Index:

  1. Introduction 
  2. Elite status (Tiers, ease of earning, lifetime)
  3. Room upgrades (suites!)
  4. Breakfast and lounge access
  5. Late checkout
  6. Miscellaneous (Customer service, Tech/IT, BRG, promos, partnerships)
  7. Points earning rates and redemption values
  8. Global footprint analysis
  9. Conclusions

 

So far no one has really analysed in depth the return on investment you get on hotel and events expenditure, classified by program, status, brand/tier of stay and bill value.

I am attaching precisely that analysis in the following images. I shall also make the source spreadsheets available freely (but please credit me for derivative works!) so that people more competent with Excel, charts and design can put some make up on the base raw material and dress it up a little. Also check for potential errors (if you saw the backend hack job of formulas in some of those columns, it could kill you if you are an Investment Banker.)

Please note that GHA Discovery has no points system and is hence missing from the charts.

 

Earning Rates and Values

The points values (in the left column) used in the following tables are the average consensus values in the points/miles community based on analysis that already exists. If your personal valuations are different, you can always plug them into the source excel file to generate customised results.

For people who are not fans of the ‘fuzzy’ mathematical point valuations, fear not because in the redemptions section, point value as a factor is eliminated and I simply calculate redemption value on a spend/free night metric. So that section maybe of more interest to you.

We assume max points earning modes in all cases (so points as welcome amenity instead of breakfast and Points+Points MyWay earning style with Hilton).

The following table is for a total bill value of 100 USD. A nice round number so that it is easy to mentally scale up (although it doesn’t scale linearly because of the fixed ‘Welcome amenity’ value). 100 USD is also a good approximation of a midscale hotel night.

Stays for 100 USD

Stays for 100 USD

Accor Stays for 100 USD

 

SPG was always assumed to provide bad return on hotel spend and while SPG earning is indeed abysmal at the base level, the Gold Tier gives SPG elites a major boost and for Platinum elites, it is right in line with the highest in the industry! The only company higher is Hyatt!

Hilton/Marriott are only able to beat SPG at base levels. As soon as elite status kicks in, SPG beats them. Hyatt remains the highest across status levels and grade of hotel.

Accor is the all round worst performer here. It is 2.5 times worse than industry leader (Hyatt) for elites and matches SPG for abysmal base member returns. It gets worse if you are at an ibis or lower property. You get even lower returns at Adagio. Since no welcome amenity points are awarded to Accor elites, their results scale up linearly so in order to get the return for 200 or 1000 USD, just multiply by 2 or 10 respectively.

So far Hyatt and SPG are looking very good for earning rates for elite members and Hyatt looks good overall, scoring the highest returns for elite members at any grade of hotel. However, their good showing in this analysis is largely down to the fact that they award the most valuable fixed ‘welcome amenity’ bonuses, the value of which dominates as a function of its greater percentage contribution to the return from spend on the (low) total bill value (100 USD).

We now increase the spend in order to defocus the impact of the ‘Welcome amenity’ value. Let us assume a bill value of 1000 USD which is approximately a work week in a major city with some F&B spend.

Stays for 1000 USD

Stays for 1000 USD

Accor stays for 1000 USD

Accor stays for 1000 USD

Hyatt still leads (though with a smaller margin) and SPG loses its lead but still performs right in line with industry averages now that the advantage of welcome amenity has been muted for both of them.

Hyatt and Marriott are both better than the chart suggests because SPG and Hilton make you trade welcome points for breakfast in many cases (points earning is assumed here) whereas Hyatt/Marriott always give you welcome points, so in fact their earning delta is slightly higher than indicated.

Accor becomes competitive at the top end in the 1000 USD comparison since the welcome amenity disadvantage counts for less and its top end doesn’t look as ridiculous as it did in the 100 USD comparison. This is unless you stay at the ibis level, there things remain ugly.

Events

This is another area which has so far been underserved by bloggers and this will be the first analysis of its type for spending on events. This is a crucial area because the money involved is huge and consequently, the returns on investment as well.

So where should you hold your events?

Events

As is evident from the table. Marriott once again is the best by far in terms of earning rate. It’s earning rate is almost twice as much as the next best competitors (SPG Plat75+ and Hyatt) though the maximum earned value caps out rather quickly. So while you earn with the greatest speed and amount with Marriott, the total earnable volume is fairly low. This makes it necessary to plot a graph of sweet spots for spending which is shown in the table above as “Sweet spot range”. For all events less than 28k USD (so smaller events), Marriott should be your goto chain. For very large events (50K+ USD) SPG Plat 75+ wins out easily. Between 28-50K, you go with Hyatt.

SPG is unique in that its earning curve is steeply affected by your currently held status. If you have Plat75 status, you should give them all your big events but if you don’t, Marriott or Hyatt will always be a better choice (for pure earning).

However there are other important considerations. Marriott offers very generous credit towards elite status (beaten only by SPG when you have a lot of scale – 200 room nights per event+). So if elite status is your goal, this plays into your decision matrix as well. Technically Hyatt too offers top tier status to people who give them 10 events annually but there is no partial credit (say if you stop at 9) and no incentive towards elite status to exceed 10. Marriott and SPG grant both partial credit and incremental benefit for each event.

You may notice I have included “Hyatt Wedding Offers” in the table, this is a promotion (not general earning for normal events) and is expected to run at least couple (hah…wedding) more years. It easily beats absolutely everyone else on the chart and shows you the power of promotions and how they can skew everything. So most important factor in the decision making process is the prevalence of promotions!

Hilton is completely uncompetitive and not worth talking about here. The 1.5 points/USD earning only applies to non-US/Canada events. Within US/Canada, it is 1 point + 1 airline mile per USD (you get both) which is a lot better and makes for a closer comparison (but still worse than Marriott, Hyatt and SPG75).

Accor…ding to the table, there should be another chain there, but we will ignore them. Just like they sometimes ignore their own events program.

 

Redemptions and Spend per Free Night

The columns on the right with the status levels calculate a ‘spend per free night’ metric in USD. Accor is missing from the chart because all its redemptions are revenue based and fixed at 2000 points = 40 EUR.

Redemptions
Right away we see that top end redemptions across almost all chains are exactly the same price (on a spend/free night metric) except SPG. While the high end is roughly similar for all the chains, comparing their mid and low ends is fraught with the possibility of mistakes since Hyatt and SPG’s lowest categories are Hilton and Marriott’s mid categories. Since the scaling isn’t linear, the other property categories will be explored in much more detail in the city wise property by property comparison series of articles.

SPG is completely uncompetitive for aspirational redemptions and its point should never be used to redeem for high end properties. The sweet spot for SPG are Category 4 (or base Cat 5) and lower redemptions, at that level you will frequently extract better value than competing programs. SPG Cat 4 (or base cat 5) properties can often be upper upscale properties in a major city.

SPG also offers the best opportunities for redemptions in peak periods for base Cat 5 and below since the premium to be paid for premium rooms (when the base rooms are all sold out) is frequently around 1000 – 2750 points more which is basically nothing. Suite upgrades can be had for twice the redemption value of base rooms and can sometimes be an excellent way to confirm suites for non elite members.

If you redeem 4 nights, SPG gives you the 5th night free.

Hyatt has fantastic offers for suite and club room upgrades on paid nights. 6000 points can be used to upgrade to a suite from a paid standard rate (no other types eligible) base room (requires Ocean view/premium rooms in resorts however). Direct points redemptions for suites also delivers a lot of value in the Hyatt system.

Sadly, there is no 5th night free with Hyatt redemptions.

Marriott upgrades to suites and premium rooms are very very complex and handled distinctly by each property. They use upgrade rewards and there might be one or more necessary to get to the room category you want, it is best to check and evaluate these at the time of booking (also not every property offers these).

Marriott offers 5th night free when you redeem 4 nights.

However, a big difference with Marriott is that it DOES have blackout dates. While it advertises “no blackout dates” like everyone else, what it means is there will be rooms available on all dates (except some….so not all) but it doesn’t mean that “every” room will be made available like other chains. With other chains, any room that is available can potentially be booked with points whereas Marriotts can simply set aside 2 rooms out of 200 to be redeemable with points and the blackout the date when those are sold.

Hilton offers 5th night free only to Silver elites and above and its premium/suite room upgrades rarely if ever deliver good value since they are linked to the paid rates and fluctuate instead of offering fixed redemptions.

Accor redemptions are fixed at 2000 points for 40 EUR which means you do not have to calculate or compare with prevailing paid rates since the value of the point redemption will always be 0.02 EUR, this effectively means Accor is the only redemption option during low/off season or when paid rates are very cheap for any reason.

If you are faced with a situation where a city is largely booked out due to an event or conference, Accor and Hilton will likely become useless first since the reward redemptions will shoot through the roof (for Hilton because base rooms will sell out and premium rooms will be priced astronomically), Marriott will become useless next since they can just blackout the dates in hopes to sell those rooms for revenue. Hyatt and SPG (below Cat 5) will be your best bet at managing a sane redemption.

Most of the chains also have Points+Cash Rewards and the chart for these is shown below.

Points+Cash

The redemptions that make sense are highlighted in green and the ones that don’t are highlighted in red. The black ones (for Marriott) are redemptions where it could go either way depending on your individual situation. In general, Marriott Points+Cash opportunities don’t seem as lucrative. SPG P+C rates for the higher end of category 5, 6 and 7 on the other hand are *excellent* value as are most of Hilton’s mid tier redemptions. Ritz Points + Cash rewards pretty much never make sense.

Conclusion

SPG shows itself to not be a bad program at all with regards to earning for elites or redemptions below Cat5 (especially in peak dates) and that perhaps, is the most lasting conclusion to take away from this analysis since it is sure to ruffle a few feathers and goes against the conventional wisdom. SPG is definitely not an earn/burn program for the masses but is fantastic for earning/burning for elite members.

Hilton is not nearly as good as people imagine considering it is basically in direct competition with Marriott and has a worse (lower grade) mix of properties. The redemptions when you need them the most (peak dates) are simply ridiculously priced due to the points requirement for non-base rooms tracking paid rates. Also stealth increases in points requirement during high season are all too common.

Hyatt turns out to be the best at earning and base redemptions (as long as you can find a property to earn or redeem at and it is not sold out).

Marriott is unique in not offering “no blackout dates”.

Accor is hopelessly uncompetitive at lower bill values for 1 night stays (despite their portfolio skewing towards midscale/economy) but recovers enough for high bill values for top end elites at midscale/expensive properties to match the worst US chains (SPG/Hilton). They are the *only* ones with whom you can redeem anytime without worrying about peak/off peak season since they offer fixed revenue based redemptions. In effect, they are the only ones you should redeem with during off season.

For events earnings, Marriott is the best for small events (upto 28K), SPG75+ for large events (50K+), Hyatt if it’s anything in between (28-50K) or if you don’t have SPG Platinum 75 status (then Hyatt from 28K onwards). If it is a wedding in the near future, you should have it at Hyatt if possible irrespective of expenditure, their promo is that good.