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Travelers who collect points and miles often reevaluate their strategy every year, especially if they want to earn or keep elite status. With ever-changing point valuations, a topsy-turvy travel world of restrictions and reduced benefits for elite status members at certain hotel brands, the question “Should I be loyal to a single hotel brand?” often comes up.
Is it better to stay with a hotel brand and its loyalty program to possibly earn elite status, which comes with free breakfast and room upgrades? Or should you shop purely on price and location when it comes to where you want to stay?
When you think through how you plan to travel in the coming year, it's wise to consider if being loyal to a single hotel chain is worth it. Will you save more money and have a better experience by doing so? It may be faster to earn elite status and award stays that way.
Or should you consider paying outright for the best hotel that meets your needs in each city? You can still earn points with various programs, though it may not be enough for status or an award stay. But you’ll have more options and flexibility when picking where to stay.
Whatever you decide, it’s best to pick a strategy early so you can benefit from elite status and other perks of hotel loyalty programs as soon as possible.
What types of travelers benefit the most from loyalty?
Hotel loyalty can be a smart money move if you're one of these types of travelers.
Road warriors: The more you travel, the more likely elite status with a hotel brand will appeal to you. Frequent road warriors, especially, make a living through travel. Feeling recognized and cared for at a hotel can make travel much easier; not to mention, it can be nice to have a "constant" amid the disarray (even if that "constant" is the familiar hallway carpet of your preferred hotel chain). Plus, when you travel with family or loved ones, it can be nice to show off the treatment you receive and let others enjoy it with you.
Luxury travelers: Even if you don’t stay in hotels very often, the benefits of loyalty and elite status can make sense for travelers who stay at properties with high-value perks. For instance, if you travel a few times a year and stay at expensive hotels where you earn a lot of points, your balance can fill up quickly. This makes a future premium room or spa treatment redemption even more possible.
Hotel credit cardholders: If you have a co-branded hotel credit card, less frequent travelers may still find value from being loyal to one hotel brand. Spending on the card can earn enough points for free stays, and if your hotel credit card comes with a free anniversary night, you can use that for one of your upcoming trips. Not to mention, hotel credit cardholders may get automatic elite status or an accelerated path to elite status through spending, making it even worthwhile to commit to staying at properties in your loyalty program.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
How to shop hotel rewards programs
If you're to be loyal to one hotel brand, how should you decide? The answer will be different for each person, but it all comes down to one thing: you. How often do you travel? Where? For how long? How much are you willing to spend?
These questions can guide your decision on how to decide your hotel loyalty. Here are a few more:
Which hotels are closest to where you plan to travel? If you visit the same places frequently, are there any hotels ideally close to your destination? Or if your plans vary, are there certain properties (or particular brands) that you like visiting?
Do you spend enough to earn elite status? NerdWallet ranked hotel elite status programs based on the value they offer per dollar spent. This is a great way to understand how much you could be saving with elite benefits and hotel redemptions. This won’t matter if you don’t travel enough to earn it. Be sure to consider how elite status awards different tiers. For example, IHG Rewards isn't known to be particularly generous with its top-tier Diamond Elites, where World of Hyatt treats its highest Globalist members to lots of free perks.
How many points is it going to cost to stay at your desired properties? Is there a bucket list hotel or destination you have always wanted to visit? Look up how much a stay might cost in points and whether you’ll be able to earn those points through a hotel credit card sign-up bonus, free reward night or by traveling frequently this year. We also did a big analysis across hotel rewards programs that can help decipher which program actually has the highest rate of return (the answer might surprise you!).
How many hotels are even available, and at what price points? When reviewing the biggest names in the hotel world, consider the brand's sheer size. Options include everything from Best Western Rewards and Choice Privileges, with plenty of value-focused properties, to Marriott Bonvoy, with 30 brands to its name. Hotel companies and their loyalty programs have several different brands at varying price points and amenity levels. Understanding who owns what can help guide you when choosing the best hotel program for you.
Hotels that deserve your money should provide sufficient return for your repeat business. The great thing about being loyal to one hotel rewards program is that they can deliver more than just points and a hotel bed once you earn elite status.
And remember, you can always switch your allegiance after a year or two if you find something more suitable for your needs.
Hotel partnerships can help you earn more points
Beyond specific hotel brands themselves, many loyalty programs have partnerships with other travel-related companies. This means you can earn more points and perks along the way.
For example, Marriott Bonvoy awards points when using Uber Eats or taking premium Uber rides and Hilton Honors offers a similar earning scheme with Lyft. World of Hyatt gives reciprocal status to American Airlines’ elite members and awards points for every dollar spent on flights. Marriott and United MileagePlus have a similar reciprocal elite status plan.
World of Hyatt has a deal with Small Luxury Hotels of the World where members can earn and redeem points at its boutique properties. Choice Privileges lets you redeem points for Preferred Hotels stays.
Depending on your spending (for example, if you use one rideshare service more than another, or usually fly with a certain airline or like the option of staying at boutique hotels), perhaps being loyal to one particular program makes more sense than another. For most people, the goal is to maximize your experience within one program rather than spread yourself thin. Look for a hotel program that is friendly with the brands you do business with most often.
Loyalty is a two-way street
While remaining loyal to just one hotel brand can limit your pool of lodging options when you travel, it can also pay off in the long run if you travel enough to earn elite status.
Patronize hotel companies that treat you well and provide valuable benefits for your needs. When you do this, the rewards and perks will flow and your advance planning will pay off.
If you’re still not sure or just don’t travel enough for it to matter, become a free agent, paying for the services you want, where you want them. Less-frequent travelers will be happier this way.
But for many people, that golden cord can be rewarding with the right hotel loyalty program.
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:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card