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Who won ‘Best Hotel Loyalty Scheme’ at the 2019 Head for Points Awards?

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Over Christmas and New Year, we are unveiling the winners of the inaugural Head for Points Travel & Loyalty Awards.  Today is Day 8 and we have moved onto the hotel awards, which in general were much tighter votes.  For New Year’s Day we are looking at which is the best hotel loyalty scheme?

This was the closest vote of all 12 categories.

The Head for Points Travel & Loyalty Awards 2019 are a great opportunity to recognise the cream of the crop when it comes to UK premium business and leisure travel. A lot of the areas we are covering, such as airport lounges and travel credit cards, are ignored by other awards because they are too niche – but for our readers, they are very important and appreciated.

Over 4,500 HFP readers voted over three weeks in November. There were 12 categories in total. As well as giving an award to each category winner, we are also giving out a number of ‘Editor’s Choice’ awards for products and services which we personally admire.

Each winner will receive a trophy which we will be presenting at a special dinner in January.

What is the best UK Airport Lounge

Today we are announcing the winner of ‘Best Hotel Loyalty Scheme’.

We have split this category into the reader’s vote and an Editor’s Choice.

Let’s start, as we should, with the reader vote.  The winner is….

Hilton Honors

This was tight, with Hilton’s 21.2% just seeing off IHG Rewards Club with a very credible 19.4%.  Marriott Bonvoy was third and then, surprisingly, Hotels.com Rewards came in fourth.

This means that Hotels.com Rewards beat Accor Live Limitless / Le Club AccorHotels, Radisson Rewards and World of Hyatt.  This must be especially galling for Accor, which has a huge UK footprint – Radisson and, especially, Hyatt have got an excuse.

Hilton best hotel loyalty programme

Why you like Hilton Honors

Hilton Honors has spent the last couple of years resetting itself after the last set of major changes.  These removed the popular (but expensive to the programme) ‘miles and points’ option and even removed all redemption charts.  Hotels still have a points cap, however, which in most cases is the same as the cap when the charts were in place.

Here are some of the things we like about the programme:

Redemptions are now cheaper when the hotel is selling cheaply for cash – this means that you are guaranteed to get fair value for your points whenever you choose to use them.  There is still extra value in saving them for stays in expensive cities, when the points cap means you can get outsized value, but if you prefer to ‘earn and burn’ as you go then you will still do OK.

Hilton’s long-running status match scheme makes it easy to switch over without losing your existing benefits at other chains

New features such as Points Pooling (transfers between individuals for free) make it easier to pick up points

Bonus point promotions are simple and straightforward

Hilton Honors Gold remains the best mid-tier hotel status by far, due to the free breakfast benefit

Hilton Honors Diamond brings guaranteed lounge access – IHG does not offer this to elite members, and as Diamond requires as little as 30 stays it is more achievable than Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite

Slowly but surely, Hilton is increasing the number of luxury hotels it operates, allowing you to redeem in style.  The Curio brand is bringing in a lot of impressive independent luxury hotels whilst LXR gives it a new high-end brand to sit alongside Conrad and Waldorf Astoria.

With such a small margin separating Hilton Honors from IHG Rewards Club, however, it can’t rest on its laurels.

Hilton Paris Opera

I also decided to give an Editor’s Choice award in this category.  This is potentially the most controversial Editor’s Choice award of the six we are giving out, but I will explain.

The Editor’s Choice award for Best Hotel Loyalty Scheme goes to:

Marriott Bonvoy

Officially launched in February 2019, Marriott Bonvoy is both an impressive achievement and – importantly – is potentially shaping the future of hotel loyalty schemes.

I know that some readers will be banging their head on their desks at this point.  There were a number of well publicised IT issues with the integration of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, which left some people with incorrect points or account data, often for a long time.

From my perspective, however, I want to acknowledge what Marriott has achieved this year.

Grosvenor House Hotel

Firstly, Marriott Bonvoy is a far, far better programme than any of us expected.  Marriott Rewards was, frankly, of very little interest unless you stayed the 75 nights per year required to hit Platinum Elite status.  Even if you earned the points, your luxury redemption options were slim.

When Marriott bought Starwood, everyone feared the worst. If Marriott felt it could get away with a pretty rubbish loyalty scheme when it had 5,500 hotels, how bad was it going to be when it had 7,000 hotels?  When you have a Marriott property on every corner, do you have to try that hard?

And yet, and yet …. look where we are now.  Marriott Bonvoy has most of the best bits of Starwood Preferred Guest, with the additional clout of a further 5,500 Marriott Rewards hotels to earn at.

If you are more concerned about status than points, you’re still a winner.  Platinum Elite – the minimum needed for lounge access and/or free breakfast at most brands – now requires just 50 nights instead of 75 nights.  This is despite the fact that there are 30% more hotels globally to stay at.

Starwood brought Marriott a raft of luxury hotels via St Regis and The Luxury Collection.  People forget that, whilst Starwood had a disproportionate number of luxury hotels, redemptions at the top end were unaffordable.  You were looking at 35,000 SPG points per night (the equivalent of 105,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) and those points were hard to earn given the small SPG footprint.

Those same hotels, under Bonvoy, cost either 70,000, 80,000 or 100,000 points per night depending on whether they are off-peak, standard or peak nights.  Even on peak dates they are cheaper than under Starwood (on off-peak dates they are 33% cheaper) and more importantly you have an additional 5,500 hotels globally at which you can earn the points.

Gritti Palace Venice

I also want to pick up one factor about Marriott Bonvoy which a lot of people have not yet noticed.  Marriott is trying to make Marriott Bonvoy the name that consumers see.  The loyalty programme is becoming the brand.

Look at the Marriott website or any of its advertising and you would think that the company was called Bonvoy.  This is the new Marriott strategy – with 7,000 hotels, they think they can be a mini-Hotels.com.  If you need a hotel somewhere, irrespective of budget, Marriott hopes to have something to meet your needs.

The idea is that people will automatically gravitate towards booking all of their hotels on marriott.com because they value the Bonvoy points and the various hotel and lifestyle rewards they bring.  Marriott Bonvoy is big enough to give you options, but not overwhelming in the way that Hotels.com can be.

This obviously isn’t any different to what Head for Points readers have been doing for years, but Marriott believes that it can convince the wider public to act in the same way.  Accor is following a similar model with the new Accor Live Limitless.  Other programmes, in particular IHG Rewards Club, risk getting left behind if this model works.

I look forward to giving Hilton and Marriott their awards at our winner’s dinner on 13th January.  Tomorrow we give our final hotel award – who ran the best hotel loyalty promotion in 2019?

Comments (117)

  • NigelthePensioner says:

    “Heard last night’s “Compulsory Celebration” NYE dinner at the WA Maldives was nearly a thousand dollars a head and did not include alcohol…”

    For a similar price you get fine wine paring in Ting at the Shangri La in the Shard! Oh, and a good view of the fireworks from your A/C room – if you choose your room carefully!!

  • Peter K says:

    In my personal opinion, and, let’s be fair, that’s what every comment here is, I’m split between Hilton and Bonvoy.

    The free breakfast at Hilton is great, lounge access nice (I’m gold, was diamond), upgrades pretty common, but I find the beds uncomfortable a lot of the time. I find the breakfast (being gluten free) good usually.

    IHG has really uninspiring properties. It’s decent for cheap stays but that is it.

    Marriott has shot themselves in the foot a bit. They were basically very (over?) generous when SPG joined and then they balanced things out and people shouted about what they had “lost”. I do find their properties overpriced, but also a bit nicer than other chains. The lack of free breakfast for a gold is a deal-breaker on whether redemption stays are worth it a lot of the time, but I have gone from no interest in Marriott to a reasonable level. That’s a sign of a decent program, surely.

    • Anna says:

      My first choice is always Hilton due to the free breakfast, but where there are no Hiltons (yet) like GCM, or where there is outstanding redemption value (like The Langley), Marriott usually come in second.

      For anyone visiting Manchester, the Worsley Park Marriott is a great 4* option, located in a very nice residential area but a short hop on the M602 from the city centre. I looked at it for a family get together recently and was impressed that it can be had for 20k points per night.

    • Alex W says:

      Hopefully IHG is about to become a lot more inspiring when Mr&Mrs Smith etc become redeemable.

  • RussellH says:

    I voted Hilton as it is the only scheme in which **I**, personlly, can ever get something better than minimal status. I can scrape into Gold these days by sacrificing a chunk of Amex spending and putting it onto my Hilton Visa. (I know many people have given up their Hilton Visa in the past, but I do wonder why!)
    The free breakfast at Hilton is worth a lot to me, and I have had some really good breakfasts at Hilton. cannot compare with other chains, though, as they are ridiculously over-priced.
    I still have my Marriott MasterCard too, and Marriott CS have been quite good to me this year, having given me nearly 35 000 points in compensation for what were, in the overall scheme of things, pretty minor inconveniencies. This gave me enough points to treat ourselves to a stay at the Renaissance St Pancras before taking the train to Paris + Lyon.
    I am pretty pleased too with our current Hilton Stay for New Year in the Netherlands.
    Two nights for 60 000 points, cash price over €200 / night when booked. At check-in a heartfelt apology for the hotel not having a lounge, so we got drinks vouchers which we could spend on anything, not the usual restricted choice. I ended up with one of the nicest Pina Coladas I have had (as it should have been at the cash price!)

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      +1. By definition there will be a lot more people with mid-level status than top status so mid-tier benefits will swing the vote. HfP readers know how to aim for and achieve a useful benefit via a credit card (even if closed to new applicants) and Hilton offers this.

      Free brekkie is a hard tangible benefit that gives you something where you would have got nothing. Most mid-range status “perks” are basically worthless (upgrade? – who knows what room you would have got anyway; late check-out? several hours often achievable by the underrated strategy of asking nicely). So Hilton is always likely to win as it offers something useful while most other schemes offer pretty close to nothing.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        There are other ways to get free breakfast than with status.

        Use the Marriott website to search hotels and there will nearly always be a pay with Visa and get free breakfast rate (I found paying with my SPG Amex I still got it but I’d give up a few pints for free breakfast if I really wanted hotel breakfast)

  • Stu N says:

    Agree with Bonvoy being up there.

    As well as Rob’s reasons, the inclusion of Design Hotels in such a huge scheme is brilliant for us. You’re almost guaranteed an interesting, boutique hotel in any major city you can earn and redeem at.

    Also, I really value points advance (though not as good as it used to be as you don’t lock in the actual “price”, just the availability).

    Free breakfast is overrated, we often eat outside hotels anyway so it’s not something I hugely value.

  • Funtime says:

    So, we have an airport lounge awarded editor’s choice because the readers haven’t visited as it’s in the hell hole that is Manchester and apparently everyone lives in London (not where the bookies and pound shops are)

    Yet, Rob is gushing about Bonvoy despite the fact that every man and his dog must be a member of several hotel loyalty schemes and voted accordingly.

    Enjoy your special dinner, sponsored by whoever that may be.

    • Peter K says:

      That “reasoning” doesn’t even start to make sense.

      • Rob says:

        It’s like my kid’s school. You get ‘Best Achievement Award’ and the ‘Best Effort Award’.

        You should look at Editor’s Choice as the ‘gone the extra mile’ award.

        We won’t give this to Bonvoy again because it is a reflection of the launch. Perhaps IHG would get it next year if Mr & Mrs Smith redemptions are a real bargain etc etc.

        We actually turned down a sponsorship offer for the dinner and will lose £4,000 by hosting it.

        • BrightonReader says:

          You haven’t lost £4k.

          You chose to spend it and get tax relief on it as a business expense.

          Plus no doubt you’d be hoping to generate more business and thus income from the companies attending the dinner to more than recover the £4k cost.

          • Rob says:

            I turned down £4k of sponsorship so we’re £4k worse off than I would be otherwise. Obviously we see it as a good investment though, and it’s a bit of fun regardless.

          • DV says:

            Idiot.

  • FarFy says:

    Spot on. Hilton may have pipped IHG as earn and burn, but Bonvoy (massive warts and all) gives incredible value and real elite benefits. I may be able to earn more points on a marginal Hilton or IHG stay, but the elite benefits and ability to get genuine outsized value with Marriott points (particularly when multiplied by elite benefits) keeps me driving towards them as first port of call. I Hope Hilton and IHG continue to keep the pressure on, but I also hope Marriott recognises their niche isn’t earn and burn but aspirational awards and the ability to get outrageous experiences – Sestiere Suite Gritti Palace and free breakfast on a points booking. Spot on Rob.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      IHG is probably the only programme that offers no tangible benefits other than earning more points.

      (I’d only count guaranteed benefits as tangible)

      Guaranteed late check outs, upgrades etc only come with ambassador status – if Kimpton, Regent etc were to start acknowledging this aswell then that could be a start. Kimpton doesn’t earn points on F&B spend either which is bizarre outside of the USA as these are all brand new properties and can’t see what the issue could be getting them to sign up to it like other hotel brands.

      • the_real_a says:

        You forget the premium “Chocolate Club Biscuit” given out by gleeful staff at UK properties. Spire members get to take two (bit NO more)… Makes me choose IHG hotels over the free lounge and breakfast at hilton every-time.

        • RussellH says:

          Never had that in England.

          And just once in Scotland, but we also got he ‘amenity points’ and two free drinks.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Feel like I’m missing out on a club now as never been offered one.

          I’m happy with 2x spire cocktails at an Indigo or IC

  • Anna says:

    OT but Hilton – I need a Saturday night in London in May and the Conrad has a sale rate of £228 pre-paid. This sounds quite good as my flexible booking at a Curio property is £204. Is it worth staying a bit further from our destination venue (the Saatchi gallery) for the Conrad experience? I am HH gold.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      My personal opinion of this property is it’s not in the best condition, perhaps I got a couple bad rooms but I wouldn’t revisit. There was also construction going on behind earlier this year. I don’t think the experience was particularly good except for free breakfast in your room for £5.

    • Rob says:

      If you’re Diamond you gain a lounge. It is actually quicker to go Conrad via tube to Saatchi than walking from Queen’s Gate so nothing lost there.

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      Doesn’t say which Which Curio property though? If it’s Trafalgar St James, I’d stick with that!

      • Anna says:

        It’s the Queen’s Gate one. Yes 7 minutes on the tube apparently, being a semi-rural northerner one forgets about these conveniences! I’ll check the recent reviews for the Conrad.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Perhaps a little more inconvenient but Hilton Bankside is £160-170 in May and pretty good chance of getting exec upgrade so lounge access, restaurant breakfast is decent quality.

          It’s about 10 min walk to Blackfriars (district and circle line tube station which is just a few mins/couple stops more than Conrad)

          • Anna says:

            Cheapest rate for that night is £195 so I would pay the extra £30 odd for the convenience.

    • Kai says:

      From what I heard this Curio has tiny rooms, so will definitely switch to Conrad.

      • Anna says:

        Thanks, the reviews suggested that and also issues with recognising status in some cases. I only booked it as it’s within walking distance of the Saatchi gallery and other hotels seemed to be charging a lot for what they look like, even given that it’s London! Going to book the Conrad and if it’s nice have a picnic in the park!

  • BruceLD says:

    There’s a fundamental issue with ‘…Bonvoy becoming the brand…’ – the brand can ill afford to recognise only customers who book direct; if that’s the strategy, stop making rooms available through third party systems. I oppose any ‘loyalty’ programme that doesn’t recognise true brand loyalty but only those that book direct. Disingenuous and loses the brand my loyalty.

    • Rob says:

      You’re missing the point. Marriott doesn’t own any hotels. Book via Expedia and your cash, less 22%, goes to Interstate, Arora etc. Why should Marriott give you anything?

      • memesweeper says:

        You may understand this Rob, but I guess 99% of punters would not. They can feel cheated or under appreciated if their loyalty is not recognised, and this can be brand damaging. Hotel operators and chains would be well advised to adapt to this.

        Some chains don’t deal with Expedia whatsoever. If the commission really is 22% good on them.

        If a hotel chain/operator can afford to pay 22% to Expedia then they can offer a member’s only rate at a huge discount to the direct booker. Not, as they usually are, a few percent.

        Trivago are now running TV adverts suggesting booking direct and earning loyalty status is a mugs game.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          The chain offers you a 5% discount and 5-10% back in loyalty points value plus your benefits, the fund the programme out of that commission the aggregators get. Part of the reason 3rd parties get such large discounts is also because they agree to taken certain inventory and if they don’t sell it then it’s their risk not the properties.

          The property itself could still offer you your free breakfast or upgrade/late checkout but they choose not to as they are not bound by the method you booked via.

        • Dave says:

          The OTAs like Expedia, Booking.com only allow hotels to be on the site if they are a similar price to booking directly on the hotels site. Tough position for the hotel operators given the commission level and reliance on OTAs.

          • memesweeper says:

            The ‘loophole’ for the OTAs demanding price equality is member-only rates. These are discounted, but not enough to undermine the OTAs sufficiently in most cases.

            I (usually) book direct with IHG, Hilton and Marriott as I have status and a wedge of points to build on. Every other chain it’s an OTA every time. Their own schemes and booking direct benefits just don’t work. I stay well over 50 nights a year.

      • RussellH says:

        Obviously I can only speak for a very few, non chain hotels where I knew the owners personally, but most of them would only supply thier worst rooms to the like of Expedia or HRS.

        • Lady London says:

          Those will be the rooms I’ve landed at quite a few then.

          Status does make a difference to the room you get. I avoid booking hotels via OTA’s wherever possible.

        • Andrew says:

          So they get terrible reviews and photos of the hotels worst rooms on the key websites people use to research independents – no matter how they book?

          I don’t think so.

        • Alex says:

          Not in my experience, I have even been upgraded at independent hotels (that cost ~£450 per night) booking through an OTA…

          • Lady London says:

            That’s Emyr/Virtuoso/very upmarket booking agency territory, so more can happen at that kind of rate.

            Its also possible to overpay going via an external booking source. It just depends who booked when.

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