249 Hotel Nights Later: How Marriott, Hyatt and IHG Get It Wrong

An anonymous reader captures something in a guest post that I think is important, based on some pretty extensive experience on the road. Hyatt is great if you can stick to full service properties not owned or managed by bad actors, but there aren’t enough properties and too many limited service ones. So where you going to go? You’re stuck with Marriott, so Marriott can get away with failing to live up to promises and expectations. It’s still better than the alternatives.

249 Hotel Nights Later: How Marriott, Hyatt and IHG Get It Wrong

Over the course of 249 nights in hotels with Marriott, Hyatt, IHG and independent flags, I can say that the vast majority of stays this year were anything but good.

And judging from View from the Wing’s coverage, most readers seem to be experiencing what I’m experiencing.

Like a lot of frequent travelers, I have a complicated love-hate relationship with Marriott.

Marriott used to be a good hotel company. As launched, Bonvoy was a good loyalty program. Unfortunately, neither of those things are true today.

While Bonvoy has met or exceeded the expectations of Marriott’s real customers — the individual hotel owners — it has failed guests.

Operationally, Marriott not managing over 70 percent of the properties flying its flag has clearly eroded the consistency that defined Marriott when the Marriott family ran the company. It’s sad that shareholders and the board of directors allowed now-deceased CEO Arne Sorenson to jettison quality for quantity.

Given the particularly high threshold of 100 nights and $23,000 in spending for top-tier ambassador — a status I have had since 2018 — it’s beyond reasonable to expect tangible benefits better than titanium, Bonvoy’s second-tier status. In practice, however, ambassadors don’t get more than guests with third-tier platinum status, which is now given away with certain co-branded credit cards.

Worst of all, Marriott makes no effort at ensuring compliance with the breakfast benefit — a promised perk that is particularly valuable when not traveling on other people’s money. You know, that once-a-year trip to a resort or the anniversary trip with the wife.

The idea that a hotel owner or management company would cheat corporate’s best customers out of a meaningful breakfast that costs maybe a couple of dollars is crazy. Yet, plenty of properties cheat those guests out of something as cheap as coffee and orange juice with non-powdered eggs.

From telling operators of its flagship Holiday Inn brand to remove two pillows from guest rooms to denying elites access to club lounge amenities and services when receiving a complimentary upgrade, IHG is infamously all over the place, despite all of the publicity over the relaunch of the loyalty program.

Staying at Intercontinental and Kimpton properties — arguably the only desirable IHG brands — is often, as with Hyatt’s best brands, not an option.

Combined with the limited benefits of top-tier diamond at the Holiday Inn Expresses and Holiday Inns, it’s hard to justify spending 70 or more nights a year even if IHG’s footprint of 6,028 properties can give Marriott a serious run for the money.

While I have diamond and Intercontinental ambassador statuses, I can’t see myself doing anything more than periodic stays to use the two free nights that come every year from co-branded credit cards or deplete the nearly 1 million points that remain in my account whenever I need a room at some Holiday Inn Express in the middle of no-where.

On paper that leaves Hyatt and its World of Hyatt loyalty program as the most viable alternative to Marriott.

The breakfast benefit for globalists — the Hyatt top-tier status that requires 60 nights every night — is unquestionably better than Marriott since what constitutes breakfast is explicitly defined in the program terms.

Contrast that to Marriott. Literally, all they need to do is add some words to an already wordy section of Bonvoy’s terms to define breakfast as either the regular hotel restaurant buffet offered for sale to all other guests or a hot entrée from the regular hotel restaurant menu offered to all other guests with coffee, juice, water, tip and all taxes or fees. The “all other guests” part (however lawyers want to word it) is necessary because some properties are known to create special elite menus that have fewer options than a North Korean commissary.

There’s no doubt that Hyatt’s implementation of the benefit is also helped by the fact that Hyatt manages most full-service branded properties, unlike Marriott and IHG. At franchised Hyatts managed by the likes of Aimbridge Hospitality and MC Management, guests have been known to be cheated in the same way as many Marriotts openly violate the letter and certainly the spirit of the Bonvoy terms.

If breakfast is the singular measure of how a hotel loyalty program treats its best customers then World of Hyatt is the best loyalty program out there. But other more objective criteria show that the grass often isn’t greener on the other side.

For starters, Hyatt just doesn’t have enough hotels.

Staying 60 nights outside of A-list cities is impossible for many would-be customers. To illustrate the company’s limited footprint, there are entire states without a single property under any brand.

Yes, the company continues to acquire properties but most of the acquisitions are resorts or niche properties. I’m not seeing much growth among the full-service Hyatt, Hyatt Regency and Grand Hyatt brands in North America.

To maintain globalist, almost all of my nights were spent at a Hyatt Place, which is a truly awful brand.

Then there is the lack of points for food and drinks at certain undisclosed Hyatt properties. Ironically, Hyatt runs promotions that incentivize on-property spending at bars and restaurants even though customers probably won’t get points for spending money on-property.

So, what am I going to do in 2023?

Keeping globalist just isn’t a priority as my travels take me to markets where a Hyatt Place is never the best option. Even the allure of no resort fees on an award-redemption at some resort isn’t that attractive since resort fees are also waived at Marriott’s newish all-inclusive properties under little-known supplemental terms.

The only things that might cause me to reconsider Hyatt are more full-service properties or revised elite status benefits; think extending breakfast or lounge access to second-tier explorists or adding something of value, like free nonalcoholic drinks, for globalists at Hyatt House and Hyatt Place.

As bad as Marriott is these days, I’m just too invested in Bonvoy not to make it my first program of choice.

There is also the simple reality that Marriott’s footprint is too large to ignore. It’s not like Wyndham, Choice and Best Western are going to get my business.

Complaining about Marriott is a popular pastime, but in my experience the company does tend to do the right thing to resolve bad situations. It may take just take escalation within customer service or corporate management.

And as a lifetime titanium and ambassador, I know what brands, individual properties, franchisees and management companies within the Marriott ecosystem to avoid wherever and whenever possible. My black list includes any property affiliated with Aimbridge, the Kessler Collection, Diamondrock Hospitality and Pearl Hospitality.

Whenever Marriott isn’t an option, I’ll look at IHG because seemingly every town in America has a Holiday Inn Express.

But that doesn’t mean IHG will get 75 nights out of me since second-tier platinum — the credit card giveaway status — offers the exact same benefits as diamond at Holiday Inn Express, where breakfast is free for all guests. Some Holiday Inn Expresses in Europe and Asia have a bar, which makes that brand with its generally newer or more recently updated properties more compelling than an old Holiday Inn or a subpar Crowne Plaza. Plus, I can still get club lounge access if I choose a lounge membership from the benefit choices offered after crossing the 40-night threshold.

To supplement platinum, I will also buy ambassador to cover the one or two stays I have every year at an Intercontinental. Ambassador renewal is even more attractive if buying it with cash or points continues to extend diamond.

Given the size of IHG’s footprint, I could easily change my plans and do 75 or more nights. But that would require a serious investment to bring Crowne Plaza, which almost always disappoints, and a diamond benefit beyond just a mediocre breakfast at Holiday Inns.

My plan for 2023 is also based on the assumption that business travel continues to plateau due to uncertainties over the U.S. economy and continued remote work, the latter of which has really hurt those employed in business development and client or account management.

While another 249 nights isn’t realistic, 150 seems reachable as long as I still have a job and other people don’t run out of their money.

I’m not sure I agree that breakfast is the measure of a loyalty program, though it’s easy to compare. Unquestionably Hyatt’s terms are strongest (full breakfast, not continental, even spelling out what full breakfast means). Hyatt also has by far the strongest upgrade program, with suite upgrades that are confirmable at booking. But too few Hyatts are full service properties, too few have club lounges (or lounges that have re-opened). So the footprint matters. For those who travel to small towns, they need to look to a larger chain. [Fortunately I tend not to be a small town traveler.]

So do you choose IHG, Marriott, or Hilton? Unquestionably Marriott’s program offers the most, even when they fail to meet promises. For instance they’re the only one of the three guaranteeing late check-out at non-resort and conference properties. Although I do really like the changes that IHG has made this year, to offer breakfast to top elites, club lounge access as a choice benefit, and confirmed suites on non-prepaid revenue stays within 14 days of arrival. But there aren’t enough premium full service hotels to really enjoy these benefits at, compared to Marriott, for those who prefer those sorts of stays.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Isn’t IHG Diamond 70 nights rather than 75? Please don’t scare me in mid-December about my plan to achieve Diamond. (Panicked look in my eyes)

  2. Good summary IMHO. Frankly I’m a true free agent and glad for it. Retired so no company travel policy or client preferences to consider any more. Also, lifetime Titanium (Marriott), working on lifetime Diamond Hilton (over 20 years at that level but need a few hundred thousand points) but get Gold w Hilton Surpass and usually put $40,000 in non-bonused spend to hit Diamond (as I am through 2023), Platinum IHG with credit card and Explorist Hyatt with MGM match from my Gold status. Oh yeah Diamond Plus w Caesars and Gold with MGM rewards based on gambling so get pretty much comped at their properties. Basically off the hamster wheel of earning status so stay at whichever of these brands (or an independent) best suits me on any individual trip.

    Also, I tend to not value breakfast since IMHO it is just one more meal most Americans should skip to not be so obese. Coffee and maybe some fruit is all I ever care about and usually go to Starbucks or an independent coffee shop instead of settling for the often horrible coffee at any of the major chains.

  3. Very US-centric view. The hotel industry in the US sucks. Hyatt may be slightly better but the value-for-money is still questionable. Sorry to you guys, but the rest of the world is a different story. And that’s true in spite of American hotel chains dominating the sector.

    F Hilton in the US, but I wouldn’t say F Hilton in Austria, Turkey, Thailand, Poland, Singapore, or South Africa.

  4. @John: That’s because Hilton, like Marriott, manages most of its international properties. In the US and Canada, Hilton and Marriott have pretty much licensed or franchised all their properties. Hiring Hilton or Marriott is too expensive because they have multiple layers of property management plus staff that owners domestically think are unessential (like dedicated doormen).

  5. Free agency, given the benefits afforded by hotel credit cards, American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, Virtuoso, and others is such an obvious choice here. There are so many great hotels in all these ecosystems, and so many ways to access them, that “loyalty” (which to me, means KNOWINGLY picking an inferior hotel over another hotel to stay within a program) is irrational. Why pick a crappy Marriott when a Hyatt is better? Why pick an inconvenient Hyatt when Marriott has everything you need right next to your business meeting? Why pick an expensive Marriott when the Hilton is much better and much cheaper on points?

  6. @AdamH: Generally a quick Google search of a hotel’s marketed name plus something like “operated by,” “owned by” or “managed by” finds the info. You could always call a hotel and ask.

  7. This post seems like @Gary writing under a “nom de plume”, y’know, like Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman…

  8. Excellent tho depressing analysis. But one paragraph summed up the dilemma- when you finished saying how Marriott sucked but added that you’re too invested to leave. They know that and will continue to make fools of us. Broke my ass to get Starwood Platinum for life. Now they give it away with a credit card. I only wished that Starwood would haves merged with Hyatt. Oh well. Happy Holidays everyone.

  9. “It’s sad that shareholders and the board of directors allowed now-deceased CEO Arne Sorenson to jettison quality for quantity”

    Well observed comment. When I met Arne Sorenson to discuss Marriott corruption shortly before he passed away it was clear that he realised his error of judgement. But of course Marriott remains completely overrun by executives who have been there too long. What he left behind is a corporation drowning in criminality. How dare today’s executives bring in new blood? Milk the cow until someone works it all out…

    The directors are just as corrupt as everyone else. Those who got “the flutters” escaped over recent years

    MARRIOTT LAMENTATIONS 118: “The Marriott Board – Bored, Incompetent or Corrupt?”

    Every decision a corporate board makes should take into account how it will affect employees, customers, suppliers, communities and shareholders. Essentially, board directors act as stewards of the company and in that role they must continually assess a variety of risks; scandals are the result of poor corporate governance

    Over the decades, the Marriott Board has often escaped serious censure. Marriott’s strong political, religious and judicial ties, a debauched pool of legal advisors and vigorous regulatory lobbying may explain why. Employing tactics no different to those found in corrupt developing nations, the role of the Marriott board appears to be little more than keeping mum, whilst allowing “silent partners” to do the hard “graft”

    Senator Mitt Romney was a member of the Marriott Board during the naughty nineties, the late noughties and then on either side of the corrupted Starwood merger. Romney is named after the company’s founder, J Willard Marriott. The Romney and Marriott families (both linked to the Church of Latter Day Saints) have long been close, and members of the Marriott family were major contributors to Romney’s presidential bid. As one of the designated “independent” members of the Marriott board this all constituted a serious conflict of interest

    As reported at the time, Romney held oversight responsibilities when Marriott was being repeatedly accused of unlawful and deceptive practices that enriched the company at the expense of hotel owners (who also accused Marriott of falsifying financial statements) something they always denied yet still paid millions to settle. This should have prompted action, yet Marriott’s directors offered no public disclosure of the risks involved; nor were shareholders notified of the settlements – and the shady practices continued

    Little has changed. For example, today’s Marriott directors include Aylwyn Lewis and Eric Hippeau, both of whom crossed over from Starwood after the 2016 merger and in full knowledge of the paper-shredding and cover-up that took place (with the help of EY); Susan Schwab was a director at Boeing during the 737 Max scandal. Bereft of ethical backbone, deft in concealment, lacking in accountability, light on competence and objectivity et al, the Marriott board is accused of tottering on under the legacy of its shady past, in a haze of silence and denial, confident in the might of its own impunity

    “Everybody on the board only has one voice. The question is what you do with that voice. Are you going to ask questions? Are you going to argue with people? Are you going to vote ‘No’ on various things? Are you going to quit in protest?” (Nell Minow, Governance Metric International)

    Or are you, collectively, going to act corruptly?

    John Shepherd (Marriott victim)
    #deathbymarriott #marriott #marriottinternational #ey #boardofdirectors #hotel

  10. @ Gary — After a year of more normal travel, I’ve concluded that IC RA is still by far best, but Hyatt Globalist is by far the easiest top status to attain, with the most valuable benefits. Yes, you can get the Aspire card for the incredible price of $450, but Hilton is a crap shoot on room upgrades.

  11. @ Gary — Meant “Hyatt Globalist is by far the easiest top status to attain, with valuable benefits”. IC RA benefits are still significantly more valuable.

  12. I’ve been generally happy as a USA-based Hyatt Globalist, recognizing that, due to limited footprint, you will need to stay at other hotels a material amount of time. If you’re only going to spend 60 nights at hotels in a year, you’re probably not going to make Globalist. Overseas, Hyatt isn’t as good due to its even more limited footprint, and the fact that the other chains are better overseas than in the USA.

    I am usually disappointed with my Hyatt Place stays, as many of them are a bit long in the tooth, and the breakfast is usually pretty poor. For the life of me, I can’t understand how I can be well taken care of at the other Hyatt brands but, when I step foot in a Hyatt Place, all I get for my status is 2 bottles of water. It’s kind of insulting. Couldn’t they at least give me a couple cookies and a soda, or drink at the bar?.

  13. Great summary Gary.

    MB LT Titanium Elite (via SPG). Had Ambassador (awful) three years ago; still average 50-75 paid nights.
    (No Suite Night Awards approved in 2.5 years; love the $10 F&B vouchers that don’t cover much; love telling reception what Titanium benefits are and what they need to offer…)
    F Marriott for not coding LT Titanium or LT Plat for guest profiles for hotels.

    Hyatt- Gave up years ago. Reconsidered recently, but despise the Pritzker family and their ideology and politics.

    Hilton- Gave up years ago due to repeated discrimination even though top status.

    IHG- yawn. Gave up years ago.

    2022 Stays as a free agent: Pestana (Portugal); Relais & Chateau (Portugal and Italy); Several independents (Italy; Greece).

  14. @ Chris@oak — I’m sure you’ll get much better treatement at Trump Hotels, with their huge global footprint.

  15. You excoriate Arne Sorenson for trading quality for quantity, while you also bemoan Hyatt’s limited geographical footprint while having the most owned/managed properties and best loyalty program. Let’s recognize it for what it is: a small footprint maximizes ownership, maximizes quality and guest experience. To grow and scale require a different business model that effectively changes the focus of the business from guests to owners.

  16. @Gene – I miss being IC RA, but it was a lot of work! I’d need to find out how each hotel handled upgrades and choose the room I’d book accordingly, is it a guaranteed upgrade or if available at check-in? is it a guaranteed suite, or a 2-category upgrade? How many categories do they have? Will they upgrade on *any* rate?

  17. @John. You are correct. “To grow and scale require a different business model that effectively changes the focus of the business from guests to owners”… which widens the scope for wholesale global corruption

  18. Honestly, I have just accepted that the current state of the world is “pay to play” after years of easy money being printed, and that nice things like suites and fancy meals are going to go to people who pay cash for them. I stopped chasing rewards that properties didn’t care to give me and have been just going in on earn and burn. Turn nights into more nights. Hilton has been that program for me, based on my stay patterns and earn / burn rate calculations, but other programs may work better for other people. YMMV.

    I’ve been much happier now that I’ve released my expectations – maybe that means the chains have won and gotten what that’ve wanted, but the alternative seems to be either screaming into a void like most posters here or embracing the Promised Land Of Hyatt, which itself can’t last forever.

    Maybe if a recession takes the air out of this travel bubble, we’ll see properties and chains begin offering enticements again.

  19. – I did stay the first time at Hyatt at the beginning of pandemic and I am finishing this year with 73 nights with Hyatt. As LT Titanium (thank you, SPG!), I am was also too “invested” in Bonvoy to look any further even though I was using HHonors Diamond as a backup program and for stays abroad. Actually, during the pandemic, I did have some really bad experience with Bonvoy and Hilton in the USA while Hyatt House/Place was still significantly better. This year I have a disappointment after disappointment with Bonvoy but still will finish with 75 nights to get 1 FNA.
    What is missing from the analysis is the redemption side. Hyatt and Hilton (too lesser extend) still have an award chart It remained to be seen what will happen with Bonvoy awards starting Jan 1, 2023.

  20. Just returned from a Globalist points stay at Hyatt’s Ventana. Does anybody have input or suggestions about a more lucrative US uses of points (by any measurement) then this gemstone?

  21. @Gene
    Thanks for suggesting the luxurious Trump brand hotels. The properties look amazing. As a free agent, I look forward to staying at 1+ more of them in 2023.

  22. @Gary — I dunno. Maybe to suggest wider support for your own biased views, which the post is so full off, you could’ve written it, by having an alter ego enunciate them?

    Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman to see if his pseudonym would get as popular as his real self (didn’t happen until Bachman was outed as King’s alter ego), and being a prolofic author, to get around publishers’ limit on how many books an author could publish each year.

    Anyway, it’s no biggie.

  23. At Haytt properties, Resort Fees are waived for Globalists all nights. Not just on award nights. It’s parking that is only waived on award nights.

  24. I’m all in for Hyatt…where even in places like Lubbock the sparkling Hyatt Place is far and away the best choice even during a football crazed weekend. At least they’re always clean and well maintained (except the old Amerisuites versions…which even I avoid!) New York? London? Paris on Place Vendome? Tokyo? Vienna?v Use your points there in spectacular hotels – far and away the best value you’ll find in ANY program.

    Just tried to book my brother on a random weekday in March in Key West using Marriott or Hilton points. The Hampton Inn would have taken more points than a stay at the Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria in Rome. The Marriott Casa Marina more points than the Danieli in Venice. Just look at the number of points required for an award, and figure out how many stays you’ll need to achieve the award, and you’ll be booking Hyatt. A point, as I always say, is NOT a point!

  25. @Gary, can we hear more about your black list? Some of those management companies sound familiar from previous posts, but would happily add to my own black list as well (although my travel wouldn’t be much of a difference).

  26. I spend 150 nights a year at hotels and I think your Anonymous Reader is right on the money with his comments.
    In Europe, Middel east and Asia where i usually stay:
    1. Marriott is by far the best. My Titanium status usually gets me excellent benefits at very nice hotel which are reasonably priced (sheratond and marriotts usually).
    2. Hyatt Globalist benefits are also great and ususally auotmatic (no need to “beg” front desk staff) but i rarely find a good exec lounge like at marriotts.. Although Delhi Hyatt regency was a lovely exception to my lounge disappointment with them .
    3. Hilton Diamond is easy to get with a card and I like Hiltons usually .
    4.IHG Diamond status is useless in my opinion as no exec lounge access nor suite upgrade nor 4pm checkout. Cant imagine why anyone woudldeven poursue it.

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