The second post in comparing the mega-chain hotel loyalty programs of Hilton, IHG and Marriott is a look at earning points and miles in each program. These three hotel chains are grouped together for comparative purposes based on their size, each hotel chain with more than 3,500 properties worldwide and a significant proportion of upscale to luxury hotels.
The first post in this series outlined the number of hotels in each chain’s brands and their brand market segments.
The primary competitive advantage of Marriott, IHG and Hilton in the hotel industry is their size with global geographic coverage as well as extensive coverage of the United States. Starwood, Hyatt and Carlson hotels will be compared in a separate series of posts for these hotel chains with 500 to 1,200 hotels globally. France-based Accor Hotels is another large global hotel chain with over 4,000 hotels worldwide, however, the chain has fewer than 20 hotels in the U.S. participating in the Accor loyalty program and is excluded from this survey.
Earning Points and Miles from Hotel Stays
Two factors differentiate hotel loyalty program stays from stays booked outside hotel loyalty programs on sites like Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity:
- complimentary hotel loyalty benefits received during the hotel stay like free room upgrades, free internet access, hotel executive lounge access, free fitness facilities access, free breakfast and late check-out.
- points and miles earned from hotel stay are a rebate on the purchase price for the hotel stay.
These two factors are the area of competition between the major hotel chain loyalty programs. This post compares points and miles earning in Hilton HHonors, IHG Priority Club and Marriott Rewards. Separate posts will compare the hotel stay benefits of loyalty programs at different elite levels.
The rebate value of hotel loyalty programs is the factor that keeps many of us loyal to specific hotel chains. A good hotel loyalty promotion means the cost of a hotel stay is partially or fully rebated in the form of points earned from the stay.
Priority Club offered a Crack the Case promotion in August 2010 where I earned 102,000 bonus points for 10 paid nights at IHG properties by May 2011. Stackable promotions are the competitive advantage of Priority Club and I earned around 150,000 points with ten paid nights after all the promotion bonuses and regular points. That was enough points for 10 free nights at most Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express hotels where free nights are 15,000 points (at least until January 18, 2012 when new tier categories take effect).
Marriott Rewards MegaBonus offers a free category 1-4 hotel night for every two stays from February 1-April 30, 2012. This is a regularly offered promotion where two one-night stays earns a free night certificate that can easily be more than a 50% rebate on the cost of two paid hotel stays. Two nights at a Category 4 hotel is normally 40,000 points. The Marriott MegaBonus is essentially the opportunity to receive the equivalent of 40,000 points value with as few as two one-night stays.
Comparison of Points Earning Rates
Hilton HHonors members earn 10 base points per dollar at all hotel brands, except the newest Home2 Suites brand only earns 5 points/$1. This is a disappointing change in 2011 when HHonors introduced a lower earning rate for a specific hotel brand. There are currently only 6 hotels in the Home2 Suites brand so the effect is negligible for most members at this time.
Hilton HHonors is unique in the hotel loyalty world in offering members the choice to earn points and miles for the same hotel stay. In the past couple of years there have been several limited time miles promotion offers from Starwood Preferred Guest and Hyatt Gold Passport allowing members to earn both miles and points, but this was not common prior to 2009 and HHonors is the only program to offer points and miles as a standard hotel stay benefit they trademarked as “Double Dipping“.
Hilton HHonors Double Dipping gives members the choice of three earning preferences that can be changed with each hotel stay. Points & Points is the default earning mode unless you have set your HHonors account to earn miles.
1. HHonors Points & Points
Hilton HHonors member earns 10 base points/$1 and a bonus of 5 points/$1 = 15 points per US dollar.
Home2 Suites brand earns 5 base points and a bonus of 2.5 points/$1 = 7.5 points per US dollar.
Elite bonus points and promotion bonus points are additional. Elite members will sometimes see more than half their points earned from elite bonus points combined with promotion bonuses.
2. HHonors Points & Fixed Miles (link to HHonors 59 airline partner earning rates)
- Earn 10 base points per US$1 + 500 miles per stay with most airlines.
Miles Alert: Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites earn only 100 miles per stay.
56% of Hilton properties are Hampton Inn or Homewood Suites and these are almost all in the USA. You do not want to ignore your HHonors account earning rate setting and leave it on Points & Fixed Miles when staying at Hampton Inn or Homewood Suites or you may be losing out on a significant points earning opportunity. You earn 5 bonus points per dollar rather than 100 miles per stay by switching to Points & Points earning for stays at Hampton, Homewood and Home2 Suites. Or change from Points & Fixed Miles to Points & Variable Miles earning if your total spend will be over $100.
3. HHonors Points & Variable Miles (link to 44 HHonors Variable Miles Airline Partners)
- Earn 10 base points per US$1 + 1 mile per US dollar with most airlines.
IHG Priority Club Rewards – Earning Points in Priority Club (Priority Club Earning Points link)
- 10 points per US$1 is the base points earning rate for most IHG brands including Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Hotel Indigo. InterContinental Hotels in the Americas will follow this earning rate as of February 15, 2012.
- 5 base points per dollar for Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites extended stay hotels. These two brands have about 500 hotels or 11% of IHG hotels globally.
- 2,000 base points fixed rate for InterContinental Hotels regardless of total spend. The Feb. 15 change to 10 points per dollar applies only to InterContinental Hotels in the Americas.
The main thing to know about Priority Club is the ability to stack promotions. Frequent guests will run through many of the stackable promotions quickly, but infrequent guests potentially can earn three or more bonuses with stays. Over the past two years I averaged about 5,000 points per $100 stay, excluding the Crack the Case 102,000 bonus points.
Where to find these stackable Priority Club bonus offers:
Earning Miles in Priority Club
Priority Club has 15 different earning rates for airlines. This post only shows the two primary earning rates applicable to the majority of U.S. airlines and some international members of major alliances.
2 airline miles per dollar at Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo (and InterContinental Hotels in Americas as of Feb 15, 2012).
1 airline mile per dollar at Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites.
500 miles per stay at InterContinental Hotels (IC Hotels in Americas change to 2 miles/$1 Feb 15, 2012.
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Continental Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- United Airlines
- US Airways
500 Airline Miles per stay at any IHG brand
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- AirBerlin TopBonus
- All Nippon Airways
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Asiana Airlines
- China Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- EVA Airways
- Gulf Air
- Japan Airlines
- Jet Airways
- Korean Air
- Lufthansa Miles & More
- Saudi Arabian Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- TAP Portugal
- Thai Airways
Check the Priority Club miles earning link for other airline partner rates.
The ability to earn 500 miles per stay with several major airline alliance members is an earning opportunity for Priority Club members with frequent low cost stays. You need to spend at least $250 per stay to match 500 miles per stay when you have a major US airline as your earning preference.
Earning Points with Marriott Rewards (Marriott link)
All hotel brands earn 10 base points per dollar, except extended stay brands Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites earn 5 points/$1.
Hilton HHonors has a distinct advantage over Marriott in earning 15 points per dollar or Points and Miles. Priority Club has a similar earning rate to Marriott Rewards with its extended stay brands earning only 5 points per dollar. The difference with Marriott though is the two brands of Residence Inn with 627 hotels and TownePlace Suites at 205 hotels comprise 22% of total Marriott properties globally. Priority Club has only 11% of hotels earning 5 points/$1 and Hilton HHonors is far less than 1% of hotels (only six Home2 Suites hotels currently) with a lower earning rate of base points.
Earning Miles with Marriott Rewards
2 miles per dollar at Marriott Hotels, Renaissance, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Autograph Collection, Edition and Marriott Vacation Club.
1 mile per dollar at these Marriott brands: Courtyard, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, TownePlace Suites, Fairfield Inn, AC Hotels.
Miles earning is less lucrative with Marriott Rewards than Hilton HHonors for low spend stays. Marriott full-service stays at 2 miles per $1 can be a better earning rate than Hilton HHonors for big spenders. Marriott Rewards stays earn a maximum 2 miles per $1. Several hotel brands earning 10 points/$1 only earn 50% miles at the rate of 1 mile per dollar.
It is even more important to monitor your miles earning setting with Marriott Rewards since points can be more valuable than miles through points-to-miles exchanges. Marriott Rewards allows members to exchange 10,000 points = 2,000 miles for most US airlines or 1,500 miles with many major international airlines. You will likely get more miles overall by earning points at the majority of hotel brands and exchanging points for miles. The rate improves at higher point levels to max out at 125,000 Marriott Rewards points = 50,000 miles for US airlines or 35,000 miles for many international airlines.
- AeroMexico – Club Premier
- Air Berlin – TopBonus
- Air Canada – Aeroplan
- Air China – Phoenix Miles
- Air France/KLM – Flying Blue
- Alaska Airlines – Mileage Plan
- Alitalia – MilleMiglia
- ANA – Mileage Club
- Asiana Airlines – Asiana Club
- Avianca-Taca – LifeMiles
- British Airways – Executive Club
- Cathay Pacific – Asia Miles
- China Eastern Airlines
- China Southern – Sky Pearl Club
- Continental – Mileage Plus
- Delta – SkyMiles
- Frontier Airlines – Early Returns
- Gol/Varig – Smiles
- Hawaiian Airlines – Hawaiian Miles
- Japan Airlines JAL – Mileage bank
- JetBlue – TrueBlue
- Jet Airways – JetPrivilege
- Kingfisher Airlines – King Club
- LAN – LanPass
- Lufthansa – Miles & More (Swiss, Austrian, LOT Polish)
- Qantas – Frequent Flyer
- Qatar – Privilege Club
- Singapore Airlines – KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines – Rapid Returns
- TAP Portugal – Victoria
- United Airlines – Mileage Plus
- US Airways -Dividend Miles
- Virgin America – Elevate
- Virgin Atlantic – Flying Club
Comparative advantages for Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards and IHG Priority Club:
Hilton HHonors is the best program when it comes to earning points and miles for hotel stays. This program has the best overall earning rate in base points or base miles among the three programs.
Priority Club has a competitive edge in permitting members to stack multiple promotions and earn bonus points from several offers for the same stay. This can result in substantial points bonuses on stays that far exceed the 10 base points per $1. In my experience I have earned 40 to 50 points per dollar on several stays after bonus points post from different promotions.
Marriott Rewards has the highest proportion of hotels earning less than the standard 10 points per dollar with about 1 in 3 hotels in the U.S. earning only 5 points/$1 for stays at Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites. Marriott Rewards has not offered members an opportunity to combine earning miles and points for the same stay in the promotions of recent years. This is Hilton’s competitive edge. Starwood and Hyatt have offered limited time promotional earning opportunities for both miles and points in the past two years.
Base earning rates shown in this post are really only one part of multiple factors to consider when comparing hotel loyalty programs. Every loyalty program has a base earning rate and this rate has been the most stable aspect of hotel loyalty programs over the past decade.
Hotel loyalty promotion offers are another major component to consider when comparing the earning rates in points and miles for hotel stays in different hotel programs. Promotions are variable and some are better earning opportunities than others. Your travel style determines what kind of promotions are most beneficial.
Elite status is the third major factor in your ability to earn more points and miles on hotel stays.
The hotel loyalty program’s burn rate - the cost of hotel reward free nights using points is the other side of the equation when comparing hotel loyalty programs. Earning rate by itself has no relevance to a consumer until compared to the cost of rewards in the hotel loyalty program.
100,000 points in my hotel loyalty account – whether Hilton HHonors, IHG Priority Club or Marriott Rewards – have no value until I spend them. In the case of Hilton they can be permanently lost if I go one year with no account activity.
The cost of reward nights at hotels and other reward options at the time points are redeemed set a value to hotel loyalty points.
These other hotel loyalty program factors will be compared in Loyalty Traveler posts in this series.
Loyalty Traveler series: Comparison of Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards and IHG Priority Club
1. Hilton, Marriott and IHG Hotel Brand Market Segments – this post lists the different hotel brands, number of hotels in the brand, percentage of hotels in each brand and brand’s hotel market segment.
2. Hilton, IHG Marriott: Earning Base Points and Miles.
This series will continue with a look at the redemption options using points and comparative analysis of these three programs.
IHG Priority Club has major changes taking effect in reward tiers for free nights January 18, 2012. I will compare reward cost for Hilton, Marriott and IHG free nights after the Priority Club changes are published and the new higher rates are in effect.