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Are These the Best Hotel Loyalty Programs?

In case you were wondering, Marriott Rewards is the best hotel loyalty program. Or so says U.S. News & World Report, the former news weekly whose annual “Best Colleges” rankings have become its best-known product.

In its just-released “Best Hotel Rewards Programs” ratings, U.S. News employed a scoring algorithm based on five factors, weighted as follows:

  • 45% – Ease of earning a free night
  • 25% – Additional benefits
  • 15% – Geographic coverage
  • 10% – Number of network hotels
  • 5% – Property diversity (i.e. style, price point)

Using the above rating scheme, 17 hotel programs were assigned scores between 1 and 5, and ranked from best to worst:

  1. Marriott Rewards (4.92)
  2. Wyndham Rewards (4.74)
  3. Choice Privileges (4.53)
  4. World of Hyatt (4.43)
  5. Best Western Rewards (4.28)
  6. IHG Rewards Club (4.24)
  7. La Quinta Returns (3.94)
  8. Club Carlson (3.66)
  9. Starwood Preferred Guest (3.55)
  10. Leading Hotels Leaders Club (3.51)
  11. Hilton HHonors (3.05)
  12. Omni Select Guest (2.76)
  13. Stash Hotel Rewards (2.71)
  14. AccorHotels Le Club (2.56)
  15. Kimpton Karma Rewards (2.54)
  16. iPrefer Hotel Rewards (2.23)
  17. Fairmont President’s Club (1.24)

As with any such ratings exercise, there are quibble-worthy features of the methodology, which throw some of the findings into question.

For example, there would seem to be significant overlap among the rating criteria. “Ease of Earning” and “Number of Properties” are inextricably linked in my mind. The same with “Number of Properties” and “Geographic Coverage.”

And perhaps most perplexing, “Ease of Earning,” the most important criterion, doesn’t appear to factor in the frequency or generosity of a hotel chain’s bonus promotions. For many savvy travelers, the ability to amp up their earnings through such recurring promotions is a key driver of loyalty.

In the end, there are the data and there is one’s own common-sense assessment. And in this survey, they don’t always match up. How, for example, could the programs of Hyatt (with its puny network and unexceptional earning rates and award pricing) and Best Western (with its notable ambivalence toward loyalty marketing) have landed in the top five?

The answer, presumably, lies in the criteria and their weightings. Which to me suggests those criteria need to be reviewed and overhauled.

Reader Reality Check

How do the U.S. News ratings compare to your own assessment of the best and worst hotel programs?


More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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