To paraphrase The Godfather, just when we think we are out of the pandemic, we get pulled back in!
It’s a bummer, and I want to acknowledge how lame these cyclical lockdowns can feel. Still, none of these unfortunate events should stop you from acquiring the skills to get great deals for when things do open back up for good.
Today, I want to answer something I’ve been pondering. Which program do I feel has more value: Marriott Bonvoy or Hotels.com Rewards?
Quick recap: what’s a verb that describes the constant tendency for Marriott to devalue their loyalty program?
You guessed it: Bonvoyed!
To recap: Marriott’s award chart will be going the way of the dodo come March 2022. That’s a huge bummer because most redemptions will probably go closer to the dynamic cash price.
The Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai will likely be lavishly expensive, while your sad, neglected airport Four Points could well be ruefully asking for 15,000+ Bonvoy points a night.
Therefore, it behooves us to look at the other options on the market. I am a big fan of the Hilton Honors program, but it’s harder to generate points in large quantities without their co-branded credit cards, which are gated off on the opposite side of the border.
On the other hand, the Hotels.com program is open to everybody, so it makes for a natural point of comparison.
Elite Status: Worth the Hype?
We make no secret at Prince of Travel about loving Marriott’s status offerings. I myself am a Titanium Elite member (at least for the moment)!
This offers me a series of benefits such as complimentary suite upgrades when available, free breakfast for two, executive lounge access at the more upmarket properties, and accelerated Bonvoy points earning when paying cash.
Is this stuff worth it, though? Marriott hotels tend to be more expensive in the first place, because most of them are fairly full-service. On top of that, one often has to engage in “suite talking” to even get a decent upgrade from available rooms – at least in North America.
Lastly, hotel breakfasts average around $30–40 per person – which are a nice free amenity. But is saving $80 on breakfast for two worth it if the hotel is $150 more a night than a no-name competitor? Loading up on Eggs Benedict will often run less than that at the chicest breakfast locales in town.
Personally, while I love status and its benefits, I don’t know if it’s always worth dedicating one’s travel to Marriott just to pursue it. While nice, it’s good to consider the real savings you could make by using Hotels.com.
The Perks of Hotels.com Rewards
Hotels.com is an online travel agency (OTA). Normally I wouldn’t be caught dead booking with an OTA, because they deprive you of any status benefits you might have. No suite upgrades, no points earning – nada.
Then again, when there’s an average of 10% returns on the line, I change my tune mighty fast.
Earning ten stamps will give you a voucher on Hotels.com equal to the average cost of the rooms you’ve already booked. So if you’re only booking luxury properties, you’ll have a huge credit. If you’re booking skeezier dives, you’ll be able to redeem less.
Still, this is a pretty great benefit when one considers most online OTAs don’t have any real loyalty program. Plus, there’s often plenty of opportunities to get bonus or double stamps, meaning that 10 stamps doesn’t always require 10 nights’ stay!
Folded into the stamps program is Hotels.com Rewards status: by getting 10 stamps in a year, you get Silver pricing. Acquire 30 stamps, you get Gold.
These don’t really have much in the way of benefits aside from a dedicated concierge line (and some select properties with gifts), but Gold status does entitle you to 2pm checkout and suite upgrades.
The second benefit of Hotels.com is their secret pricing. By simply signing up, you can get discounted rates not available via public web search. Not a bad benefit for a few seconds’ work!
The last benefit is that of the spice of life: variety. You can pick whatever types of hotels you want with Hotels.com. Weird themed hotels? Venerable classic indie hipster joints? Former Dutch prisons? All available!
Nobody Puts Marriott in a Corner
Thus far, I’m not fully convinced that status is always worth it, and I am a big fan of Hotels.com’s stamps and secret pricing. None of that means Bonvoy is finished, though.
There’s two areas where I think Marriott comes out ahead bigly, and you should 100% consider these factors if you’re trying to pick between one program or the other.
When it comes to ease of liquidation, Bonvoy has Hotels.com beat dead to rights.
On the one hand, it’s a lot easier to gain and redeem 5,000 or 10,000 points at a low-tier Marriott property than it is to garner 10 stamps from Hotels.com. You might be able to do something with a couple thousand Bonvoy points, but you can’t do anything at all with only nine Hotels.com stamps.
On the other hand, you can easily exchange Bonvoy points for frequent flyer miles such as Aeroplan, with 60,000 of the former turning into a stress-free 25,000 of the latter.
Oh, and Hotels.com doesn’t have any kind of “Stay 4 Nights on Stamps, Get the Fifth Night Free” program like Marriott does with its Fifth Night Free benefit.
The second area that Marriott clearly wins is in their portfolio of co-branded credit cards. The American Express Marriott Bonvoy Card and American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business Card are both very easy for most Canadians to get.
|Credit Card||Best Offer||Value|
|80,000 Bonvoy points||$555||Apply Now|
|55,000 Bonvoy points||$399||Apply Now|
More intrepid points collectors can head south of the border for the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant and Bonvoy Business and Chase’s offerings, to boot.
Conversely, Hotels.com only has a co-branded card with Wells Fargo, which allows you to get a single stamp (valued at US$110) for every US$500 you spend. To add insult to injury, it can be a serious pain for Canadians without a Social Security Number (SSN) to get approved for unsecured Wells Fargo products.
With the above deliberations in mind, let’s take a closer look at a few Marriott vs. Hotels.com comparisons for specific sample trips.
Marriott vs. Hotels.com: Aspen
First up, let’s do an end-of-January trip to the ski destination of Aspen – a beautiful place to kick back and hit the slopes. It’s peak season from January 28 to 30, so I expect it to be pricey!
Hotels.com gives us a variety of options, but I’ve noticed they have a room available – with stamp earning – at only $395 per night. I doubt it’s as nice as their $1,200 option, but then again, $800 extra is a lot!
On the other hand, Marriott is a bit more shocking.
US$1,111 a night for the W. US$2,420 for the St. Regis. Admittedly, these are luxury labels, but still that is a spicy meatball!
I’d definitely opt for Hotels.com… but wait, what about Bonvoy points?
200,000 Bonvoy points isn’t a small amount, but it does give us a pretty decent value of just over 1 cent per point (cpp) (USD) at the W.
However, it gives us 2.42 cpp (USD) – or 3.1 cpp (CAD) – for the St Regis. If you had 400,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, this might even be worth looking into turning into a five-night trip, and thus getting above $12,000 in value for far less.
The cash winner is Hotels.com, but the redemption winner is 100% Bonvoy pre-devaluation. So book early and often amigos!
Marriott vs. Hotels.com: Paris
Next, let’s head to Paris to celebrate the French Revolution from July 13 to 15. Here’s hoping the prices won’t feel like being guillotined….
Well, secret pricing strikes for a decent value! And with stamp collection! $260–280 a night during one of the biggest public festivals is not half bad at all.
Let’s see how Marriott compares.
In CAD, the cheaper option is roughly $280. On the other hand, the Renaissance is $500 and it goes up from there. Both will give you less than 1 cpp if using your Bonvoy points.
You might get free breakfast, but you’re in Paris, arguably the gastronomic capital of the universe – why eat at the hotel, given those prices?
Definitely err on the side of Hotels.com.
Marriott vs Hotels.com: Mauritius
Air Mauritius has just joined Aeroplan, making the island of the dodo reachable by any dedicated Miles & Points enthusiast.
Let’s head here for the end of the dry season from October 16–21, 2022. You’re going all the way to Mauritius, may as well enjoy it, right?
Hotels.com is giving us a variety of great options, but for that ocean-viewing experience, it will run us between $411 and $575 a night. Pretty decent considering the location.
On the other hand, the Marriotts run between $293 and $560 a night, so it’s pretty comparable for a four- or five- star experience.
On the points front, the JW Marriott here is a clear loser hovering at 0.9cpp (USD) as a redemption (when we factor in the Fifth Night Free). 250,000 Bonvoy is a lot to fork over, too.
However, the Westin and Le Meridien both give us above 1cpp (USD) – and they require only about half as many Bonvoy points. We have a winner!
Definitely stay loyal to Marriott for this redemption.
Marriott vs Hotels.com: My Verdict
After crunching the numbers and pondering the relative value of Hotels.com’s and Marriott’s products and award programs, I think the world’s largest hotel chain is coming out a few paces ahead even when you pay cash.
In my opinion, the value from elite status, the ability to easily earn points through co-branded credit cards, and the survival of the award chart for a few more months make it easier to earn and redeem within the Marriott world. And even if you’re paying cash, it isn’t too terrible, assuming you’re looking for a nicer hotel experience.
With that being said, there is still a tremendous amount of value within Hotels.com, especially if you’re a cheapskate like me who gets irritated at the notion of dropping over $200 cash a night for a hotel room – even with a fancy corporate redemption code or two.
When it comes to points redemptions, of course, it isn’t even a contest: Fifth Night Free has no Hotels.com equivalent and can’t be beaten, especially for ostentatious redemptions such as Mauritius or similar locales.
Ultimately I think it comes down to what one values: the possibility of suite upgrades, consistent housekeeping, and convenient amenities such as breakfast are all super valuable when traveling for both business and leisure. If these matter a lot to you, stick with Marriott.
If these aren’t as important to you, then I’d say start filling up the Hotels.com stamp book. If you’re a complete DIY-er who doesn’t mind paying cash, cooking for yourself, and doing your own laundry… then what the heck are you doing reading this instead of comparing Hotels.com and AirBnB?
With devaluations on the horizon over at Marriott Bonvoy and the future of travel looking a shade more uncertain in the wake of the dreaded Omicron variant, I’m sure we’ll be continuing to ask the question of whether it’s worth sticking with Marriott vs. pursuing “free agency” with Hotels.com long into the future.
For the moment, the crown can lie heavy on Marriott’s head, but that doesn’t mean it will remain perched there indefinitely.
Until next time, I hope you have fresh linen every day of your voyages.