Many people prefer to be loyal to a single hotel chain. I don’t think that’s the correct approach, but many people have better things to do with their time than juggle multiple airlines and hotel chains as a full-on “travel hacker”. Choosing a hotel chain is more art than science, however. The right choice for any reader is also heavily dependent on individual travel patterns, preferences, budget, etc. But it’s easy enough to start narrowing the field down. Hyatt doesn’t have a large enough footprint for many and IHG doesn’t do elite benefits well and has recently crushed the “rewards” element of IHG Rewards. Radisson is… well… Radisson and Accor is much stronger in Europe than the Americas.
That leaves Marriott and Hilton as the two remaining candidates for a “if I had to only choose one” competition. But which one is better? Here are the criteria I would use to decide…
Number of Hotels in Portfolio
Marriott has 7,600+ properties worldwide. Hilton has 6,200+.
Both chains are almost certainly going to offer one or more hotels anywhere you are likely to travel. They also offer brands across the entire spectrum from midscale to luxury. Marriott has an advantage at the luxury end, but I’d much rather stay at a Hampton than a Courtyard or Aloft.
Advantage: Too close to call
Value of Points
Both Marriott and Hilton offer 10 points per US dollar spent. However, Marriott points are worth in the range of 0.7-0.8 cents each, while Hilton points are worth 0.4-0.5 cents.
Elite members do better with Hilton, however. Gold members earn an 80% bonus, while Diamond members receive 100%. At Marriott, Platinum members earn 50% while Titanium members receive 75%.
Both chains offer a fifth night free benefit, although Hilton’s version requires at least Silver status.
Marriott offers a peak / standard / off-peak award chart, while Hilton runs fully dynamic pricing, with a cap in place at many hotels. Hilton awards include any resort fees. At Marriott you must pay resort fees to the hotel.
For those interested in earning miles, Marriott points can be converted to miles at an attractive rate; Hilton points cannot.
Of course, the points value outlined above captures this to some extent but nonetheless…
You can generally rely on Hilton having a promotion running at all times, with no gaps. Sometimes this will be a “points per stay” promotion that penalizes expensive stays. Sometimes this will be double or triple points, which big spenders love.
Marriott will typically run stingier promotions, with weeks-long gaps in between.
Advantage: Hilton (with the proviso that their base earning starts off well behind)
I cannot possibly judge which hotel chain properties charge rates appropriate for the budget of every reader. But I can certainly rank the hotel chains by their generosity of paying rebates to those informed consumers who book via a cashback website such as Topcashback.
Marriott usually offers a minimum of 3% cashback, with promotions taking this to 6% or higher. You can also earn AA miles via the AA shopping portal, with their regular 500-1000 mile bonus offers.
Hilton usually offers a measly 1% to Honors members.
Both chains offer a dizzying number of credit card options in the United States, each with their own bonus categories to consider. But when it comes to hotel spend, you can generally earn:
- Hilton – 14 points per US dollar spent
- Marriott – 6 points per US dollar spent
Hilton’s Aspire card comes with top-tier Diamond Status. Marriott’s cards offer 15 elite nights.
Best Rate Guarantee Policies
You probably aren’t making the time-saving choice of a single hotel chain in order to then spend time looking around the internet for Online Travel Agencies offering cheaper rates. But nevertheless…
Marriott offers the most consumer-friendly BRG process with the highest likelihood of approval. Hilton isn’t nearly so straightforward – it sometimes seems like their agents receive bonuses for the excuses they invent to deny a claim.
There is an obvious trade-off between the ease of reaching a relevant level of elite status (meaning that there are more elites competing for a limited number of upgradable rooms) and the benefits associated with such status, but if you’re looking for a quicker route to elite status…
Hilton offers the 4-stay to Gold MVP Fast Track. Diamond status is available with the Aspire credit card. (in the US)
Marriott doesn’t make it nearly so easy. The credit card options available in the US offer a 15 elite night credit, leaving you well short of the 50 nights needed for Platinum or 75 nights for Titanium.
Hilton Honors (Gold and Diamond) offers free breakfast at all brands, after Waldorf Astoria finally joined in a few years ago. Guaranteed lounge access for Diamonds only. Suite upgrades are not promised, but are definitely possible at generous hotels outside of North America and Europe.
Marriott Bonvoy (Platinum and Titanium) offers free breakfast, late check-out and lounge access all subject to quirks and opt-outs depending on hotel brand/location. Platinum members are likely to have 5 Suite Night Awards, with the upgrade confirmed five days in advance of arrival. Titanium members also receive complimentary Silver status with United Airlines; this can be very useful if you don’t fly as much as you stay in hotels…
Advantage: Hilton (unless you really like the suite upgrade lottery)
You might never require lifetime status if you hold on indefinitely to a Hilton co-branded credit card offering Diamond status. But the requirements for lifetime status are:
- Hilton Lifetime Diamond – 10 years of Diamond and 1,000 nights
- Marriott Lifetime Platinum – 10 years of Platinum (or better) and 600 nights
I really don’t like and/or trust Hilton’s dynamic award pricing methodology. Even though there are a handful of hotels that offer impressive value when using points, you could wake up tomorrow and find that they now cost double.
Marriott, on the other hand, has allowed its franchisee hotels to misbehave badly and its IT issues are becoming legendary.
Hilton offers better customer service to elite members, while Marriott does provide better service via social media / Flyertalk.
But if your loyalty program has become a hashtag for all the wrong reasons – #bonvoyed – that tips the scales…
The Bottom Line
There is more upside to Marriott as a Platinum or Titanium member. The further away from North America you get, the more likely you are to receive a suite upgrade. The earn/burn ratio is generally better, with the underlying protection of being able to convert your points to miles at a good rate. If you play the Best Rate Guarantee game and extract maximum cashback, you will definitely pay less money for a Marriott hotel when compared to its direct Hilton competition in any market. However you definitely need to deal with more annoying issues, whether it is the lack of elite breakfast at certain brands to constantly needing to chase incorrectly credited hotel stays.
Hilton is a more solid, reliable program that doesn’t require nearly as much effort. The dynamic pricing of awards is a major downside, although Hilton awards do include any resort fees. But if you remain loyal to Hilton, get the Aspire credit card (for its points earning and Diamond status), then Hilton Honors is likely to be your best choice for “choose one and forget about the rest” hotel chain.
What do you think? Any Marriott fans want to disagree with me? Let us know in the comments section…