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Head-to-Head: Marriott Bonvoy vs. Hilton Honors

 

Among the major global hotel chains, Marriott and Hilton are probably the two most compelling brands for Canadian travellers looking to maximize their gains through loyalty programs.

Both have impressive footprints around the world, and their respective loyalty programs allow you to earn points relatively easily without necessarily having to spend a lot of money out-of-pocket, while also providing users with compelling redemption sweet spots. 

So how do they stack up against each other? Is Marriott Bonvoy’s reputation as the best hotel loyalty program for Canadians justified, or are there areas in which Hilton Honors is in fact more advantageous? 

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In This Post

The Value of a Point

Whenever we compare different loyalty programs, it’s useful to establish the relative value between a single point in each program. In this case, I generally value Marriott Bonvoy points at 1 cent per point and Hilton Honors points at 0.7 cents per point (figures are in Canadian dollars), so we’ll refer to these a priori valuations throughout the head-to-head comparison. 

It may be tempting to conclude immediately from these valuations that Marriott Bonvoy is the more valuable program, but that’s not necessarily the case for every type of traveller, as we shall see.

Earning Points

The more avenues a loyalty program offers to accumulate respectable quantities of points, the easier it is for us to engage with it and derive benefits from the program. Both Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors offer a variety of ways to earn points, so let’s look at each one in turn. 

Credit Card Signup Bonuses

Marriott Bonvoy has two co-branded credit cards in Canada: the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Card and the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business Card, each offering 50,000 Bonvoy points as a signup bonus. While the bonuses on these cards aren’t as strong as in the old days of Starwood Preferred Guest, they’re still mainstays in the wallets of anyone who takes their hotel points seriously.

Amex Business Bonvoy Card.png

Dipping into the US credit card market opens up even more possibilities for Bonvoy loyalists. Both the Amex US Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card and the Amex US Marriott Bonvoy Business Card are offering 75,000 Bonvoy points as a signup bonus; even more generous offers (of up to 100,000 points) have been witnessed in the past and could return at some point in the future. 

Meanwhile, Hilton Honors does not have a co-branded product in the Canadian market; instead, any available credit card offers can only be accessed through the US credit card market.

The good news is that Canadians can easily initiate an American Express Global Transfer to one of Hilton’s Amex US products: the Hilton Honors Card (75,000–95,000 points), the Hilton Honors Surpass Card (130,000 points), or the Hilton Honors Aspire Card (150,000 points).

Verdict: Marriott is the winner here, since they make it easier for Canadians to earn points through credit card welcome bonuses without having to dabble with US credit cards. However, the impressive quantity of Hilton Honors points offered on the US-issued Amex cards (150,000 points is nothing to scoff at) make them worth the trouble of going through Amex Global Transfer. 

Credit Card Spending

The most powerful points earning rate on a Bonvoy-branded credit card is probably the “5-3-2” structure on the Amex Business Bonvoy. Indeed, there have even been data points of certain purchases coding as 3x on this card even though they aren’t classified as gas or groceries, which could represent an underrated opportunity to accumulate Bonvoy points!

The US-issued Hilton cards offer a high rate of return when staying at Hilton hotels, although the base earning rate is a uniform 3x on general purchases. When making purchases outside of bonus categories, I’d definitely choose to use the Canadian-issued Bonvoy cards and earn 2 Bonvoy points per Canadian dollar spent (which I’d value at around a 2% return), instead of 3 Hilton points per USD spent on any of the Hilton cards (which I’d value at around a 1.6% return, taking into account the FX difference).

Verdict: In general, Marriott Bonvoy’s co-branded credit cards offer a stronger return on spending, with the exception of the 7–14x earnings you’d get on actually staying at Hilton hotels with one of the Hilton cards. 

Transferring from Other Programs

Both Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors are transfer partners from American Express Membership Rewards, with transfer ratios of 1:1.2 and 1:1 respectively. Note that until August 31, 2019, Amex Canada is offering a 50% bonus on Hilton Honors transfers, effectively making it a 1:1.5 transfer ratio.

There’s very limited value in converting your regular Membership Rewards points to either hotel program, since they can be much more effectively redeemed for airline rewards. On the other hand, Membership Rewards Select points from the Amex Cobalt Card are often used to fund hotel programs, with Marriott Bonvoy being the most popular use case.

Let’s consider the signup bonus on the Cobalt Card of 30,000 MR Select points. That’s equal to either 36,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (which I’d value at $360) or 45,000 Hilton Honors points (which I’d value at $315) under the 50% bonus.

Meanwhile, without the 50% bonus, you’d only get a measly 30,000 Hilton Honors points (which I’d value at $210). Needless to say, in this case, you’re much better off redeeming your MR Select points at 1cpp directly

Verdict: Although both programs allow transfers from Amex MR points, Marriott Bonvoy is clearly the more compelling option. You should only ever consider transferring MR points to Hilton Honors during a 50% conversion bonus – and who knows if that’ll happen again after August!

Hotel Stays

Ignoring elite bonuses (we’ll get to that later), both Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors give users 10 points per US dollar spent at full-service properties and 5 points per US dollar spent at limited-service properties. Both programs also routinely put on promotions for users to earn additional points from their stays, such as a window of opportunity to earn double points on every stay.

Verdict: Bonvoy and Honors both follow the same industry standard here, but Marriott Bonvoy comes out ahead if we compare the relative values of the two points currencies you’re earning. 

Buying Points

Purchasing points outright is never the first-choice option for padding your balances, but it can always be useful if you need a handful of extra points in a pinch. 

Marriott and Hilton both allow you to buy points, at usual rates of 1.25 US cents per point and 1 US cent per point, respectively. Neither of these options are particularly compelling, and should only be used if you desperately need to top-up your account for an upcoming redemption. 

However, both programs often put on promotions allowing users to buy points at a discount. Marriott Bonvoy’s most generous promotion so far has been a 25% discount, reducing the purchase price to 0.94 US cents per point.

Meanwhile, Hilton often puts on generous 100% bonuses when buying points, which is equivalent to a 50% discount! This lowers the purchase price to 0.5 US cents per point, which is an offer I’d take up well before Marriott’s discounted offer, especially if I’m looking at booking some aspirational Hilton hotel stays. 

Verdict: Hilton’s 100% bonus events on points purchases make it the winner in this category. If you’re looking for opportunities to strategically buy points to get a discount on high-value hotel stays, you’d be much better served with Hilton than with Marriott. 

Redemption Sweet Spots

It’s only meaningful to talk about points earning opportunities if we also consider what you can redeem those points for. On balance, how many free nights at a hotel can you unlock using the credit card signup bonuses (and other earning opportunities we covered above) from each program?

Again, this question can be broken down into several different considerations: 

Low-End / Mid-Range Hotels

Some travellers prefer to use their hotel points to cover as many free hotel nights as possible, with little regard for the luxury factor that might come with higher-tier hotels within a program. 

Marriott Bonvoy has a clearly defined reward chart for how many points a free night. Looking at this chart, we see that a Category 2 hotel costs 12,500 points per night, so the signup bonus of 50,000 Bonvoy points on one of the Amex Bonvoy cards would be enough for five nights, taking into account the Fifth Night Free.

Redeem 12,500 Marriott Bonvoy points per night at the Marriott Accra

Redeem 12,500 Marriott Bonvoy points per night at the Marriott Accra

If you’re visiting a more popular destination, you’ll be lucky to find a Category 4 hotel that’s not located deep in the suburbia. For these hotels, at 25,000 points per night, the welcome bonus would only be enough to cover two nights.

On the other hand, let’s look at the base-level Hilton Honors Card from Amex US, which offers up to 95,000 Hilton Honors points if applying via incognito mode.

The fundamental downside to the Hilton Honors program is the lack of transparency: instead of a fixed reward chart, Hilton Honors prices their hotels dynamically, meaning that the award cost varies based on many different factors.

You’ll therefore have to look up your specific hotel to figure out its exact award cost, and we can only make rough judgments on how many free hotel nights you might get with a certain number of Hilton points.

While a select few Hilton properties around the world are priced as low as 5,000 points per night, most mid-range hotels in semi-popular destinations around the world are priced at 20,000–40,000 points per night. 

Redeem 30,000–40,000 Hilton Honors points per night at the Hilton Hanoi Opera

Redeem 30,000–40,000 Hilton Honors points per night at the Hilton Hanoi Opera

Therefore, similar to Marriott Bonvoy, your welcome bonus will be good for around two to five nights at a non-luxury property (taking into account the Fifth Night Free, which Hilton also offers).

Of course, this was only the base-level Hilton credit card; the higher-end cards from Amex US can certainly be used to cover even more hotel nights on your trip. 

Verdict: On balance, I’d put Marriott and Hilton roughly on par in terms of redeeming free nights at low-end or mid-range hotels. But Marriott Bonvoy wins by virtue of its transparency: its openly published award chart makes it much easier for you to plan ahead and know exactly how many points you’ll need at a certain hotel.

High-End Hotels

In contrast, other travellers prefer to redeem their points for special stays at aspirational hotels, and are happy to redeem a larger chunk of points for a luxury experience that would otherwise cost them an even larger chunk of cash. 

Category 8 hotels within Marriott Bonvoy are priced at 85,000 Bonvoy points per night, which is frankly a downright ridiculous amount to be paying for one hotel night. I’d value that at $850, so you’d better be sure the retail rate is higher than that before even considering splashing that amount of points on a hotel stay.

Review 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night at the St. Regis Bali

Review 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night at the St. Regis Bali

On the other hand, Hilton Honors’s top-tier properties are priced at around 80,000–95,000 Hilton Honors points per night at most (again, the pricing varies throughout the year), but I’d only value that at around $560–665.

(The one exception is the stunning Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, which goes for 120,000 Hilton Honors points, and even that still clocks in at a lower value of $840 compared to Marriott’s top-tier pricing.)

Let’s put it this way: if given the choice between staying at the St. Regis Bora Bora for 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night and the Conrad Bora Bora for 85,000 Hilton Honors points per night, I’d pick the latter without a moment’s hesitation. I know that one Hilton point would, on average, attain less value than one Marriott point, so I’m more willing to part ways with an equal sum of the former than the latter.

This also ties into what I had discussed above about transferring Amex MR Select points: with a 50% bonus in play, you’d unlock top-tier Hilton properties with significantly fewer MR Select points than you would for top-tier Marriott properties. 

Redeem 80,000–95,000 Hilton Honors points per night at the Conrad Osaka

Redeem 80,000–95,000 Hilton Honors points per night at the Conrad Osaka

Verdict: On the luxury end of the spectrum, the relatively lower value of a single Hilton Honors point actually works in its favour! Both programs cap their most aspirational properties at the region of 80,000–95,000 points, but since an equal amount of Hilton points would fetch less if redeemed elsewhere, it’s a better deal to drop an obscene sum of Hilton points than an equally obscene sum of Marriott for a luxury stay.

Quality & Footprint

Marriott is the world’s largest hotel chain with over 7,000 properties, while Hilton only has about 5,600 hotels within its portfolio.

But the difference shouldn’t mean too much in practice, because they’re both extremely comprehensive global footprints, and most destinations around the world will have at least one Marriott or Hilton option for you to redeem your points. In fact, there are even several notable regions around the world in which Hilton hotels greatly outnumber Marriott’s – Latin America and New Zealand come to mind.

Both chains are well-regarded for the quality of their hotels. Courtyards and SpringHill Suites are roughly comparable to Hilton Garden Inns and Hamptons, while full-service Marriott hotels are pretty much on par with full-service Hiltons. As with most low-end and mid-range chain hotels around the world, you pretty much know exactly what you’re getting out of your stay. 

Courtyard Phnom Penh

Courtyard Phnom Penh

On the luxury end, my feeling is that Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria surpasses Marriott’s St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton, which in turn is a step above Hilton’s Conrad brand, although I haven’t personally stayed at enough Hilton hotels to comment with confidence.

Another thing I like about Marriott’s luxury portfolio is the abundance of distinctive Luxury Collection properties, which significantly outnumber those in Hilton’s equivalent Curio Collection.

Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai

Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai

Verdict: It’s mostly neck-to-neck between the world’s two leading hotel chains in number of properties. I’d probably give Marriott the edge if I had to choose a winner, but the difference is unlikely to be meaningful. 

Elite Program

Lastly, a huge part of what builds loyalty to a certain hotel chain is the elite benefits you get in return for giving the chain most of your business. How do Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors’s elite benefits compare? We’ll take a quick look at two areas here: how easy it is to earn status, and what that status actually gets you.

Ease of Earning Status

It’s effortless to earn up to Marriott Gold Elite status by virtue of simply holding either the Amex Platinum Card or the Business Platinum Card. But the next tier, Platinum Elite, is where the real benefits start to kick in, like free breakfast, lounge access, complimentary suite upgrades, and guaranteed 4pm checkout.

Executive Lounge at the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach

Executive Lounge at the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach

Unfortunately, any path to Platinum Elite status (which requires 50 elite qualifying nights) will require a fair bit of legwork on your part. You can read this post for all the strategies, but essentially, you’ll likely need to spend at least 25 nights at Marriott hotels to attain Platinum, on top of the elite nights you earn from credit cards and booking a meeting.

Alternatively, if you’re booking some paid hotel stays in the near future, you can also request a Platinum Challenge to get there with 16 paid stays within 90 days.

On the other hand, Hilton Honors is much more generous about doling out its higher elite status memberships. Indeed, you can earn top-tier Hilton Diamond status simply by having the Amex US Hilton Honors Aspire Card! It’s arguably the most generous elite qualifying requirement out of all the major hotel chains’ top-tier status levels.

Verdict: Breakfast, lounge access, and suite upgrades can radically transform your hotel experience for the better. Hilton is the clear winner in this regard: its top-tier Diamond status can be acquired from having a single credit card, whereas Marriott Bonvoy’s mid-tier Platinum Elite status already requires a fair bit of effort to achieve. 

Elite Benefits

The benefits associated with Marriott Platinum Elite status (and above) are mostly on par with those of Hilton Diamond. In both cases, you’ll be treated to free breakfast and lounge access (if available), as well as suite upgrades subject to availability. 

There are, however, a few key differences. Marriott Platinum Elite unlocks guaranteed 4pm late checkout, whereas Hilton only offers members the vague benefit of “late checkout”, which in practice is very much up in the air and subject to the whims of each individual hotels. 

In addition, Marriott Bonvoy members who achieve Platinum and Titanium status can choose five Suite Night Awards as a reward for doing so, which can be used to confirm suite upgrades up to five days in advance of a hotel stay. 

Marvelous Suite, W Dubai The Palm

Marvelous Suite, W Dubai The Palm

Meanwhile, Hilton doesn’t offer its members any way to confirm suite upgrades prior to check-in; taken together with how easy it is for anyone to earn top-tier Diamond status through a single credit card, and I suspect that, on average, you’ll get better suite upgrades as an elite member with Marriott Bonvoy than with Hilton Honors, especially if you ask the hotel nicely through live chat ahead of time

Verdict: There’s slightly more value in Marriott’s elite program than Hilton’s. While Hilton does offer its Diamond member a 100% bonus on points earnings for every stay (compared to Marriott Platinum’s 50% bonus), I don’t think that’s enough to outweigh Marriott’s guaranteed 4pm late checkout and Suite Night Awards.

Conclusion

While the value proposition of Marriott Bonvoy has diminished somewhat since its zenith in 2017–18, it remains the most accessible hotel loyalty program among Canadian travellers. Having said that, as we’ve demonstrated, there are many regards in which Hilton Honors does an equal if not better job at meeting your travel needs, such as offering compelling deals to buy points for discounted stays and providing more favourable opportunities for using points on top-tier luxury properties. 

For Canadians looking to leverage hotel programs to cover accommodations along their travels while minimizing their cost, I’d recommend focusing on Marriott Bonvoy as your top priority, and then, once you’ve gotten comfortable on the Bonvoy side, diversifying into Hilton Honors with a quick Amex Global Transfer to unlock even more possibilities for free hotel nights. 

 
8 Comments
  1. Jen

    WOW this is amazing, and exactly the information I was looking for! Thank you so much!!!

  2. Tanveer Jugpal

    Is there any benefit to using it to transfer back to an airline program? 1.2 Amex to Marriot or Marriot Bonyoy and then 60K for 25K with an airline partner? Cheers!

    1. Andrew

      It’s definitely an option, especially for points programs that are a lot less accessible to Canadians. Obviously it’s not as efficient as a direct transfer to an airline program at 1:1 or 1:0.75 but shouldn’t be overlooked.

  3. Mario Laccitiello

    Great job Ricky. I might add that the five Suite Night Awards benefit is only available to Platinum and Titanium members who have the 50 elite qualifying nights. I achieved Titanium status through the pre-merger Platinum Challenge which was converted to Titanium after the merger. I am therefore not entitled to the Suite Night Awards.

  4. farnorthtrader

    Oh, and Harley, I have stayed at the Conrad Tokyo with my four children. They did not appear to have any difficulty with our children and treated us very well in the executive lounge (although our children were older, 10, 12, 13 and 16). This is an extremely popular hotel, so may not have had any rooms to upgrade you to. In fact, it is nearly certain that they had no upgrade available as pretty much every diamond I have ever read about staying there has been upgraded to an executive room. We were given an upgrade to executive rooms for our stay and they did recognize my wife’s birthday during our stay with a cake.
    Having said that, out of our 5 Hilton stays on our Asian trip, the Hilton Tokyo would be rated 4th out of 5 for service and upgrades. The Doubletree in Beijing was inferior (but was only 10,000 points per room at the time), but the Conrad Hong Kong, Conrad Macao, and Waldorf Astoria Shanghai were all far superior. All three upgraded at least one (Hong Kong) and usually both of our rooms to suites, and the suite in Macao was 2200 square feet (6 category upgrade) and the ones in Shanghai were Waldorf suites, a 5 category upgrade.
    In regard to the shorts, we are in the hospitality business and if someone leaves behind an article of clothing like this, we generally expect that it was left behind intentionally and would not expect that anyone would worry about having it shipped back to them. Our expectations have not been wrong so far in 10 years. On the other hand, we have had small stuffed toys and especially badly worn blankets left behind that we have contacted guests about as we have experienced, with our own children, the value that some of these items have.

  5. farnorthtrader

    Much of this analysis depends very heavily on the value that you assign to each of the points. It is not clear to me why you would assign Bonvoy points a value nearly 50% higher than Hilton points. If you compare the award charts (although Hilton does not publish one, they have one that is pretty easy to discern), they are nearly exactly the same at every award level. If you assign a 50% premium to Bonvoy points, the only way that makes sense (if you are strictly basing your valuation on using them at hotels) is if Marriott hotels are consistently more expensive on a cash basis across all markets.
    In my experience, in the majority of places that I have travelled, Hiltons have been the better value on points. Most of my stays at Marriott (and the former SPG) have been because of location (Delta Calgary South, Residence Inn Anaheim, Renaissance Marriott Edmonton Airport, Moxy Vienna Airport, Le Meridien Cairo Airport), because they were the only choice (Courtyard Bremen, Sheraton Rhodes, JW Marriott Bodrum, Fairfield Marion Illinois, Fairfield Independence Missouri, Sheraton Grand Danang) or they offer something unique (Le Meridien Pyramids with a view of the great pyramids, Hotel Elephant Weimar, Al Maha Desert Resort, Powerscourt Hotel, Enniskerry, Ireland, JW Marriott El Convento, Cusco Peru, that is housed in an old monastery). Looking back, I see one stay where the two chains went head to head and Marriott won, a stay in Arlington, Virginia, where we were able to get a suite for all 6 of us for the regular points price. On the other side, Hilton has offered better value in Macau, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing, Osaka, Singapore, New York, St Augustine (Florida), Edmonton, Lake City (Florida), Chattanooga (Tennessee), Breckenridge (Colorado), Chicago, Venice (Italy), Cusco, Orlando, Reykjavik, Belfast and Singapore.
    The only way that Marriott points have a superior value to Hilton points is in the opportunity to transfer them to airline miles, and that is not really as big a benefit for Canadians, who need them for hotel stays because there are no other options.
    The one area where Marriott does have an advantage is in the guaranteed benefits offered to Platinums and above, however, that is heavily counterbalanced by the difficulty in achieving that level versus the ease in getting gold or diamond with Hilton.
    If you can gain access to US Hilton cards, then, I believe, Hilton offers the better program. In addition to the at least equal value I see in their points, the Hilton credit cards offer free night certificates at any of their hotels (I have used 32 of them over the years at an average of $800/night) versus restricted ones at Marriott (13 used for an average of $350/night) plus superior earning on hotel spend. Because of the ease of getting higher level status through the credit cards, superior earning rates are also available for staying in Hilton hotels (20 points per dollar for Hilton diamond versus 12.5 for Marriott gold)
    The only people for whom I see Marriott as the superior program are those that will be able to stay their way to at least platinum (probably pretty close to a toss up), those that cannot or do not want to access US credit cards or those that prefer to use their Bonvoy points for airline miles.

  6. Harley

    I’ve been an SPG (and now Mariott) Loyalist for years because of how easy it is to earn points in Canada. However, I applied for a couple of US Hilton Cards and topped off my points account during one of their 100% bonus points sales for an upcoming stay to Tokyo (with my family as part of my birthday) where I stayed at the Conrad Tokyo which is their signature property in that city. Prior to that I leveraged my Mariott Platinum status into HIilton Diamond status. I emailed the hotel prior to my stay letting them know it was my birthday and it was my first family trip to Japan.

    When I got to Tokyo , I received exactly zero upgrades in my room, though I was offered a complimentary cake for my birthday. Throughout the stay I felt very out of place with my two small kids (age 3 and 5) and the staff were obviously not used to dealing with children and viewed them as a nuisance. To top it all off, my wife forgot a pair of Nike running shorts in the hotel when we checked out and we didn’t discover it was missing until 4 days later when we were in Kyoto (just before we left for Canada). I emailed the Conrad and they confirmed that we left the shorts and. Note that the Conrad never proactively got in touch with us that we had left something (and when it might have been cheaper to ship to Kyoto rather than overseas). Attempts to get management to recognize some of these shortcomings have been met with silence. It was my first stay at a Hilton (at one of the their flagship locations no less) and it left a very bad taste in my mouth

    On the other hand, as part of the same trip we went to Kyoto where I stayed at the Ritz Carlton where I emailed them the exact same thing as my birthday. I was offered an upgraded river view room. The staff were amazing with my kids. On my birthday itself they decked out the room with banners and offered a bunch of complimentary macarons from their Pierre Herme store (so much that we couldn’t even finish them all). It put everything that the Conrad HIlton Tokyo had to offer to shame

    The point of this post? It would appear that status doesn’t matter as much to Hilton as it’s easier to attain, and the quality of my (one so far) stay . This might not be the same across all Hiltons obviously but it left a poor first impression. I’ve stayed at the Ritz in Tokyo and JW Mariott in Seoul previously (without kids but it shouldn’t matter) and have been offered amazing service, and that’s what will likely make me stick with Mariott going forward.

  7. Mike

    Great analysis! My first Hilton Amex card will be arriving soon thanks to your help.

Ricky

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