Whilst not getting quite the same press as airline loyalty schemes, hotel loyalty schemes can have their plus points too.
Most will reward you with free WiFi just for signing up and booking direct. Although as you move through the tiers, you’ll gain more benefits. These range from bottles of water in your room, to free breakfast to room upgrades. Obviously, each chain has different benefits. I’ve gained near top status with most chains over the years, so I will take a look at which brand provides the most for their most loyal customers.
Obviously, I will only really be able to speak about the chains I’ve had any real status with.
The first program I signed up to was Hilton Honors back in 2012. Back then, they were the only hotel chain that allowed you to double dip. This meant that not only did you earn hotel points, but also airline miles for your nominated program. This was eventually ditched, but by that point I was in the game.
Silver status is earned with just four stays. This doesn’t earn you too much however. Two free bottles of water and from my own personal experience, the odd room upgrade here and there. But that was more of a favour than any sort of published benefit. After my 20th stay, I earned gold hhonours status. I found this to be pretty rewarding. More often than not I was given a room upgrade – this is one of the published benefits. And the free breakfast was very welcome. Apart from in the San Francisco Union Square Hilton, where they didn’t appear to get the memo. Instead they offered me 30% off breakfast. No thanks. They were also a little off with me when I asked for a late check out, which is another published benefit.
Overall, I thought it was a good program. However the Doubletree in Boston ruined it for the Hilton group with me by demanding I paid a £600 pre-authorisation.
Not being held down to any corporate policies, I voted with my feet and switched my loyalty to IHG for the following year.
IHG Rewards Club
I initially signed up for the IHG program in 2015. Although I was loyal Hilton customer at that point, I was due to stay at the Intercontinental in Hong Kong. Therefore to get free WiFi, all I had to do was sign up to their loyalty scheme.
I mostly ignored the IHG program until around 2016. I had set up all my IHG points to transfer to my BA account, however when I realised it wasn’t giving the best value, I decided to take a look at leaving them in my IHG account. Around the same time, I signed up to one of their frequent Accelerate promo offers. As such, one night in Turin bagged me around 20k points. Which was enough for a free night in the Holiday Inn at Prague airport.
When leaving the Hilton program, IHG was the logical choice, as I had started racking up points pretty quickly through them.
I managed to hit the first tier of their loyalty scheme by number of points earned as opposed to number of nights stayed. By 2018, I had moved up another tier, to Platinum Elite. I was keen to compare it to Hilton Honors Gold, seeing as they were both the third tier up.
Spoiler Alert: It’s Not As Good As Hilton
In all honesty, I haven’t noticed that much difference in regards to perks compared to IHG’s lower gold tier. Whilst free room upgrades are a listed benefit, I’m yet to experience one where it has really been that noticeable. Maybe the room has had a more fancy coffee machine as opposed to a kettle. Or a bath robe. Certainly not as impressive as some of the upgrades I was given with Hilton. And only once in countless stays have I been given free breakfast at an IHG property due to my status.
What the IHG scheme is good for however is points and rewards. With their quarterly Accelerate promos, it is (or at least was) fairly easy to rack up points with the brand. Reward nights have been fairly easy to come by too – and for a reasonable amount of points.
Theres virtually no chance of renewing my Platinum Elite status with IHG for 2020, and as I haven’t really noticed any difference between their Platinum and Gold tiers, I can’t say I’m too bothered. As such, I have decided to split my loyalty.
Yes, I know its now known as Radisson Rewards. But when I was staying with them on a regular basis, it was known as Club Carlson. Once more I had their third tier status. And much like the IHG program, I didn’t think it really matched up to the Hilton Honors program in regards to in hotel perks. The most notable upgrades I achieved were to newly refurbished rooms in both Warsaw and Stockholm. Although they were still the same type of room that I had booked – so no additional perks. Whilst I do recall spending points for free nights on the odd occasion with them, I don’t remember earning them at any particular rate of knots.
As it turns out, I haven’t stayed at any Radisson property for well over two years now and it’s unlikely I will for the foreseeable future.
Completely unrelated to their loyalty scheme, I have noticed a bit of a trend with Radisson properties over the years. If you can get a recently refurbished room, they’re great. The Manchester Airport Radisson Blu is a perfect example of this. Although if you end up in one of their properties that hasn’t seen any attention for a few years, they’re a little lacklustre – as I found out when staying at the Stockholm Airport SkyCity property. There doesn’t appear to be any middle ground with them. You’ll either get brand new or way past its prime. Strange.
The new kid on the block! Launched in early 2019 as a result of the merging of the previous Marriott Rewards and Sheraton SPG programs, this is one I’ll be taking a closer look at in 2020.
As I’ve only recently started paying close attention to this program, I can’t comment too much on it. However on first glance, for 10 nights per year you’ll gain Silver status which won’t earn you a huge amount – 10% bonus points and free late check out. Which is identical to IHG Gold status, both in benefits and amount needed to earn said status.
It remains to be seen what redeeming points is like with this program, but with having IHG Gold status locked in for 2020 I can’t see any harm in using the year to explore other hotel options.
The one interesting thing about the Bonvoy program that I have noticed is that you earn your status purely from nights stayed. Most, if not all other schemes offer the opportunity to earn status from nights stayed or points earned.
Obviously, there are other hotel loyalty schemes around. I have accounts with Accor, NH, Melia and Best Western, although I very seldom stay in their properties. As such I have zero status and virtually no usable points with their programs. Therefore can’t really comment too much about them.
Why Not Use Booking.com Or Hotels.com?
I do use booking.com when going off brand. However when booking a chain through a third party, you rarely, if ever get any recognition for your status. In layman’s terms – no free WiFi. No points to use at a later date. No benefits if you’re a higher tier. Pretty much just the room.
Even if staying in a chain that I have no status with, I find its always worth booking direct. For example, I have zero status with Jury’s Inn. Yet when checking into their Aberdeen hotel, I was awarded premium WiFi purely because I booked through their website.
So which hotel scheme should you sign up for? Well that really depends on you. If you’re after the best perks, Hilton is the one to go for. Want to rack up a lot of points in a short space of time? IHG. Looking at staying on a budget? Accor – due to the fact the Ibis falls under their scheme and they’re nearly always reasonably priced.
Really don’t care about any of the above? Use hotels.com. Every 10th booking gets you a free night.