Ironically, people focus primarily on airlines miles, but typically you will spend more on a hotel room than your airfare when on a trip. Think about it- what does an airfare cost-$400 to $500? That’s the same cost as 2-3 nights in a typical hotel (and one night in some hotels)! Obviously, the math depends on how many are staying in a hotel room vice flying, but you get the point that hotel points matter just as much as airline miles.
Many will place an average value of about 1.5 cents per airline mile, I often find that hotel points value is less than 1 cent per point. So while I can get a $350 airline ticket for 25,ooo miles, a $350 hotel room will typically go for 40,000 points. This is a generalization and rates vary greatly just as they do for hunting airline awards. The lesson here is that, on average, you will need more hotel points for a free hotel room than miles for a free airline ticket. Unfortunately, hotel points tend to be a little harder to accumulate than airline miles, but we’ll go over a few techniques.
Similar to airline alliances, most hotel programs encompass earning miles at a variety of hotels within that chain. Major hotel chains long ago learned that the way to capture all your stays from the luxury vacation to the business trip to the stay at a local hotel because they is just no way you are going to spend Christmas in that madhouse your brother calls a home. So Marriiott, for example, has the following hotel brands all under one program:
JW Marriott (5 star)
Marriott (4-5 star)
Edition (5 star)
Autograph (5 star)
Renaissance (3-4 star)
AC (4 star)
Springhill Suites (3 star)
Townplace Suites (3 star)
Residence Inn (3-4 Star)
Courtyard (2-3 star)
Marriott Vacation Club (Timeshares)
and a partnership with Ritz-Carlton (5 star)
So you can see that they try hard to cover all your possible needs. This is actually good, since it means you can earn and redeem miles in most of the possible situations that you will encounter. Each of the major hotel programs is similar in this aspect although some cover a wider range of star levels than others. For military or government travellers, one thing to consider is all the remote locations that we can get sent to. Marriott, Hilton, and Holiday Inn tend to be more widespread than other chains such as Starwood or Hyatt which are concentrated in major cities. The major hotel frequent stayer programs are:
Marriott (Marriott Rewards) – (I listed its components above)
Hilton (Hilton HHonors) – (Waldorf, Conrad, Hilton, Double Tree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Home2Suites, and Hilton Gand Vacation timeshares)
Starwood (SPG) – Bought by Marriott and we will see how many of these brands they retain, if any (Sheraton, Four Points, St. Regis, Luxury collection, W Hotels, Le Meridien, Westin, Aloft, Element, and Starwood Vacation timeshares)
Choice (Comfort Inn/ Suites, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Rodeway Inn, Suburban, Econolodge, Cambria Suites, Mainstay Suites, and Ascend)
Hyatt (Hyatt Gold Passport)-(Hyatt and Hyatt Place)
Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG Priority Club) (Intercontinental, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, and Hotel Indigo) – special note: many of the Army on-post hotels are managed by IHG and you can gain points there!
Just as with airlines, it makes sense to try to put most of your stays with one program, but have membership in 2-3 because you may end up having to stay there occasionally. This will also help you gain status which is just as important with hotels as it is with airlines. Most programs have three levels Silver, Gold and Platinum/Diamond, just as with the airlines. Unlike airlines, however, the requirements for each level can vary quite a bit between programs. Some count stays of however many consecutive nights and others do not. Some count only the actual number of nights stayed in one of their hotels. Some count stays/ nights when you use points for a free stay and others do not.
Gaining top level can require a lot of nights spent away from home, some programs need as many as 75 nights in a hotel. The consensus of several of my fellow BA bloggers think that the Platinum level is just too hard and that Gold gives you most of the key benefits such as free breakfast. I have been Platinum for several years in Marriott and really enjoy the top level treatment, but admit that it is hard to earn that consistently.
One important point is points or miles. Several of the programs will give you airline miles instead of hotel points if you like. I strongly advise against doing this. I already pointed out the value of hotel points and I think you will get much more value out of a bunch of hotel points instead of adding on to your airline mileage balance by a little bit. Note that this extends to the Hilton program that famously offers points and miles. They will give you 50% more points if you forgo the miles and this is a great way to build up your hotel points.
Lastly, consider that some programs will let you earn lifetime status (Marriott, SPG) while others do not have that. Definitely something to consider if you still have a lot of years to accumulate points.
So make your choices and start earning. Personally, I like the wider programs such as Marriott and Hilton, but it will depend on your situation. Many of my BA blogger compatriots swear by Hyatt and SPG saying that they have better FF programs and bonus offers. The choice will be up to you.