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Weighing in on the value of Marriott Rewards–Part 1

Yesterday Gary Leff published his View from the Wing post, Why I’m Walking Away from the Marriott Platinum Challenge” and The Weekly Flyer responded with the Points, Miles & Martinis postWhy I’m Sticking with My Marriott Gold Status.” I recommend reading the two posts and be sure to read the comments by other Marriott Rewards members to get different viewpoints on Marriott Rewards from some high level members.

My perception as a top-elite member in several hotel loyalty programs over the past decade (but, not Marriott Rewards program) is life is good at the top of the elite chain, regardless of program. Reading about members’ experiences as elite Marriott Rewards Platinum, Hilton HHonors Diamond, SPG Platinum, Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond and IHG Royal Ambassador gives a general consensus that the benefits are very good in all these programs despite the differences in specific published benefits.

My loyalty experience, primarily with SPG, Hilton and Hyatt, is one that generally has provided thousands of dollars of more hotel value each year when staying enough hotel nights to earn that status with each of these hotel chains.

You as the consumer have the choice to move to a competitor program if you don’t feel you are being treated well. The reality that you might checkout for the last time keeps upscale and upper upscale hotels in most major loyalty programs working to keep your loyalty.

Marriott Rewards or Hilton HHonors for the frequent business traveler.

Many business travel frequent guests around the USA tend to favor either Hilton HHonors with about 3,800 hotels globally or Marriott Rewards, also with about 3,800 hotels globally. I think both of these chains have over 2,700 hotels in the USA for widespread geographic distribution.

The vast majority of these U.S. hotels are in the upper midscale chain segment with Hilton’s  Hampton Inn (1,700+ hotels) and Marriott’s Fairfield Inn and TownePlace Suites (900 hotels) or upscale Hilton brands with about 1,100 hotels (Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites, Doubletree) and about 1,700 upscale Marriott brands (Courtyard, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites). These brands are in far more locations like metropolitan suburbs, interstate highways and small towns compared to Starwood Four Points, Aloft and Element brand hotels, IHG Staybridge Suites and Crowne Plaza, and Hyatt Place or Hyatt House.

Holiday Inn Express and Holiday Inn are the only other brands with anywhere near the geographic coverage of Marriott and Hilton in the USA without dropping to predominantly midscale brands in Best Western, Choice, La Quinta and Wyndham.

Marriott and Hilton have upscale and upper upscale hotels in all major cities and many smaller cities. The option of Hyatt Gold Passport and Starwood Preferred Guest are strong competitor programs with high value defined benefits like suite upgrades and breakfast benefits when staying in resort locations and major urban centers. But travelers outside major urban centers need Hilton, Marriott or IHG if they want a program with a selection of upper upscale and luxury hotels to use for vacations with the points earned from business travel stays. And IHG has far fewer upper upscale and luxury hotels in the USA than Hilton or Marriott.

Link: Hilton, Marriott and IHG hotel brand market segments (Jan 15) lists the number of hotels in each brand for these three chains.

Marriott Rewards is a minor player for my travel pattern.

I am a leisure traveler and while Marriott Rewards is a hotel loyalty program where I see good value for points rewards, the Marriott hotel chain is not the best match for my current travel pattern. I tend to be in urban centers where SPG, Hyatt and IHG work well or rural areas where Choice, Wyndham and Best Western and IHG Holiday Inn Express work well. Marriott and Hilton in the rural areas tend to be quite a bit higher rates than the predominantly midscale brands. I would love to give Marriott Rewards a good year of travel, but that just hasn’t happened yet.

Most of my Marriott brand stays over the past decade have been via Priceline winning bids. I certainly wish I had 120,000 Marriott Rewards points right now to book JW Marriott LA Live for next month when I could get a $2,000 value from the points; by far the best deal in downtown Los Angeles for a reward stay I need for a 5-night travel conference.

But, I don’t have anything close to that number of Marriott Rewards points. The problem for me with Marriott Rewards is the recurring MegaBonus promotion for a free night reward after two stays is a great value promotion for free nights, but that doesn’t earn much in the way of points.

Working the Marriott Rewards MegaBonus.

$200 for two hotel nights might earn 2,000 Marriott Rewards points. A limit of two free night certificates per MegaBonus promotion means I can stay 8 nights a year, earn 8,000 Marriott Rewards points if I avoid Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites brands, and I’m still likely shy of Silver elite status earned by staying 10 hotel nights in a calendar year. Still I can earn four free hotel nights with only 8 paid hotel nights and about $800 in annual spend. Chances are I can get 12 nights in Marriott brand hotels and $1,600 in hotel stay value for $800 or less per year staying with Marriott Rewards and working two MegaBonus promotions per year.

Marriott Rewards is a good value hotel loyalty program to me for low cost hotel nights, but not a good program for maintaining high tier Platinum elite status requiring 75 nights.

I want to get the most nights for the least cost with plenty of high market segment hotel options when looking to redeem free hotel nights. I can usually maintain high level elite in two or three other hotel programs for the same number of nights as maintaining Marriott Rewards Platinum.

Of course you can always maintain Marriott Rewards Silver elite status just by getting the Marriott Rewards Visa credit card and its benefit of 10 or 15 nights elite credit every year.