When I posted recently about my new partnership with Marriott Rewards, I mentioned that I have been a Starwood girl for the last few years. However, there’s definitely value in maintaining loyalty to a few programs! Sometimes there isn’t one of your preferred hotel chain’s properties in a place you need to go, and it’s nice to have some options. My business travel usually demands specific hotels, but when I travel for leisure and am using points to redeem free nights, I’m always trying to figure out which hotel is going to be the best use of my points.
While airline miles are all typically worth about the same amount per mile (very roughly, though that may be changing a lot soon with Delta’s recent shakeup of the calculation), the four major hotel chains have very different schemas for earning and redeeming points. A 10,000 point per night Hilton property is not at all the same as a 10,000 point per night Starwood property, and it can be difficult to compare which is the better value unless you start doing some math.
First of all, whether I’m traveling for a race or a wedding, there are lots of qualitative factors that come into play. Is the host hotel one of the properties where I have points? (That’s always my first choice, particularly for a wedding where most guests are expected to stay at the same hotel.) Is one of the properties closer to the event than the others? Does one offer an airport shuttle, allowing me to save on a car rental? Do I have high enough status at one chain to grant me a suite upgrade or free breakfast? All of these are important to consider, but when there isn’t any one truly differentiating factor about the property, it all comes down to the points. Which one offers me the best value for my redemption?
Different hotel chains give you rewards points in different ways. Starwood, for example has a base of 3 points earned per dollar spent, while Hyatt offers 5 points per dollar. At the upper end, Marriott and Hilton both give basic rewards program members 10 points per dollar. But does that mean that Marriott and Hilton are giving their guests more? Unfortunately not, since the redemption values vary accordingly. Category 1 Starwood properties (the lowest tier) charge only 3,000 points per night, while Category 1 Marriott properties are 6,000-7,500. To further complicate things, each hotel chain provides a bonus on points earned per stay depending on your level – so if you have Diamond status with Hyatt, you’ll earn 6.5 points per dollar instead of the base 5, and at Hilton, you can earn 12.5 points as a Gold member or 17.5 points if you’re a Gold member who opts for their “Points + Points” earning style. So how do you figure out which redemptions offer the best value?
To help solve this problem, I developed a quick little calculator that will tell you how many points in spend you had to get to earn that “free” hotel night. The lower your spend to earn that night, the better the deal it is to redeem it!
Of course, you can also earn hotel points through activities like online shopping or using co-branded credit cards, and many programs can offer optional per-stay bonuses as “welcome gifts” on check in… but hopefully this at least simplifies your base calculation and gives you one more data point to come to a decision.