What’s the real value of hotel points??


What happens when you collect more than 50,000 data points on hotel prices and award inventory? For me the answer is data mining. And thanks to the information gathered by all of you searching on the Hotel Hustle site I’ve got a whole lot of data to sift through. Rather than guess what hotel points should be worth based on personal experience or searches biased by my travel patterns I’m using the larger volume of data I’ve got to calculate what I believe are better numbers. And I’m publishing it all, too.

Here’s what the data looks like visualized with a high, low and average point marked.

hotel-hustle-hotel-point-value-chart

As you can see in the graph the range for some programs varies dramatically while other programs are a bit more confined. Looking at the data in table form also shows some interesting bits when it comes to minimum and maximum values.

hotel-hustle-hotel-point-value-table

Hilton HHonors gets a lot of hate, particularly following the recent devaluations, and the average value of the HHonors points remains pretty low (0.461 cents; second worst in the data sample). But it is not the worst redemption value found by your searches. That title is held by a Marriott Rewards room, though the cash rate on that one is particularly low ($50/night) which skews the numbers. Hilton does maintain the title of worst max value redemption; it is the only program where there is not an award over 3 cents/point value.

The maximum and minimum numbers may be slightly skewed by outlier data; I get that. But the average numbers are really where I like to focus. And it is quite interesting to see the variation within the hotels. There are essentially three tiers of points:

  • Club Carlson & Hilton range between 0.431-0.462 cents per point
  • Choice, IHG, Marriott & Wyndham are in the 0.612-0.721 range, roughly 50% more valuable than the first tier
  • Hyatt and Starwood round out the set at 1.69-1.966 cents per point, more than double the mid-range properties and roughly 4x the bottom tier

So, does that mean Hyatt and Starwood are always going to be the best points to have for hotel redemptions? Probably not. Those two programs are also rather harder to earn points with, either via credit cards or by booking a room night. Hilton guests earn 10-15 points per dollar spent at most hotels and 2-3 points per dollar on most credit card spend (excluding category bonuses and looking at the fee-free cards). Hyatt only earns at 5 points per dollar at the property and one point per dollar with the credit card. And that card also carriers an annual fee. Earning at 3x the rate makes the 0.462 cent value of an HHonors point a lot closer to the 1.69 cent value of a Gold Passport point than it seems it might otherwise be. Add in the fact that far more places in the world have Hilton options and there could be a case made for HHonors points being on part with Gold Passport points, even though the redemption value per point looks quite skewed.

Then again, if aspirational, luxury redemptions are the goal then HHonors craps out with the low maximum point value number.

I’m hoping to add more details about average point values and even average property values. That requires both more time to do the analysis and more data to make sure I’m not just reporting on outliers. But the information has been quite interesting so far and I expect it will continue to be going forward.

What types of reports would you like to see out of this data set??

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

33 Comments

  1. I’d love to see it split out by star categories and by redemption categories.

    So basically min, max, avg cpm for all of Hyatt’s 5 star properties, all of their 4 star properties, etc. Repeat with various chains.

    Then do the same with their redemption categories.

    Finally, just because you have the data, you should do some comparisons that show the breakdown of how many 3, 4, and 5 star hotels in each chain.

  2. Unclear how credit card earning changes things.

    e.g. Choice Hotel credit card has no annual fee + earns 2 points per dollar of spend. So….???

  3. How is the room cash price being calculated here? Is it basically the BAR from all the searches to date on HH?

    1. Yes, the room rate is the BAR number excluding corporate discounts and such. While that might not always represent the absolute best price it is consistent across all 8 brands in implementation and excludes things like non-refundable rates in most cases.

  4. the points values should be normalized against how easy to earn, which is the base points per dollar on their co-branded credit card without any bonus categories

    SPG amex is only 1 pt per dollar while hilton citi/amex can print 3 pts per dollar on any spend.

    so in that sense, the true avg value of hilton is 0.462 x 3 = 1.386, which is still lower than SPG but not as horrific as portrayed

    1. I wrote a full paragraph describing exactly that, patricia. Do you think I wasn’t clear enough? I used Hyatt rather than SPG in the comparison, and I used earn on-property plus CC as the basis for the comparison, but I definitely account for it.

      1. It’s the graphic people remember, not the paragraphs.

        Regarding the graphic, I agree with the other commenters that it would be best to display the median and the mean on each of the intervals.

        Would you be open to releasing the data sets?

  5. The other thing that I value is award availability when the revenue rate is high. I’m talking the ability to get a points room during Fashion week in NYC etc. From my experience SPG has some great value here. There is very little value redeeming 30K points when the average rate is only $100. Cash and points used to be of value in these cases, but most of the chains have devalued most of the benefit from it.

  6. I would love to see you convert these into ROI’s. For example, if I spend $100 I would earn 1,000 points w/ IHG rewards would earn $4.96 in value. If I spend $100 at SPG I would earn 200 points or $1.42 in value. While you describe this in your paragraph, all the charts make it appear Wyndham and SPG are the best and I don’t believe that is true.

  7. Great data Seth!

    One suggestion: the median (50th percentile) points value is probably more meaningful than the average value. This will help remove the effects of outliers, for example, the $50 hotel in the Marriott case. Or even better, keep both mean and median on the chart and compare.

    1. To amplify Jim’s comment: I was going to suggest indicating the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile levels would be more useful, which together would be more meaningful than the mean for the reason Jim said (median is better than mean for skewed distributions, and add including 25 and 75 percentiles gives you an idea of the skew). But usually there is a tradeoff between more statistics and easier-to-understand summary graphs, so I would understand if only the median were provided. (More summary data does not necessarily contain more information!)

  8. Seth, could you include Club Carlson’s “last night free for credit card holders” in your calculations? I find it seldom makes sense to use points for one night stays; but very often makes sense to use ’em for two night stays.

    1. I agree that the “last night free w/CC” is a great benefit and I’ve used it a few times. It is hard to calculate the value of that, however, as not everyone has the CC and not everyone has 2-night stays. Best I can suggest is that you account for that yourself as you peruse the numbers.

  9. Why do you arbitrarily use 3x for HH points? Why not use what is clearly the best method (and widely available) – ie, Surpass @ 6x grocery? Isn’t that what we travel hackers are supposed to do? If we play the game at an “average” level, we aren’t going to do very well in this game – fees and low redemption values will eat us alive, making playing the game pointless (excuse the pun).

    And with HH being valued at 0.462cpp on “average”, that means every dollar spent at grocery is giving 2.77c in value on average.

    The only other hotel point that comes close is Carlson with 5x everywhere (0.43 x 5 = 2.16c per dollar spent). If you can redeem Carlson with second night free, those points are effectively worth 4.32c, making them untouchable value (the only caveat is their domestic properties are low/mid tier and they don’t have any true top tier properties at all).

    Of course, what points are valued at is only part of the story. You also need to determine the cost of earning those points. To earn that 2.76c for HH via 6x at grocery, it will cost you 1.2c. So net value is 1.56c. And it’s net that matters, subject to earn rate (6x vs 5x vs 1x etc – higher is better)

    For Carlson, cost can be as low as 0.0008 (for widely available MS opportunities), so Carlson is tops at 2.15c net (or 4.3c net when used for second night free redemptions – outstanding value).

    The best I can do on SPG is 0.4c cost for widely available MS opportunities. So assuming 1.97c ave value for SPG from your chart, less 0.4c cost, net value is 1.57c (curiously, almost identical with the much maligned HH earned at grocery! – Except HH earns at 6x faster rate) FWIW, I MS for both, but much prefer HH because I can get Diamond via CC spend and book almost any room with points, whereas SPG only allows me to book base rooms with points.

    Moral of the story – averages don’t tell you much of anything.

    The best analysis of hotel awards was done by Loyalty Lobby in May 2013. And nobody has touched the quality of his analysis since as most (like this post) only focus on one side of the equation. You need both side to have any meaningful conclusions.

    1. I chose the basic earning rates for all the CCs I looked at. Ditto for the on-property earning. If you’ve got a different set of parameters you want to use feel free.

      As for focusing on the cost of points acquisition, I purposefully did not get into that here. Not because it is unimportant but because the data I’m collecting doesn’t account for that directly. I also like to remember that not everyone churns thousands of dollars a year in MS so those numbers are not the only ones worth considering.

      1. Average value for points makes comparison of points possible, but does not give a true redemption value if the redemption value is not based on the value of the points per dollar..

        for instance, Barclaycard points are valued at 1.1 points, but you get 2x /$, so a dollar actually gives you 2.2 redemption value….

        1. I disagree re average values. Understanding where the average values are helps to make smart decisions on where you’re getting useful value on redemptions. If you do not know what a point should be worth then knowing that you’re getting a good value is much harder. If you’re only used to redeeming HHonors points at the “good” value of 0.7 cents each then you might think that redeeming SPG or HGP points at that same rate is also a good thing. Seeing that the average for those programs is much higher makes it clear that’s not true.

          And the Hustle Hotness ratings really do the best I can to account for relative point values. If you think points are worth a different amount than the average then set your account up with those numbers in the settings. That’s why I’ve built in that flexibility in the system.

      2. and also please remember that a good chunk of us maximize our spending… I use my Marriott card for Marriott stays, SPG card for SPG stays, PRG for flights, everyday preferred for grocery, penfed premier plat or ink plus bought gas gift cards for gas, 5x freedom or ink plus for amazon, CSP for dining.. Diners club for spg points etc Barclay for anything I can’t get 2x or more on..

        So we (your readers :p) don’t really do basic earning rates on CCs… On a light note (im just kidding lol) If you want to do an article on that, you should do it for people who don’t read your blog lol :))))))

    2. I wouldn’t quite compare 6x grocery HH to 5x CC. Unless of course you’re restricting all analogy to MS.
      Hangliding lessons 1500, car servicing 275, dining 415, gas 135, bars and entertainment 320.. department store expenses, christmas shopping, amazon… only grocery (in grocery stores) I’ve done is for milk and fresh grapefruits.. All that gets me 5x on the CCCC, and maybe 19 bucks on grocery..

      and If I was doing MS, I def wouldn’t do it on a Hilton /hotel card, or spg… I’d do it for MR, UR, Diners card (for starpoints) or on a cash back card..

      That said, permit me to say I’m almost totally in agreement with you 🙂

      almost everyone who reads these posts does considerable, not necessarily overt MS – that’s part of why we read these poses in the first place lol..

      putting Hilton at 0.4ish and spg at 1.9ish is not a true and accurate representation.. It would only end up misleading the less involved.
      A better representation would be points/valuations per $.

      Comparing them on non bonused basic earning rates / spending:
      Club Carlson/$ = 2.16, max redemp=3.03*5=15.15!!
      SPG/$ 1.96 max redemption=7.1
      (and with second night free redemption, redemption value for club Carlson goes up to 30.3/$!!! compared to SPG’s 7.1!!!!) – see how misleading the chart is???????

      For bonused spend
      Mommy points also has a post where she says she gets around 21x/$ for Marriott stays, as a plat member.. So..
      Marriott/$ non cat spend 0.695, red=6.9
      Cat spend however /$ 14.6, red=144.9!!!!!

      Hyatt p!ats got the 20% off..

      averages really don’t tell you anything, and can actually mislead the uninitiated…

  10. Fascinating use of data! I love it.

    An interesting option would be if there was some way to factor in the actual availability/blackout dates of certain chains, and how that affects the value of their points. For example, in my personal experience Marriott and Choice have more limited award space than some of the others, but it would be interesting to see other users’ experiences and/or actual data to back it up.

    Keep up the great work!

  11. If I’m understanding what you are doing, you are using all the hotels in the results from the user searches to populate your data. Correct?

    This means that you are showing what hotels are pricing these hotels at, not what people would normally *choose* to redeem. Though this is useful as a value of what you can get, it doesn’t necessarily speak to what people *normally* get.

    As of when I’m looking at it, I’m seeing values around 29 cents for Choice(why Preferred instead of Priviledges?) and Wyndham. This makes me think that another useful list, maybe on another page, is the top redemptions (including the hotel, the price and award cost at time of grabbing and date(s) gathered). Then we can watch the award cost of these increase as folks hammer on these. Or realize that they are around the Superbowl. 🙂

    1. The cpp values prices are based on what a redemption would cost versus the cash price on the same night(s) as searched. And, while there may be some rates which will never be redeemed at the overall averages do mean something.

      As for the 29cpp rates, I believe they’re actually outliers based on hotels not publishing paid rates properly rather than being legit great values. Fortunately there are only a very small number of them so they don’t skew the averages so badly.

      And eventually I want to put together top redemption value reports; that’s on the road map. I’m trying to get the search process faster first, but the great value reports is on my list.

      1. Thank you for the quick response.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if the outliers are errors. That is part of the reason I would be interested in seeing them. As a programmer, I check outliers to see if they are valid or something I need to clean up somehow. When you get to the top redemption value reports, I’m sure it will clean things up somewhat.

        You may find it useful to flag (e.g. send yourself an email) cpps above or below a certain band, so you can either widen your band or clean the bad data out of your database.

        As a not as active traveler, I only sporadically check your blog, but I appreciate the work you put into it and the tools. As I learn more, hopefully I’ll get better.

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