In case you were wondering, the best hotel loyalty program is Choice Privileges.
That’s according to USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards. The nominees were picked by USA Today editors and a panel of travel writers, and the winners were then chosen by popular vote, by readers.
Here’s their list of the 10 best programs:
- Choice Privileges
- Wyndham Rewards
- IHG Rewards Club
- Best Western Rewards
- Stash Hotel Rewards
- Hilton HHonors
- Marriott Rewards
- Club Carlson
- La Quinta Returns
- Starwood Preferred Guest
Of course, there is no categorically best program; there is only the program that works best for you, given your individual travel patterns, budget, and needs. So what “best program” lists amount to, really, are lists of the favorite programs of a particular group of travelers. And this list reflects the tastes of USA Today readers.
With that noted, what is striking about this list is the rather lackluster performance of the most established programs. IHG Rewards, the oldest hotel program under its original name, Priority Club, was ranked third. The programs of Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood didn’t crack the top five. And Hyatt’s wasn’t on the list at all.
What’s going on here?
It turns out that Choice and Wyndham share a common feature. While they have lower profiles among road warriors, both are among the largest chains, as measured by the number of hotels in their networks. Choice has around 6,300 properties, and Wyndham has nearly 8,000. By contrast, Marriott, following its acquisition of Starwood, now boasts just 5,700 hotels, although it can still claim to be the largest hotel company based on the number of rooms in the portfolio.
When it comes to hotel loyalty programs, more hotels means more opportunities to earn points, and to redeem them. And that’s better. Which helps explain why Choice and Wyndham were ranked first and second. And why Hyatt, with fewer than 700 hotels, didn’t make the list at all.
This isn’t the first time Choice and Wyndham have bested the likes of IHG, Marriott, and Hilton. In a recent U.S. News poll, Wyndham ranked first, followed by Choice and Marriott tied for second.
Of course, a hotel company’s network isn’t the only determinant of its loyalty program’s quality. Choice and Wyndham have both made significant upgrades to their programs recently, augmenting their size advantage.
If you’re a longtime Hilton or Marriott loyalist, it might be time to reconsider your choice of hotel networks, and your choice of frequent-stay programs.
Reader Reality Check
What’s important to you when choosing a hotel loyalty program?
After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.