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A lot of members are frustrated with Marriott — for botching the Starwood integration, for failing to deliver on the benefits they promised, and for generally unhelpful customer service. I argued that doesn’t make Hilton better, that Marriott disappoints but shouldn’t surprise — they are the largest and still offer better elite benefits, why would you think they’d be better?
- A lot of members see this as a moral issue they won’t give Marriott their business, believing Marriott doesn’t deserve it, even if it means taking less from Hilton (no promise of suite upgrades, no guaranteed late check-out).
- Everyone’s situation is different I argue that a disappointing Marriott is still better for 50+ night guests than Hilton but people react with their own situation, making the point that Hilton is good for them with 20-30 nights.
- Credit card matters most For a lot of people it’s the rewards and benefits from a program’s credit card that is most important. I argue it shouldn’t matter what the earning is from the hotel co-branded cards, since you want to compare that to the best you’ll do with non-hotel cards (and you’ll often do better). However loyalty to a chain means factoring the total value proposition the chain offers. For those guests that includes earning from credit card. The hit the Starwood co-brand has taken in the new program is huge.
- Credit card matters most… for status It doesn’t matter who is the best for 50+ night guests for people who don’t stay 50+ nights, for many it’s what’s the best you can do if you don’t stay 50 nights and that means what can you do by signing up for or spending on a credit card?
Hyatt Really is the Best, If Their Footprint Works For You
Matthew Klint says forget Hilton vs. Marriott, he’ll just stick with Hyatt. Hyatt is a smaller chain. Even after the Two Roads Hospitality acquisition gives them several new brands, they’re still in the 700 property range. The partnership with Small Luxury Hotels of the World helps a little bit, and so does the partnership with MGM M life Rewards. In contrast Marriott has over 6700 properties and Hilton and IHG each about 5500.
However Hyatt offers the best top tier elite status of the group, and Hyatt lets you spend on its credit card to earn that status.
The World Of Hyatt Credit Card gives you 5 nights towards status every year and an additional 2 elite qualifying nights for every $5,000 spent on the card with no cap. As a result you could earn Globalist (top tier elite) with nothing but credit card spend. Free nights count towards status including free nights earned with the card, and free nights redeemed with points transferred to Hyatt from a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
And Hyatt’s Globalist status, earned with 60 elite nights, gets you:
- Best available room at check-in, including standard suites
- Club lounge access at properties with lounges
- 4 suite upgrades (for up to 7 nights each) confirmed at booking [with the option to earn more at 70, 80, 90, and 100 nights]
- Full breakfast at properties without club lounges (not just continental breakfast like other chains offer)
- Guaranteed 4pm late checkout (subject to availability at resorts and casino hotels)
- A dedicated reservations representative to handle all of your Hyatt needs (‘My Hyatt Concierge’)
Park Hyatt Sydney
Along the way you earn a free category 1-4 night after $15,000 spend on the card, a category 1-4 free night at card renewal, another free category 1-4 night upon reaching 30 elite qualifying nights and still another free night (this time up to category 7) at 60 elite nights.
Hilton Gives You Meaningful Status With a Credit Card
I get my Gold status from The Platinum Card® from American Express. If I’m going to stay at a Hilton it means I get club lounge or breakfast, and hopefully avoid the worst rooms in the house. Maybe I’ll get a better view.
You can get Gold status inexpensively just by picking up the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express. There’s an initial bonus of 125,000 Hilton Honors points after $2,000 in eligible purchases with the product in your first 3 months of cardmembership. And each year you spend $15,000 on the card you’ll earn a weekend night reward, and $40,000 in a calendar year earns Hilton Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
Hilton’s sweet spot in my opinion is Gold, since the program doesn’t promise suites to top tier Diamond members and Diamonds aren’t guaranteed late check out either. Some individual properties do treat Diamonds very well, and the $450 annual fee Hilton Aspire card comes with Diamond status, no spend required.
I think the fact you can get top tier status just from getting a credit card (and not even spending on the card) tells you something about the status. However if you aren’t going to spend enough nights in hotels to earn 50+ night status somewhere else then this play makes a good deal of sense. It’s better to be a Hilton Diamond than a Marriott Gold or Hyatt Explorist.
Conrad Koh Samui
IHG Offers a Good Rebate, Little Benefits
The IHG Rewards Club program gives you a lot of points for your spend, in my view they have the strongest basic ‘earn and burn’ proposition, they rebate more of your spend towards free nights than other programs whether you have no status at all or top status.
However there are several weaknesses to the program,
- Limited number of top notch properties. There are Intercontinentals and Kimptons but a whole lot of Holiday Inns and Holiday Inn Express hotels making up their portfolio. That may be great for earning via cheap stays, but less desirable for many people when it comes time to spend points.
- There’s no option to spend points for a better room, they only have standard room redemptions on offer.
- The program doesn’t promise suite upgrades, club access, or guarantee late check-out
- Most elite benefits don’t have to be honored on redemption stays
That said many hotels do go above and beyond, and the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card provides some real value to those in the program.
You can earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. You’ll receive a free night after each account anniversary year at eligible IHG hotels worldwide.
And perhaps most importantly one of the best features is that cardholders receive a free reward night each time they redeem points for any stay of 4 or more nights. So that’s better than the ‘5th night free’ from Starwood and from Hilton, and amounts to a 25% discount on four night award stays.
Cardmembers receive platinum status for as long as they remain a cardmember. There’s a Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit (up to $100 every 4 years) as well.
The is one of the cards I want that I do not have — I don’t currently have status with the chain (while I have status with Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton), and would love to have the option for fourth night free redemptions.
Marriott is the Best Large Chain But Has Serious Flaws
The Marriott card and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express earn 15 elite nights each calendar year (starting 2019). You can only earn 15 elite nights total from having a Marriott or Starwood credit card.
Now the $450 Starwood Luxury Card lets you spend $75,000 for Platinum status — but that’s 50 night status and essentially only mid-tier. You aren’t eligible for suite upgrades at Ritz-Carltons, for 24 hour check-in, and you don’t get an Ambassador.
By the way you can also earn 10 elite qualifying nights per year by booking a meeting. You don’t necessarily need to need a meeting and it doesn’t need to be expensive. Find a hotel in a qualifying brand – like a Fairfield or Courtyard – in an expensive location and tell them you need a meeting room for a couple of people for an hour, with no a/v or catering. Tell them you can be flexible on the meeting time, whatever time the space if available (and cheapest). See details here as well as what meetings earn more qualifying nights.
These are some ways to goose yourself towards elite status. Bear in mind that suites are going to be what’s available based on the vagaries of hotels, and different properties have different rooms defined as upgrade-eligible. This isn’t like Hyatt where you can pre-reserve a suite a set number of times per year and leave it to chance the rest of the time.
Marriott’s breakfast benefit only requires continental offerings, not full breakfast like Hyatt. They do not offer club lounge access at resorts (other than at Westin, Sheraton, and Le Meridien properties – basically legacy Starwood properties that used to offer this still do). And unless you have an Ambassador — earned with 100 nights and $20,000 spend — expect customer service to take time and be of varying quality.
Club lounge at the W Doha
Nonetheless for someone spending 50 nights or more per year the elite benefits are better than Hilton and better than IHG. And if you’re choosing from the three because Hyatt’s footprint isn’t broad enough for you then you’re likely to settle on Marriott.
How to Choose the Brand That’s Right For You
There are three things that factor into which chain you should focus on (if you should focus on a chain at all).
- How often you stay
- Where you stay
- What rewards and benefits matter most to you
If you do not book directly with a hotel chain (or through an eligible third party) you will not earn credit towards elite status, points in the hotel’s program, or elite benefits.
However if you aren’t staying enough to earn 50+ night elite status with a major chain, and aren’t interested in in-hotel benefits, you’re going to be best off in my opinion getting a Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and booking your hotel stays through hotels.com/Venture to earn 10 miles per dollar spent on hotels paid for with the card, on top of the 10% rebate afforded by Hotels.com’s own loyalty program.
Personally I choose Hyatt as my primary program because they offer nice hotels and the best elite benefits by far. It’s also far easier to attain top tier status with Hyatt than Marriott, especially now that 100 night ‘Ambassador’ status with Marriott requires $20,000 spend per year — not just stays.