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.com.
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.
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