An ad promoting joint loyalty programs under Marriott, Starwood and Ritz-Carlton.

MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL’S HOTEL loyalty program is tops, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The magazine today released its Best Hotel Rewards Programs for 2017-18. The rankings of 17 hotel loyalty programs are based on expert analysis and customer feedback.

The Bethesda, Maryland-based Marriott usurped Wyndham Hotel Group’s first-place ranking from last year. Marriott also broke its second-place tie with Choice Hotels International’s Choice Privileges.

Wyndham Rewards came in second; Choice Privileges is third; World of Hyatt is fourth; and Best Western Rewards is fifth. For the full list, click here.

On its website, U.S. News & World Report explains its methodology “places emphasis on the ease of earning points and redeeming free nights for basic members.”

Marriott’s first-place domination comes less than a year after its acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In the early morning hours before the deal closed on Sept. 23, members of Starwood Preferred Guest were able to link to Marriott Rewards, transfer their points and retain their status level. Marriott is still in the process of syncing the programs, and announced it expects to merge both programs’ technology platforms by the end of next year. Another membership perk to rectify are the programs’ co-branded credit cards.

On Monday, Marriott announced a joint venture with Alibaba, China’s online shopping giant. The JV creates an online booking portal on Fliggy, which has a Chinese language platform. Marriott can market directly to Alibaba’s 500 million users. In an eight-week pilot program last year, Marriott signed up 600,000 Rewards members via Alibaba’s site.

In its annual report filed with the SEC, Marriott said about half of its Rewards members use points to book hotel stays. It’s liability – or value of unused points – was $4.5 million.

Wyndham Rewards nailed first-place last year, more a year after it began its rollout of a system that touted ease of use, no membership tiers and no blackout dates. Wyndham Rewards points can be earned and redeemed at any Wyndham branded hotel, in any price segment, anywhere in the world. It is what the company called the “democratization of travel.”

All major hotel companies say their loyalty program members mostly use points to redeem free nights at franchisees’ hotels.

In a recent study by Best Western Hotels & Resorts and U.S. News & World Report, more than half of the 1,000 survey respondents closely watch their points accumulation, and 86 percent consider points a third currency to be used toward a free room night, said the report, The Potential With Points, released Tuesday.