Rating the Hotel Rewards Programs

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Hotel rewards programs are not created equal. That is a clear takeaway from the 2017 CarTrawler Hotel Reward Payback Survey. Some programs are three times as generous as the stingiest.

Some programs definitely are worth joining and using.

Others are worth it only for the free perks such as WiFi.

I know about the latter because I belong to a number of programs but only in a haphazard way. I have no recollection of ever earning a free room for points and probably have joined the very same program multiple times over the years, mainly because I wanted a perk and afterwards I forgot that I belonged.

The CarTrawler survey came as a wake up call for me.

Here’s the study’s lead: “Wyndham Rewards returns an average of 16.7% from room night spending as reward stay value in the third annual CarTrawler Hotel Reward Payback Survey. That’s 3+ points higher than the brand’s 2016 result and a 211% higher return than the reward value provided by Starwood’s SPG, which was ranked last among the six hotel loyalty programs at 5.4% for reward payback.”

Read that again. It is saying Wyndham is more than twice as generous as Starwood and it also says that Wyndham recently sweetened its deal. That latter observation says that we need to monitor our programs because, apparently, they do change.

We also need to start by knowing which programs are really stingy. Starwood is the worst, returning a bit over a nickel in rewards for every dollar spent. IHG is not much better – it ponies up 6.7 cents. Best Western comes in at 7.4. Hilton at 7.5. Marriott at 8.8. And Wyndham at a staggering 16.7.

Spend a dollar at Wyndham – which includes budget oriented properties such as Super 8, but also swankier digs such as Dolce. In the mix are also Ramada and Howard Johnson – and you get back 16.7 cents in rewards.

Note: if you are an elite road warrior who plays all the edges and also has a branded credit card, this hotel analysis may not fully apply to you. CarTrawler said: “Members that have elite status and use a program’s co-branded credit card to pay room charges benefit from an array of bonus point possibilities. The value provided by reward nights is traditionally the most important attribute for many members; the results presented here don’t attempt to assess all the benefits provided by hotel loyalty programs.”

That is, for casual hotel bookers – people like me – the CarTrawler analysis works fine.

CarTrawler also noted some stunning possible wins playing the rewards programs. It pointed to an October 14 2017 stay at the New Yorker in Manhattan – a Wyndham. “The reward payback for the Wyndham New Yorker was a stunning 50.7%. Booking a room on that date cost $610 or an incredibly modest reward price of 15,000 points. That combination, and the Wyndham Rewards accrual rate of 10 points per dollar spent (in addition to ongoing bonus points) delivers a very generous reward payback.”

It found a 17.8% return at Hospitality House in New York, a Best Western, on September 21.

By contrast, a February 2017 stay at the Westin Grand Central returned a 1.8% reward. That’s roughly 1/10th the reward of the Hospitality House.

Just when you are about to cross out Starwood, know that its co-branded American Express card offered the highest reward value returned on everyday purchases of hotel credit cards, 2.7%, according to CarTrawler.

The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card came in last with a 0.7% return.

Wyndham, by the way, came in second with its Rewards Visa card with a 2.5% return.

Should you throw your business to Wyndham? Just maybe if it has the right locations in places you travel to regularly.

But the real takeaway is this: maybe it’s time to begin really playing the hotel rewards programs. Airline programs are reaching a point of little value for most of us. Personally I accumulate miles via Amex but have begun to shrug off airline miles as such. 

But just maybe there is balm for our wounds at the hotels.

 

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