As some of you may be aware I am planning a family trip to Canada and USA later this year, on what may well be our last family holiday as my eldest begins University in September and is unlikely to want to holiday with the oldies, or his lame brother and sister. And in order to fund the trip I'm burning points. I am however Plat at both Marriott and IHG, and as I planned my spend I asked myself, how do these points issued by the major hotel chains really compare? What follows is my answer.
Firstly, let's take a theoretical redemption night at Heathrow (LHR) in mid July. At the Hilton (HH) its 60,000 points, the Crowne Plaza (IHG) is 30,000, the Marriott (MR) is 35,000 and the Sheraton (SPG) is 10,000. So the Sheraton is the obvious redemption here, yes? After all it's 15% of the cost of the Hilton and half the cost of the other two. Well actually, no. Because these points are effectively currencies with differing earn rates we need to find out what it takes to earn those points, and then by converting each currency to a common unit based upon earn rates we can see the true comparative cost of the redemption.
So to enable easy comparisons between prices I'm going to convert them all to a common currency and to do that I need to work out how many points each $ of spending makes with each group.
So how does earning work? Well, they're all different.
Hilton awards 10 points per $ plus 50% top tier (diamond) bonus plus 5 points per $ when choosing to earn points&points double dip.
IHG likewise awards 10 points per $ spent but following changes the top elite with 75 nights pa now picks up a very meaty 100% bonus.
Marriott completes the 10 per $ set with 50% bonus for Plats.
SPG stands alone awarding just 2 points per $ spent, but like IHG tops up its 75-night elites with a 100% bonus.
But that's only the start. All the schemes have bonus offers during the year which can add substantially to the points total. Most generous (again) is Hilton, with opportunities to double and triple the base points during certain times of the year. IHGs special offers can be fantastic, but also unobtainable at times. Compete their combo offers and you can earn 100,000 points twice a year. Fail, and the earnings don't even make 20,000. Mind you, with IHG there are other miscellaneous opportunities over the year. Marriotts megabonus may be simple and repetitive but awarding up to 60k bonus points 3 times each year really adds to the totals. Like Hilton, SPG has double and tripling opportunities and can significantly add to the numbers of points awarded. Overall I'm going to take the view that offers add 10 points per $ to Hilton, 7 points to IHG and Marriott and 2 extra to Starwood. Finally there's arrival bonuses. Hilton awards 1000 points, IHG, Marriott and Starwood 500. I'm using my average as a 1.5 night $150/night FS stay adding, after rounding 4 points per $ to Hilton and 2 points per $ to the other 3.
So taking into account base points, top-elite bonuses, arrival points, promos and double dipping each scheme pays out the following points per $ spent:
Hilton Honors (HH) 34per$
IHG Rewards (IHG) 29per$
Marriott Rewards (MR) 24per$
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) 8per$
Now you do get so many more HH points per $ spent at Hilton's, but their redemption table is the most expensive costing up to 95,000 points per night. IHGs top rate is 50,000, MR is 45,000 and SPG is 35,000, but at SPG your earning rate is only 25% of Hilton's. In other words, each chain awards differing numbers of points per $ spent and then charges different amounts to redeem. SPG should always charge the least, HH the most, but how to accurately compare redemptions? Well, simply convert them like currencies based on earnings. So:
$1 spent = 34HH=29IHG=24MR=8SPG
So now we've fixed the earn rate, we now need to convert all redemptions to a common currency and since I'm a Marriott man it'll be MR points. So we can see that what you spend with Marriott to get 1MR point would get you 1.5HH, 1.2IHG & 0.3SPG
So in order to discern real value comparisons I'm going to adopt the MR point as the common currency and when looking at redemption costs convert them to the currency that I and fellow MRInsiders understand best, Marriott Reward points. On this basis my theoretical night in LHR turns up costing:
1st Crowne Plaza 30,000 IHG......@1.2:1= 25,000
2nd Sheraton 10,000 SPG...........@0.3:1= 30,000
3rd Marriott 35,000 MR..................@1:1 = 35,000
4th Hilton 60,000 HH....................@1.5:1= 40,000
So on this basis, if I had top tier in all 4 chains, and the points in all 4 then the best value redemption would be the Crowne Plaza followed by the Sheraton, then Marriott with Hilton bringing up the rear.
Next, in order to make sure that redemptions are valid we need to compare across a series of hotels in different areas. For a North American comparison my Roadtrip is ideal, taking into account big cities and and small towns alike, resulting in the following outcomes:
Here I'm going to list each hotel in order of redemption cost in Marriott Reward points, make my personal pick and explain my personal view since not all hotels are equal here. For instance whilst I view HIX and FFI as equals, a standard Hilton isn't in my view the equal of the DC Mayflower. Such considerations may influence the final pick. Nonetheless, to emphasise, all points quoted are CONVERTED to MR and in strict cost order.
So, to our first destination:
1 room in Oakville for 4 nights
1st MR Fairfield Inn 40,000 - Pick
2nd IHG Holiday Inn 50,000
3rd HH Hampton 80,000
4th SPG 4-Points 85,000
This is a stay near the in-laws and really is a pure cost play. I rate MR as first, it's cheaprr on points next to the rest, IHG 2nd, cheap points and a good hotel, Hampton 3rd, its a lot of points but at least its local and SPG trails the rest.
Next, 2 nights in Ottawa, where, strangely enough, HH does not have a central presence, so I have to buy this stay at Hilton.
3 rooms in Ottawa for 2 nights
1st MR Marriott 120,000 - Pick
2nd IHG Indigo 150,000
3rd SPG Sheraton 181,000
4th HH None, pay $800 for online Arc Hotel
Again, Marriott is the cheapest redemption here and it's a good hotel so I rate it first, IHG I'm rating 2nd, Indigo hotels are very nice, SPG comes 3rd, even costlier than IHG and HH brings up the rear as it has no central Ottawa presence, so I have to spend real cash.
2 rooms NYC Times Sq for 3 nights
1st IHG Intercontinental Times Sq 250,000
2nd MR Marriott Marquis Times Sq 270,000 - Pick
3rd HH Hilton Times Sq 280,000
4th SPG Sheraton Times Sq 363,000
Although there's not much difference in point cost between HH, IHG and Marriott here the Marriott takes this as although it's not quite cheapest on points it does sleep 3 to a room and is the seminal hotel on Times Square. IHG makes 2nd as the IC is both cheaper and better than both the HH and SPG offering. HH makes 3rd as its far cheaper than the expensive SPG option.
3 rooms DC for 2 nights
1st IHG Hamilton Crowne Plaza 175,000 - Pick
2nd MR Renaissance Mayflower 210,000
3rd SPG Westin 218,000
4th HH Hilton 240,000
The Hamilton is the cheapest here and hence takes it with the historic Mayflower leading the following pack, which along with the Westin far outclasses the Hilton taking last place on both hotel quality and cost.
3 rooms for 1 night stop-off
1st MR DuBois FFI 45,000 - Pick
2nd IHG Clearfield HI Express 50,000
3rd HH Clearfield Hampton 60,000
4th SPG Harrisburg Sheraton 64,000
As this is a stop off its a pure point play, Marriott makes first as its cheapest, IHG 2nd, HH 3rd and the far more inconvenient SPG (so inconvenient it requires a compete reroute to do it) comes last.
Fallsview suite for 6 in Niagara for 2 nights
1st HH Hilton 107,000 - Pick
2nd MR Marriott.. No suite redemption $800
3rd SPG Sheraton No suite redemption $800
4th IHG CPlaza... No suite redemption $800
Obviously as Hilton is the only redemption option here it takes first place. Marriott takes second as Plats get lounge access and breakfast, and its better location nudges out the Sheraton which takes 3rd leaving the no-free-breakfast Crowne Plaza trailing in last.
Finally, 4 rooms in Oakville for 2 nights, then 3 for 3 nights and then 1 for 5 more nights.
1st MR Fairfield Inn 180,000 - Pick
2nd IHG Holiday Inn 275,000
3rd HH Hampton 360,000
4th SPG 4-Points 382,000
This again comes down to points, MR gets first place as its so much cheaper, IHG 2nd as the Holiday Inn is very good and cheaper than 3rd placed Hilton. Again the extra points and lengthy drive to get to SPG brings it in last place.
A point may well be a point, but each hotel scheme mints points of different worth that accumulate at different rates and redeem at different values. However rebalancing points to earnings irons out this built-in opacity and MR wins out as cheapest with 4 out of the 8 stays (including the theoretical Heathrow night). IHG is runner up with 3 and HH avoids being bottom but only because none of the others allow suite redemptions, otherwise HH is very uncompetitive here, though not quite as poor as SPG which is consistently rooted to the bottom half throughout the entire roadtrip with its best value performance at Heathrow, though even then it can't make top!