This past weekend, I stayed at a Hilton in Houston for $65 while being able to earn 10,000 Hhonors points and enjoying a delicious complimentary breakfast for two at their restaurant (worth $20/person). As you can see from my above example, I pretty much got to stay at this Hilton for free with the benefits I got, thanks to Hilton’s promotions and my elite status. Hotel programs and credit cards can prove to be very lucrative and today I’ll be highlighting some of my favorites.
Short List (in no particular order):
- Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG)
- Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)/Marriott
I started my travel hacking journey with the IHG Credit Card from Chase Bank, so I have a special place in my heart for this program and its credit card. The greatest things about this program are that you can easily get elite status from the credit card, they have A TON of hotel properties around the world, and their credit card gives you a free night annually at ANY of their properties after an annual fee of $49. My Platinum status that I got from the credit card has gotten me room upgrades almost everywhere I go which is always nice when you’re traveling. The downside is that there is no way to get complimentary breakfast through elite status, even at their top tier Spire Elite. Earning is also difficult with this program unless you stay at their properties regularly. The credit card only offers 5x points for IHG stays, 2x points for groceries/dining/gas, and 1x points on everything else. That might sound decent on paper, but many bloggers value these points from 0.5-0.7 cents/point. Basically this means that when you redeem your IHG points, you won’t get a great value. For example, I paid 20,000 points for a stay at the Hotel Indigo in Berlin that was valued at about $120/night. $120 divided by 20,000 points gives you a 0.6 cent/point value. In contrast, a regular credit card that gives you 1% cash back will get you 1 cent/point (100 points = $1, you spend $100 = get $1 back), and if you have the no annual fee Citi Double Cash you can get 2 cents/point. So this credit card is not worth using, but is nice to keep as it offers Platinum status and a free annual night.
Shortly after getting my IHG card, I decided to jump on Amex’s 75,000 Hilton point bonus for their no annual fee credit card. I’ll start off with the downsides of this program and its credit card. Their no annual fee Amex and Citi cards give you Silver status, which has very little benefits (you can get Gold status pretty easily though with the Citi Hilton card). Their annual fee versions do offer Gold status but no free annual night like the IHG card, so I’m not sure if they’re worth the $75 or $95 annual fees. Hilton’s points are also very poorly valued as bloggers measure their worth to be about 0.4-0.5 cents/point which is the lowest on this list. Now for the good… Hilton points are pretty darn easy to EARN. Hilton always has promotions going on. For example, this weekend I got 5,000 points/stay when using a Visa credit card AND I got triple the base points by booking with the app. The no annual fee Hilton Amex gives you 7x points for Hilton stays, 5x points for groceries/dining/gas, and 3x points for everything else. So no matter what, you are getting above 1 cent/point (unlike the IHG credit card) and there’s NO ANNUAL FEE! If you get the Amex with an annual fee, you get 12x points for Hilton stays, 6x points for groceries/dining/gas, and 3x points for everything else PLUS you get Gold status. Gold status for Hilton is GREAT as you will get upgrades depending on availability, higher earning bonuses, and complimentary breakfast for you and one other guest traveling with you. It is worth mentioning that you can also get Hilton Gold status through the Amex Platinum Card which has other benefits like $200 annual airline incidental credit, Delta SkyClub access when flying Delta, Centurion Lounge Access, SPG/Marriott Gold Status (after status matching), and sometimes a FAT sign up bonus. But the annual fee is $450…
I love Hyatt for a couple of reasons. Their properties are NICE and their points are worth A LOT. They are also transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards so you can transfer your Chase points to your Hyatt account at a 1:1 ratio (1 Chase UR point = 1 Hyatt point). Bloggers value Hyatt points at 1.8 cents/point which is a lot higher than the previous two programs. Pair that with the ease of earning through Chase cards like the Chase Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, and the Sapphire Reserve, and you have yourself an outstanding rewards program. Also, if you sign up for the Hyatt credit card, you will get 2 free nights at any property after spending $2,000 in 3 months AND an annual night at any Category 1-4 property for a $79 annual fee. Like I said, Hyatt properties are nice, so one night at a Category 1 property might be worth the annual fee. One downside is that you actually have to earn your status with this program. The credit card gives you Platinum status which doesn’t do much. However, their Diamond status might be the best top tier elite status in the business. So if you can earn status through stays, then Hyatt is a no-brainer. Their credit card also doesn’t offer GREAT earning, so I would take that card out of my wallet and just use Chase cards for the flexibility to transfer to both airlines and hotels.
I will try to be brief with these programs as I am not totally familiar with either one. One thing you should know is that there was a recent merger between the two companies that allow you to transfer points between programs. SPG is an awesome program in that it acts like a flexible points program that is extremely valuable (~2 cents/point). What I mean by that is you can transfer your SPG points to airlines at great values. For example, every 20,000 SPG points you transfer to American Airlines, you get 25,000 AA miles. This flexibility is a reason why SPG is a favorite among bloggers and is considered an essential everyday-use credit card for many. The downside is that it is INCREDIBLY difficult to earn SPG points unless you stay with SPG, so Chase UR points might still be the better option. Marriott’s points are not worth as much and cannot be transferred to airlines at great ratios, BUT you can transfer your SPG points to Marriott at a 1:3 ratio. So the current SPG sign-up bonus of 25,000 SPG points can be transferred to Marriott for 75,000 points. Pair with the Chase Marriott Credit Card Sign up Bonus and all of a sudden you have 155,000 Marriott points. Much remains uncertain about the future of these two programs, but as of right now (Nov 2016), they can both offer lucrative rewards.
As you can see, there are several great hotel loyalty programs out there. Whichever you decide is totally up to you, but in the end I think Hyatt offers the best value in terms of redemptions for actual hotel stays. SPG will probably come in second thanks to its flexible points system but weak earning potential. IHG and Hilton trail the pack but do offer many incentives to join and earn. I am currently a loyal Hiltonite, mostly due to my status and their awesome promotions. If I am able to find a job where I can travel, I would switch in a heartbeat to Hyatt because Hyatt Diamond>Hilton Diamond. Thank you for reading, and happy travels!