It would be impossible to say one hotel program is the best rewards program. Even people like me, who tend to speak in extremes, veer away from such titles for hotels or airlines, simply because we don’t want to mislead people.
While I think some miles are better than others, there is a lot to consider when looking at an entire program. Same with hotels. My favorite aspect of a rewards program, others may care nothing about. Instead, I’ll break it down into the best of the different areas of hotel rewards programs (although obviously it’s still subjective).
For free nights – IHG Rewards
Obviously, free nights is what I care about most and there’s no way around it, IHG has the best payouts and best redemptions.
I have raved about the Big Win promotion so much that I have a friend that now spends every Saturday at the local Holiday Inn. But it’s not just that one promotion he enrolled in, it’s dozens that all added up. While the end of the year is nearing and the Big Win will be gone, there will always be other promotions if you’ve read How To Earn IHG Points on Steroids.
And yet, on the other side of the coin, they have the best redemptions. Simply put, their PointBreaks sale is the absolute best hotel sale ever. It’s a steal. I don’t know how IHG does it, but for that reason alone, it’s worth staying with IHG.
PointBreaks is a sale that lists participating hotels globally for 5,000 points a night. The list comes out every quarter and there are limited rooms, so you have to book quick, but it’s worth it when you get a good one. In fact, the InterContinental Tahiti, InterContinental Johannesburg, and InterContinental Shanghai where all on the last list. For a mere 5,000 points you could have booked a night there.
Best For Suite Upgrades – Hyatt and SPG
Hyatt and SPG are the only two programs that have guaranteed suite upgrades that can be applied ahead of time.
Hyatt offers 4 suite upgrades (each valid for one stay) to it’s top tier members and SPG gives 10 (each valid for one night). Yet, Hyatt is still my top pick because of SPG’s requirement of confirming the week before. Hyatt let’s you add the suite upgrade as far out as you want.
On top of this, Hyatt has great redemptions for using points on suite nights. You can either use points to upgrade a paid stay or just use more points for a club room or even more for a suite on an award stay.
Best for Lounge Access – Hilton and Hyatt/SPG
All the major hotel rewards programs guarantee lounge access as a benefit to top tier members (except IHG Rewards). Marriott would be an example of granting lounge access to mid-tier members, but it’s still hard to get Marriott Gold, as it requires 50 qualifying nights (the same as most top tier requirements). Personally, I love Marriott lounges, but their top tier Platinum requirements are unreasonable at 75 qualifying nights per year.
I’ve had great luck getting lounge access as a Hilton Gold member, but their lounges usually aren’t of the same caliber as Hyatt, SPG or Marriott hotels. However, Hilton Gold is easy to get. And while it’s not a guarantee, I’ve had way more luck as an HHonors Gold than IHG Royal Ambassador with getting lounge access. They actually seem to make an effort to deliver with this perk.
So let me say this: In terms of ease, HHonors wins.In terms of quality and treatment of elites, Hyatt and SPG have solid programs and hotels.
Plus the top-tier requirements for Hyatt and SPG aren’t unreasonable.
Best Properties – Park Hyatt?
Okay, this is too big for me to tackle. We can rule out some older chains like Crowne Plaza (IHG) and many generously titled Radisson hotels. However, some programs like Hilton and Marriott run the gamut. I’ve stayed at awesome Courtyards, Marriotts, and JWs, and also run down Marriott hotels (Guam). I’ve stayed at awesome Conrad and Hiltons, and also run down Waldorf Astoria hotels (NYC). And even that’s subjective…
But I’ll say this, Hyatt and SPG seems to be on a spree of expanding. Both programs are significantly smaller than IHG, Choice, Hilton, etc, yet they are growing quickly and building new hotels.
And right now I think that’s the key. Plus, going forward, I think hotels should build more modern and chic properties to attract younger business clientele. And that’s what SPG and Hyatt may have a glimpse of.
Because to be honest, I would much rather stay at a Park Hyatt than a Ritz Carlton (at least the old timey ones). The Park Hyatt hotels I’ve stayed at (i.e. Shanghai, Tokyo, Hamburg) are luxurious and modern. I can’t wait to see more.
But on an honest note here; I’m not well versed in SPG at all. Out of Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Club Carlson and Hilton, SPG is the one I’ve experienced the least because I tend to take advantage of the 1:1 airline transfer option. In my opinion, the top properties tend to be Hyatt, SPG and Ritz Carlto. And so far, Park Hyatt hotels tend to knock my socks off.
But if you have any opinions or experiences yourself comparing Hyatt and SPG, please chime in below.
Citi Prestige® Card
- Annual Fee: $450 fee
- Foreign Fees: No
- Card Type: Bank
The increase to 50,000 ThankYou points for the Citi Prestige card may be a signal that Citi wants back in the game, big time. The sign-up bonus has just been increased to 50K points from the previous 30K offer. An added benefit is a $250 annual air travel credit each calendar year -- so, if you sign up in April, you'll receive the credit this year, and again in January of next year -- which more than covers the $450 first year fee. When you add in lounge access for you and up to two of your guests, you’ve added another $400+ in value. One more benefit worth mentioning is the fourth night free for any four-night hotel stay booked through Wagonlit Travel. And lastly is the $100 statement credit when you sign up for Global Entry and pay for it using the Prestige card. Don’t forget the ever-growing number of airline transfer partners that work with the ThankYou points program.
- $250 Air Travel Credit each year
- Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay
- Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
- Points are redeemable for an $800 flight on American Airlines or US Airways®, a $665 flight on any other airline or $500 in gift cards.
- Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
- Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
- Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
- 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases