Ranking Hotel Points
We’re often too logical in our points and travel hobby. A purely cerebral perspective to our shared fascination can and does lead to many questionable decisions – say, bowing at the altar of Hyatt, for instance. (I kind of, sort of get that, as a former top-tier Diamond in their previous Gold Passport program.) It’s simpler to look at hotel point value in cents per point (cpp), although I’d argue we try to make that as complex as possible, too. Beyond that, I know I have a different relationship with each hotel chain and their respective point currency. Just looking at these rewards in terms of monetary value isn’t the full story – far from it. Greg over at Frequent Miler touched on this a bit in his “Joy of Free” post.
Undoubtedly, monetary value plays a major role for many in the hobby. It’s the closest item the masses have for what they determine to be a “good” redemption, whatever that is. Instead, I focus on goals to drive my earning and redemption strategies. Of course, each program’s wrinkles can play a role, though. So today, I’m ranking hotel points currencies based on feel. We’ll count down, starting with my lowest ranking first.
Note: To be extra clear, this ranking is purely based on my own situation. I expect hobbyists’ rankings will vary widely. Additionally, this isn’t an all-encompassing reference piece including each characteristic of every program.
Sonesta has a few attractive properties and a large share of disappointing ones. Many of the latter were previously other brands and are still ordinary at best. Perhaps Sonesta having relatively few properties is a positive.
Bank of America’s Sonesta credit card is similarly mundane. I picked it up a few years ago when I had nothing else better going on with BoA. Their 65k welcome offer is okay, but most can do better going after other BoA cards these days. There’s little incentive to spend on the card, with other cards earning more points and ease of use. I closed the card after the first cardmember year.
Sonesta points expire after two years of inactivity. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is for me. Only a few eligible activities exist: earning points with a paid stay, co-branded card spend, or completing an award stay.
I’ve saved the worst for last: Sonesta awards cannot be booked online. A member must call in to book. Ridiculous!
#7. Best Western
Best Western hasn’t done anything for me lately, but they aren’t Sonesta-bad. First off, BW points do not expire. I often forget I have any until I log into the Best Western site. We stay at these properties very infrequently, but they come in handy when we need them. Best Westerns are often available where other points properties aren’t.
Over the years, I’ve applied for the Best Western Premium Mastercard three times, all ending in denials. Thanks, FNBO. The card often sports an elevated signup bonus, and Best Western enthusiasts will probably find the big spend bonus worth their time (40k points on $5k spend in a cardmember year).
The quality of Best Western properties varies widely. I recommend doing homework before booking one. The payoff can be noteworthy, especially for stays at foreign properties.
Many hobbyists love Wyndham right now primarily for one reason – Vacasa redemptions. But that’s just not a redemption my family’s into right now. Short of that, we’re left with many dusty options we won’t consider, some middle of the road (Wingate, Wyndham Garden) and fewer, supposedly nicer options (Wyndham, Wyndham Garden). A few other brands are under Wyndham’s banner, most I have no patience to consider. On the plus side, points are easily redeemable across their properties, members can simply redeem for solid value in Vegas, and Wyndham offers multiple credit cards for enhanced earning and status. My wife and I each only earn points once annually – when the legacy card’s 15k bonus hits at cardmember anniversary.
For better or worse, IHG primarily boils down to one brand for my family – Holiday Inn Express. In the last several years, we’ve only redeemed our points at Express properties except for one regular Holiday Inn stay. We feel just fine about these redemptions, but nothing stands out. These award stays meet our travel needs but nothing else, really.
Over time, I’ve noticed remarkably plain IHG properties cost a lot more points. I find myself increasingly uninterested in spending on the IHG Premier card, even at 5x/7x limited-time rates. I have little confidence earning points in their program, as they keep devaluing it more often than other programs. With every passing year, the free night cert from the card is less worthwhile to us.
This isn’t a mistake. Hyatt is middling amongst the eight chains in this article. Why? Hyatt offers a limited footprint. Okay, they’re improving some, but nothing I consider substantial. I’ve stayed in my share of Hyatts – primarily Regency, Grand, and Park properties – and have largely enjoyed them. But right now, Hyatts generally aren’t located where my travel goals are. That makes their points largely useless to me.
Most of the people who love Hyatt are top-tier Globalists. Those benefits are great for those members. But I’m not one of them, and I have no desire to put the effort in to become one. After all, to me, Hyatt status is like owning a boat. Thanks to Guest of Honor, I’d rather know someone with Globalist status than put in the work to have it myself. And in those very few cases, I’m happy to redeem my Hyatt points.
As a Starwood loyalist, I gave up on Marriott soon after the two programs combined. On principle, I ignored Marriott for a few years. A bit later, I returned to Marriott, and I’ve been pleased overall with the experience since. I’ve had no problem using points on travel needs and aspirational stays, sometimes combined with free night awards thanks to Marriott’s top off feature. While not Hilton-level, Marriott points are increasingly easy to earn in my experience. Status wins have been modest but appreciated. And the new cooperation with MGM is good news, as well.
I’m probably having more fun earning and burning with Choice Privileges than any other hotel program currently. First, I absolutely love the new Choice Select card from Wells Fargo. Earning 5x at grocery stores where I pick up practical value on the redemption side is huge. Their program isn’t as user-friendly as others, and I actually like that. I’m happy to put in the extra effort with Choice while some others aren’t, perhaps leaving more good stuff for people like me who enjoy the grind. For that same reason, I embrace their stringent 100-day award booking limitation.
Comfort Inn and Suites properties work great for many of our travel needs, and I can find nicer stays via Cambria and Choice’s partnership with Preferred Hotels and Resorts. Choice bringing in domestic Radisson properties soon makes this points currency even more attractive to me.
If you’ve read my content in the past, perhaps this one doesn’t surprise you. I’m a huge fan of easily-earned Hilton Honors points, which addresses many of our travel goals. Hilton offers the best free night certificates in the industry, from my perspective. They can be used at most any property with a few exceptions we aren’t interested in, anyway. Hilton routinely recognizes my Diamond status on stays, where we’re often upgraded and use the daily food and beverage credit. The latter benefit can be tricky, but it’s a worthy endeavor. Last, but certainly not least – there seems to be a Hilton property most everywhere.
Ranking Hotel Points – Conclusion
That’s how I’m ranking hotel points now; these rankings will change over time. Indeed, I’d love the major chains giving me reasons for doing so. Most changes come with some sort of devaluation but often are paired with unique opportunities for those who put in the effort. That’s me and many of you, so embrace the grind! What does your hotel points ranking look like right now?
Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.