To Everyone Leaving Marriott for Hilton: You’re Nuts

I’m as disappointed as anyone with the way Marriott has delivered on their new loyalty program. The technical side of combining Starwood and Marriott accounts has been frustrating — my account still isn’t right. Customer service has been poor — I’m waiting for a reply to an email from September. And most of all the delivery of benefits and redemptions hasn’t matched what was promised.

W Times Square

However that doesn’t mean you should abandon Marriott. What they’ve done, frustrating as it is, is still better than what I expected. The most rewarding loyalty programs have historically been smaller programs. Those are the ones that need you to go out of your way to stay loyal. It takes effort to be loyal to Hyatt with their much-smaller footprint. In contrast Marriott is everywhere (so is Hilton and IHG). Larger programs don’t need to try as hard.

The Starwood merger made Marriott larger. The purpose of the merger was to have leverage over their counterparties as a result of their size. They seemed to need less investment in loyalty rather than more — except that in order for Marriott to retain 30 brands without marketing investment in each they need a loyalty program that will get customers to book direct and take whatever hotels get spit out at

Marriott doesn’t have to be better because the new Marriott Rewards is still better that the programs of their major competitors IHG and Hilton. Whenever I highlight the problems Marriott is having I point that out, and several readers chime in that they are done with Marriott and headed to Hilton. Just because you’re unhappy doesn’t make the competitor better.

There are a few points to consider about Hilton before you make that move. I know I wouldn’t want to do it.

  • Hilton doesn’t reward you as well for spending at their hotels. Hilton’s program is actually the least rewarding before you factor in promotions in fact in order for Hilton to get to parity with Marriott in terms of rebate value they need to be offering double points while Marriott has no promotion at all.

    General Top Elite Value General Top Elite
      Member Earn Member Earn Per Point Member Rebate Member Rebate
    Hilton 10 20 $0.004 4% 8%
    Marriott 10 17.5 $0.007 7% 12%
    Hyatt 5 6.5 $0.014 7% 9%
    IHG 10 20 $0.006 6% 12%

  • There aren’t as many luxury hotels for redemption. Hilton has some wonderful redemption opportunity. Overall most Conrad properties are very nice. Marriott used to have a luxury problem, you stay at Marriott all year and the reward was slogging through more Marriott stays. With the acquisition of Starwood they inherited myriad truly special properties around the world where you can redeem your points.

  • Top tier elites aren’t entitled to empty suites. There really is no meaningful upgrade benefit with Hilton Honors. A given hotel might upgrade you, but they really aren’t required to. Hilton’s terms and conditions state that a Diamond member may be upgraded to rooms up to suites (and by the way even executive suites are excluded from this benefit) but suite upgrades are “subject to the discretion of the hotel.”

    If you check into a hotel as a Hilton Diamond member and every suite is empty, you have no grounds for complaint when you’re assigned a standard room. The program simply does not promise that suites are part of any upgrade benefit.

  • They don’t even guarantee late check-out. At Hilton late checkout “[m]ust be requested and is subject to availability.” That’s how things worked at Marriott before they acquired SPG and realized they needed to actually deliver on late check-out, not leave it up to the whims of individual hotels.

  • Hilton Honors is the SkyPesos of hotel loyalty. They eliminated their award categories. They don’t have published pricing anymore and don’t tell you when they’re changing prices (making hotels more expensive). Marriott changes its terms without notice, and moves around hotel category assignments. That’s deplorable. But Hilton doesn’t have (published) categories anymore at all.

Waldorf Hilton London

About the only things I’ve been able to figure that Hilton does better than Marriott are giving away status (that doesn’t promise nearly as much) and breakfast for elites.

For years Hilton has talked about adding meaningful elite benefits — like suite upgrades and guaranteed late check-out — and maybe they will. At that point it would be something to reconsider. Until then I view Hilton Honors as a non-starter for choosing a primary loyalty program.

I do think it’s loyalty program malpractice, though, that Hyatt hasn’t been aggressively recruiting disaffected Starwood 100 night members. They come from a smaller chain so Hyatt’s footprint might even work for them. Hyatt even now has three top Starwood executives at the top of marketing and loyalty.

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, 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. […] to hotel loyalty programs relatively speaking, it was interesting to see these varying opinions: To Everyone Leaving Marriott for Hilton: You’re Nuts (View From The Wing) Why You’re Not Nuts To Leave Marriott For Hilton (One Mile at a Time) Why […]


  1. Ha. Too darn much analytics going on here. Each individual is unique as are their circumstances and desires as well as the value each person places on benefits, points, and hotel types. Anyone who wants to leave Marriott should leave Marriott. You are not nuts. It’s not like Marriott will banish you for life.

    . There are way too many variables

  2. I think you’re wrong about Hilton upgrade policy. You ARE entitled to an upgrade IF space is available, which you can easily check on the app when checking in.

    Also, your earning rate analysis is skewed by your biased and arbitrary valuations. If you compare elite point earning rate is top tier room rate, Hilton will soon be very favorable at 20x/95k vs Marriott’s 17.5x/100k.

    Unless you are traveling 100 days a year, chasing Marriott status is not worth it. Get the Aspire card and be done with it.

  3. @WR2

    Ya, can you imagine chasing all those nights each year for status and the cost of it? It’s phenomenal! As you said, status is free with AMEX Hilton and no damn stress at the end of the year trying to figure out how to get those extra five nights worked into your schedule for status. Not me.

  4. Ben had a good reply to your post, Gary. I tend to think you’ve both made good points but Marriott was such an unmitigated disaster in 2018 that I’m done with them.

  5. @WR – here are the relevant upgrade terms:

    “Upgrades for Diamond Hilton Honors Members may include upgrades up to “junior”, “standard” or “one-bedroom” suites. Upgrades exclude executive suites, villas and specialty accommodations/floors/towers (which may include, but not limited to, “Vista,” “Villa,” or “Club” accommodation types), subject to the discretion of the hotel. Group reservations and certain rates are not eligible for suite accommodations and may not be eligible for complimentary upgrades. All upgrades are granted on a space-available basis for the entire stay, as determined at the time of arrival. Preferred rooms are identified by each individual property and may vary within each brand. Upgrades will be given only for one room for the member, regardless of additional rooms the member may have purchased at or after the time of booking. The following brands do not offer complimentary upgrades: Embassy Suites™, Hilton Garden Inn®, Hampton by Hilton™, Tru by Hilton™, Homewood Suites by Hilton®, Home2 Suites by Hilton®, and Hilton Grand Vacations®.”

  6. It has been awhile since I was HH DIA, but the main reason for that is that HH’s properties are generally just of average quality and their program was always a low earn, high burn program, made worse when they dropped the certainty of published categories/levels. I agree that Hyatt is the best, and my friend, who is Globalist-for-Life, really enjoys some of the best upgrades, amenities, and recognition I’ve ever seen. As an SPG PLT75 before the change over to MR, I had some concerns and have experienced some IT issues (though as a long time IHG-IC RA/Spire now AMB/Spire. I’m used to those issues.) I think that Mr. Leff actually unstates the earning gap, as as a MR PLT, I’m seeing earnings as high as 36 points per dollar, factoring in the AMEX SPG card earn, the PLT amenity (I always ask for both-points and breakfast-and you’d be surprised how often it’s given where the property doesn’t have a club/lounge,) and the promos, especially the recent Mega deal. Five nights, over 3 different SF Bay Area hotels T-Day week and weekend came to an average of 29 points per total dollar (missed the extra 2000 Mega as one stay was a one nighter.) Over 18k for those stays is enough for a reasonable free night’s stay. I was staying solo, so really didn’t need nor push for a suite, though if it’s something needed I generally get that UPG also or use SNA’s when I want to secure it in advance. I did get nice view rooms of decent size at 2 of the 3, the 3rd was a three story suburban Marriott that was full with weddings and gatherings that weekend.

  7. Couldn’t agree more with this post. The Marriott footprint now in incredible! The only good Hilton redemptions are high end properties. The program is worthless for most people, and can’t understand for the life of me why people use them. Everywhere I go Marriott properties available from 15-35 points per night. Can’t beat them except with Hyatt who has no footprint.

  8. I am staying at Hilton Waikoala, Hawaii and there is not much extra benefit for being the top tier Diamond status. Only the Continental (cold) bkfast for 2 and for kids its extra $20. No ocean view upgrade. Had to pay extra $40/night for ocean view. Still have to pay $27/day for self parking and NO late checkout avail! No lounges or afternoon tea/snacks.

  9. Being a lifetime HH member I feel like they had an opportunity to really differentiate the Top status and they have done nothing at all with this tier which is 1000 nights not for the weak! Profits now rule for both chains being stock driven quality is taking the back seat as it usually does.

  10. Bill, I think benefits and perks change with occupancy rates. With high occupancy rates, chains do not have to offer much right now. However, when the next recession hits and occupancy rates tank benefits will go up, and much of that will be temporary or unpublished. I travellec a lot during the last recession and that was my experience.

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