Why Marriott Bonvoy Won Best Hotel Loyalty Program of 2020 (And Why We Were Surprised)

Sam KemmisFebruary 10, 2020
On a similar note...
On a similar note...

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In early 2019, Marriott rolled out its new Bonvoy loyalty program, which sealed its acquisition of SPG and Ritz-Carlton...and it didn’t exactly go as planned. Technical woes and customer service struggles left a bad taste in many mouths, and the takeaway from the rewards community seemed to be that Bonvoy was a bit of a bust.

Yet, when we picked our best hotel loyalty program for 2020, Marriott Bonvoy swept all three categories: Best Hotel Rewards Program (overall), Best Hotel Rewards Program for Families and Best Hotel Rewards Program for Business Travelers.

What gives? Did we miss glaring issues with the Bonvoy program, or were the negative reactions overblown?

A game of numbers

We took a data-driven approach to determining our best travel rewards program. Specifically, we set up certain criteria (like the value of points and the number of properties in a hotel portfolio) before gathering or analyzing any data. In other words, we tried to let the numbers speak for themselves, rather than applying our own preconceptions about each program.

The data itself came from the real world. We compared the cost of booking hotels using points or cash to determine the value of points. We then combined it with the earning rate of these points to determine an “effective rewards rate” (first column below).

All three categories used the same data, but we applied different weights to the different factors for each category. For example, we weighted “quality of elite status program” higher for business travelers than family travelers.

Here’s the breakdown, in which each program receives a 1 (lowest) - 5 (highest) rating in each column. That is, no weighting has been applied at this level.

Effective rewards rate

Availability

Portfolio size

Ease of booking

Elite status

Best Western

4

4

3

1

1

Hilton

1

5

3

3

3

Hyatt

5

4

1

5

5

IHG

4

4

3

3

2

Marriott

5

5

4

4

4

Radisson

5

4

1

1

1

Wyndham

5

4

5

3

1

We were as surprised as anyone to see Bonvoy top all three of our lists, but the table above shows why. Bonvoy received a perfect 5/5 rating in “effective rewards rate,” an important factor. Basically, this is the amount of value you can expect to receive back (in the form of points) from this program.

Bonvoy wasn’t the only program to receive a 5/5 rating: Hyatt, Radisson and Wyndham also performed well. But the other criteria are where Bonvoy pulled away from the pack.

Marriott performed well (if not perfectly) in the remaining columns. All the other programs, including second-place Hyatt, got a low score in at least one category. In Hyatt’s case, its program got dinged for offering fewer properties than competitors. Marriott Bonvoy, on the other hand, is enormous.

Not bad, Bonvoy

So the two reasons Bonvoy was our pick for the best hotel loyalty program in 2020 were:

  • We let numbers, not our opinions, tell the story.

  • Bonvoy performed well in all rating criteria, while other programs dropped at least one ball.

Cynically, you could say that Marriott Bonvoy won by being not bad at any single aspect of its reward program. Yet, we would go further than that and say the relaunched Marriott program has proven itself a superior option for frequent travelers of all stripes.

What do you think? Did our ratings miss a crucial element of the Bonvoy program that would have sunk it? Or was the negative reaction overblown?

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 2020, including those best for:

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