at hotels.com and its Welcome Rewards programme which may be an alternative answer for some people.

If you are looking for a simple answer to the question of which scheme to join, you will be disappointed.  Sorry!

Hotel logo

Different people want different things from a hotel loyalty scheme:

If your employer pays the bills, you are unlikely to bothered about free internet or free breakfast.  (In fact, by lowering your nightly bill, such perks would be a hindrance as they would lower your points earning!)

If you want to redeem in luxury properties, you are going to struggle with schemes like Club Carlson which do not have much top-end coverage.

If you want global coverage, you will struggle with Hyatt Gold Passport and its modest coverage outside the US.

If guaranteed upgrades and status benefits are what you want, you are unlikely to go wild about IHG Rewards Club.

If you have an American Express Platinum card, you will already have permanent Gold status in Starwood Preferred Guest and Club Carlson and Platinum status in Le Club Accorhotels, so you may be focussed more on the best redemption options.

If you want to give yourself a nice backhander by booking work stays via a cashback website, IHG Rewards Club will be off your list because it doesn’t appear on such sites.

…. and so on.

The other issue when comparing hotel schemes is that the points you earn are heavily skewed by bonus promotions which change every quarter.  I could have done a complex mathematical table to show how much you need to spend in each hotel to get a free night.  However, realistically, a large percentage of your points will come from the bonus point promotions I list on the Head for Points ‘Hotel Promos’ page.

The list of current bonus promotions may also encourage you to ‘hotel hop’, either between hotels in the same chain or different ones.  For promos based on stays, you could swap between hotel A and B every night to maximise your stay count.  This may be worthwhile based on the current promotions, but consider the inconvenience first.

There is one other issue which rarely comes up in these comparisons.  Life is short, and it isn’t worth massively inconveniencing yourself purely for the points.  If you have the choice of spending two weeks in a brand new Holiday Inn or a 20-year old unrefurbished Marriott, you should take the Holiday Inn!  Unless you were getting back late and leaving early every day, of course.

(Where did I spend 20 nights last year?  In a Jumeirah property in Dubai, paid for with cash.  This is despite the fact that I could have booked free nights at any number of Dubai properties owned by other chains.  Why?  Because I was travelling with my family, and this particular hotel offered the ideal balance of cost, quality and facilities.  I try not to compromise when my family is involved.)

My PERSONAL view

To set the stage for the discussion that will follow, here is my personal take on the major hotel programmes.  It is hugely unlikely that you will agree with me!  I will exploring these points in more detail in the coming days.

Club Carlson – they are still learning the ropes as the programme has only been around for about 3 years.  It has the most generous earning rate from ‘normal’ spending although offset by fewer promotions.  Gold status is free to Amex Platinum holders.  Surprisingly good selection of solid 4- and 5-star London hotels, although massive gaps in their high-end portfolio elsewhere in the world.  Very generous Amex transfer ratio of 1:3 with the odd transfer bonus as well.  I use them mainly for booking hotel rooms for visiting friends and family in London.

Hilton HHonors – it is often easy to get Gold via regular promotions, and Gold gets you breakfast and free internet.  I value this on personal stays.  I value the ability to transfer in Amex points and Virgin miles, which means I can redeem without having to earn points from stays.  However, the devaluation last year destroyed the value in the luxury hotels I tend to use.  Why pay 80,000 points for Conrad New York when InterContinental Times Square is 50,000?

Hyatt Gold Passport – this is generally seen as the best programme for upgrades (top tier members get guaranteed suite upgrades four times a year) and Park Hyatt is easily the best luxury hotel chain that is part of a bigger group.  Hyatt has a small footprint, though.  The programme has been devalued for non-US members by the introduction of a US credit card and a transfer deal with Chase – European members are suffering from ‘points inflation’ whilst not being able to join in, as there are no non-US credit card options.

IHG Rewards Club – this is my favourite redemption option due to the number of very good InterContinental hotels in places I tend to visit, and costing just 50,000 points per night.  The group has fantastic coverage almost everywhere and runs regular bonus point promotions.  However, you will receive almost zero status recognition except at Crowne Plaza hotels.  Since they withdrew from Amex Membership Rewards I tend to guard my IHG points more carefully.

Le Club Accorhotels – this scheme has no interest to me, despite getting Platinum status via Amex Platinum.  It has few big promotions and their points scheme only rewards you in money off vouchers or a modest amount of miles.  This allows no ‘arbitrage’ – on an expensive night or in an expensive city, there is no benefit is using points as you only get a fixed Euro value for them.

Marriott Rewards – on the face of it, this is a decent scheme.  They have lots of hotels, a solid points earning structure and regular promotions offering a free night (in a low to medium quality property) for just two stays.  Somehow, though, Marriott Rewards has never stirred my heart nor that of the wider frequent flyer community.  Is it the lacklustre UK credit card?  The lack of free status via Amex Platinum?  The lack of points transfer opportunities from Amex?  The lacklustre hotel portfolio?  Only the ‘flight and hotel’ reward packages seem to generate any excitement and these require a huge number of points.

Starwood Preferred Guest – Amex Platinum gives me permanent Gold.  The ability to transfer SPG points 1:1 to airline programmes is fantastic.  They have some super luxury hotels, but they are either at crazy prices (30,000 points …. you sacrifice the equivalent of 35,000 Avios if you redeem) or they don’t take part in SPG at all (see the main SPG resorts in Dubai).  It is possible to generate SPG points via the SPG Amex card and Amex Membership Rewards transfers, so no need for you to stay with them to earn points.  Suites are available on points but only 5 days prior to arrival!

Tomorrow we start our analysis, alphabetically, with a look at Club Carlson.  I will cover two chains a week over the next four weeks.

Comments (42)

  • Boi says:

    How does redeeming SPG points for free night compare to transferring to airline miles? I am looking at rome in particular….

  • Justin says:

    I used HH points to book a stay at the Waldorf Dubai… I also confirmed with the hotel that HH Gold = free breakfast in the lounge.

    • Rob says:

      You used the premium redemption option at the W-A Dubai? They have never had a room at the ‘standard’ rate AFAIK. Spa is not yet open by the way.

      • Justin says:

        Maybe I didn’t notice. I thought W-A were not part of the “Category” system, though I think it’s around 80k/nt… definitely less than 95k for standard Cat 10.

        As we’ll be coming back from a paid 7 night stay at Raffles Praslin, I wanted to save a few bucks, and honestly none of the typical “aspirational” HH properties do it for me, so I didn’t mind spending the points…

        • Rob says:

          I have been doing some digging on this. Post tomorrow or Thursday.

          • Amy says:

            I have got the option to book a KING SUPERIOR ROOM – BALCONY for 49,800 points a night or KING DELUXE ROOM – SKYLINE SEA VIEW BALCONY for 70,800 points per night at the WA in Dubai.
            I don’t know if you have seen this now or not though…

          • Rob says:

            Yes, interesting things are happening with Premium Reward pricing. I have a post on this coming up.

  • Carl says:

    My line of work means I am booking perhaps 2-3 hours before checking in. If the Hilton/HI etc is full or have doubled their prices for same day bookings, where do I stay where I can gain points/miles?!

    I am a member of all the major rewards schemes and after a year of this found I had earned about 0.75 of a free night in 5 different chains. Useless!

    Over the last couple of years I have found myself booking most of my stays via hotels.com and redeeming via Welcome Rewards.

    I now gain regardless of the brand. I even earn in independent hotels (that used to be an absolute last resort!) and redemption is as flexible as booking with cash. Downsides are there is absolutely zero status or upgrades to be had, and you still have to pay local taxes.

  • Clive says:

    Well I have been a firm supporter of SPG for a long time, Can only manage “earned” Gold each year but they just got me a great deal for the Sheraton Times Sq. Usually 12000 points per night. I manged 5 nights for 36000 points using the pay 5 1 free and my 25% for Gold renewal. That was a value of $1934 or 5.3c which I cannot complain about.

  • A Canadian says:

    I have Avios as my second FF program, so I’m writing this as a Canadian. I am Marriott first and foremost.

    First, the only hotel or airline credit card in Canada that has no foreign exchange fees (also came with 50k signup points + free night), cheap US nights to quickly satisfy thrice yearly Megabonus promotions, a fairly generous price beat policy in North America and in my case, a well-timed trip along with a Gold Status challenge got me Gold for a year (6 stays, 1 night per stay, average $75 USD after taxes) along with 3 megabonus nights