Reality Check: Marriott tops Hilton for Category 1 and 2 Reward Night Hotels in USA

This piece is an overview comparing Marriott Rewards to Hilton HHonors in the number of hotels in the USA at Category 1 and 2 low level reward nights for 10,000 or fewer points. Both programs have their advantages. Here are the numbers with my thoughts and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Hilton HHonors has several advantages over Marriott Rewards. 

  1. Nearly all paid hotel nights for Hilton HHonors members can earn at least 15 points/$1 as a Points & Points earner. Or earn 10 points /$1 and airline miles with every stay.
  2. Lowest hotel category reward night is only 5,000 points for Hilton HHonors Category-1 hotels.
  3. Points & Money Rewards reduce the cost of hotel nights by 60% fewer points for a small cash portion like $35 for a category-2 hotel. This is a change in Hilton HHonors over the past couple of years. Marriott Rewards does not offer this type of cash and points option found with Starwood and Club Carlson.
  4. HHonors Gold elite is easy to earn by credit card for benefits like 25% elite bonus points and more opportunities for complimentary free breakfast. HHonors counts reward nights and stays for elite credit which is a big advantage for the guest on the margins of elite status.

Yet, this post will show why I think Marriott Rewards offers better value for members, especially those traveling around the USA.

Here are the related terms for Marriott Rewards members.

  1. Marriott Residence Inn and Townplace Suites brands earn only 5 points/$1. These two Marriott Rewards brands comprise about 800 hotels around the USA; about 25% of all USA properties. All other Marriott Rewards brands earn 10 points/$1.
  2. Lowest hotel category reward night is 7,500 points per night for Marriott Rewards Category-1 hotels. Category-2 hotels are 10,000 points per night with both Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors. Marriott Rewards has vastly more hotels in the low category rewards with 801 hotels for Marriott in category 1 and 2 compared to 106 hotels for HHonors.
  3. Marriott Rewards allows upgrades for points or cash at some properties whether staying on a points rate or paid rate.
  4. Marriott Rewards category-3 hotels are 15,000 points per night compared to Hilton HHonors category-3 hotel reward at 20,000 points.
  5. Marriott Rewards members do not earn elite qualifying nights credit for reward nights.
  6. Marriott Rewards members with frequent stays in Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites are earning points at one-third the rate of Hilton HHonors members. That is a significant factor for some Marriott Rewards members that can favor looking to Hilton HHonors for better earning potential. 

Marriott Rewards: Number of Hotels by Category in USA

Ritz Carlton

The following table compares Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors in terms of the number of hotels in category 1 and category 2 across the USA.


Hilton may allow members to earn points more quickly, but at the Standard Reward level, the balance is strongly in favor of Marriott Rewards at the lowest two category levels for hotel reward nights using points for free hotel nights.

Your chances of finding one of the 189 Marriott Rewards category 1 hotels in the USA are far higher than running into a Hilton HHonors category 1 hotel. Sure that HHonors category 1 is a steal at only 5,000 points, but there are only five locations in the USA.

At the Category 2 reward level both programs charge 10,000 points for a reward night and offer 5th night free. Hilton HHonors members can argue they get 15 points per dollar and earn free nights for 10,000 points with less hotel spend than on average for a Marriott Rewards member to earn 10,000 points.

Although, Marriott Rewards members have fairly strong confidence that with over 800 hotels in category 1 and 2 across the USA they can actually find a hotel reward at 10,000 points in a place near where they are traveling.

Marriott Rewards has 801 hotels compared to 106 hotels for Hilton HHonors members across the USA in category 1 and 2 rewards. That gives the Marriott Rewards member a far higher probability of being able to redeem for a low category hotel reward stay.

The international portfolio of hotels in category 1 and 2 is another aspect of Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors to consider. And that will be a follow-up post.


Related Loyalty Traveler posts:


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out my page of collated current hotel promotions.

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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 BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. “Hilton may allow members to earn points more quickly”

    Ric, that one caveat makes your entire analysis deeply flawed.

    I can go down to the local grocery and “buy” 5K HH points for $9.75 using my Surpass (0.195 cpp)

    However, to get 7500 Marriott points (CAT 1), I’d have to pay $59 (0.79 cpp) at my local drug store presuming I was using a Marriott CC buying VRs.

    That’s quite a difference – $50/night.

    But to determine what offers best “value”, I compare the bottom line – what it would cost me to get a “free” night.

    For that same $59 needed for a CAT 1 Marriott, I could manufacture 30K HH points at grocery – enough for a CAT 4,5,6 or 7 property (depending on season) – of which there are thousands to choose from.

    So what would you think was better? Cat 4-7 HH properties with thousands of locations, or the 189 Cat 1 Marriotts? (of which many are in “destinations” like Alabama/Georgia/Texas).

    FWIW, Loyalty Lobby had a great series of posts back in early May comparing the various hotel award programs. Unsurprisingly, his analysis didn’t agree with your conclusions either…

  2. something else you didnt mention….Marriott regularly does a 2 stay/ 1 free night cert. At certain times of the year they will do targeted promos based on brand or targeting toward the customer where you earn bonus points based on 2 stays like 5,000 or 10,000.

    Another plus (this could be a minus) is that the category hotel stays the same throughout the year.

    The one thing I have noticed Marriott lacks are hotels in National Parks areas. You have a far better shot of finding Choice, BW, IHG, or even a Hilton in a gateway town or a central base for a national park trip.

    Any place worth traveling to for a vacation, the category of the hotel tends to be cat 5 or higher.

    The cat 1 or 2 hotels tend to be off the interstate suburban hotels not near a place that would attract tourists.

  3. @DJP – all good points that could have been mentioned in this article.

    I tend not to do big overviews of hotel loyalty programs anymore on Loyalty Traveler. Those kinds of overviews can be found all over the web.

    This article was meant to point out the wide disparity between the number of hotels in the two lowest hotel categories for Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors. This was not an article about ways to get HHonors points by credit card spend or the advantages of elite status between the two programs or a comparison of the promotion offers between Marriott and Hilton.

    Most overviews simply mention that Hilton HHonors category 1 rewards are only 5,000 points, like that is a huge competitive advantage. It really is not a significant factor when there are only 35 hotels worldwide out of 4,000 Hilton brand hotels in category 1.

    What I do think is a huge competitive advantage of Hilton over Marriott are the Points & Money Reward nights. These make hotels in the category 3-6 range quite affordable using only 40% points of a standard reward and a cash component.

    Hilton removed much of its competitive advantage when it changed 50,000 points top level reward nights to 95,000 points this year.

    As someone who does thousands of miles of road travel each year, those low category Marriott Rewards hotels are exactly the kind of bargain I am looking for when driving to tourist destinations.

    Best Western hotels rule when it comes to proximity to National Parks.

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