It’s no secret that the SPG-Marriott-Ritz-Carlton merger has had its issues. Between the massive data breach, the myriad of IT mishaps regarding elite status and the news that Marriott may have withheld award booking availability leading up to the Category 8 pricing launch…a lot of longtime Marriott and SPG customers are jumping ship to Hilton or IHG.
Hilton reported a boost in engaged loyalty members after releasing their Q4 earnings. While there wasn’t any confirmation from Hilton that the increase came from Marriott members switching their loyalty, it’s not hard to connect the dots between unhappy Marriott customers and Hilton’s reported bump in engaged users.
I will always be an advocate for playing the field a bit when it comes to loyalty programs. There’s no reason why you should have to stick with just one program, so if customers are simply adding Hilton to their points and miles strategy, I’m all for it. However, I do think there is still a lot to like about Marriott Bonvoy.
Why you shouldn’t say “bon voyage” to your Bonvoy account
There are so many loyalty program options out there, and it can be easy to always be looking for greener pastures. Here are a few reasons why you should keep an active Marriott Bonvoy account.
Marriott Bonvoy has more than 6,700 Bonvoy locations across 130 countries, with potentially more on the horizon. These properties range from budget-friendly to luxury, making it easy to find a hotel no matter where your travels take you. Hilton also has a sizeable portfolio of over 5,600 properties, but it doesn’t match Marriott just yet.
In addition to being larger in size, Marriott also makes it a little easier to plan out award night stays. Hilton currently doesn’t have a published award chart, which makes it difficult to know how many points you’ll need to shell out for certain properties. IHG is planning to implement dynamic pricing in 2019, a customer un-friendly practice that helps maximize profits. While you might be frustrated with the changes happening to Marriott’s award chart, at least they have a chart that they’re sharing with the public.
Personally, I like to sketch out my travel plans at the beginning of each year — just to have a general sense of what my credit card strategy should be and which flight and hotel deals I want to look out for. Knowing how many points I’ll need for a Marriott Bonvoy award night helps me know exactly how many points I need to rack up before a trip. Moreover, Marriott’s award chart helps me determine whether I’ll get more value by booking a hotel or staying at an Airbnb.
Marriott also allows you to transfer points to a wide range of airlines and other travel partners. Top competitors like Hilton and IHG also have transfer partners, but Marriott points are generally worth more. For most of their partners, you can transfer points at a 3:1 ratio. IHG typically transfers points at a 5:1 ratio while Hilton’s rates fluctuate.
Elite status opportunities
The issues many longtime SPG customers have experienced with their elite status transferring to Bonvoy are certainly valid. However, you shouldn’t throw away years of elite status tenure over Marriott’s growing pains.
Hilton requires the same tenure (10 years of top-tier status) to qualify for Lifetime Diamond status. If you’re close to hitting lifetime status with Marriott, it doesn’t make sense to throw away that tenure — at least not yet. Plus, as TPG’s Nick Ewen points out, Marriott’s elite status is more exclusive.
“I’d be willing to bet a sizeable chunk of money that there are fewer Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elites than Hilton Honors Gold members,” Ewen writes in reference to the fact that you can basically buy elite status with a Hilton credit card. “That alone is reason enough to focus on Marriott.”
Marriott Bonvoy credit cards
Marriott offers a solid selection of co-branded credit cards compared to Hilton or IHG. Whether you’re looking for a more beginner card, a luxury card or a business card, there is a solid co-branded option in the Marriott credit card lineup. While Hilton offers a solid lineup, too, Marriott points are worth more according to expert valuations.
You can also transfer points to Marriott from Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, which makes them great supplemental cards to general travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express®.
Bottom line: Keep your options open
This merger was a massive undertaking by Marriott. It’s understandable to be unhappy with some of the changes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to switch your loyalty. For one, different doesn’t necessarily mean better. More importantly, keeping points with multiple loyalty programs is the best strategy for most frequent travelers.
Whether you’re new to the travel game or a seasoned veteran, there’s value in playing the field rather than choosing one hotel loyalty program. You can find great deals throughout the year on travel if you have a little flexibility. The more diversified your points portfolio, the more likely you’ll be able to take advantage of those opportunities.
Marriott still offers a lot of value to customers, whether you stay with them regularly or just every once and a while. It’s tempting to jump ship when unwelcome changes and frustrations arise, but the best thing to do is keep your options open. Definitely consider signing up for other loyalty programs, but I wouldn’t completely abandon Marriott Bonvoy just yet.