Head-to-Head: Best Hotel Loyalty Programs in 2024

Loyalty programs can be complicated. Actually, all of them are designed to be; some more than others. In the eyes of loyalty programs, ideal members are those who do not keep track or have valuations of their points. These members would stay loyal and redeem their points/miles for anything, without thinking about value.

Like I’ve always said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this fuss-free approach. It can be time-consuming to keep track of your miles/points, especially if you don’t enjoy it as a hobby, or if your hotel stays are mostly paid by your employer.

However, if you are reading this, you are probably like me! We, self-funded travel hackers, maximize our miles/points earnings and redeem them for high-value sweet spots, as much as we can. In doing so, we get to enjoy dream hotel stays and airline seats, without ever paying the full price.

In this article, I will be summarizing the key benefits of 6 popular hotel loyalty programs in easy-to-read tables to help decide which is the best for you. I will also share my favourites and explain why.

The loyalty programs compared in this article are Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, IHG One Rewards, Accor Live Limitless and GHA Discovery.

How do Hotel Loyalty Programs work?

In a nutshell, travellers can receive additional benefits on their hotel stays when they hold certain Elite membership statuses.

This includes complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, early check-in, late check-out and even Club Lounge access, which can include free food and alcoholic beverages at certain hours of the day.

Like most of my hotel stays, one can receive all these benefits even when booking the cheapest available room.

I received this upgrade to the Chairman Suite at Westin Kuala Lumpur on my birthday, as a Marriott Bonvoy Titanium member (read my review)
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Basic information

Loyalty
Program
No. of
Hotels
Points
Validity
Fifth
Night
Free
Milestone
Bonuses
(100 nights)
Rollover
Elite
Nights
Soft
Landing
Marriott
Bonvoy
~8,7002 yrs2
Hilton
Honors
~7,0002 yrs8
World of
Hyatt
~1,3002 yrs9
IHG
One
Rewards
~6,0001 yr9
Accor
Live
Limitless
~5,1001 yr
GHA
Discovery
~8002 yrs

No. of hotels: Marriott, Hilton, IHG and Accor have at least 5,000 properties all over the world. With these programs, there’s a much higher chance of finding an affiliated hotel on your travels, as compared to Hyatt and GHA.

Points validity: All programs offer at least 1 year activity-based points expiry term. An “activity-based” points expiry term allows you to automatically extend the expiration of your points whenever there is account activity (earn or spend points).

Fifth night free: Only Marriott and Hilton offer 5th night free when redeeming points for hotel stays. In other words, you’ll pay 4 nights worth of points, for a 5-night stay.

Rollover nights: Only Hilton and IHG offer rollover Elite nights. Elite nights earned in a calendar year that are not used towards maintaining or upgrading your status will be rolled over to the following year, to make it easier to maintain/upgrade your status in future. For example, if you are a Hilton Gold member with 50 elite nights earned in a calendar year, you will have 10 nights rolled over to the following year, after deducting the 40 nights required to maintain your Gold status.

Soft landing: Soft landing is a valuable program benefit offered by Marriott, IHG and Accor. With this benefit, an Elite member can only drop a maximum of one status tier per year, when they don’t requalify for the current tier.

Wow Suite at W Muscat (read my review)

Staying 25 to 40 nights a year

Here are the membership statuses that you can qualify for, if you stay between 25 and 40 nights in a calendar year.

Loyalty
Program
StatusElite
Nights
Break-
fast
Points
Yield

(pre-tax)
Late
Check-
Out
Room
Upgrade
Marriott
Bonvoy
Gold257.5% value
12.5/USD
2pm
Hilton
Honors
Gold40
(or 20
stays)
5.4% value
18/USD
Request
World of
Hyatt
Explorist309% value
6/USD
2pm
IHG
One
Rewards
Platinum408% value
16/USD
2pm
Accor
Live
Limitless
Gold307.4% value
37/10 EUR
Request
GHA
Discovery
Titanium30
(or 3
brands)
7% value4pm + Two
categories

With complimentary breakfast offered in every hotel, Hilton’s Gold status is the clear winner for this membership level. However, take note that you would only get a US$10 – US$25 F&B credit per person in US hotels (usually only enough for 1 coffee + 1 muffin!).

GHA Discovery can be a fun status to hold, as a member only needs to stay at least 1 night in 3 different brands. This can be done with as little as 3 nights in total!

My thoughts: The benefits offered by other loyalty programs at this level are simply not worth your loyalty. If you stay less than 50 nights a year, choose Hilton, or stay independent. If you stay mostly in hotels in the United States, stay independant.

Breakfast at Hilton Malta (read my review)

Staying 50 or more nights a year

This is where you get some real hotel benefits!

Loyalty
Program
StatusElite
Nights
Break-
fast
Points
Yield

(pre-tax)
Late
Check-
Out
Possible
Suite
Upgrade
Club
Lounge
Access
Marriott
Bonvoy
Platinum509% value
15/USD
4pm
Marriott
Bonvoy
Titanium7510.5% value
17.5/USD
4pm
Hilton
Honors
Diamond60
(or 30
stays)
6% value
20/USD
Request
World of
Hyatt
Globalist609% value
9.8/USD
4pm
IHG
One
Rewards
Diamond7010% value
20/USD
2pm
Accor
Live
Limitless
Platinum60Asia
Pacific
8.8% value
44/10 EUR
Request

Breakfast: Members with any of the above statuses can receive complimentary breakfast on their stays in most affiliated properties. Accor Platinum is definitely the weakest in this category, as breakfast is only complimentary in Asia Pacific properties.

Suite upgrades: Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt offer room upgrades up to select suites. However, room upgrades heavily depends on how generous the property is, availability, occupancy levels, number of Elite members that day, and even your check-in/check-out time.

In my real-life experience, I’ve had the lowest success-rate on suite upgrades with a top-tier Hilton status, vs Marriott and Hyatt.

Club lounge access: While members of the other statuses receive complimentary club lounge access in most properties, IHG Diamond does not offer this benefit (only as a Milestone reward).

Additional Hyatt perk: On top of the above benefits, Hyatt Globalist members can enjoy free parking, when staying on points. This is especially useful at expensive cities.

My thoughts: On paper, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt are the programs that offer the best benefits at this membership level. Unless if you stay mostly in Asia Pacific hotels, I would avoid Accor Platinum. I also can’t see how anyone can justify staying loyal to IHG over the others.

Royal Club Lounge at The Athenee Bangkok (Read my review)

Lifetime status

Loyalty
Program
StatusFirst
Requirement
Second
Requirement
Marriott
Bonvoy
Lifetime
Platinum
10 years600 nights
Hilton
Honors
Lifetime
Diamond
10 years1,000 nights
World of
Hyatt
Lifetime
Globalist
USD 200k
Spending
(pre-tax)

Upon achieving a lifetime status, members no longer need to re-qualify for their status.

Hilton and Marriott both require members to hold the status for at least 10 years (doesn’t have to be consecutive). However, Hilton’s second requirement is a lot harder to achieve than Marriott’s.

Hyatt awards the lifetime status to members who spent at least US$200k (excl. taxes/fees). You can be a Lifetime Globalist on your first year if you reach the spending requirement. Simple as that.

My thoughts: Marriott’s Lifetime Platinum status is obviously the easiest to achieve. Because of its global footprint and my real-world experience with status recognition, it is the most worthwhile too. If lifetime hotel status is your long-term goal, stick to Marriott.

Breakfast buffet at The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Pacific Place (read my review)

Milestone bonuses

For simplicity, I’ve ommited low-value rewards from this table. Members may be able to select other milestone rewards.

MilestoneMarriott
Bonvoy
Hilton
Honors
World of
Hyatt
IHG One
Rewards
20 nightsCHOOSE ONE
• 2x club
access
• 2k points
next stay
CHOOSE ONE
• 5k points
• 1x suite
upgrade
30 nights1x free night
(Cat 1-4)
+
CHOOSE ONE
• 2x club
access
• 2k points
next stay
5k
points
40 nights10k
points
1x guest of
honour
+
CHOOSE ONE
• 5k points
• 1x suite
upgrade
CHOOSE ONE
• 10k points
• 1x suite
upgrade
• 1 yr club
access
50 nightsCHOOSE ONE
• 5x suite
upgrades
• 5 Elite
nights
10k
points
CHOOSE ONE
• 5k points
• 1x suite
upgrade
10k
points
60 nights40k
points
1x free night
(Cat 1-7)
+
2x suite
upgrades
+
2x guest of
honor
10k
points
70 nights10k
points
1x guest of
honor
+
CHOOSE ONE
• 10k points
• 1x suite
upgrade
CHOOSE ONE
• 10k points
• 2x suite
upgrade
• 1 yr club
access
75 nights1x free night
(40k points)
80 nights10k
points
1x guest of
honor
+
CHOOSE ONE
• 10k points
• 1x suite
upgrade
10k
points
90 nights10k
points
1x guest of
honor
+
CHOOSE ONE
• 10k points
• 1x suite
upgrade
10k
points
100 nights10k
points
1x free night
(Cat 1-7)
+
CHOOSE ONE
• 10k points
• 1x suite
upgrade
10k
points

Points value: Not all points are equal! One can receive much more value with Hyatt points, than Hilton’s. Here’s how I value 10,000 points from each program:

Marriott: US$60
Hilton: US$30
Hyatt: US$150
IHG: US$50

Related: Best ways to redeem Marriott Bonvoy points

Related: Best ways to redeem World of Hyatt points

Suite upgrades: Suite upgrades are not created equal too. Marriott’s 5 suite upgrades can be used for 5 nights, while Hyatt’s one suite upgrade can be applied to a stay of up to 7 nights!

Additional Hyatt perk: You will receive a Category 4 free night (worth US$225) after staying in 5 Hyatt brands, up to 5 times (25 out of 28 brands), with Hyatt’s Brand Explorer.

Hyatt’s Brand Explorer

My thoughts: Marriott is very weak when it comes to milestone bonuses. Hilton and IHG reward you consistently every step of the way, while Hyatt is simply the king of milestones!

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Shortcuts to Elite statuses

There are numerous “shortcuts” to achieving Elite statuses with hotel loyalty programs. A lot of members receive or re-qualify for their statuses without actually staying the required amount of nights.

Double Elite Nights: Loyalty programs sometimes run promotions where members can earn twice the number of elite nights during the promo period. In this Marriott example, members can clock 50 Elite nights (to get Platinum status) after staying just 25 actual nights.

Status match: Holding a hotel loyalty status? You may be eligible for a status match to another program, like this Hilton one.

Fast track: Members can sometimes sign up for fast track offers, to achieve Elite statuses for a fewer number of nights than what’s usually required.

Credit cards: Certain cardholders may receive automatic status with a loyalty program, like what’s offered by Mastercard for GHA members, and the Hilton AMEX Aspire card in the US.

Mattress run

You’ve probably heard of the term “mattress run”. It simply means going out of your way to spend additional nights in hotels that you normally wouldn’t. Hotel loyalty members do this for a variety of reasons:

  1. Reach minimum nights required to maintain status
  2. Reach milestone bonus tiers
  3. Take advantage of ongoing promotions like double points or double elite nights

My thoughts: Mattress runs are unnecessary, most of the time. If you do not stay in hotels enough, you will not get to truly enjoy the benefits of your status anyway, and it is not worth your time, and the mattress-running expenses.

If you travel once or twice a year, you can simply pay more on your travels and book rooms with breakfast or club benefits whenever you want them. You can even book Hyatt Prive or Virtuoso rates to enjoy additional benefits as a non-elite member.

How can each program improve?

Marriott: Add rollover nights and more milestones. Plus, guaranteed breakfast, lounge access or suite upgrades for statuses above Platinum (i.e. Titanium, Ambassador).

Hilton: Better real-world Diamond member upgrades (not just on paper). Plus, better breakfast benefit in the US and less-crazy award devaluation.

Hyatt: More properties, 5th night free for award stays.

IHG: Club lounge access and suite upgrades for Diamond members.

Accor: Complimentary breakfast worldwide for Platinum members.

GHA Discovery: More properties and a higher status level above Titanium with complimentary breakfast, club lounge access and suite upgrades upon availability.

Staying disloyal

Staying disloyal/independent gets you one huge benefit: FREEDOM.

You will not feel the need to stay in a crappy, overpriced Hilton or Marriott (believe me, there are plenty of them around) just because you hold an Elite status with that program.

Staying disloyal does not mean that you should stop booking stays with Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt. Non-elite members can often receive outstanding value by redeeming points for award sweet spots.

You will also have the freedom to take advantage of any promotion, from any loyalty program any time you want through 2-Player Mode and even hotel hacks!

On top of that, you will also be able to benefit from promotions from third-party Online Travel Agencies (e.g. up to 25% Agoda discount).

Lastly, you won’t feel bad about staying in an Airbnb!

Remember, be a fan of the product, not the billion-dollar corporation behind it.

Balcony with mountain view at Oaks Queenstown Shores Resort (read my review)

Bottom line

An Elite hotel status can only be truly enjoyed if you travel enough to enjoy the benefits and rack up the Elite nights naturally. If you do not stay at least 30-or-so actual nights in hotels, you are probably better-off staying independent.

Here are my favourite hotel loyalty programs for self-funded travellers based in Southeast Asia:

Marriott Bonvoy: Pick this if you can achieve at least the Platinum status. Take advantage of Double Elite Night promos, if any. Receive great value for your points by taking advantage of the wonderful Marriott sweet spots. Try to aim for the lifetime status too!

Hilton Honors: Pick this if you can clock at least 20 stays or 40 nights for the Gold status. Take advantage of Double Elite Night promos, if any.

World of Hyatt: Pick this if you stay at least 60 nights in hotels annually to achieve the Globalist status. As Double Elite Nights promo are extremely rare, be prepared to qualify solely on actual nights stayed. This status is also the most beneficial, although not amazing, in the United States.

9 thoughts on “Head-to-Head: Best Hotel Loyalty Programs in 2024”

  1. Hey man, just found your publication. Excellent analysis, thank you! I like how you’ve made for easy identification with the “X nights a year” titles.

    Anyway, I wanted to point out that whilst the Hilton Gold offers the most value in terms of its free breakfast, it also is quite substantially more expensive than say, Accor with the Ibis/ Mecure franchise? Might be a small sample size for me, but is that your experience too?

    And if so, any tips on how to keep costs of attaining the Hilton Diamond low or do you just pay through the nose and live in luxury?

    Reply
    • Hey, I agree that Hilton properties are substantially more expensive now with both cash and points. Personally, I’ve been travelling quite a bit and couldn’t find a reason to stay in one since early last year. However, Accor Gold (and other statuses in the 30-49 nights bracket) does not get you complimentary breakfast, so, I still feel that Hilton Gold is the best in class, although it has a higher requirement of 40 nights/20 stays to maintain.

      Reply
  2. best review on loyalty programs, very comprehensive and makes for an easy read. so much better compared to milelion ones

    Reply
  3. really good side by side review, thanks. I suggest you update the review showing the changes in IHG. With the 40 night awards I guess most people would choose the lounge access . IHG with its recent changes has inspired me to look at putting more nights with them.

    Reply

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