Marriott vs. Hilton: Which chain has more favorable hotel category distribution for reward nights?

A common question asked by many frequent guests with extensive USA travel is,

Which hotel loyalty program is best?

This week I will highlight some of the similarities and differences between Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards and IHG Priority Club. These megasize hotel chain programs tend to be preferred by frequent guests who desire upper upscale lodging when in major cities, but also travel places where Starwood and Hyatt are scarce. (Like a trip on Interstate 5 across California).

Your travel pattern and preferences will determine the best fit for you. The main advantage for a USA frequent traveler with  any of these three hotel programs is the size of these hotel chains, each with numerous upscale hotel properties along with widespread midscale hotel locations, and combined with benefit-rich hotel loyalty programs.

Loyalty Traveler will conduct side-by-side comparisons this week of these three giants of upscale hotel travel in the USA. I’ll take a closer look at the hotel chains and loyalty programs of Hilton HHonors, InterContinental Hotels Group Priority Club, and Marriott Rewards with regard to earning and spending points, hotel brands and size, elite benefits, and credit card benefits.

The changes coming in a little over 10 weeks in the Hilton HHonors hotel categories for free nights redemption using points is a major change for millions of HHonors members. Hilton has a strong program for earning points. The issue I look at today is how spending points in HHonors compares with Marriott Rewards.

Marriott and Hilton both base hotel rewards on eight levels of hotel categories for points redemption.

Marriott Rewards has categories 1 to 8 costing from 7,500 points to 40,000 points per night.

Hilton HHonors will have a Category 1 to 7 scale and Waldorf Astoria with the new structure. Free nights will range from 7,500 points to 50,000 for the seven different hotel categories and 50,000 to 80,000 points per night at the Waldorf Astoria Collection hotels.

IHG Priority Club uses a fixed point spending level by hotel brand with multiple point tiers in the Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn and InterContinental Hotel brands. The different redemption structure led me to exclude Priority Club from the comparison tables made in this post.

Category distribution for Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors hotels located in the USA is the focus of this post. For both Hilton and Marriott hotel chains, the properties located in the USA represent over 80% of all properties worldwide in their loyalty programs. Both chains have roughly 3,000 hotels in the USA (Hilton slightly more than Marriott) and around 400 international hotels each.

Hilton HHonors Reward Category Hotel Distribution

Hilton HHonors Reward Category Hotel Distribution




Loyalty Traveler’s basic finding is the hotel distribution shows Hilton HHonors has a higher percentage of properties in the four highest point categories (21%) compared to Marriott (12%).


Hilton HHonors has a smaller portion in the lowest 2 categories (6%) than Marriott Rewards (37%).

Both hotel chains have the largest proportion of hotels in the lower hotel category levels of an eight level system.

  • (estimate based on current HHonors category level and assuming one category increase for HHonors hotels in 2010 change) Hilton Categories 1-4 = 79% hotels (Category 4 is largest with 37% hotels; 30,000 points for free night) 
  • Marriott 1-4 = 88% hotels (Category 3 is largest with 35% hotels; 15,000 points for free night)

[updated post on Nov 5 to correct math error in this section.]

Hilton HHonors has more hotels in the most expensive points categories than Marriott and fewer hotels in the least expensive points categories than Marriott.

Marriott Rewards Hotel Category Distribution for Rewards

Marriott Rewards Hotel Category Distribution for Rewards







The Hilton table projects each HHonors hotel in the USA is moved up one level in the new category system for January 15, 2010. The number of hotels shown in each category level is based on a USA category search conducted November 1, 2009 using the tool for hotel category search on the HHonors website. Waldorf Astoria Collection rewards levels are here.

Marriott Rewards hotel numbers were tabulated from a hand count of properties by category search on Marriott website.

The numbers may not be exact, but the distribution should be fairly precise for a comparative overview of reward hotel category distribution in these two hotel mega-chains of Hilton and Marriott.

One commonly used statistical measure in the housing market is the median price of a home. This is the point where half the homes are more expensive and half are less expensive than the median. Applying the median award price for a free night to the distribution of hotels in the Marriott and Hilton chains shows the median price of an award for Marriott falls in the Marriott Category 3 level at 15,000 points for a free night. The median price of an award with HHonors falls in the Category 4 level at 30,000 points per night.

While Hilton may have opportunities for earning more points with higher earning credit cards and Points & Points earning preferences, the expenditure of points for free nights across hotel chain properties looks much higher for Hilton HHonors members than Marriott Rewards members.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined in 2008.

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  1. the median price of Marriot Rewards category is not Category 3level as it is shoud be the mean of (20,000 + 25,000)/2 = 22,500.

  2. I was looking at the hotels and where the 50% percentile of hotels fall within the categories at Category 3 and not the median award price of the 8 categories .

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