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Loyalty Programs Compared: Marriott Rewards Program vs. Hilton HHonors

To many travelers, a clean room, good location, and complimentary breakfast aren't what drive them to choose one hotel over another. In many cases, the choice has been made long before they even looked at the hotels near their destination. Increasingly, the frequent traveler is letting their favorite hotel rewards program be their guide, and it only makes sense. These programs reward frequent stays at associated properties, often saving the best rooms or amenities for the most loyal guests. Here we will take a look at two of the most popular rewards programs - Marriott Rewards, offered by Marriott International, and Hilton HHonors, by Hilton Hotels Corporation.

Program Benefits

The Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors loyalty reward programs offer members the ability to earn free nights, special gifts, complimentary access, and trade points for airline miles. Each program is affiliated with thousands of properties, and other programs, such as rental cars and credit cards, which allow hotel reward points to be earned. The basic idea is that for each stay, a member earns a certain number of points which can be redeemed, usually for a free night stay. And the more often a member stays within the program, the more benefits are extended.

Point Redemption

Both Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors use a category system to assign a point value to a hotel property. The higher the category number, the more points are required to receive a free night. At the time of this writing, both programs had eight categories, with the eighth Hilton category being the Waldorf Astoria properties. Based on a recent review, Marriott had more hotels in the lower point categories than Hilton, where as Hilton had more hotels in higher point categories than Marriott. The cheapest free night for both chains is 7,500 points. The most expensive Marriott category costs 40,000 points, while the most expensive Hilton category ranges from 50,000 to 80,000 points.

Frequency Levels

Each program allows its members to earn a special status based on the number of stays within a 12 month period. The more stays in the designated program period, the more benefits a member receives. The Marriott Rewards program has four "Elite" levels - Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Platinum Premier, with the Platinum Premier level being given to members who attain Platinum status for multiple years, and is said to include only the top 3% of Marriott Rewards members. Similarly, the Hilton HHonors program has three VIP "Tiers" - Silver VIP, Gold VIP, and Diamond VIP. Some of the benefits extended in the elite levels in Marriott Rewards include bonus points, guaranteed reservations, and complimentary snacks and beverages at the highest levels. With Hilton HHonors priority tiers, a member can earn bonus points, complimentary access to premium facilities, and room upgrades.
Pros and Cons

As with anything, there are pluses and minuses to each program, and the traveler must weigh the sum benefit of each program in order to select which one might be right for them. For instance, Hilton HHonors shines due to the sheer number of properties available, over 3,000 in 80 countries worldwide, through Marriott is not too far behind. However, Hilton has had some bad press recently due to some adjustments in the points required to earn a night in its top tier hotels. In addition, Marriott attracts members with features such as no blackout dates for rewards redemption, while Hilton allows program members to earn points and miles for the same stay.

Which to Choose?

Both Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors are very similar programs, though attached to different chains of hotels. Most frequent travelers will be members of both programs, as their destination or scheduling constraints do not always allow them the possibility of choice. However, it is in the traveler's best interest to choose one or the other as their preferred program, and plan their travel around the affiliated offerings. Remember, these programs are based on loyalty, and thus rewards the member who consistently chooses to stay within the program. That being said, make sure to review the member benefits periodically to ensure they have not been adjusted, and that maximum advantage is being taken of what the chosen program has to offer.

Our Recommendations:  The Starwood Preferred Guest Program or the Marriott Visa.