Saturday, December 17, 2011

The "Best" Hotel Loyalty Program? We're Tiltin' Toward Hilton

Between now and the end of the year we plan to complete the final stays that will requalify us for top-tier status in both the Hilton and Starwood hotel rewards programs.

In other words we'll be HHonors™ Diamonds and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Platinums throughout 2012. In an embarrassment of riches, as a result of a promotion we're also Intercontinental Priority Club Platinums.

People generally ask us two questions.

1. Why a hotel loyalty program rather than taking the Hotwire / Priceline route?

That all depends on your travel patterns. If you stay in hotels only a few nights annually, you're probably better off looking for the cheapest rate possible and forgetting about sticking to one chain. For us, those points we accumulate come in handy when we want to stay in an expensive hotel city such as Tokyo or Rome. Just before Hilton's 2010 point devaluation (adding points required for free stays), we booked six-night stays at the Conrad Hong Kong and the Hilton Moorea Resort. Wow!

And, as with frequent flyer upgrades to First Class, the perks (bonus points, lounge access, free wireless, Hilton's free breakfasts, SPG's suite upgrades ) are very pleasant, especially when we realize what it would cost us to actually buy up to them, especially in foreign properties.

2. Which of these hotel programs is the best?

All we can tell you is which program we think best fits with our own travel patterns. As FlyerTalkers write, YMMV - "your mileage may vary." Very simply, our own favored chain is Hilton. Why?

The most important reason is that there are a lot of Hilton properties around the world (more than 3000) at varying price levels: DoubleTree,Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn & Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton Grand Vacations, Homewood Suites, and The Waldorf Astoria.

At SEA alone, Hilton properties with free airport shuttles include no fewer than two Hampton Inns, two Doubletrees, a Hilton, a Hilton Garden Inn, an Embassy Suites, and a Homewood Suites. They offer unmatched "stay" opportunities for us.

Do we like Starwood? Yes we do, enough that we made the effort to qualify again after getting a status match that resulted in a suite at Iguazu Falls with quite a view. We now understand why many "experts" prefer Starwood.

How about Intercontinental? That program offers some terrific opportunities to book properties with a combination of money and points. We've used these to great advantage in Australia, once Aussie friends Bill and Sue explained how to do it. We even found ourselves in the "second best suite" at Darwin's Holiday Inn Esplanade (Bill and Sue deservedly had the biggest and best suite). What's more, the refurbished Holiday Inn Express properties we've visited stack up very nicely against Hampton Inns.

Other travelers we know favor Hyatt or Marriott. Every program has its pluses and minuses. Please remember that we're not hotel experts, but we did stay in a Holiday Inn Express (although not last night).

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