The first and most important thing for you to consider when choosing a hotel chain and loyalty program is how much coverage the hotel has in your immediate area and in the places you plan on traveling to the most. If you travel a lot already, then there may not be much of a need to worry about the coverage in your area. However, if you don’t travel a lot, then having hotels in your vicinity is important so you can earn your points.
Check out Loyalty Traveler’s excellent breakdown of the major hotel chains and their coverage. There is even info about converting points to miles. The post is pretty lengthy but if you’re new to this game, as these guides are intended for, then you’ll find this breakdown very informative.
If your travel is self-funded, one thing that could be important when choosing a chain is the amount of stays*/nights needed to reach a new tier of membership. Here is an overview of the major hotel chains so you can see what’s doable for you and what type of status and benefits you can expect for your investment:
*A “stay” is defined as the number of consecutive nights spent at a hotel. Whether you are at a hotel for one night or 10 nights, that counts as 1 stay. Checking-in and checking-out and then checking-in again will not give you additional stays.
- Brands: Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Embassy Suites, DoubleTree, Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Hilton Grand Vacations
- Blue – This is the level you start at when you enroll in the program
- Silver VIP (4 Stays or 10 nights) – 15% bonus on base points, complimentary fitness center access and VIP-only points redemption levels
- Gold VIP (16 stays or 36 nights) – 25% bonus on base points, VIP-only points redemption levels, free internet, Executive Loung access (if available), free breakfast, choice of room upgrades (higher floors, better views, etc.), bonus points and other options that are specific to certain Hilton brands
- Diamond VIP (28 stays or 60 nights) – Same as Gold but with 50% bonus on base points and guaranteed room availability
- Credit Card Status – With the Hilton HHonors American Express credit card, you receive automatic Silver status for as long as you keep the card. You can reach Gold status with $20K annual spend. With the Hilton Honors Surpass card, the levels are the same but you can reach Diamond status with $40K spend. The Surpass card also comes with a $75 annual fee. There is also a VISA Signature card that offers Silver VIP status for as long as you are a cardholder.
- Credit Card Earning – The standard AMEX card offers 6 points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels and for “everyday purchases” including your cell phone bill and grocery stores. You’ll receive 3 points per dollar for everything else. The Surpass card is the same as the standard card except it offers 9 points per dollar at Hilton hotels. The VISA Signature offers 6 points per dollar Hilton hotels, 3 points per dollar for supermarkets, gas stations and drug stores, and 2 points per dollar for all other purchases.
- Brands: Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, Hyatt Regency, Andaz, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Resorts, Hyatt Vacation Clubs and Park Hyatt
- Gold – This is the level you start at when you enroll in the program
- Platinum (5 Stays or 15 nights) – 15% bonus on base points, free internet, call an exclusive Platinum line to make reservations, 2pm late checkout, access to VIP check-in line and a special benefit/award every 3rd stay
- Diamond (25 stays or 50 nights) – Same as Platinum but with a 30% bonus on base points, a special amenity every stay instead of every 3rd stay, call an exclusive Diamond line for reservations, 4pm late checkout instead of 12pm, room upgrades with lounge access and 4 certificates that allow you to upgrade a normal room to a suite.
- Credit Card Status – With the Hyatt VISA, you receive Platinum membership for as long as you keep the card, plus an anniversary bonus of one free night at a Category 1-4 hotel. There is a $75 annual fee.
- Credit Card Earning – Receive 3 points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels and 1 point per dollar every where else.
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)
- Brands: 4 Points by Sheraton, Sheraton, aLoft, Westin, W Hotels, Le Meridien, Element, the Luxury Collection and St. Regis
- Preferred Guest – This is the level you start at when you enroll in the program.
- Gold Preferred (10 Stays or 25 nights) – Receive 3 points per dollar, instead of 2 as a Preferred member. You’ll also receive automatic room upgrades and the ability to check out at 4pm instead of 12pm.
- Platinum Preferred (25 stays or 50 nights) – You’ll receive the same benefits as Gold Preferred plus room upgrades can include suites (which aren’t guaranteed), free internet access, free access to the fitness center, the Executive and Club Level Lounge, a complimentary welcome gift for each stay and guaranteed room availability
- Credit Card Status – With the SPG American Express, you can reach Gold status with $30K spend. You also receive 2 stays/5 nights credit towards qualification each year. There is a $65 annual fee that is waived for the first year.
Marriott Rewards (Tier qualification is based on nights only)
- Brands: Marriott, JW Marriott, Courtyard, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Townplace Suites, Springhill Suites, Ritz-Carlton, Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
- Silver (10 Elite nights) – 20% bonus on base points
- Gold (50 Elite nights) – 25% bonus on base points, room upgrades, lounge access and/or free continental breakfast and free internet access
- Platinum (75 Elite nights) – Same as Gold but with a 50% bonus on base points, a Platinum arrival gift, a dedicated Platinum Reservation line and 48 hour guaranteed room availability
- Credit Card Status – Marriott has two personal VISA credit cards. The standard card offers 10 free nights towards your status. That’s automatic Silver. You also get an additional qualifying night after every $3K in purchases. The Premier credit card offers 15 nights towards status with the same $3K offer plus one free night every year. There is an annual fee associated with each card and they are $30 and $65, respectively.
Since a stay can be as short as one night, and programs require more nights than stays, it’s cheaper to qualify with stays.