A few days ago, a post on Frequent Miler blog caught my eye: Why Gary is nuts not to even consider Hilton As you’ve probably guessed, it was a rebuttal to a post on View From the Wing, touting superiority of Marriott program when it comes to those who stay 50+ nights in a hotel in any given year.
I actually thought Gary at VFTW made a compelling argument in favor of Marriott, and added one significant caveat: “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.”
That’s basically what it boils down to. If you can’t achieve elite status through “butt in bed” (my proprietary term) nights, Hilton is hard to beat. That’s essentially the argument Nick at Frequent Miler was making. Just pay $450 annual fee for Hilton Aspire card and enjoy being a Diamond, which is a top Hilton elite tier. Of course, savvy miles and points folks know that this card comes with a host of other perks that can potentially reduce the fee significantly.
Is obsession with hotel status in this community justified?
My long-time readers know that I’ve been doing this hobby on my own for years before coming across blogs and starting this website. The fixation on achieving top-tier hotel status (specifically one with Hyatt chain) at all costs was something that really surprised me. In a hobby that promises free travel, this is the ultimate irony.
Why highly intelligent people choose to spend thousands of dollars on mattress runs with an idea of possibly getting thousands of dollars in value in return is truly beyond me. For more on this, see my old post Is hotel status really worth pursuing if you are a regular family?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to tell people how to spend their money. I hope that I don’t sound like a jerk when I say that I find the whole thing to be ridiculous. I’m just genuinely puzzled by how much time, money and energy folks devote to something that may end up being a pie in the sky. After all, if you get sick or laid off, those future “free” perks that you are working so hard to achieve may not materialize after all.
That being said… If you are a road warrior with an employer who foots the bill for hotel stays, then it’s a totally different story. You should absolutely pay attention to hotel programs. If you are not, you may be leaving points on the table.
Let me be the first one to admit that I’m not an expert in this area. I get my status through matches from other chains or via credit cards. It’s sufficient for my humble needs and any perks I get are basically gravy. If you want a nitty-gritty analysis, go to blogs that specialize in business travel. View From the Wing as well as Frequent Miler are good ones in that respect.
But I thought it would be fun to pretend that next year my husband will spend 50+ nights in hotels. Actually, it’s a terrible thought because I prefer to have him at home, but I digress. Anyway, let’s say that his employer just told him he can stay in any hotel chain, and there happens to be quite a few in the area he will be traveling to. Which program to pick?
Hilton vs. Marriott vs. Hyatt
Out of all the programs, those three would be the most likely contenders in my book. Keep in mind, the employer is reimbursing hotel stays and all expenses, so we are focusing on future benefits here. Let’s say my husband will be staying 50-60 nights and will spend $8,000 of his employer’s money.
With Hilton, it’s all about point earnings. You can get top-tier Diamond status via credit card, so there is literally zero incentive to hit a certain number of nights each year. Speaking of, you absolutely want to apply for Hilton Aspire because you will be earning 20 points per dollar instead of 10 right from the get go.
Yes, the $450 fee is nothing to sneeze at. But when you factor in sign-up bonus of 150k points, free weekend night etc., it’s more than justified. Plus, you will be getting double number of points. Assuming you will throw all of your employer’s business toward Hilton, you will have a nice Hilton stash at the end of the year. In addition, Hilton regularly comes out with generous promos.
Assuming 20 points per dollar earning rate, we are looking at 160k Hilton points, and probably closer to 200k points if you sign up for promotions along the way. And I’m not even factoring in 14 points per dollar you earn with Amex Aspire in addition to that. If you do, that’s another 112k points.
That would be enough for three nights in top-tier Hilton properties, assuming there is standard availability. If you choose to keep Amex Hilton Aspire card, you will also have a weekend night at your disposal. You will pay no resort fees when using points or free certificates, but will be on the hook for parking fees.
The biggest issue with Hilton is that suites are not guaranteed. They even changed the verbiage in program terms to reflect that. You may get a suite, especially if traveling during low season. But the fact remains that unless you secure a paid upgrade ahead of time, it may not materialize. If you have kids, that’s an important piece of a puzzle.
Breakfast benefit is also somewhat weak because you get continental breakfast for two people in the room. If you travel with a spouse and two kids, this can be a problem. Also, the continental breakfast can be a bit of a letdown, as I’ve learned during our recent stay in Waldorf Astoria Orlando. That said, overseas properties will usually let you enjoy the full buffet at no extra charge.
Amazing breakfast spread in Hilton Auckland
As is the case with Hilton, you really want to invest in Hyatt co-branded credit card if at all possible. Aside from few minor perks (free water and late checkout), you will get 10% bonus on earned points via Discoverist status. It’s not much, but it will add up after 50-60 nights. You will also get 5 qualifying night credits towards top-tier status. The card is extremely compelling for regular folks due to free hotel certificate for Category 1-4 hotels upon renewal, and is a must for Hyatt loyalists chasing top-tier status.
As far as I’m concerned, if you are focusing on chasing Hyatt elite tier, it’s Globalist or bust. Explorist status comes with a few decent perks, but not enough to go our of your way in order to achieve it. So, before you go all-in, think long and hard whether you are OK spending 50-60 nights in Hyatt properties in 2019. More importantly, are you OK with Hyatt’s limited footprint?
If the answer to both questions is yes, I’ve got good news. Globalist status is probably the most rewarding top-tier status out there. For families with young kids it’s really tough to beat. You pay no resort or parking fees and you get 4 confirmed suite upgrades (which you can use on point redemptions), plus late check-out. You also get free full breakfast for 2 adults+2 children per room. This status is designed with families in mind.
A few years ago, I scored a top-tier Hyatt status via match, and we got amazing value out of it. Upgrades to presidential suites, fancy breakfasts and so on.
Ahh, it was nice, but not nice enough to do stupid mattress runs.
Fancy (100% free!) breakfast buffet for four in Hyatt Regency Clearwater
If you have Discoverist status and spend $8,000 on Hyatt stays, you will have close to 45,000 points at the end of 2019, more if you use your Hyatt card to pay for them. Hyatt card earns 4 points per dollar on Hyatt stays, so it’s quite compelling in that respect. Plus, keep in mind that if you spend $15,000 on it during the year, you will get a Cat.1-4 certificate on top of points not to mention, an additional 6 elite night credits.
In addition, Hyatt has recently announced that they will spread the perks throughout the year, allowing you to enjoy them sooner.
So, on top of your 45,000 points (assuming you use another card for Hyatt stays), you will also get 2 free night certificates+ Hyatt gift card. That haul (plus renewal certificate from your Hyatt credit card) should cover a 6-night stay at a Cat. 4 Hyatt, with breakfast for four included. And there are some nice ones out there, like this property. Just beware of expiration dates on your free certificates, a significant drawback.
Once again, you should probably get Amex SPG Luxury card (see my review) that gives you automatic Gold Marriott status. This will allow you to earn 12.5 points per dollar rather than 10 in most Marriott properties. Not a huge bump, but it will add up over time. Do keep in mind that the sign-up bonus on Amex SPG Luxury is currently reduced. If you choose to throw your 50 hotel nights towards Marriott, you will get Platinum status in 2020.
I have zero experience with being Marriott Platinum, so can’t comment here. The reviews from most travelers are generally positive. Sure, as with every chain, there will be disgruntled road warriors here and there. On paper, the benefits look pretty decent
To me, admittedly an elite status rookie, Marriott Platinum looks like a hybrid of Hilton Diamond and Hyatt Globalist. You get 5 suite upgrades, but the breakfast benefit is somewhat weak (only covers two people per room). My biggest beef with Marriott is that you are stuck with resort and parking fees, even on award stays. Those can be a huge nuisance and suck the “free” out of free hotel stays.
Still, it’s important to remember that Marriott point is way more versatile than Hilton or even Hyatt currency. If you earn 12.5 points per dollar and spend $8,000 on Marriott in 2019, you will end up with a minimum of 100,000 Marriott points, more if you use Amex SPG Luxury card. Not too long ago, there was a promo where you could basically trade 1 Marriott point in exchange for 0.59 United mile. Try doing that with Hyatt or Hilton.
For folks who like to venture off the beaten path, Marriott may provide the best value proposition yet.
It all comes down to future travel plans
So, to answer the question in the title. The winner for me would be… Marriott. The sole reason for that is my plan to bring my parents to Florida in 2020. More specifically, the reason is Waterline Marina Resort and Beach Club, Autograph Collection A 2-bedroom/2-bath unit at this property currently costs only 35k Marriott points per night.
I’m sure the rate will go up, but even at 50k points per night it would be a decent deal. So, my Marriott haul would cover two nights at a property that comes with a kitchen and all the conveniences of a vacation rental. No resort or parking fees! If I had Amex SPG Luxury card, it would also mean getting a third night covered after the renewal.
So, if you are about to become a road warrior, look at your upcoming travel plans. Does your dream destination have a chain property? If so, your decision is made for you. If you are going to Maldives or Bora Bora in 2020, you should focus on Hilton. If you are flexible on destinations and like to stay in US resorts with your family, Hyatt is your friend. If you prefer to collect miles, and hotel status is more of an afterthought, Marriott should probably be your choice.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.