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Do you agree Marriott Rewards is top hotel rewards program?

U.S. News & World Report released its rankings of 17 hotel rewards programs today. Do you agree with their results that Marriott Rewards is top hotel rewards program? What about IHG Rewards Club, Best Western Rewards and Club Carlson rounding out the top four hotel rewards programs for 2014-15?

Marriott Rewards is no surprise. This program comes out on top in many hotel rewards programs comparisons including Marriott Rewards wins Hotel Program of the Year for the Americas for the past 3 years in the Freddies.

This article looks at the U.S. News & World Report rankings for 17 hotel rewards programs. I question some of the criteria giving these programs the best of the best of hotel rewards programs for members.

Why were Club Carlson (#4), Starwood (#5), Hilton (#6) and Hyatt (#9) beat by IHG Rewards Club and Best Western Rewards in this annual ranking of hotel rewards programs? I will look closely at the U.S. News & World Report study and comment with my take on their findings.

Analysis of U.S. News & World Report hotel rewards program rankings

All in all, U.S. News & World Report is a good resource for comparing hotel rewards programs. Frequent guests with elite status will likely have different opinions on what makes a hotel loyalty rewards program best. Hotel stay elite benefits, hotel program promotions for bonus points, miles and free nights are major factors which allow me to make money writing about travel deals.

I want to use the release of U.S. News & World Report Best Hotel Rewards Program Rankings to point out differences in program features that I find important for my travel. I will start with the top hotel rewards program.

#1 Marriott Rewards (4.59 of 5 stars)

Pros: Marriott has a large global footprint with more than 4,000 hotels. Marriott Rewards has Hotel + Air Package rewards for airline miles and seven hotel nights that can be used with any hotel reward category including Ritz-Carlton hotels and all airline partners. Marriott Rewards special partnership with United Airlines gives 10% more miles with Hotel + Air packages compared to American or Delta. Loyalty Traveler post – Marriott Rewards Hotel + Air Package Rewards for United and other airlines (Feb 5, 2014).

Cons: U.S. News & World Report’s study states Marriott Rewards accounts can be closed without activity for two years. I do not consider this a con for the program. In reality, Hilton HHonors is the only hotel program that I have read reports of members having their accounts closed due to inactivity. In my personal experience, I lost all my Hilton points several years ago for inactivity after many years of Hilton HHonors Diamond membership. I earned points in Marriott Rewards and then went some seven years with no activity and my account was never closed or points deleted. Loyalty Traveler post – Hilton HHonors Dumped Me This Week (10-9-2009).

My Take: One con issue with Marriott Rewards are the number of brands where hotel points are earned only for room rate and not incidental spend while staying at the hotel. Room rate only earning brands include Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, TownePlace Suites, Ritz-Carlton, Gaylord Resorts, AC, Edition and Moxy. Incidental spend at hotels only earn points for JW Marriott, Marriott, Renaissance, Autograph Collection and Marriott Vacation Club.

Incidental spend earns points with many hotel loyalty programs like Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood.

The U.S. News summary of Marriott Rewards Cash + Points rewards is weak. Marriott Cash and Points is unlike any other program and not truly a cash and points reward option where you can book a hotel reward night for fewer points with a cash supplement. Loyalty Traveler Tutorial: Marriott’s Cash + Points Rewards with 5th Night Free (Jan 28, 2014)

U.S. News & World Report survey looked at hotel reward night rates in 16 cities as one of their comparisons for programs and concluded rooms at high category hotels cost a large number of points. No shit! That is true for any hotel loyalty program, except for Kimpton Karma where an earned free night is good for any hotel in the system.

The distribution of hotels in reward categories within Marriott Rewards is one of the most equitable of any hotel loyalty program with the vast majority of hotels in the lower hotel reward categories. Loyalty Traveler – Reality Check: Marriott tops Hilton for Category 1 and 2 Reward Night Hotels in USA (October 21, 2013).

In the Hilton HHonors program review for the U.S. News report is this line:

And because Hilton has a partnership with the United Airlines MileagePlus program (as well as 50 other airline and rail partners), you can also cash in points for miles.

I find this totally out of place for Hilton HHonors since Marriott Rewards actually has a unique partnership with United Airlines Mileage Plus allowing reciprocal elite benefits. Loyalty Traveler post – RewardsPlus launches for Marriott Rewards and United Mileage Plus members (July 15, 2013).

Be sure to register for the Marriott Rewards United Mileage Plus promotion to earn 1,000 bonus miles along with Marriott Rewards points per Marriott full-service hotel brand stay from July 23 to October 31, 2014. Loyalty Traveler – Earn United miles and Marriott Rewards points July 23-Oct 31, 2014.

United Airlines is a poor points-to-miles transfer partner for Hilton HHonors members at only 1,000 miles for 10,000 HHonors points. Marriott Rewards members get a 20% discount on points needed for United Airlines Mileage Plus miles compared to other airlines. Marriott Rewards members can convert 8,000 Marriott Rewards points into 2,000 United Mileage Plus miles.

One fact that few frequent guests will argue with is Marriott Rewards has the toughest standard for reaching high elite membership which is why few points and miles bloggers push Marriott Rewards. I have Marriott Silver elite status earned by staying 10 nights per year, but 50 nights for Gold elite is way beyond my loyalty to Marriott. I can earn top elite in two other hotel rewards programs for the same number of 50 nights by frequent one-night stays and award stays. Hyatt and Starwood only take 25 stays in a calendar year for high elite membership with amazing benefits.

Elite Benefits: A common complaint about Marriott Rewards elite membership is limited benefits compared to other major programs. I do not have personal experience as Marriott Platinum to give an anecdotal assessment to benefits I received as Hilton HHonors Diamond, Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond or Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum. It takes 75 nights to reach Marriott Rewards Platinum and that is about how many nights I stay in hotels each year. I have had top elite status with one or more hotel programs every year since 2000. I have never been Marriott Rewards Platinum. I can say that I have received several room upgrades as a Marriott Rewards Silver elite, but not to suites.

Promotions: Since the recession year promotions of 2009-11, I think Marriott Rewards recurring MegaBonus has been one of the best offers in hotel programs. Two stays earn one free night at a Category 1-4 or 1-5 hotel. Unfortunately, the value of this promotion free night certificate has diminished with Marriott Rewards hotel category inflation over the past two years with a large number of category 4 and 5 hotels moving to category 6. Loyalty Traveler post: Marriott MegaBonus 16 days hiatus and why Category 4 Certificates have less value in 2014 (Jan 15, 2014).

Look No Further Best Rate Guarantee: Marriott Rewards is one of the easiest programs for getting a reduced room rate using Marriott’s Look No Further Best Rate Guarantee. Find a lower rate for the same room on a competitive third party online travel agency and Marriott reduces the rate 25%. Nearly all my Marriott stays are reduced rate best rate guarantee stays. Marriott approves claims with less hassle than any other hotel chain. I have written dozens of articles on hotel best rate guarantees that can be found in this Loyalty Traveler Best Rate Guarantee list.

Marriott Rewards is a popular program. Hotel brands are standardized and provide a range of room rates in different hotel market segments. that is both a positive and a negative attribute. Fairfield Inn and TownePlace Suites are affordable hotel brands for low coat paid stays and Ritz-Carlton is firmly in the luxury market segment and available reward nights for Marriott Rewards members. Points have real value with easy to reach rewards.

Expand the conversation. What do you like or dislike about Marriott Rewards?


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 current hotel loyalty program offers across all the major chains in Loyalty Traveler’s monthly hotel promotions guide.

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  • Bill August 5, 2014

    I think Marriott is a fine chain…with a decent rewards program. But since Marriott has so few higher end/aspirational properties proportional to its overall holdings, I just don’t care to bother with Marriott. As a Lifetime United Gold, I now hold Marriott Gold status because of the RewardsPlus program…and I’ve only gotten a few upgrades for the few times I’ve stayed–none of which really impressed me much.

    Starwood and Hyatt offer fewer properties overall, but they largely hit the markets where I travel. They both have numerous aspirational properties where I like to stay (and often do stay, both on points and on paid stays). They both offer upscale properties where I like to stay (usually on paid stays), and I like their upscale properties far more than those offered by Marriott (or Hilton).

    For the masses, I suspect that Marriott and Hilton are the favorites since they are normally mass-market appealing properties in far more locations. That it takes more points for award redemptions is less a factor for the masses, since they normally stay where they need to stay or where they want to stay…and Marriott and Hilton offer properties more likely to fit this bill. Starwood and Hyatt are less likely to satisfy this requirement, and so for the masses revealed in surveys such as this, Marriott and Hilton appear more appealing.

    Rankings only reflect as much as their criteria allow. Mass market rankings can’t take into account all of the distinct preferences that might matter to certain groups more than others. Hence, Marriott and Hilton always seem to be more favored by others than they are by me or people who travel like me.

    Good. Let the masses stick with Marriott and Hilton. I’ll stick to Starwood and Hyatt.

  • Ric Garrido August 5, 2014

    Thanks Bill for the detailed response. Ritz-Carlton sounds like your brand and there are some nice Autograph Collection hotels that fit into the Starwood and Park Hyatt market segment.

    At the high end, I think Marriott is comparable in points cost to Starwood and Hyatt, although the lack of a true Cash & Points program is the major disadvantage for Marriott compared to Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood when it comes to accessing lower rates at high end hotels using points.

  • Geoff August 5, 2014

    Maybe it’s just me but a good program is one that offers great redemption opportunities. Hyatt fits our bill the best by far. Excellent properties attainable for very fair point values. Add ease of point accumulation(Ultimate Rewards) and suite upgrades and you have a good program.

  • cj August 5, 2014

    Marriott # 1 its a joke — im a gold member ( 50 nights ) and at some Marriott’s they don’t give you a water or breakfast
    hyatt is #1 Sheridan #2 but they not everywhere but Hilton is much better then Marriott (diamond 14 years)even as a gold member (20 stays)you get breakfast
    who vote’s on these poll’s

  • KevininRI August 5, 2014

    I think the average Marriott elite member doesn’t really know enough about the other brands’ elite programs to really compare, so they may not know what they’re missing. I used to travel a good amount for a company that was very heavily “pro-Marriott” (corporate meetings at Marriott properties, most corporate discounts were for Marriott hotels, etc.) so I was a Marriott platinum for several years. I thought the program was pretty good at the time. But as my work travel lessened and I found out more about SPG and Hyatt from friends of mine that were elite members, I switched over and now am an SPG Plat and Hyatt Diamond. I was probably Platinum for 4-5 years with Marriott, and maybe got upgraded to a suite once or twice out of 100+ stays at full service properties. Never was able to get a late checkout past 2pm (and even getting that was a stretch most of the time). And I hardly ever stayed at a full service property in the US where the lounge was open on the weekend. I think they really need to get their program up to par with the other chains if they want to succeed in the future.

  • Rob August 5, 2014

    First, there is truth in each response.

    Second, I am mobile so pardon the mess. Hard to read/type on a smartphone.

    Third, I might go way off topic.

    @KevininRI I started with the Marriott Rewards (MR) program about nine years ago, but I have only truly started to use the full capability (or lack thereof) of MR in the last two years. I have just started to understand other programs about a year ago. Boarding Area was added to my read list about the same time.

    @Bill, you said it best, it’s mass market. I grew into MR by default. It was the most recognizable brand around; no matter the size of the city. Unfortunately, my travels infrequently take me to small metropolitan areas where you are more likely to see a Courtyard, Fairfield, or Residence Inn than a Hyatt property. Nature of a sad, sad beast.

    That said, I would not rate MR as the top dog. I never had any aspirations beyond Gold status as it has only served me well at Autograph properties in regards to treatment and only one upgrade and that was after the fact that we complained that the mattress in our room smelled of urine (Florida property). Otherwise, I have yet to find a good use of my status. I do not even bother with Platinum as I could only assume that the benefits are not worth the spend.

    @cj I know exactly what you mean. I think it is really easy to accumulate points (Megabonus), but the status levels just don’t seem to offer much outside a small change in script.

    “I see you are a Marriott Rewards (insert status level here) member. Thank you for being a (insert status level here).”

    That’s about all I have received outside the occasional breakfast at an Autograph property.

    Now only if they followed through on that Maldive property.

    On to Hilton (HH). My first stay was last night at a Hampton property in Tennessee. I guess I am lucky since the property is new. I have not bothered with figuring out what Silver status brings to the table beyond the nifty color change. Hilton is also a big dog on campus property-wise. They have a wide selection that cover the small to medium cities I travel to. I am curious about their Platinum tier, but I am not sure I would get good use of it.

    For both MR and HH, I also default to them when I am in larger cities such as Atlanta, New York, or DC. The Marriott in Moscow is pretty nice.

    I was tempted to go with the Hyatt Diamond challenge (have my cake and eat it too), but again, outside major metropolitan areas (Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, NYC, etc.) I would be stuck with my defaults, MR and HH. So, I am not sure if I would hit my stay/night gates.

    So, are they on top? Sort of. Depends on who you are and where you go. I would say that if I could maintain a Hyatt Diamond status over my current MR gold status, I would. I could easily maintain silver.

    Getting back to the average joe’s reality. The sheer volume that MR does along with brand recognition (Autograph, Marquis,RC, etc.) makes them a top contender. I think they will continue to operate with their current program because they know first-time customers are going to be the rewards program uneducated or just do not travel enough to warrant even caring.

  • tom August 5, 2014

    I feel that people are voting on more than just the loyalty program here, many corp types love marriott since that is where their contract is so that is where they stay mostly. Also since Marriott status is harder to get, many MR elites are not familiar with other programs.

    Marriott’s big advantage is consistency. They are pretty good at managing expectations and delivering. SPG beat them for better plat perks but often you end up arguing with front desk for a suite upgrade. With marriott that upgrade is rarely on the cards so you are not so upset when you do not get it.
    When they are good, SPG beat Marriott hands down and they have way more aspirational properties (albeit expensive). On the other hand, Marriott travel packs are a great deal if you can rack lots of points. Basically you can redeem at 5th night free rates plus convert your remaining MR points to airline points at a 1:1 rate (or better if converting to UA).
    Hiltons earn/burn has been savaged recently and diamond is little better than gold which is easily obtained. IHG offer little elite benefits and its strength is more downmarket properties rather than the exotic, though point breaks can save a lot of $$$.

    So though not the best, MR is a solid program and it is easy to see how it could have topped the poll. Megabonus for the past few years would not have done any harm either (though that seems to be a thing of the past now)

    Disclaimer; I have no experience with Hyatt so cannot speak for that

  • tom August 5, 2014

    My final rating – SPG Plat > MRR Plat > MRR Gold > HH Diamond > HH Gold………IHG Plat >SPG Gold > MRR/HH Silver

  • David August 5, 2014

    @tom Seriously? HH Gold > MRR Plat! Free breakfast, man!

  • John Brew August 5, 2014

    From a Continental Europe perspective, Hilton HHonors is my preferred option.
    Easy to get status (credit card in Germany, as in my case, or stay/point based).
    Fair coverage of Europe, with properties in various price ranges (from Hampton to Waldorf).
    Free breakfast, free internet, spuse stays free and often executive level upgrades (except Barcelona and Vienna, who wouldn’t budge).

  • tom August 5, 2014

    @david so far I get free brekkie with MRR Plat. Then again I have to avoid CY for that reason so maybe you have a point when it comes to travel in the US

  • Dan August 6, 2014

    Some people on here appear to be a tad condesending….talking down to people as if they dont know any better.

    For my work I may travel at a max of 10 nights over the course of a year so there is no way I can get high level status with any brand. Im sure its nice to have status with Starwood or Hyatt but the problem is alot of the hotels are over corporate budget limits on hotel stays when traveling.

    If you travel outside the top 20 markets you likely dont see those chains anywhere around.

    Likely the survey included many vacation travelers who looked at hotel rates+ promotions for free nights. Marriot is 2 stays= free night. Best western occasionally has a 2 stays= free night. For Choice its 4-6 stays gets you enough points for a free night. IHG jumped up with their big points giveaway where you stay 4-6 nights and you earn enough points for a free night.

    A better measure to look at…..

    If you had no status or no credit card point bonus…how many nbights at a particular hotel do you need to stay to earn enough points for a free night???

  • James H August 7, 2014

    On a recent 7 day trip I booked award nights across three different chains. As a Marriott Platinum I got upgraded to the concierge floor at a Renassance. As a IHG Platinum got upgraded to a corner room king suite at a Holiday Inn Express. As a Goldpoints gold I got upgraded to a king suite at a Radisson. All were very nice rooms and the employees were super nice and recognized my loyalty status at each check in. I can count on one hand the number times I’ve gotten similar recognition or service as a Hyatt Platinum.

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