The main problem with most best-loyalty-program studies is their underlying assumption that there’s a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem. There is no single best program for everyone. What there is is a best program for you, given your goals and travel patterns and spending behavior.
A new Best Hotel Rewards Program study from WalletHub is a valiant attempt to overcome the limitations of categorical best-program studies, by keying the results to at least one key personal travel variable.
The study assesses the 12 largest U.S. hotel programs, based on 21 metrics, including geographic coverage, value of rewards, expiration policies, redemption options, and so on. But rather than stop there, as most such studies would, WalletHub developed an algorithm that factors in a traveler’s annual hotel spend to provide a personalized best-program recommendation.
For example, using the calculator, the best program for someone spending $1,000 a year on hotel stays would be Wyndham Rewards, with Marriott Rewards a close second. Spend $5,000 and the recommendation is reversed, with Marriott coming in first and Wyndham second. And a traveler spending $10,000 would be best served by IHG Rewards Club, followed by Marriott Rewards.
WalletHub’s approach is a major step in the right direction. But its strength ironically serves to point up its weakness. Spending is an important consideration, no doubt. But so are travel patterns (domestic or international, particular regions or cities, etc.) and goals (elite perks, free stays), among other considerations. Until other major factors can be included in the results, any best-program suggestions will remain oversimplifications.
Reader Reality Check
Give WalletHub’s calculator a try and see whether the results square with your own findings.
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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.