View from the Wing just published a post entitled “To Everyone Leaving Marriott for Hilton: You’re Nuts.”
Gary makes the following points to back up his claim:
- Hilton doesn’t reward you as well for spending at their hotels
- There aren’t as many luxury hotels for redemption
- Top tier elites aren’t entitled to empty suites
- They don’t even guarantee late check-out
- Hilton Honors is the SkyPesos of hotel loyalty
He also acknowledges that the two areas where Hilton is better is that they give away status more easily, and that they offer elite breakfast at all brands.
I strongly disagree with Gary’s points, with a few caveats, so here’s my (friendly) rebuttal to him.
I’ve been frustrated by the Marriott & Starwood merger
When Marriott first announced they’d take over Starwood, I was so impressed. They introduced reciprocal status matching and fair points transfers from day one. They took their time with integrating programs, and I appreciated that.
Then all of a sudden they seemed to be in a rush, and this August they merged programs. I get this is a massive task they’re undertaking, as we’re talking about a loyalty program with over 100 million members.
But it has been a complete mess, and ultimately it’s not our problem that they chose to make this business decision. As a customer I only have so much patience. I don’t want to spend thousands of words sharing all the ways in which I think this has been a mess, but suffice to say I’m not happy.
My “big picture” take
I’m not suggesting everyone should leave Marriott for Hilton. Quite to the contrary, I continue to spend 100+ nights per year with Marriott… for now.
Rather I think it’s not worth going out of your way to earn Marriott status anymore. If you’re someone who easily spends 50+ nights per year with Marriott and is happy, great.
If you’re a leisure traveler who was previously going out of your way to stay at Marriott properties, break the cycle.
I’ll add the further caveat that this advice is ideal for those in the US who have access to the Hilton Aspire Card, which gives you top tier status for basically nothing.
Hilton will give (almost) everyone Diamond status
The $450 annual fee Hilton Aspire Card offers four incredible benefits:
- A $250 annual airline fee credit
- A $250 Hilton resort credit
- An annual weekend night reward
- Hilton Honors Diamond status
I value the annual airline fee credit and Hilton resort credit at $450 or so, so that covers the annual fee right there. By my math, they’re basically giving you the weekend night reward and top tier status for “free.”
So I allocate a zero dollar cost to earning that status.
I’d also note that Diamond is actual top tier status at Hilton. At Marriott, Platinum status is really the third tier down, after Ambassador and Platinum Premier.
With that in mind…
Hilton DOES reward you well for your spend
Gary argues that Hilton doesn’t reward you as well as Marriott for your hotel spend:
- Hilton offers non-elites 10 points per dollar and top tier elites 20 points per dollar, which he values at 0.4 cents each, for a return of 4% and 8% on spend, respectively
- Marriott offers non-elites 10 points per dollar and top tier elites (75 nights) 17.5 points per dollar, which he values at 0.7 cents each, for a return of 7% and 12%, respectively
Gary acknowledges that Hilton needs to be offering double points to be equal. But the reality is that they are always offering promotions:
- Between January 1 and April 30, 2018, Hilton offered 2,000 bonus points per stay, and 10,000 bonus points after every five stays
- Between May 1, 2018, and September 9, 2018, Hilton offered double points at all properties
- Between September 10, 2018, and the end of the year, Hilton offered triple points at luxury properties and resorts, and double points on all other properties
Meanwhile Marriott’s promotions have been abysmal.
The point is, as a Diamond member with Hilton I’m earning a minimum of 30 points per dollar on average. Sometimes I’m even earning 40 points per dollar, and that’s before factoring in the points I earn from credit card spend.
That’s another area where Hilton wins. With the Aspire Card I earn 14x points per dollar spent, the equivalent of a 5.6% return. That’s much better than anything you’ll get with Marriott. And let’s not even talk about all the Amex Offers we see for Hilton brands.
So when all is said and done I’d say that Marriott and Hilton actually offer comparable returns on hotel spend, and Marriott might even have the slight edge, depending on your spend patterns.
Hilton doesn’t have as many luxury properties for redemptions
Gary is 100% right here. I will say that I think this is an area in which Hilton is improving greatly. I had an excellent stay recently at the Conrad Bora Bora, I’d love to stay at the Conrad London, Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, and many more.
Conrad Bora Bora
But here’s my bigger issue. How many of Marriott’s luxury hotels will actually be attainable for most members going forward when redeeming points?
As a reminder, let’s take a look at Marriott’s award chart come 2019:
Yes, redeeming at the St. Regis Maldives, Al Maha Dubai, etc., all sounds amazing, but those rates are really high. In peak season we’re looking at 100,000 points per night at these hotels.
The St. Regis Maldives is beautiful, but 100,000 points per night is a lot
At a valuation of 0.7 cents per point, a 100,000 point free night is costing you $700 worth of points. Add in a fifth night free and you’re averaging $560.
Hilton may not have as many high end properties, but they’re a much better value. 95,000 points per night is the max cost. At a valuation of 0.4 cents per point, you’re redeeming $380 worth of points for a stay there. Add in a fifth night free, and you’re averaging ~$304 per night. That’s a huge difference in terms of attainability.
$304 per night worth of points to stay at the Conrad Bora Bora
I’m happy Hilton doesn’t have stronger elite benefits
Gary is totally right that top tier elites with Hilton aren’t entitled to empty suites, and Hilton doesn’t guarantee late check-out. Those are both valid points that I wholeheartedly agree with.
I will say that I think honoring of elite benefits will vary hugely by property:
- Recently in Bora Bora I wasn’t allowed to check out even a minute late as a Platinum Premier Ambassador (Marriott doesn’t guarantee this benefit at resorts), while the Conrad let me stay in my room until 6PM, when my flight was departing
- As a Marriott Platinum, good luck getting a suite upgrade at any US business hotel, or at any of the super high end luxury properties, where there are no standard rooms, and therefore are no standard suites to upgrade people to
Here’s the thing — if I spent 60+ nights per year with Hilton I’d want some sort of confirmed suite upgrades, guaranteed late check-out, etc.
But to me, Hilton is in such an incredible sweet spot right now. I’m a top tier elite with virtually no effort, I’m getting breakfast at all brands, I get suite upgrades regularly at non-US properties, and there are quite a few properties I want to try.
Breakfast at the Conrad Bora Bora
I’m not at all suggesting that everyone should be switching from Marriott to Hilton. Rather I’m suggesting that many people aren’t at all nuts to be ditching Marriott in favor of Hilton.
Hilton’s Aspire Card offering top tier Diamond status and all the incredible perks that come along with it is an amazing opportunity. There’s no reason to go out of your way to be loyal to Marriott when Hilton basically gives you top tier status for free. And it’s actual top tier status, unlike Marriott, where 50 night Platinum will soon be third tier status.
So while I’m personally not switching all my business from Marriott to Hilton, I’m loving Hilton more and more every day. They actually offer elite breakfast at all brands (despite giving away status), their website actually works, their redemption rates are more reasonable than Marriott’s (while Marriott charges you $700 worth of points to stay at some of their properties), and they have quite a few properties I want to try.
Stay at Hilton when it’s convenient, and when it’s not convenient use one of the other great options out there for securing a deal on a luxury hotel, whether it’s the Citi Prestige fourth night free benefit, Hyatt Prive, transferring Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, Virtuoso, or whatever else.
Color me a fan of Hilton nowadays…
Where do you stand in this debate?