If you are primarily focused on hacking leisure travel, "choosing" between Hilton and Hyatt doesn't make much sense: earn Hilton Honors points with manufactured spend at grocery stores with an American Express Surpass/Ascend card, and earn bonus transferrable Ultimate Rewards points on office supply spend with a Chase Ink Plus or unbonused spend with a Freedom Unlimited. Then you can simply choose the right currency to redeem for each stay, and over time adjust each currency's earning rate accordingly.
Reader AG wrote me the other day to ask a different question: for a frequent business traveler with fully reimbursed hotel stays, "Which program do you believe offers the best value for loyalty when dealing with reimbursed business travel?"
Earning and Redeeming
The easiest way to compare the value of two programs for reimbursed travel is the amount of spending required in order to earn a free night. Since AG has enough paid travel to reach top-tier status in the program of his choosing, this simple result is easy to calculate and present side-by-side:
Note that this chart reflects the changes coming to Hilton point earning in April, 2018.
The chart shows is that you can pretty closely map the amount spent on room rates and charges at properties in each chain with the number of free nights you'll earn at them.
The mapping isn't perfect, and if you were convinced that, for example, 95,000-point Hilton properties are not, in fact, the equivalent of 30,000-point Hyatt properties but instead mere 20,000-point properties, then you might conclude that Hilton in fact requires 50% more spend for an equivalent night. That's not a conclusion that's going to fall out of the math, but rather from your own experience and preferences.
An additional consideration is what bonus thresholds will be triggered by a frequent paid traveler. Both Hilton and Hyatt offer bonuses after staying a certain number of nights. What I've done in this chart is convert those bonuses into an equivalent amount of spend:
I've converted the Hyatt Category 1-4 and Category 1-7 awards into the equivalent number of points if the certificates are redeemed at the highest tier property possible (adjust for your own redemption preferences).
If you have 100 paid nights planned and intend to spend an identical amount of money at either Hilton or Hyatt, this chart shows that Hyatt essentially "tops up" your actual spend with an additional $13,077 of what you might call "synthetic" spend, almost enough for 3 free nights at top-tier properties (although $2,308 of that synthetic spend can only be redeemed at Category 1-4 properties!). Hilton adds just $5,000 in spend-equivalence, barely enough for a single top-tier night.
Note that this discussion has completely ignored the points earned by the credit card you choose to use to pay for your stay. Might the bonus points earned by using a chain's co-branded credit card change the calculation?
Going from earning 20 Hilton Honors points per dollar to 32 points per dollar (actually slightly more since the Ascend's bonus points are earned on taxes in addition to room rates and charges) reduces the amount of spend required by 37.5%, while charging Hyatt room rates to a Chase Hyatt credit card reduces the amount of spend required by just 31.6%. Since Hyatt stays required somewhat less spend than Hilton stays to begin with, the advantage of the Ascend card over the Hyatt credit card has the effect of narrowing or eliminating that advantage, depending on the category of your desired redemption.
Looking at these results, it seems clear to me that holding all else constant, Hyatt offers frequent reimbursed business travelers superior value to Hilton, especially when they intend to redeem their points at properties in the top half of each chain's redemption chart. Points earned on purchases at each chain are roughly equivalent, while Hyatt offers considerably more lucrative bonuses to very frequent travelers.
This conclusion should naturally be adjusted according to your own situation:
- will Hyatt's smaller footprint keep you from booking all your reimbursed stays with them, forcing you to split your paid nights between two or more chains?
- will Hyatt's smaller footprint keep you from redeeming your points, or force you to settle for less desirable destinations or properties?
- have you checked for award availability at the properties and destinations you're interested in? Does one or the other chain tend to have more or less availability at the properties and during the seasons you're interested in?
No single hotel chain, or airline, or rental car company, or cruise line works for everybody. And thank God! If it did it would be overrun and the value would be killed immediately. A hard look at the numbers can make it easier to make an informed decision, but it can't make the right decision for you.