Greg’s take: Which hotel program (Hyatt vs Hilton vs Marriott) is the most rewarding?

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Yesterday Nick published a thoughtful post: Which hotel program (Hyatt vs Hilton vs Marriott) is the most rewarding?  His answer was that they’re about the same: If starting from scratch (elite-wise), you need to spend about 7 nights in average priced hotels to earn a free bottom-category night, and about 42 nights in average priced hotels to earn a free top-tier night.  That’s an interesting answer, but “unfortunately, no one knows what the question is.*”  That is, I found his analysis comprehensive but not satisfying because I’d like an answer based on different assumptions:

  • Starting point: Nick’s analysis assumed that someone starts with no status at all.  I’d like to look at each status level (low, mid-tier, high-tier) to see how rewarding the program is for members who already have that status.
  • Credit cards: Most of Nick’s analysis did not assume that members had hotel credit cards, but I’d like to assume a $95 per year hotel credit card ($75 with Hyatt) from the get-go.
  • Marriott award chart: Nick used the Marriott award chart that will be in effect from August 2018 through early 2019.  I’d prefer to look further out and use the early 2019 award chart.

* This is a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in response to the finding that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything was 42.

Credit Card Starting Point

These $95 per year ($75 for Hyatt) credit cards offer the following relevant perks:

Relevant Elite Tiers

Nick presented three levels of status: Base (e.g. no status), “Free Breakfast”, and Top Tier.  Since the $95 / $75 credit cards all offer at least low tier status, I’m going to start with Low Tier in my analysis.  I’ll keep Nick’s definition for “Free Breakfast” as mid tier (e.g. Marriott Platinum, Hyatt Explorist, and Hilton Gold).

Status Marriott Hyatt Hilton
Low Silver Discoverist Silver
Mid Platinum Explorist Gold
Top Platinum Premier Globalist Diamond

Points Earned Per Dollar at Hotels

The following table shows the number of points earned per dollar within each chain without a credit card (but with the above status definitions).

Points per dollar, hotel only

Status Marriott Hyatt Hilton
Low 12 5.5 12
Mid 15 6 18
Top 17.5 6.5 20

Now lets assume that you have a $95 / $75 credit card and use it to pay for your stay.  Points per dollar in this chart include the points shown above plus credit card points:

Points per dollar, including credit card spend

Status Marriott Hyatt Hilton
Low 18 8.5 N/A*
Mid 21 9 30
Top 23.5 9.5 32

* The $95 Hilton credit card gives you Gold status so there’s no point in showing points per dollar earned if you have Silver status and the credit card.

Hotel spend required for a bottom category free night

Bottom Category points required for a free night (borrowing from Nick’s post):

  • Marriott = 7,500 points (The “early 2019” award chart offers 5K off-peak properties, but I think it is fair to assume that finding those will be rare)
  • Hyatt = 5,000 points
  • Hilton = 10,000 points (Technically 5K points is lowest, but none of these are in the US)

Spend required for a free bottom category night:

Status Marriott
Hyatt* Hilton
Low $417 $588 N/A
Mid $357 $556 $333
Top $319 $526 $313

* Note that Hyatt offers opportunities to earn free nights after meeting various thresholds, so this chart slightly undervalues Hyatt (details here).

Hotel spend required for a top category free night

Top Category points required for a free night:

  • Marriott: 60,000 points 85K standard, 100K peak (I’m going with the “early 2019” award chart)
  • Hyatt: 30,000 points
  • Hilton: 95,000 points

Spend required for a top category free night:

Status Marriott Standard
Marriott Peak Hyatt Hilton
Low $4,722 $5,556 $3,529 N/A
Mid $4,048 $4,762 $3,333 $3,167
Top $3,617 $4,255 $3,158 $2,969

Note that these calculations do not account for the fact that you are likely to move up in status before hitting these spend levels (Nick did account for this in his analyses FYI).  In other words, actual spend required when starting from Low or Mid tier status would be a bit less than shown since you’ll earn higher elite tier bonuses with some of the spend.

Hotel spend required for an average hotel

It’s pretty tough to compare apples-to-apples across award charts when looking toward the middle.  Instead, let’s use Pointimize’s hotel point valuation chart (found here).  Pointimize calculates the median value per point observed from real-world award night searches.  So, this data includes information across the entire award chart, not just the low or high end.  Here are their observed median point values:

  • Marriott: 0.72 cents per point
  • Hyatt: 1.74 cents per point
  • Hilton: 0.45 cents per point

We don’t know what Marriott’s point values will be next year, but Marriott has asserted that more properties will go down in price than up.  So, it seems reasonable to use the 0.72 cents per point number for now.

In Nick’s post, he asserted that an average price for a hotel room is $131.56.  With that number in mind, we can then calculate the median number of points required for each program:

  • Marriott: $131.56 / 0.72 cents / point = 18,272 points per night
  • Hyatt: $131.56 / 1.74 cents / point = 7,561 points per night
  • Hilton: $131.56 / 0.45 cents / point = 29,236 points per night

We can now calculate spend required to get these average free nights:

Spend required for an “average” night

Status Marriott Hyatt Hilton
Low $1015 $890 N/A*
Mid $870 $840 $975
Top $778 $796 $913

Conclusion

Based on my assumptions (which vary quite a bit from Nick’s), I can conclude the following:

  • If you’re interested in earning bottom category free nights from paid hotel stays, then Marriott and Hilton are roughly equal. Both are far better than Hyatt for this purpose.
  • If you’re interested in earning top category free nights from paid hotel stays, Hyatt and Hilton are about equal.  Both are far better than Marriott for this purpose.
  • If you would like to spend your points at regular hotels — somewhere in the middle of the charts — then Hyatt has an edge for low-status, but Marriott quickly catches up once you get to mid or top status.  Hilton is considerably more expensive though.

Now let’s summarize by program:

  • Marriott (future Marriott, really) is rewarding for those seeking low and mid category award stays
  • Hyatt is rewarding for mid and top category award stays
  • Hilton is most rewarding at the edges: bottom and top category award stays. In the middle, they’re less competitive.

Separately I plan to compare the elite program benefits of each of these chains, along with a “bang for your buck” analysis.  Which chain offers the best elite perks for the least number of nights required to get to that level?  Stay tuned.

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