How easy it is to earn a free stay from a hotel chain? U.S. News has released its annual appraisal of the best and worst hotel loyalty programs—and the previous winner has been dethroned.
The publication evaluated "18 leading programs using an unbiased methodology that analyzes network size, property diversity and the ease of earning a free night, among other factors" and came up with a list of 18 brands from the least fruitful to the most.
Trailing the pack at position 18—partly because only 24 properties are part of its program—is Loews Hotels' YouFirst program. No doubt to its executives' consternation, major corporation Starwood was barely able to crack the top 10 with its Preferred Guest program because the company has "fewer budget-friendly hotels than programs of a similar size," which limits its usefulness.
But the biggest surprise was this year's upset win: In light of recent improvements to its program that benefit casual spenders, Wyndham Rewards has toppled Marriott from the top of the prestigious list for the first time since 2013.
The advantages of Wyndham's expiration structure were the deciding factor: "Qualifying nights can roll over into the following year," wrote the publication, noting that new program perks dramatically increased usefulness. In demoting Marriott Rewards to second place (tied with the affordable group Choice Hotels), editors lamented that Marriott's top-tier status was much more difficult to attain than those of its rivals.
U.S. News also made mention of a few other trends in hotel loyalty programs. Those include the removal of benefits for budget-priced rooms and lower "loyalty rates" that discourage customers from using third-party sites to find deals.
Bottom line: It's getting harder for anyone to rack up or redeem loyalty points without a company expense account, but by going the other way and making its program more flexible, Wyndham is winning the race.