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The integration of Marriott, Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton has seen some issues (to say the least). While the combined program did open up some lucrative awards, those positives have been largely overshadowed by the list of complaints that continue to pile up. For many travelers, the combination of IT problems and lackluster customer support is enough to consider defecting to another program. But is the grass really greener on the other side? (TPG Points & Miles editor Nick Ewen thinks it’s not, and made the case for staying with Marriott.)
If you’re finally ready to pull the plug on your Marriott loyalty, here are your best alternate options to consider as well as how to fast track your way to elite status with these other hotel chains.
Elite status and brand loyalty is a relationship that takes a long time to build, and there’s no reason you should have to start on the ground floor of a new loyalty program. Many hotel loyalty programs offer some form of status matching or challenge, and you can read this guide for a full list of the options available in 2019.
While we’ll take a look at which hotel programs might be best suited to different types of travelers, the answer may be clearer if you’re targeting elite status. Every year, TPG Editor Nick Ewen does a math-intensive deep dive to determine the value of different tiers of status across the major hotel chains. The three programs we’re looking at today (Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt and IHG Rewards Club) each offer three tiers of elite status, allowing a relatively easy comparison. Based on Nick’s valuations, here is the best loyalty program for each tier of status you might be able to obtain:
|Hilton Honors||World of Hyatt||IHG Rewards Club|
|Low tier (~10-15 nights)
||Silver ($55)||Discoverist ($150)||Gold ($60)|
|Middle tier (~25-35 nights)
||Gold ($1,260)||Explorist ($945)||Platinum ($885)|
|Top tier (~60+ nights)
||Diamond ($3,025)||Globalist ($4,745)||Spire ($2,185)|
Note that this isn’t a perfect comparison, as each brand has slightly different requirements for qualifying for elite status. However, if you have a sense of how much you travel in an average year this can be a useful place to start.
However, the set of perks offered to elite members is just one part of the decision-making process when you’re looking to bail on Marriott. Let’s take a closer look at some reasons why you might want to pick each of the above programs (or consider yet a fourth option).
Pick Hilton for Its Global Footprint
One reason to remain loyal to Marriott in the face of the merger challenges is the chain’s massive footprint, with over 6,500 hotels spanning just about every international destination you can imagine. Swapping to Hilton and its 14 brands might take some of the sting out of that. Hilton, for example, has 46 hotels in London, not far off from Marriott’s 49.
Hilton even has a serious edge in some sought-after tropical destinations like as the Seychelles, with three properties to Marriott’s one.
Another huge reason to consider Hilton, no matter what status you hold with Marriott, is the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express. This card has perhaps the most compelling benefits list of any of the premium rewards credit cards, a set of perks that more than offsets its $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees). This includes a $250 annual airline fee credit, a $250 annual Hilton resort credit and a $100 property credit on all eligible stays of two or more nights at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels. If those $600+ worth of credits weren’t enough to convince you, you’ll also enjoy automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond elite status, 14x points on Hilton purchases, a Priority Pass select membership, one free weekend night certificate when you open your card and another every year after you renew.
Using this card to stay at Hilton properties can give you some incredible point-earning potential. When you combine the base earning from the program (10 points/$) with the card (14 points/$) and the elite bonus you’d enjoy as a Diamond member (10 points/$ at most brands), you’re taking home 34 Hilton Honors points for every dollar you spend, a return of 20.4% based on TPG’s most recent valuations. If you’re staying at Marriott properties and using a card like the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express® Card (which comes with automatic Gold Elite status), you’d earn just 18.5 Marriott points per dollar spent, a return of 14.8% (See Rates & Fees).
To top it off, the Aspire card is currently offering an all-time high welcome bonus of 150,000 Hilton points (worth $900 based on TPG’s valuations) after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of cardmembership. If you’ve been contemplating a switch to Hilton, there really isn’t a better time to do so.
Pick Hyatt for Its Valuable Award Chart
In addition to having the most valuable top-tier elite status outside of Marriott (Hyatt Globalist tops that list thanks to its generous suite upgrades, bonus points and lounge access/free breakfast), the World of Hyatt program has long been a fan favorite thank to its incredibly generous award chart. This is most apparent when looking at the most and least expensive properties, although there’s good value to be had throughout.
Free nights starting at just 5,000 points is an incredible deal, especially since you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt at a 1:1 rate. Category 7 properties are also a steal at only 30,000 points a night, as this top-tier category includes hotels like the Park Hyatt New York and Park Hyatt Sydney that routinely sell for as much as $1,000 per night.
If you were to transfer Chase points to book Marriott’s top-tier properties, it would currently cost you 85,000 points. However, when peak pricing takes effect later in 2019, that number will rise as high as 100,000 points per night.
If you’re worried by the appearance of an eighth category on the Hyatt award chart, it’s not all bad news. That technically-top-tier category is currently reserved for select properties under the Small Luxury Hotels of the World umbrella. There are currently 110 that have been integrated in the World of Hyatt program, and just 14 of them require 40,000 points per night. Hyatt has also indicated that there are no plans to raise any of its core properties up to Category 8 pricing.
The biggest roadblock to devoting your loyalty to Hyatt is the program’s limited global footprint. Even with the new SLH integration, you still have just under 1,000 properties which fall under the World of Hyatt program’s umbrella. However, this is continuing to expand, with new Hyatt hotels on the West Coast, the acquisition of Two Roads Hospitality (whose ~85 properties will hopefully join Hyatt in 2019) and the remaining ~400 SLH properties that haven’t been integrated into the program at time of writing.
To jumpstart your Hyatt points balance, you can begin by applying for The World of Hyatt Credit Card which is currently offering a welcome bonus of up to 50,000 points (worth $850 based on TPG’s valuations): Earn 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening and an additional 25,000 points after you spend $6,000 total on purchases within the first six months of account opening. The card also comes with complimentary Discoverist status and an anniversary free night valid at Category 1-4 hotels.
Pick IHG for Its Mix of Luxury and Affordability
IHG can be an ideal brand for people who frequently stay at either top-tier luxury properties or lower-tier affordable ones. The main brand in the IHG portfolio is InterContinental hotels, which offers a consistent luxury experience without breaking the bank. In some big cities you might even find a number of different properties from which to choose. In Shanghai alone there are six different InterContinental hotels, running the gamut from luxury skyscrapers to historic state residences to a recently dug-out quarry.
On the other end of the spectrum you have brands such as Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, offering affordable stays in major US cities and smaller towns across the country. If you’re a price-conscious traveler, it’s hard to do much better than a $67 room in the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. And if your travels take you to out-of-the-way places like Kearney, NE or Mesquite, NV, you almost certainly won’t find a luxurious Hyatt property, but you will undoubtedly be able to book a simple, no-frills Holiday Inn Express.
Pick Hotels.com If You’re Finally Ready to Be a Free Agent
However you feel about the status of the Marriott merger, it has served as an important reminder of an often overlooked line you’ll find near the top of every loyalty programs terms and conditions:
“All Loyalty Program benefits, amenities, offers, awards and services are subject to availability and may be changed by the Company at any time without notice.”
One way you can limit your exposure to these constantly changing rules and regulations is to quit playing the status/loyalty game altogether and become a free agent. While you might be giving up a few suite upgrades and free breakfasts here and there, Hotels.com and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card have teamed up to make being a “free agent” a rewarding decision.
Venture cardholders earn 10x miles per dollar spent on Hotels.com bookings when they book and pay for their stay at Hotels.com/venture. This bonus category is on top of the existing Hotels.com Rewards program, which essentially offers one free night for every 10 paid nights. Stacking these together gives you an immediate 20% return, but that’s only if you redeem your Capital One miles at a fixed value. Ever since Capital One added airline transfer partners to the Venture and Spark cards in December, it’s possible to do even better. Based on these new redemption options, TPG bumped his valuation of Capital One miles to 1.4 cents each. This gives you a 14% return from your Venture card plus a 10% return from Hotels.com, or an unheard of 24% back on hotel bookings. The best part? You’re not restricted to a single chain or individual program. That’s an unbeatable value and might be enough to convince people to get off the hamster wheel of elite status.
Loyalty is a personal decision, and there’s no one size fits all answer here. That being said, if you’re feeling burned by the changes to the Marriott loyalty program and the way the merger has been handled, you don’t need to feel stuck. You can figure out what part of the program you value most (number of properties, value of award chart, etc.) and look for other hotel programs that offer a similar value. You could even combine some of the above strategies. Just make sure to look into status match/challenge options as well as hotel credit cards that offer free elite status, so you don’t miss a beat enjoying the elite benefits to which you’ve become accustomed.
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