My own view is that hotel choices (which are different from airline loyalty programs) have a whole lot to do with age, travel itineraries, income, and loyalty.
-When I was a young graduate student I chose first Hilton then Marriott for hotels; I always chose Delta for flights and have reaped the benefits beyond my wildest dreams.
-When I got early middle-aged I mostly but did not always use hotel loyalty programs.
-As I traveled more to Europe and the Middle East, I always stayed at Marriott and got Platinum level rewards.
-Then I got a little older and Marriott started upping the ante and cutting the benefits; still, even when I didn't qualify on points I bought back status
-Now I am 61 and over the past two years I have only stayed at one Marriott: The Athens Ledra, which to me exemplifies what Marriott used to be and still could be. Other Marriotts that I have not stayed in recently (Brussels and Ghent Marriott) treated me equally well, but I just don't go to Belgium anymore.
- Even if I am 'only' 61 there is some sense because of health issues of the 'autumn of my years.' So what do I do?
- I have given up hotel loyalty programs (I will only make Silver next year thanks to the Ledra and my MR credit card) and will probably transfer my points to Delta. The rewards are no longer worth it.
- I travel internationally about 14 times a year, mostly to Europe. I have found that I get breakfast, free internet, amazing hotels, upgrades and greetings that I no longer got at most Marriotts.
- I leave for Venice in 10 days. Only once have I stayed at a Marriott (the Boscolo, on points, and would not stay there again -- it's nice but not worth the price and inconveniently located. Since then I have stayed at the Metropole, Londra Palace, Pesaro Palace, Hotel Ai Reali, and soon San Cassiano Ca' Favretto. Venice is one of those places where location, floor and view are everything. Then I'll be at a conference in London at the Hotel Indigo Tower and finally in December in Rome at the Saint George Roma. All of these hotels give me free breakfast, free internet and cheaper rates than Marriotts.
-In short, my advice is that if you are just starting to travel for business or research, a loyalty program works. But later in your career, especially when a loyalty program starts cutting its benefits significantly, then it's time just to look for THE BEST HOTEL.
It took me a while and some bad experiences to learn that lesson. If I ever go to Belgium again, I will stay at the Brussels and Ghent Marriotts because they are great, but I probably won't be in Belgium again. In Greece, I will ALWAYS stay at the Athens Ledra, because it exemplifies what Marriott SHOULD CONTINUE TO BE.