Hilton or Starwood? Not even a close call

How do you decide which hotel to choose in the city you are visiting if you want to redeem your points for a free night? I had to make that decision this month, and unlike in many similar situations, it wasn’t even a close call.

I usually start with the chains where I have top elite status — Hilton HHonors and Starwood. Hilton’s Diamond benefits are inferior to Starwood’s Platinum perks — Hilton doesn’t give you suite upgrades and free Internet. The only advantage with Hilton is that award stays count toward elite status, which is rather significant in my book.

However, in January, Hilton devalued its points by raising both the categories of many hotels and the number of points needed for a free night in some categories. Even though the affected properties weren’t as many as the unaffected ones, the average traveler wouldn’t know that, because those that remained unchanged are in places few people visit. I have the full list, but have yet to come across a hotel that stayed the same while making reservations.

Even before the devaluation, I thought all Hilton properties in Anchorage, AK, were a bit overrated, but I had stayed at three of them on points nevertheless. When I looked at the new categories last month, I was horrified — not only was the Hilton now Category 6 (previously the highest until a seventh tier was created this year), but the Hampton Inn, the lowest-end brand in the chain, was Category 5, requiring 35,000 points for one night.

By contrast, the only Starwood property in Anchorage, the Sheraton, is Category 3, which means only 7,000 points per night. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the popular cash-and-points option.

So let’s compare the two full-service hotels — the Hilton and the Sheraton. At the first — Category 6 out of seven — I need 40,000 points out of a maximum of 50,000 for the highest category. At the second — Category 3 out of seven — I need 7,000 points out of maximum 35,000. Naturally, I chose the Sheraton.

There was another factor in my decision. I needed a conference room for my “On the Fly” Seminar, so I called and left messages for the sales managers at the Sheraton and four of the Hilton properties — the Embassy Suites, the Hilton Garden Inn, the Homewood Suites and the Hampton Inn. Of the last four, only the Embassy Suites — one of the newest and nicest hotels in town — bothered to call me back, but their price was too high. The Sheraton offered me a much better rate.

So I was happy with the Sheraton. Although it’s not a very attractive building from outside, it underwent a major renovation recently and is quite decent inside. I got a suite, lounge access, free Internet and free breakfast. My only cash expense was on the conference room.

What would you have done?

2 thoughts on “Hilton or Starwood? Not even a close call

  • Very good points, Gary, and I agree with you. I had many more Starwood points, and I’m trying to use what’s left of my Hilton points for point-stretcher awards as much as possible — in fact, I have three of those booked at the moment. There is no question about the value of Starwood points, which is why the Starwood AmEx is my preferred credit card.

  • You decided to have your event at the Sheraton, it was certainly worth staying there and they treated you well. That’s great, and the right choice under the circumstances.

    But let’s back up a minute. Let’s assume you weren’t holding an event, influenced by price on the cost of the meeting space.

    The high cost in Hilton points compared to the cost of the Sheraton property could just as easily be demonstrating how valuable Starwood points are — and you chose to spend your more valuable currency.

    If we pretend for a minute that this Sheraton property didn’t have a lounge, and of course the suite upgrade was hardly guaranteed, and you weren’t holding a meeting at a particular property then I might have made a different choice…

    Some change of an upgrade at the Sheraton, maybe maybe not, no lounge so no breakfast, and the points are more valuable I might have conserved them. Use less valuable points for a Hotel where you’re guaranteed the breakfast at least maybe.

    Certainly choose to EARN Starwood points rather than Hilton points, but which to spend? Unclear, and depends on the alternate uses for the points that you’ve got. If you’re saving for a multi-night discounted award at a higher end property you might burn the Hilton points. But otherwise it’s not 100% obvious.

    Not that I disagree with you, and you clearly (1) made the right choice given your specific need for conference space and (2) won out with a suite in addition to this hotel having a lounge.

    But it’s not always so clear cut.

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