When it comes to delivering customer satisfaction to American travelers, Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt are tops, according to the latest report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

While the rankings among these chains have been fairly stable in recent years, one area of concern may be hotel loyalty programs, which are poised for considerable change in coming years and saw their tallies take among the biggest plunges in satisfaction scores.

Each year, the ACSI conducts 70,000 interviews with consumers about their customer satisfaction with more than 300 companies in 43 industries, with travel being one of them. For each sector, ACSI asks industry-specific questions and it combines the scores from respondents into an ACSI score that ranges from 0 to 100.

It’s also important to note that the ACSI scores are computed using American travelers’ responses, so the brands listed in the report can skew more toward U.S.-based properties or internationally based ones.

This year, the top hotel companies in terms of customer satisfaction were, more or less, the same as in years past. Hilton was again No. 1, with an ACSI score of 81, Marriott was second at 80, and Hyatt was third with a score of 79. Starwood (78) was ranked fourth, followed by InterContinental (76), Best Western (75), La Quinta (75), Choice (74), all other hotels (72). Wyndham (70) and G6 Hospitality (65), which owns Motel 6, were ranked lowest.

ACSI Scores
Company20152016% Change
Hotels7574-1.30%
Hilton80811%
Marriott80800%
Hyatt8079-1%
Starwood76783%
InterContinental76760%
Best Western74751%
La Quinta7675-1%
Choice73741%
All Others7572-4%
Wyndham68703%
G6 Hospitality (Motel 6)63653%

Source: ACSI 2016 Travel Report

While Marriott and Hilton have traditionally battled each other for the top spot in the rankings since 1995, Starwood has seen a range of ACSI scores from as low as 69 in 2002 to as high as 79 in 2012.

“Starwood’s customer satisfaction actually improved 3 percent from last year,” said David VanAmburg, ACSI managing director. “But it has been up a down a bit more than the other brands, and has had more uneven performance. If you look at the bigger chains, you see more long-term consistency in their scores.”

By mid-year 2016, if all goes as planned, Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood will be complete, forming the world’s largest hotel company and, possibly, adding some big chain consistency, over time, to Starwood’s rankings.

Room for Improvement

And while all hotels, overall, are improving their customer satisfaction scores year by year with a combined ACSI score of 74 this year, said VanAmburg, there’s still room for improvement in some areas, especially when it comes to quality of food, amenities, and loyalty programs.

“There’s a big gap in those elements, in terms of what the hotels are doing well and what they are not,” he said.

While hotels have improved the ease of making a reservation and ease of check-in, this year’s ACSI report shows room for improvement in terms of quality of food services (down from 77 in 2015 to 73 in 2016); quality of amenities such as pool, spa, fitness room, business center (down from 76 in 2015 to 72 in 2016); and loyalty programs (down from 79 in 2015 to 71 in 2016). ACSI scores for in-room entertainment quality (TV, movies) and in-room Internet service quality (speed, reliability) also slipped a bit in 2016, compared to 2015.

Given the fact that there have been a lot of changes lately in terms of hotel loyalty programs, whereby some programs have devalued their points and/or made it more difficult for members to earn and/or redeem points, it’s telling that customer satisfaction with hotel loyalty programs dropped so much from 2015 to 2016. The impending combination of the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs, for now set to take place by 2018, will likely also have an impact on customers’ satisfaction with hotel loyalty programs. Regardless, though, it’s clear hotels have a lot of work to do if they want to bring customer satisfaction levels back up with regard to their loyalty programs.

Brands with the Highest Customer Satisfaction

Not surprisingly, most hotel brands with scores of 80 or above are in the luxury or upper upscale categories, but there are a few surprises on ACSI’s list. JW Marriott ranked No. 1 with a score of 85, followed by Hilton’s Embassy Suites Hotels (83), Hyatt Regency (82), Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott (82), and Westin (81). See below for the full list of brands.

Most of the brands at the lower end of the rankings were economy and midscale hotels that included Wyndham’s Days Inn (67) and Ramada (67), G6 Hospitality’s Motel 6 (65), and Wyndham’s Super 8 (65), which were the lowest ranked brand in terms of customer satisfaction.

However, Wyndham’s Baymont Inn & Suites brand ranked very highly, with an ACSI score of 80 — the same score as Marriott Hotels and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts.

Alternatively, Marriott’s upscale AC Hotels brand had a score of 74, and InterContinental Hotel Group’s upscale Crowne Plaza brand was ranked 73.

“AC Hotels is not positioned all that well,” said VanAmburg. “Fairfield is doing a bang-up job of what it does, setting expectations, and in some cases, meeting or exceeding them. With Crowne Plaza and AC Hotels, something’s not quite right. They are not exceeding in their tiers as they should be.”

One interesting thing to note is the absence of some of the other luxury brands from the major hotel companies in the ACSI list of hotel brands, such as Hilton’s Waldorf-Astoria or Starwood’s St. Regis, as well as extended stay properties.

Hotel Websites Versus Sites from Online Travel Agencies and Airlines

While it’s not fair to directly compare ACSI scores for hotels with those of online travel agencies like Expedia, Booking.com, or with airlines, hotels still have an edge, in terms of overall customer satisfaction with their websites. Hotel website satisfaction scores averaged 82, while the overall ACSI for Internet travel services was 79, and airlines website satisfaction was also 79.

ACSI Hotel Brands
BrandParent Company2016
JW MarriottMarriott85
Embassy Suites HotelsHilton83
Fairfield Inn & Suites by MarriottMarriott82
Hyatt RegencyHyatt82
WestinStarwood81
Grand HyattHyatt81
Hampton by HiltonHilton81
Hilton Hotels & ResortsHilton81
Residence Inn by MarriottMarriott81
Marriott HotelsMarriott80
Baymont Inn & SuitesWyndham80
Wyndham Hotels and ResortsWyndham80
Hilton Garden InnHilton79
HyattHyatt79
Doubletree by HiltonHilton79
Courtyard by MarriottMarriott78
Holiday Inn ExpressInterContinental78
SheratonStarwood78
Hyatt PlaceHyatt78
Best Western PremierBest Western77
Best Western PlusBest Western77
Comfort Inn, Comfort SuitesChoice75
La Quinta Inn & SuitesLa Quinta75
Holiday Inn Hotels & ResortsInterContinental75
AC HotelsMarriott74
Best WesternBest Western74
Crowne Plaza Hotels & ResortsInterContinental73
Econo LodgeChoice69
QualityChoice68
Days InnWyndham67
RamadaWyndham67
Motel 6G6 Hospitality65
Super 8Wyndham65

Source: ACSI 2016 Travel Report

Photo Credit: Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Hilton Hotels & Resorts