Wyndham beats Marriott in hotel rewards

A pedestrian pulls luggage behind him as he walks outside a Marriott hotel in New York.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The next time you check into a hotel, you may want to consider how much you are getting back for your stay.

A new study suggests bigger isn't always better when it comes to global hotel chains and the generosity of their loyalty programs. The Hotel Rewards Study, conducted by IdeaWorks and sponsored by Switchfly, puts Wyndham ahead of Marriott. Choice Privileges takes third followed by Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards and Starwood.

Wyndham has "made a concerted effort to just be a whole lot better than the other programs" and "they came out on top because of their flat rewards structure of 15,000 points," said IdeaWorks President Jay Sorenson.

When members use the Wyndham program, stays can be redeemed for 15,000 points regardless of whether the hotel is in a rural area or is a luxury hotel in a big city.

According to the study's calculations, Wyndham's guest loyalty program gives back more than $13 for every $100 spent compared to Marriott, which returns $9 for every $100.

Source: IdeaWorks

IdeaWorks, which consults for companies like Visa, American Express and United Airlines, said the study looked at 15 dates ranging from August 2016 through February 2017 and a list of U.S. and global destinations to reach their conclusions.

The study also looked at New York City, San Francisco, London and Beijing to gauge the best value by individual hotels.

"New York and Chicago, for high quality hotels downtown, as well as London are really expensive," Sorenson said. "The rates we saw for Paris on a relative basis are lower. Among the locations we looked at, the bargain destination seemed to be Beijing for some reason."

Going forward, it will be interesting to watch how members of Marriott's and Starwood's loyalty programs fare in the wake of the companies' $13.6 billion merger, which closed last month to form the world's largest hotel group. In the midst of the merger, there had been questions over how the separate rewards programs would be combined.

Marriott's Vice President of Loyalty Thom Kozik said "members have been offered the chance to link their accounts, have their status matched, and exchange points on day one."

But analysts expect the companies will be walking a tightrope as they attempt to meet customer expectations.

"It's going to be tricky. No Doubt. There's a lot of moving parts," said Patrick Scholes, an analyst at SunTrust. "While Marriott's program is very popular, Starwood's was really popular with very generous redemptions. Question is if Marriott will keep it as generous. It's a fine line because if they don't, they will lose customers."

IdeaWorks' Sorenson said the plan could use some more clarity.

"They really have not published a whole lot about what they are going to do except that it seems like in the near term they are keeping both programs. Clearly in this case, in terms of rewards payback, members may be better off participating in the Marriott Rewards Program."

Source: IdeaWorks

When it comes to loyalty programs, it's not all about redemption values. Quality of service, upgrades, matching status on airlines and geographical spread are also important factors. Travel experts say dollars back may not be the only thing to consider, but it's probably the major one.

"It's the best way for hotels to speak directly to their best customers and get them to come back to their properties rather than just choosing based on price," said Jason Clampet, Skift co-founder. "For consumers, it is important insofar as they can use programs to get the things they want. For many, their loyalty is still often to their pocketbook first."

Something to think about the next time you look for a place to stay.