Hotel points have always been a valuable commodity for my travels, as I always prefer to use points to book free hotel nights, rather than spending my hard earned cash. The challenge is, how do we earn hotel points without actually staying at hotels?
Are Hotel Points Worth it?
The quickest way to jump-start your account is with a credit card sign up bonus. Every day spending on that credit card may be the next best way, but it is going to be a slow process and may not even be worth it. For example, if a hotel room costs 20,000 per night, and you only earn 1 point per dollar spent, you will need to spend $20,000 to earn enough points for that hotel stay. If the hotel stay is only worth $150 if you paid in cash instead, then you only earned a 0.75% return ($150 / 20,000). In which case, you were better off getting a 1% cash back credit card. This is why credit card sign up bonuses are so valuable.
Assuming you are trying to earn points without actually staying (paid stay) at the hotel, below is my ranking for the top hotel loyalty programs for Canadians to choose from. If you click on the title of each respective hotel chain, you will find my more in-depth post about the program.
Since churning is frowned upon, it may not be something that I write about a lot in my posts. My advice would be the read the terms and conditions carefully to figure out what you can and cannot do. My hint would be to follow the rules and read in between the lines!
There are 3 straightforward options to earn Starpoints relatively easily.
- American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card ($120 annual fee, earn 20,000 sign up bonus after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months)
- American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card ($150 annual fee, earn 20,000 sign up bonus after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months)
- American Express Membership Rewards program (convert 1,000 Membership Rewards points for 500 Starpoints, with a minimum transfer of 1,000 Membership Rewards points)
The $270 annual fee for 40,000 is still worthwhile to me, since 40,000 points are worth at least $960 in hotel stays if leveraged strategically. Another way of looking at it is that 40,000 points can get you 10 nights at 4,000 per night, which is actually costing $27 per night.
Even though a 2:1 transfer ratio between Membership Rewards and SPG may seem a little weak, it is still a nice option to have to top up your account for an imminent rewards redemption.
Having the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa that offers a 50,000 sign up bonus points and first year fee waived offer makes it an easy way to jump start your loyalty account. Even if you end up paying the $120 annual fee to renew your card, you receive a free Category 1-5 stay on the anniversary of having your card, which will cover your $120 annual fee.
Furthermore, since Marriott Rewards has taken over the SPG and Ritz-Carlton brand, these points have become much more valuable.
Even though Best Western is one of my favourite hotel chains, primarily because of the no points expiry policy, it is not considered one of the more high end hotel chains. So for it to be 3rd place is more of a knock on how weak the industry is in the Canadian market.
MBNA offers a co-branded Best Western Rewards MasterCard that offers 20,000, 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 sign up bonus points promotions.
There is no co-branded credit card with HHonors, but they are an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner at a 1:1 ratio. However, without a direct co-branded credit card, Hilton may not necessarily be the best transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards. However, just like with SPG, it is a nice option to have if you are looking to top up your HHonors account for a specific reward redemption.
What I would like to see
First of all, I would like to see more co-branded hotel loyalty program credit cards being offer in Canada. There are currently only 4 to choose from, as listed above. Seems to me that the market is wide open for competition. Personally, I think that IHG needs to come back onto the scene, along with Hilton HHonors at the minimum. A pipe dream would be a Hyatt co-branded credit card.
Who would you like to see enter the Canadian market?