How to Choose the Best Hotel Rewards Program For You

You'll have to decide on a hotel brand and whether the loyalty program's elite status perks are worth it.
Sally French
By Sally French 
Edited by Kevin Berry

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If you're ready to make up for a couple years of lost travel with multiple trips, then it might make sense to join hotel loyalty programs and pursue hotel elite status in 2023. With it, you’re bestowed small conveniences that take some of the headache out of travel — like late checkout and faster internet. As you progress through higher tiers of hotel elite status, you’ll unlock luxuries like room upgrades, club lounge access and complimentary breakfast.

Here’s what you need to know about picking a hotel program to be loyal to in your pursuit of elite status.

The biggest hotel loyalty programs

While many small hotel companies have excellent programs to reward customer loyalty, most people should commit to one of the bigger chains. Why? Because it increases the likelihood of finding a participating hotel for your chosen loyalty program in any given destination.

IHG Rewards Club

Why it’s great: IHG’s hotel loyalty program is a favorite for families and business travelers alike. It ranked No. 1 in NerdWallet’s analysis of best hotel rewards program for families, No. 1 for best overall hotel rewards program and No. 2 for best hotel rewards program for frequent travelers.

Useful benefit: You can pay $200 to reach a top status tier called InterContinental Ambassador, which can be especially valuable given its complimentary restaurant credit and weekend night certificate.

World of Hyatt

Why it’s great: The highest tier of Hyatt elite status, Globalist, is especially lucrative. Waived resort fees can save hundreds of dollars on long vacations. Plus, there’s club access, complimentary breakfast and more.

Useful benefit: You also earn 1 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus point per dollar spent at Hyatt.

Hilton Honors

Why it’s great: Some elite status programs offer free breakfast, but the highest tier of Hilton elite status, Diamond, could theoretically cover every meal of the day thanks to executive-floor lounge access.

Useful benefit: Silver, Gold and Diamond members get the fifth night free on stays booked with points.

Marriott Bonvoy

Why it’s great: Marriott is one of the largest hotel chains, so no matter where you’re headed, it’s likely there’s a Marriott. This allows you to use your Marriott elite status benefits pretty much wherever you go.

Useful benefit: Once you reach Platinum elite status — earned after you stay 50 nights per year (or less if you have a Marriott credit card) — you receive free breakfast and free lounge access.

Top factors to consider

What hotels will you actually stay at?

You might be seduced by elite status perks, but they materialize only when you actually stay at those hotels. So you’ll want to consider your travel habits as well as the footprint of the hotel loyalty programs.

If you’re the kind of person who returns to your hometown often and the nearest hotel is a Hilton, well, Hilton Honors may be the program for you. If you intend to be traveling to your company’s headquarters on the same block as a Marriott, then your work has made it easier to earn Bonvoy elite status. If your favorite vacation spot happens to be a Hyatt stronghold, lean that direction.

Generally speaking, you’ll find more hotels with Marriott (7,000+), Hilton (6,400+) and IHG (6,000+). Hyatts will offer you high-quality options in specific areas, but with fewer options overall (950).

What hotels are transfer partners with your existing credit card points?

If you have certain travel credit cards, then you might already have points that easily transfer to hotel loyalty programs. Booking hotel rooms with points can often be a better deal than paying with cash, especially if you can take advantage of perks like getting a fifth night free on award stays.

If you already have points in a certain currency, that should help narrow down your decision of which hotel program to commit to. If you have both kinds of points, Marriott gives you the most flexibility.

What brands (and perks) align with your travel style?

As you chase status, make sure its benefits align with your travel style. For example, if it’s free breakfast you seek, then Hilton offers among the shortest routes to that perk (not even holding a Hyatt-branded credit card will get you free breakfast at most Hyatt properties, on the other hand). Or, if you prefer low fees and plentiful award booking options, consider IHG.

Who offers customers the best hotel loyalty points?

Hotel points valuations have slightly declined or stayed the same overall in the last few years, according to an analysis by NerdWallet's travel experts. Most hotels’ points slid just 0.1 of a cent since last year, and Hyatt remains the most valuable hotel points currency.

Marriott has had the biggest decline during the pandemic. On the flip side, Radisson’s points valuation has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, doubling in value this year.

It’s OK to skip hotel loyalty programs, too

Hotel elite status isn’t for everyone. While the highest tiers can be worth thousands of dollars for frequent travelers, the lower tiers are usually worth less than $25. Your effort to chase elite status will require far more investment than that, so don’t waste your time on low-level status. Instead, consider snagging automatic midlevel status via a credit card.

If you spend only five to 10 nights in a hotel annually, don’t obsess over hotel loyalty. Chasing elite status is worthwhile only if you’ll confidently spend at least 20 nights each year, which can usually get you a midlevel tier of elite status.

Other reasons to skip loyalty to a hotel include:

  • Loyalty means less flexibility: If you have Hilton status, but the Hyatt next door is cheaper, then you’ve found yourself in a predicament. Hotel status might also cause you to overlook alternative, equally delightful lodging options like short-term vacation or RV rentals.

  • Benefits can vary greatly: Maybe one resort upgraded you to an ocean-view room and let you extend checkout until 4 p.m. — effectively earning you an extra day at the pool. Meanwhile, your next trip got you nothing except a free water bottle and some Wi-Fi. Results can vary and there’s often no guarantee that you’ll get any specific benefit.

Choose the best hotel loyalty program for you

If you’ve got loads of upcoming travel planned, then it can make sense to choose one hotel to commit your loyalty to so you can also earn elite status.

Some hotel credit cards offer elite status as an automatic benefit for cardholders. But if a new piece of plastic is not in the cards for you, then you’ll have to stay quite a few nights to earn elite status.

If you’re ready to chase status, then consider what points you already have and what benefits you prioritize. While you could certainly choose to commit your loyalty to NerdWallet’s top hotel rewards program, IHG, remember that the best hotel loyalty program is ultimately the one that you’ll actually use based on your travel plans and preferences.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.


Intro offer


Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Enjoy 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.


Intro offer

Unlimited Matched Cash Back

Unlimited Matched Cash Back. Chase will automatically match all the cash back you earned at the end of your first year! There is no limit to how much cash back you can earn.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.


Intro offer


Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

See more travel cards
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