- Elite status (Tiers, ease of earning, lifetime)
- Room upgrades (suites!)
- Breakfast and lounge access
- Late checkout
- Miscellaneous (Customer service, Tech/IT, BRG, promos, partnerships)
- Points earning rates and redemption values
- Global footprint analysis
SPG has the best customer service of the big chains by far and is the only one you can even reasonably trust for positive outcomes. The response times and escalations procedures are the fastest and smoothest. They have the ability to escalate and assign cases to individual agents/managers who can then handle a case till its resolution. Also SPG hotels are the most in sync with their program with SPG ‘champions’ (SPG specialists) at every property and all managers know how to tweak SPG award reservations, stay postings etc.
You might find yourself stuck with ridiculously bad customer service if you are served out of one of their regional call centers (*cough* Cairo *cough*) when you call the regional customer service number. The solution to this is to use the online click to call functionality and someone from the US, Canada or Cork (Ireland) will call you back. The agents can transfer you to any number of internal services (Platinum Desk, Consumer Affairs, Ambassador Service etc) so if reaching them was the goal, you can call the regional numbers as well.
Hilton also has regional centers (and their Cairo one is just as rubbish) and the best way to get good service is to once again use the click to call functionality on the website like SPG and be automatically connected to someone from USA who can once again transfer you to all departments such as Diamond Desk and Guest Assistance (Hilton Cairo center cannot transfer internally, or so they claim). HHonors is completely out of sync with their properties and neither can help resolve issues with the other, their borders of jurisdiction are entirely separate. This can be a big change for people used to SPG (or Hyatt) but is a recurring issue with Hilton/Marriott. It is not hard to get Guest Assistance (highest corporate customer service department) to disagree with HHonors on matters of their own program.
HHonors can stand by you but they have no power to resolve, for that you are referred to Guest Assistance. For comparison, I have not dealt with Starwood’s equivalent corporate CS in 200 stays in past 2 years (I have dealt with them for issues for others). Everything is adequately resolved at the hotel or SPG Customer Service level. Hilton cannot assign a single agent to work your case no matter how much you get escalated and they seemingly cannot track a single complaint either (or the agents just don’t care enough to actually make the notes on the file or read the previous ones). Inter-departmental issue resolution (when different departments disagree) is virtually non-existent. HHonors, hotel and Guest Assistance can and will differ in their policies despite all being Hilton and you can just deal with it. They will not talk to each other, each sure that it is correct. In all your dealings with them, despite intra-departmental differences (so someone from Hilton has to be wrong), only you will be declared wrong since you are dealing with them one by one.
Until recently Hyatt did not even have a Gold Passport number for the Middle East to call! (hello last century, Hyatt’s customers called, no they didn’t, because they had no number to call you on…). There was simply no practical way to call and speak to Gold Passport (the alternative was to make an international call and hold for indefinite periods of time). Thankfully, changes were made and the region is now served by a team based in India (part of their internal structure since ME comes under South West Asia). Gold Passport generally feels in sync with its properties and most of the staff seem to know all the rules/regulations and procedures. Move to corporate customer service and Consumer Affairs and things start going south very quickly especially if loyalty program is concerned.
Marriott customer service for Asia is based out of Ireland (where the other companies above also maintain large customer service teams) but is not as good as SPG. Getting issues resolved can be a real pain sometimes, no, always. I fear the merger…
GHA is an independent alliance and so each hotel chain has its own customer service department.
Accor Customer Service is subject to availability and they are not currently available. Thank you for choosing Accor.
Each company has a ‘nuclear’ customer service department which handles complaints at the corporate level and has much more authority and leeway to resolve issues (these guys are the ones who throw around generous compensation and are labelled Consumer Affairs or something similar, they can overrule just about anyone). Usually these departments are distinct from the regular customer service folk you speak to on the phone. They are also distinct from the loyalty program customer service. I was initially going to compile their contact details with direct email addresses here but the best way to reach them is usually using the online form on the corporate website (not the loyalty program contact us page).
The other “nuclear” option is their Social Media teams. Fundamentally, these are a different breed of people; higher paid, younger, not working from home and (mostly) college grads. They are not traditional customer service at all but when they “adopt” a case can usually work wonders. Unfortunately, even these nuclear options can trip up on very simple program T&C elements such as “how long earned status lasts?” (answer: the year you earn it, all of next year and couple of months of the year after that usually depending on chain). I’ve experienced these elementary failures at every chain (SPG being the only one to resolve them but I had to escalate to just under VP level so don’t exactly consider it a ‘win’….but relatively yes they are head and shoulders above the rest).
SPG is once again the best when it comes to Tech/IT matters. It has the best and most fully functional website and reservations engine (it is the only one that can compare several different rate types for several different hotels in an area in a matrix all at once), good hotel websites (though there can be upto 3 official websites for each hotel, one by Starwood, one brand specific website and also hotel’s own). Hotel’s own website tends to be the best and most upto date with the most detailed room photos. Hotel websites on starwoodhotels.com/hotel and brand websites (sheraton.com/hotel) tend to be much worse than hotel’s own website in terms of relevance and detail of info. The branded websites are generally the best designed though.
SPG’s online account interface is the most robust and fully functional. It’s apps and mobile websites are also the best. You can track your reservations with assigned room types and pre-upgrades.
Hilton has the next best interface and IT. The HHonors website unfortunately forces you to enable third party cookies for full functionality and has some glaring oversights (you can’t see when your membership is valid till) but otherwise its apps and reservations engines are excellent. The app in particular is best in class, as good as SPG.
Here is where it starts getting ugly; Marriott has a relatively bare bones account management interface (you can’t even see till when your status is valid, once again) and you will face random bugs and loading issues all over the place. The Ritz app is far worse than even the Marriott app (they don’t seem like they were designed by the same outsourced company and are not even developed using the same development tools). If the Marriott website throws a login page at any instant, it is just about to reset whatever you were doing and throw you back to the reservations homepage. Year 2000, meet Marriott.
Hyatt takes the trophy for worst IT/app. The website was recently revamped but is missing several important features and info from even the older versions of the website and as of now, is extremely buggy. The reservations engine cannot even show a reservations matrix or do a flexible date search (unique to Hyatt)! The hotel websites are abysmal with by far the worst room photos of any chain (lot of Park Hyatt’s have nothing better than fuzzy thumbnail images!). The Gold Passport side of the mobile app is pretty much non existent and cannot be used to manage your Gold Passport account. It’s almost purely a ‘Hyatt’ ‘reservations’ app. Hyatt IT is a joke that’s not very funny.
Accor has a very very flimsy website and app relative to SPG and Hilton, updates will often break stuff and the website is extremely cluttered and confusing with unintuitive and redundant navigation elements. Finding anything is a chore (as with everything with Accor). Every hotel has 3 or more official websites (one Accor website, one brand website and sometimes a direct hotel’s website).
For instance, the following are all official websites for Sofitel Downtown Dubai
http://www.sofitel-dubai-downtown.com/ (hotel direct)
http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-7492-sofitel-dubai-downtown/index.shtml (Accor website)
http://www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-7492-sofitel-dubai-downtown/index.shtml (Sofitel brand website for hotel)
There are 3 Sofitels in Dubai, with 9 official websites between them……there are close to 20 Accor hotels in Dubai, with close to 60 websites for them…SPG often also has the same issue.
Accor’s contact email for its app (app developer’s contact) is an @gmail address! For a multi-billion dollar global company…. Tells you everything you need to know about this chain.
GHA Discovery has a very spartan and basic online interface and app but they get the job done without much fanfare, the simplicity of the program means there is much less to ‘manage’ in the first place.
Best Rate Guarantees
All best rate ‘guarantees’ are shams since the best rates are given to agents, consolidators and wholesalers, not listed on websites (Hyatt.com, Hilton.com, starwoodhotels.com, marriott.com) or OTAs (like booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com or Agoda). As such, the promise is already being made in bad faith.
At least SPG and Marriott run BRG programs that sometimes honor the ‘guarantee’ and will adjust rates for you if they feel generous that day.
Everyone else (Hyatt, Hilton) are just looking for excuses to wiggle out of it. Your best bet is to approach the Revenue/Reservations manager of the property and hope for a rate match.
GHA previously allowed benefits to be granted on third party and wholesale rates, which was fantastic value and potentially made it the best program ever but now they too insist on booking direct for status benefits, weakening the allure of the program immensely (the change was going to come about sooner or later anyway, it just makes sense). As an alliance, it does not run a BRG program though member hotels/chains might.
Accor does not entirely know that it has a BRG program, it frequently just forwards your BRG claim to the hotel, who are also not aware that they are supposed to have a BRG program. At best you might find a competent and sympathetic Revenue/Reservations manager who will offer to match the rate (they need to be competent *and* sympathetic though, not either/or), more likely they will just not respond, of course.
SPG has frequent and varied promotions, some of which are targeted and tailored whereas others are open to all, the promotions run the entire gamut from bonus points promotions to free stays. The most important perhaps is the weekly SPG Hot Escapes promotion which provides 25% or more off on selected hotels worldwide for the next 6 weeks. The list changes every week and is released every wednesday. Starwood also runs 50% off SE Asia rate promotions several times a year and has a number of brand related promos throughout the year as well. There are also constant on-going 3rd night free with MasterCard and ‘Pay your birth date’ promotions.
Marriott has a similar weekly promotion called eBreaks for weekends in North America. Sadly there is nothing global. Marriott also runs predictable megabonus promotions every year which can help you earn bonus points and free stays and are fairly easy to achieve.
Hyatt runs the most ridiculous (bad) promotions, frequently requiring you to stay 25 nights in a 3 month period to gain a very large number of bonus points. For a chain with a tiny footprint, most of these are not feasible. You can stay fewer nights but then the promotion ceases to be as lucrative. Hyatt rate promotions in Middle East summers and Indian festive seasons tend to be excellent.
Hilton runs excellent stackable promotions throughout the year mostly for earning extra bonus points. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a weekly discounting program like SPG Hot Escapes or Marriott eBreaks. Hilton also has great rate promotions several times a year.
Accor used to have ridiculous (good) promotions which could ensure you reached elite status in a couple of stays but that system has been discontinued and all promotion related earning no longer counts towards elite status. The value of Accor points cannot be amplified since redemptions are fixed at 2000 points = 40 EUR and so the appeal of extra bonus points is diminished. Accor runs very lucrative rate promotions called Private Sales and also excellent region specific rate promotions (especially for UK, Europe and Asia Pacific). You have to be careful with Accor promotions because they sometimes don’t consider a booking made directly with the hotel an official (direct) booking.
I’ll repeat that, a booking made directly with the hotel (instead of Accor website/apps/global call center) is not a direct booking….Oh Accor….
GHA Discovery does not have many promotions as an alliance though its member chains/hotels do (Anantara was running an incredible 50% off or 1 on 1 free room or 1 on 1 free night campaign last summer in the Middle East).
Dining (when not staying in hotel)
All hotel programs may have local/regional dining programs, this list only includes their main loyalty program benefits and earning
Upto 30 % discount in SPG restaurants and bars.
Can earn points at same rate as regular stays (with tier bonuses)
Strongest choice for elites
Can earn points at same rate as regular stays (with tier bonuses)
They can be redeemed for dining/spa as well but you should never do this (Atrocious value)
Requires separate registration
Earning only at much lower rates than regular stays
2 pt/USD for members with no online accounts
5 pt/USD for online members
8 pt/ USD for online elite members from 12th payment per year onwards
This makes it fairly uncompetitive
Infact most brands don’t even grant you points for incidentals even while staying!
Combined with lack of free breakfast, this means Marriott is just not a foodie’s choice.
Le Club Accor:
LOL. Nothing. Duh
No points system to begin with…
Experiences (Events, Concerts, parties, dinners, galas)
SPG has the biggest breadth and variety available globally. If there is something cool happening in your city, it’s worth checking SPG to see if they have any participation. They are by far the most dynamic out of any chains in hosting and participating and the only ones really running a program at scale of this sort. Big concerts to F1 races to NBA and other major sporting events, they have everything in the arsenal (including perhaps, matches involving Arsenal). Most of the time there will be VIP packages available for special private meetings and exclusive VIP viewing decks and lounges. (I’ve personally met some famous people this way).
Hyatt seemed to have a program (announced back in 2005) but there seems to be nothing as of now.
Hilton runs a very limited portfolio of experience programs geared primarily towards US/Canadian/German/UK members.
Marriott’s experiences program has just been announced and is only getting started and is similar to Hilton’s.
Le Club Accor’s interface for redeeming is ridiculous (you don’t know locations being redeemed for) and in general, you cannot figure out what to do and how, and they (Accor) probably can’t either.
GHA Discovery’s experiences tend not to be public experiences and are rather local focused/hotel provided and are earned and redeemed (instead of points) via stays.
Airline Transfers (and Air/Hotel packages)
Everyone has these but it generally makes no sense to transfer most hotel points to airlines as you lose a lot of value in the conversion. Hilton and Hyatt points especially are best used within their own programs and it doesn’t make mathematical sense to transfer them to airlines. The two exceptions to this rule are SPG and Marriott which can offer pretty great conversion value and both also have unique combined Air/Hotel packages which also offer great value.
Hilton transfers 10 : 1 to most airlines (one Hilton point is worth ~0.5c)
Hyatt transfers 2.5: 1 to most airlines (one Hyatt point is worth 1.6 – 1.8c)
SPG points (~2.2 – 2.5c) transfer 1:1 to most airlines (As opposed to 5:1 or 10:1 and sometimes even 20:1 with many other chains) and are an excellent use of SPG points. Moreover, each 20,000 block of points you transfer earns you a 25% bonus (5000 points). So 20,000 SPG points are worth 25000 Emirates or Etihad points.
Effectively this is a 1 : 1.25 or 0.8 : 1 transfer ratio!
SPG is usually the best program for airline transfers in the industry. The same transfer ratio and bonus apply to Amtrak Rail network as well.
Furthermore, SPG has Nights and Flights packages where you can redeem an air ticket on any of its partners and 5 hotel nights at once and save up to 20,000 points in the process.
Marriott has no fixed transfer ratio even to the same airline and the airline miles you get vary with the number of Marriott points you transfer.
The full chart is available at:
While Marriott isn’t generally thought of as a popular airline transfer option, it is actually better than SPG for US and British airlines for large transfer amounts and United airlines specifically (offering a 2.24 – 2.28 : 1 ratio at times, Marriott points are worth 0.7 – 0.9c) so it is cheaper than SPG in those specific cases. This will probably come as a surprise to a lot of people since I’ve read countless blogs which declare SPG to be the best (and only) worthwhile airline transfer option.
For International transfers, Marriott is second to SPG. It also offers Air/Hotel packages (of 7 days stay minimum) which allow you to save 1000s of points but I haven’t been able to use them (not practical to redeem 7 days in one place) although once again they bracket SPG in terms of value (ranging from worse to better) and allowing redemptions even for the highest category hotels (Which SPG does not).
Le Club Accor points generally transfer 2:1 to most airlines (except Qantas, which go 1:1 and is a fantastic value since Accor points are worth 2.25c, similar to SPG points). Le Club points should only be transferred to Qantas, which conveniently is Australian, where Accor is very strong anyway. The Australian Accor management needs to take over Accor globally.
GHA Discovery has no points system to transfer to airlines but you can directly earn airline points with your stays (500 or 1000) depending on partner and hotel and these are actually the highest rates of airline mileage earning if your stays are short (1-2 days).
SPG takes this one easily as it has the most partners distributed across industry verticals and geographic regions. It is again by far the most dynamic and proactive in seeking to deliver value to members via partners.
SPG has meaningful partnerships with Delta Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Caeser Total Rewards and Uber all of which contribute to points earning and reciprocal status benefits (for the airlines)
In addition, it has credit card co-brand partnerships outside US/UK (especially with MasterCard and American Express in most countries) which means International members can earn points and status through yet another channel.
While these are important cross earning and cross status partners, there are over 100 partners in various industries and regions which allow earning, redemption and other benefits (While most chains have these lesser partners, the Delta/Emirates/Caeser/Uber partnerships are SPG exclusive).
Hilton would be the next best. They too have a lot of credit card co-brand deals outside US/UK (such as Japan, Australia, Austria, Germany etc) and a lot more deals with non-branded cards for fast track status for first year.
Marriott has an exclusive cross status partnership with United Airlines and an agreement for status with Hertz as well (Marriott Platinums get free United Silver status).
Hyatt has an excellent reciprocal status, earning and redemption partnership with MGM M-life resorts in Vegas (Hyatt Diamonds get free M-Life Platinum status).
Accor has a partnership with Hertz to grant status to its Gold and Platinum members.
In almost all of these categories, SPG is the best, by an immense margin in some cases. Hyatt and Accor have poor results as usual with Hilton/Marriott somewhere in between.
To recap, SPG made a clean sweep in:
Credit card agreements (along with Hilton)
BRG (along with Marriott)
Experience Events (sports, concerts etc)
Airline Transfers (along with Marriott)
Promotions (along with Marriott, Hilton and Accor)
Hilton earned second place in Tech/IT and Partnerships along with joint highest in Promotions and credit card agreements.
Marriott earned joint best for promotions, BRG and airline transfers but had a poor showing in everything else.
Hyatt had a poor showing all round with ridiculously bad Tech/IT/Website Apps, good dining benefits and a great MGM M Life partnership.
Accor had the worst showing all around with Qantas airline transfers being the only bright spot.