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The newly combined Marriott and SPG loyalty program was officially announced on Monday April 16 and will launch on August 1, 2018. While the integration is generally positive news, there are several groups of travelers who will lose out on benefits or otherwise come up short under the new scheme. This has led to many comments on our articles and TPG Lounge group from readers threatening to shift their loyalty to Hilton Honors. Today I want to compare the two programs and their respective co-branded credit cards to see for whom this change may make sense.

For starters, I would recommend that any loyal Marriott or SPG traveler take a deep breath before making a rash decision. At the time of writing, we’re still over three months away from the new program, and there’s still much to be determined, including which properties fall into which categories on the award chart and how the Crossover Rewards program will change. It’s important to take stock of the full picture before deciding to jump ship to another loyalty program.

(Photo courtesy Hilton Hotels)
Considering a switch to Hilton Honors? Keep reading to see how it stacks up to the new Marriott/SPG program! (Photo courtesy of the Conrad Bali.)

Let’s take a look at the key aspects of these programs to help you decide if shifting to Hilton Honors may make sense for you.

Earning Points

For starters, let’s consider how you’ll earn points in each of the programs. Here’s a quick overview:

  • New Marriott/SPG: 10 points per dollar spent at most brands (5 points per dollar spent at Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Element properties)
  • Hilton Honors: 10 points per dollar spent at most brands (5 points per dollar spent at Home2 Suites and Tru by Hilton properties)

As you can see, these earning rates are consistent, with just a handful of brands offering less than 10 points per dollar spent. However, it’s important to note that a point isn’t created equally across the two programs. In fact, based on TPG’s most recent valuations, Marriott points are worth 50% more (0.9 cents apiece, compared to 0.6 cents apiece for Hilton points). As a result, a general traveler without status would come out ahead on Marriott stays, earning a return of 9%, rather than 6% at most Hilton hotels.

Keep in mind though that these valuations were released before details on the newly combined Marriott and SPG program were announced, so it’s possible that the valuation could shift slightly. That being said, I don’t think the points would lose 50% of their value based on the changes.

Winner: Marriott

Redeeming Points

Here’s where things start to get a bit convoluted. The newly combined Marriott and SPG program will be shifting to a new award chart in August 2018. The chart will initially have 7 categories but will add an eighth, top-tier category in 2019 and introduce off-peak, standard and peak pricing at that time as well. As a reminder, here’s what that award chart will look like:

As you can see, you’ll need at most 60,000 points for just about any Marriott, Ritz-Carlton or SPG property for the last five months of the year (note that specialty SPG resorts like the Al Maha will have their own redemption rates). That will jump to 100,000 points for peak stays at Category 8 properties in 2019.

However, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and at this point we don’t know which hotels will fall into which categories on the above chart, nor do we know how the program will define off-peak, standard and peak dates. Marriott’s SVP of Global Loyalty, David Flueck, did state that “more properties [will be] moving down in cost than…moving up” in our Facebook live interview shortly after the announcement. How that’s actually implemented remains to be seen. If the majority of those moving down are low-tier properties and the majority of those moving up are high-tier properties, it’ll be challenging to spin this as a positive.

Hilton Honors, on the other hand, obfuscates the redemption side of things even more, taking a page out of Delta’s book by no longer publishing award charts. Instead, you’ll need to search for a hotel’s maximum reward price using the program’s online tool. Fortunately, it appears that the program’s award rates from its massive 2013 devaluation are remaining intact, though by not publishing a formal chart online, there’s nothing to stop a property from suddenly deciding that their standard award price should be 80,000 points instead of 60,000 points.

Keep in mind too that the newly combined Marriott and SPG program will keep the lucrative airline transfer option, increasing the number of airlines offering a 3:1 rate to 42 and maintaining the 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred. Hilton, on the other hand, also partners with airlines to convert points to miles, but at horrific rates (think 10,000 Hilton Honors points for just 1,000 Alaska miles).

So what does this all mean for you? Well through at least the end of 2018, the Marriott program appears to be superior (on paper, at least). With standard award rates topping out at 60,000 points, you’ll need roughly 33% fewer points for these properties than you would with Hilton Honors’ top-tier hotels. You’ll also have the airline transfer option, a popular holdover from the legacy SPG program.

However, the jury is still out for 2019, at least until Marriott releases its full, combined award chart and announces how off-peak, standard and peak dates will be determined. Once these details are available, we’ll have full coverage and analysis on how they compare to current levels and how they stack-up to the Hilton Honors program.

Winner: Marriott in 2018; TBD in 2019

Elite Status

In reading through the comments on various posts as well as the TPG Lounge group on Facebook, it seems like there are many elite travelers unhappy with the Marriott/SPG integration, particularly those Starwood elites who have achieved (or are close to achieving) lifetime status as well as those who qualify on stays. While we won’t compare every single detail of each elite status tier in the two programs, here’s a chart that breaks down the key perks:

Elite Status Tier Combined Marriott/SPG program Hilton Honors program
Qualification Silver: 10 nights
Gold: 25 nights
Platinum: 50 nights
Platinum Premier: 75 nights
Silver: 4 stays or 10 nights
Gold: 20 stays or 40 nights
Diamond: 30 stays or 60 nights
Point Bonuses Silver: 11 points/$
Gold: 12.5 points/$
Platinum: 15 points/$
Platinum Premier: 17.5 points/$
Silver: 12 points/$
Gold: 18 points/$
Diamond: 20 points/$
Upgrades Silver: None
Gold: Yes, to enhanced rooms
Platinum: Yes, including suites
Platinum Premier: Yes, including suites
Silver: None
Gold: Yes, to preferred rooms
Diamond: Yes, including suites
Breakfast/Lounge Access Silver: None
Gold: None
Platinum: Breakfast at most brands; lounge access where available
Platinum Premier: Breakfast at most brands
Silver: None
Gold: Breakfast at all brands; lounge access only when upgraded
Diamond: Breakfast at all brands; lounge access where available
Lifetime Status Silver: 250 nights + 5 years of any elite status
Gold: 400 nights + 7 years of Gold Elite status or higher
Platinum: 600 nights + 10 years of Platinum Elite status
Platinum Premier: Only for Marriott Lifetime Platinums before 8/1
Diamond:
1,000 nights + 10 years of Diamond status
OR
2 million base points + 10 years of Diamond status

As you can see, there are some notable differences between the two that may help you decide if switching to Hilton Honors makes sense for you:

  • Breakfast: While the newly combined Marriott and SPG program has added breakfast to new brands (like Courtyard properties), you still have 6 that don’t offer it: Ritz-Carlton, EDITION, Marriott Vacation Club, Gaylord Hotels, Marriott Executive Apartments and Design Hotels. On the other hand, Hilton provides complimentary breakfast across its entire portfolio (aside from Hilton Grand Vacations).
  • Lounge Access: One area where the new program stands above Hilton Honors is lounge access. Platinum and Platinum Premier members get automatic lounge access where available. However, that access is limited to Hilton Diamonds; Gold members can only access a property’s lounge if they are upgraded to a room on a floor that grants lounge access. This may not be a big deal to some, but if you really value this access, the new Marriott/SPG program could be preferred.
  • Qualification criteria: A huge gripe in the newly combined program is the sole qualification method. You must reach the night thresholds above, whereas SPG currently allows you to qualify on either nights or stays. If you can easily get to 30 stays in a year but can’t reach 50 nights, that’s a strong indication to switch to Hilton and earn Diamond status, as this activity would only equate to Gold Elite with Marriott/SPG.
  • Lifetime Status: A final notable difference between the programs is how they award lifetime status. The new integrated program allows members to earn three different levels of status, topping out at Platinum Elite after 600 nights and 10 years of Platinum status. Many Marriott travelers are livid with these changes, as there’s never been an elite tenure component before. As a result, a long-time Marriott Gold member who was on the verge of reaching Lifetime Gold (Lifetime Platinum in the new program) but won’t get there in 2018 may have to rethink their strategy, as they’ll need to have 10+ years of Platinum status as well. However, Hilton Honors isn’t much better on this front, as they require many more nights as well as 10 years of top-tier Diamond status to earn Lifetime Diamond. Though that is a bit easier thanks to the fourth and final category for today’s analysis.

Winner: Most likely Hilton

Credit Cards

The final comparison we’ll undertake is the two programs’ portfolio of credit cards. Like elite status, we won’t look at every single aspect of the different cards, instead focusing on the major ones. We’re also only going to consider the personal cards, though the two business cards are quite similar to their personal counterparts. Finally we’ll only look at cards that are currently (or will soon become) available for new cardholders.

Here’s a chart that breaks down the current Marriott/SPG options:

Benefit Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury Credit Card from American Express
Welcome Bonus 100,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. TBD
Earning Rates 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties; 2 points per dollar spent everywhere else 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties; 2 points per dollar spent everywhere else 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties; 3 points per dollar spent at US restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines; 2 points per dollar spent everywhere else
Elite Status Automatic Silver Elite in 2018; 15 elite night credits starting in 2019; Gold status by spending $35,000 per year starting in 2019 Automatic Silver Elite in 2018; 15 elite night credits starting in 2019; Gold status by spending $35,000 per year starting in 2019 Automatic Gold Elite; Platinum Elite after spending $75,000 in a year; 15 elite night credits starting in 2019
Annual Perks Annual free night award (up to 35,000 points) after card renewal Annual free night award (up to 35,000 points) after card renewal Annual free night award (up to 50,000 points) after card renewal
Credits None None $300 in statement credits for purchases at participating Marriott hotels each cardmember year; $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA PreCheck fee credit
Additional Perks Complimentary in-room premium Wi-Fi; no foreign transaction fees Complimentary in-room premium Wi-Fi; no foreign transaction fees No foreign transaction fees; Priority Pass Select membership (including two guests); Boingo Wi-Fi
Annual Fee $95 $95 $450

And here’s a similar chart for Hilton Honors:

Benefit Hilton Honors American Express Card Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
Welcome Bonus 75,000 points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of cardmembership 125,000 points after you spend $2,000 in purchases with your new card within the first 3 months. 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of cardmembership
Earning Rates 7 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties; 5 points per dollar spent at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations; 3 points per dollar spent everywhere else. Terms Apply. 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties; 6 points per dollar spent at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations; 3 points per dollar spent everywhere else. Terms Apply. 14 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties; 7 points per dollar spent on flights, car rentals and US restaurants; 3 points per dollar spent everywhere else. Terms Apply.
Elite Status Automatic Silver status; Gold status by spending $20,000 on the card in a calendar year Automatic Gold status; Diamond status by spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year Automatic Diamond status
Annual Perks None Annual free weekend night reward after spending $15,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year Annual free weekend night reward; additional weekend night reward after you spend $60,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year
Credits None None $250 Hilton resort statement credit; $250 airline fee credit; $100 credit for two-night Waldorf Astoria or Conrad stays
Additional Perks No foreign transaction fees No foreign transaction fees Priority Pass Select membership (including two guests)
Annual Fee None $95 $450

 

Once again, there are some notable differences between the two programs when it comes to the credit cards offered:

  • Earning rates: If you plan to use a co-branded card for your stays at the applicable properties, the Hilton cards are a much better option. Compare the mid-tier ($95 annual fee) cards. With the Marriott Plus and SPG Amex, you’re automatically Silver, earning 11 points/$ plus an additional 6 points/$ on the card. That is a 15.3% return on your stays based on TPG’s most recent valuations. With the Hilton Amex Ascend, you’re automatically Gold, earning you 18 points/$ plus an additional 12 points/$ on the card. That return is 18%. At the premium card level, your Marriott/SPG return jumps to 16.65% thanks to the automatic Gold Elite status. However, your return on stays paid with the Hilton Amex Aspire jumps to 20.4%. In addition, the Hilton cards offer much broader and more lucrative bonus categories, including the no annual fee card! However, all of the cards are a complete wash for non-bonus spending, earning a straight 1.8% return across the board.
  • Elite status: Earning Hilton Honors Gold status with a $95 annual fee on the Hilton Amex Ascend is spectacular, while the complimentary, top-tier Diamond status on the Hilton Amex Aspire could be even more lucrative. Compare that to Marriott/SPG: low-level elite status on the two $95 annual fee cards and Gold Elite on the premium card. That’s a huge difference.
  • Free night rewards: Another spot where Hilton shines is the free night rewards. Sure, they’re restricted to weekend nights (Friday, Saturday or Sunday) and you must spend $15,000 on the Hilton Amex Ascend to earn one. However, being able to use the certificates at any Hilton property is outstanding. The new Marriott/SPG program restricts these free night rewards, even on the SPG Luxury Card.
  • Credits: The only spot where Marriott/SPG shines is the credits offered by the premium cards. If you’re even thinking about applying for the new Luxury Card, you’re virtually guaranteed to spend $300 at Marriott properties in a year, whereas the Hilton credits take a bit more work.

Keep in mind too that if you want to hedge your bets between the two, consider opening The Platinum Card® from American Express, as you’ll enjoy both SPG Gold and Hilton Gold status automatically.

Winner: Hilton

Bottom Line

Photo courtesy of Hilton
Deciding whether to jump ship is up to you, but Hilton Honors definitely offers an intriguing value proposition. Photo courtesy of Hilton

So should you make the switch? As I mention above, I’d strongly encourage you to hold off until additional details come out regarding the newly combined Marriott and SPG programs. The award chart will be a very large piece of the puzzle, as will the updated Terms & Conditions to know exactly what is (and is not) included for the various elite status tiers.

That being said, there are a few key areas where Hilton really shines:

  • Elite status qualification: Having the ability to earn elite status on either nights or stays could be a big selling point, especially for former SPG elites who typically have short stays and may struggle to reach the nights required to maintain their status moving forward.
  • Breakfast: With Hilton, regardless of the brand, you’re enjoying breakfast as a Gold or Diamond member. Unfortunately, there are still 6 brands under the Marriott umbrella where Platinum Elites and Platinum Premier Elites won’t receive that as a perk.
  • Credit cards: Hilton Honors really stands head-and-shoulders above the new program here thanks to incredibly lucrative rates, great annual perks and better automatic elite status.

Of course, at the end of the day, choosing a preferred loyalty program is an entirely personal decision, but for those Marriott and SPG elites considering a jump to Hilton Honors, I hope this analysis has proven helpful to you!

Featured image courtesy of Hilton Hotels.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.