Marriott Bonvoy vs Hilton Honors: Which program fits your style?

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Formulating a strategy in your miles and points travels is a very important aspect to getting the most travel for the littlest amount of money.

We all monitor the welcome bonuses from the best hotel credit cards and open them if there’s an offer we can’t refuse. No matter which hotel points we’re married to, we’re willing to cheat on them when a good deal presents itself.

Two of the most popular hotel programs are Hilton and Marriott. They both outperform each other in various categories, so let’s take a look at the core benefits of investing in each program. We’ll also compare Marriott Bonvoy credit cards against the best Hilton credit cards to help you decide which are the best fits for your wallet.

Hilton’s got a few of the most stunning properties in the points world — like the Waldorf Astoria Maldives. (Image courtesy of Hilton)

Hilton vs. Marriott property footprint

Hilton and Marriott are two of the biggest hotel chains in the world. While Marriott has considerably more properties than Hilton (nearly 1,000), you can be sure that either chain will have a hotel relatively close to your destination:

  • Hilton has 18 brands and more than 6,100 properties across 118 countries
  • Marriott has 30 brands and more than 7,000 properties across 131 countries and territories

The biggest difference, in my opinion, is hotel brands.

Both chains have an abundance of cookie-cutter hotel brands that offer you standardized service and recognizable aesthetics no matter where you stay. That’s a preference of many travelers who are comforted by an element of familiarity when trotting the globe.

You can achieve the boutique feeling when reserving either chain’s luxury hotel brands. This is where Marriott leaves Hilton in the dust.

There are only a few true five-star Hilton hotel brands:

You’ll find these aspirational hotels and resorts in stunning locations. For example, the Conrad Maldives has an underwater restaurant. And the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem is just outside the Old City. Properties like these are enough to spur someone into collecting Hilton points.

On the other hand, you’ll have notably more five-star Marriott hotel brands to choose from:

Not every hotel in each of these brands is considered five-star (for example, the Ritz-Carlton Cleveland is a four-star hotel), but you’ll guarantee yourself a glitzy hotel experience with them all.

You’ll find exponentially more luxury hotel locations with Marriott than with Hilton. If you’re chasing endless Instagrammable hotel experiences, Marriott is the way to go.

St. Regis hotels offer a very “boutique” feel, while all possessing a few similar amenities. For example, each property mixes its own signature bloody mary. Here’s a picture of the “Island Mary” from the St. Regis Maldives. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

Earning Hilton vs Marriott points

There’s a superfluity of ways to earn both hotel currencies. We’ll cover the most popular in this post, but if you want to learn more, read our guides covering how to earn Hilton points and how to earn Marriott points.

Welcome bonuses

Here are the current Hilton welcome bonuses:

CardIntro bonusBest for
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Terms Apply.Best for obtaining Hilton elite status
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card130,000 Hilton points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Terms Apply.Best mid-range card
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card130,000 Hilton points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Terms Apply.Best for small business owners
Hilton Honors American Express Card80,000 Hilton points after spending $1,000 on purchases with the first three months of account opening. Terms Apply.Best for those who don't want to pay a high annual fee

Here are the current Marriott welcome bonuses:

Marriott Bonvoy credit cardWelcome bonusBest card for
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card50,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three monthsBest no annual fee Marriott card
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.Best mid-tier Marriott credit card
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms ApplyBest Marriott card for benefits and perks
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms ApplyBest Marriott card for small businesses

Hotel stays

Hilton offers 10 Hilton points per dollar when staying at their hotels (except for Home2 Suites and Tru, which earn just 5 points per dollar). However, Hilton status will garner the following return rates:

  • Silver elite members earn 12 Hilton points per dollar
  • Gold elite members earn 18 Hilton points per dollar
  • Diamond elite members earn 20 Hilton points per dollar

Again, the exception is Home2 Suites and Tru hotels, which earn half of the above figures.

Marriott also offers 10 points per dollar on hotel spending. But here’s what you’ll receive with each Marriott Bonvoy elite status:

  • Silver elite members earn 11 points per dollar
  • Gold elite members earn 12.5 points per dollar
  • Platinum elite members earn 15 points per dollar
  • Titanium elite members earn 17.5 points per dollar
  • Ambassador elite members earn 17.5 points per dollar

Transfer partners

You can earn Hilton points indirectly with other cards. Miles and points that transfer to Hilton include:

The same is true for Marriott, as it’s both an Amex transfer partner and a Chase transfer partner. Both transfer at a 1:1 ratio, meaning you’ll get twice the number of Hilton points for your Amex points than you’ll receive with Marriott. Hilton points are generally worth less than Marriott points, but just something to keep in mind.

Pro tip: DO NOT convert flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards into hotel points unless you are desperate. You’ll almost never receive a good value, and hotel points are significantly easier to earn than flexible points. You’ll usually be getting much better value when transferring your points to an airline partner.

Hilton credit cards vs Marriott credit cards

We’ve already talked welcome bonuses, so let’s hit the most valuable ongoing perks of each card.

Hilton

Where Hilton really shines is with its Aspire card, especially since it offers an annual free weekend night certificate that can be used at nearly any property around the world — think the Waldorf Astoria Maldives or Conrad New York. If you stay at one of these luxurious properties you can easily get $1,000+ in value. And if you can take full advantage of the Hilton Aspire’s benefits like airline fee credit and the resort credit each year, it’s nearly like you’re getting paid to hold the card.

You can use the Aspire’s free night certificate at nearly any hotel around the world — including luxurious properties like the unbelievable Waldorf Astoria Maldives. (Image by Hilton)

Marriott

  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card:
    • Free night certificate valid at participating Marriott hotels that cost up to 35,000 points per night
    • 15 elite night credits each year (stackable with the 15 nights you earn from a Marriott business card)
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card:
    • Free night certificate valid at participating Marriott hotels that cost up to 50,000 points per night
    • 15 elite night credits each year (stackable with the 15 nights you earn from a Marriott business card)
    • Up to $300 in statement credits for Marriott purchases charged to your card. And from June to August 2020, you can use up to $300 of your annual travel credit towards any purchases at U.S. restaurants (takeout and delivery included)
    • Priority Pass Select membership, with access to 1,300+ airport lounges
    • $450 annual fee (see rates and fees)
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card:
    • Free night certificate valid at participating Marriott hotels that cost up to 35,000 points per night
    • Second free night if you spend $60,000 or more on your card in a calendar year
    • 15 elite night credits each year (stackable with the 15 nights you earn from a Marriott personal card)
    • $125 annual fee (see rates and fees)

The Marriott credit cards are solid, each offers its own free night certificate and credit towards elite status. However, it’s probably easier for most travelers to get better overall value from Hilton credit cards.

Hilton vs Marriott elite status

Hilton has a great elite status program. You immediately receive benefits with the lowest tier. Check it out:

  • Hilton Silver status: Free bottles of water and fifth-night-free perk
  • Hilton Gold status: Space-available room upgrades, milestone bonuses, free breakfast and tons of bonus points
  • Hilton Diamond status: Premium Wi-Fi, executive lounge access, free room upgrades up to one-bedroom suites

Marriott’s got deficiencies in their programs, but Platinum status (comparable to Hilton Diamond) is better in my opinion:

  • Marriott Silver status – Priority late checkout (when available), dedicated elite reservation line
  • Marriott Gold status – Upgrade to an enhanced room (when available), free enhanced internet
  • Marriott Platinum status – 4 p.m. late checkout (when available), Lounge access, room upgrade, including suites (when available), annual gift after reaching 50 nights (you can choose five suite night awards)
  • Marriott Titanium status – 48-hour room guarantee, United Premier Silver status through RewardsPlus, another annual gift (you can choose another five suite night awards)
  • Marriott Ambassador status – Your24 (Choose your check-in and check-out times to cover any 24-hour period during your stay), Ambassador service (your own personal assistant)

As we covered earlier, the bonus points earnings of Hilton and Marriott elite status are comparable. The big difference is in how easy it is to earn these statuses. Both programs allow you to achieve Silver and Gold status by holding certain credit cards. But Hilton gives you the opportunity to achieve their top-tier Diamond status just by holding the Hilton Honors Aspire.

This is a bit of a double-edged sword. Diamond status comes with some really solid benefits, like a 100% points bonus at Hilton hotels and executive lounge access — but benefits like free space-available room upgrades (up to one-bedroom suite) may be worth less because the status is so easy to attain. You’re likely to find fewer space-available upgrades if everyone and their dachshund possesses Diamond elite status. Many say that Diamond status goes a lot further at Hilton properties outside the U.S., so if you frequently travel internationally, Diamond may be the better option for you.

In related news, you can achieve Marriott Platinum status fairly easily by opening one Marriott personal credit card and one Marriott business card. Both come with 15 elite night credits each year, meaning you can achieve Platinum status for 30 nights less than those without these cards. You’ll normally earn Marriott Platinum status after staying 50 nights, so holding these two cards puts you just 20 nights away.

Which program is better?

IN MY OPINION, the Marriott program is a more worthwhile investment. Hilton undoubtedly beats Marriott in a few ways, but Marriott has more of everything you want in a hotel program — more five-star brands, more locations, more unique experiences. Their elite status comes with more concrete benefits, like suite night awards or 40% off your favorite hotel mattress. If you find yourself staying in hotels often enough to achieve Marriott Platinum status, stick with Marriott.

I say this as well because of the ease in which you can earn Hilton status. Simply by holding one credit card, you drink from the same cup as those who religiously stay with Hilton (60+ nights annually). You can receive suite upgrades when available, free breakfast, late check-out, etc. But expect the treatment to be watered-down, as many other guests likely have the extremely accessible top-tier status.

You’ll also find more versatility when using Marriott points. For example, you can:

Let us know which hotel chain you like more and why! And subscribe to our newsletter for more comparisons like this delivered to your inbox.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Business card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business card, click here.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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