Since this story was published, Marriott has rebranded and reworked its loyalty program. Here’s where to find the latest coverage on the Hilton Honors program and Marriot’s Bonvoy program.
Hilton Honors and Marriott Rewards present extensive hotel portfolios with loyalty programs that span a broad range of properties and destinations. This is good news for frequent point collectors looking to explore every corner of the globe.
Which program offers the best benefits? That’s the kind of question that can spur debate at your next holiday party. With a new year approaching, now is the time to analyze your travel spending patterns for the coming year so that you can maximize the point earning and burning through elite status.
Hilton Honors has 14 brands, including well-known names like Hilton Garden Suites, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Conrad, and Waldorf Astoria. Members earn 10 points per dollar spent with the exception of Home2 Suites by Hilton and Tru by Hilton where guests earn five points per dollar (Hampton by Hilton hotels in China do not earn any points).
The real winner is that you can double dip and earn both hotel points and airline miles simultaneously (or double hotel points) with each stay. Elite members and those with Hilton’s cobranded credit cards earn even more.
Marriott Rewards gives members 10 points per dollar spent on eligible charges at most hotels (Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites earn five points per dollar). Elite members and Marriott cobranded credit cardholders score extra points.
Marriott Rewards will soon integrate the Starwood Preferred Guest program into its own following a merger between the two hotel companies, creating a total of 30 brands with familiar names like Courtyard by Marriott, Renaissance Hotels & Resorts, JW Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton.
While the details are being ironed out, members can move points between the two programs (and also Ritz-Carlton Rewards) to earn and redeem points at each other’s hotels. For the purpose of this article, we’ll only look at the current Marriott Rewards benefits, but it’s important to know that members can match their accounts for equivalent status when staying at Starwood hotels.
Our take: It’s a tie: Marriott scores with more brands for points earning, and Hilton scores for allowing members to double dip.
While earning is fun, redeeming is better. Hilton Honors offers free nights for as few as 5,000 points with the option to combine points and cash for a free stay. Elite members booking five consecutive award nights get the fifth night free, and families can pool points together to redeem for one award.
Marriott Rewards points can be redeemed for as few as 6,500 points with a similar offer for five consecutive award nights with the fifth night free. One advantage is that it applies to all members, not only those with elite status. Travelers can also combine points and cash for a free stay or redeem points for once-in-a-lifetime experiences like celebrity chef dinners or backstage concert passes through Marriott Rewards Moments.
Both programs participate in transfers of credit card points, meaning if you need to top off points, you can move points from your credit card. Chase Ultimate Rewards transfers to Marriott Rewards, and Hilton Honors members can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards.
Our take: On this factor as well, the programs are neck and neck, thanks to a breadth of redemption options, although the value varies by location and transfer partner.
Elite status perks
Both programs provide top-tier members (Hilton Honors Diamond and Marriott Rewards Platinum) with room upgrades and club lounge access (or free breakfast if no lounge is available). Benefits differ when it comes to mid-tier status (Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Rewards Gold) because Hilton does not always automatically upgrade Gold members to club-level rooms while Marriott does (or at least provides breakfast in the restaurant). Marriott is often more consistent in confirming 4 p.m. late checkout for its top elite members at non-resort hotels.
Marriott Rewards guarantees an arrival amenity for Platinum members; if not, they are compensated with cash or points. Both programs also have hotels with “lounge-style” perks for all guests, such as Homewood Suites by Hilton’s recently beefed up, free weeknight dinner buffet and Residence Inn’s evening socials (sometimes with local food trucks). Both provide free wine and beer many nights and daily breakfast. Who needs a club lounge when the perks are free?
To earn top-level Hilton Diamond status, you must have 30 stays, 60 nights, or 120,000 base points annually. If for some reason you can’t requalify after holding Diamond status, Hilton lets you extend Diamond status once for an additional year! To earn top-level Marriott Platinum status, 75 nights are required, making it a bit harder to achieve.
Our take: Hilton scores for earning status faster, but Marriott offers the most benefits to mid-tier elite members.
Other earning opportunities
Marriott Rewards regularly holds social media promotions for bonus points, including a current offer for as many as 1,000 points for responding to trivia questions tied to an NFL partnership. Hilton Honors currently has a promotion offering bonus points for reservations via its mobile app.
If it’s elite status you’re after, credit cards like Hilton Honors Surpass card from American Express award free Gold status and the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa card comes with 15 elite night credits (enough for Silver) for signing up. Online shoppers can earn points via shopping mall portals for Hilton and Marriott.
Our take: Marriott gets a nod for its social media promotions, but Hilton scores for the ability to earn higher elite status just by signing up for a credit card.
Our verdict: Both programs are beefy enough to please frequent guests, but each has sweet spots (like Hilton’s offer to pool points between family members and Marriott’s club lounge access for mid-tier elites). For what it’s worth, however, in the newly released 2017 ranking of hotel loyalty programs from marketing information-services company J.D. Power, Marriott Rewards took the gold, earning 806 points out of a possible 1,000. World of Hyatt won the silver with 805 points and Hilton Honors scored bronze with 793 points. J.D. Power’s rankings are based on four weighted points: ease of earning and redeeming rewards (35 percent); program benefits (27 percent); account management (22 percent); and member communication (16 percent).
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Ramsey Qubein Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.