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One of Inside Flyer’s newest contributors, Dr. Redeye, got in touch with me to propose a challenge. He believes that elite status is unimportant, whilst I swear by it! So we agreed to do a series of competing posts, laying out our different perspectives. I’ll start out by discussing hotel chain elite status.
First of all, I recognise that each individual’s experience and perspective is going to be different. A business traveler whose company pays for everything is going to have a different perspective from somebody who rarely travels for business but does a few weekend getaways in Europe and a major holiday or two each year. I am surely a freakish outlier, with 100-200 nights per year in hotels, all paid for by myself (with help from judicious use of hotel loyalty programme promotions). But that also means that I can speak with a certain amount of authority about hotel chain elite status, since I’ve tried quite a few!
Secondly, when I say “elite status”, I mean a level of status / hotel chain combination where you can actually notice a difference during your stay, either because of published benefits that are actually delivered, or special treatment that sometimes goes above and beyond. So, this immediately discards IHG Spire/Platinum, Club Carlson Gold, Choice Privileges, Best Western, etc. where I’ve frequently been cheerfully informed of an “upgrade”, only to realise that being on an “executive floor” doesn’t mean I’m allowed to use the “executive lounge” and that my room is identical to the standard room I had the week before…
So, which hotel chains offer a level of elite status that is “worthwhile”? In my opinion these are:
- Club Carlson – Concierge
- Hilton Honors – Gold and Diamond
- Le Club Accor – Platinum
- Marriott Rewards – Gold and Platinum
- Starwood Preferred Guest – Platinum
- World of Hyatt – Globalist
So, now that I’ve tipped the scales and excluded hotel chains where elite status offers little more than a shiny plastic card, why do I value elite status so highly?
Early Check-in / Late Check-out
How many times have you arrived to your hotel before noon and been told “check-in time is 3 p.m. sir”? But when you reply “but I am a Platinum/Diamond member” a room is magically made available… Sometimes you are even offered a regular room to chill out in before your upgraded room is ready.
What about when you have an overnight flight departing in the evening and you’d like a late check-out? Not a problem with elite status from hotel chains that guarantee a 4 p.m. late check-out. No status? You’re paying a fee or even for the full extra night.
And remember that scene from “Up in the Air” where George Clooney skips straight to the elite check-in queue, annoying a lady who had been waiting for ages in the regular queue? Yep, that’s me too…
I know that certain hotel chains offer free breakfast to all guests and Tom recently wrote glowingly about Hampton Inns. In my experience, the quality of such a free breakfast is poor; the plastic plates / cutlery at your typical Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn just drive me crazy (and end up breaking instead of cutting anything…).I’d rather stay at a higher quality hotel where I can have a proper sit-down breakfast from a decent buffet.
Some people are busy and skip breakfast. Other people suggest that you can grab a coffee and muffin at Starbucks – or pop into a Tesco Express for some fruit. But sometimes you are staying at a holiday resort with few alternative options nearby. Or like me you might really enjoy just throwing some clothes on, in order to eat BF (and get some coffee in you!) before showering and properly starting your day. Or you are travelling with the family, and herding those cats to an alternative breakfast venue is a real struggle… If your elite status provides free breakfast as a benefit, this is going to be a real and substantial savings.
And, without overly fetishising, I have had some truly divine hotel breakfasts thanks to my elite status. Who doesn’t love a “full English” or top-notch Eggs Benedict from time to time? (apart from your better half nagging you about your cholesterol levels) But who wants to pay £20-30+ per person for the privilege…
Many chains promise room upgrades to elites, but either due to hotel stinginess or an overload of elite status members fails to deliver much of a noticeable upgrade. (I’m looking at you, Hilton Honors and IHG Rewards Club!)
No matter the chain, a useful piece of advice is to “book the room you really need/want” instead of playing the upgrade lottery. That might be fine when you can stretch your budget for a one-week holiday; not so straightforward when you’re paying for dozens of hotel nights in a year. Instead, thanks to Hyatt and SPG, I can often confirm my suite upgrade in advance, and the rest of the time (especially in Asia and Continental Europe) I can feel quite confident that most of the time I will receive one of the best non-suite rooms available.
I’ve frequently confirmed complimentary upgrades to suites retailing for £500-1,000+ per night. Would I ever pay that? No, but I definitely place a high value on that upgrade and repay both the specific hotel and the chain with my loyalty whenever I can…
Executive Lounge Access
One of the elements of elite status that I value mostly highly is a good executive lounge. Want to avoid the masses eating breakfast in the main restaurant… head to the lounge. Fancy a Coke or a coffee during the day… head to the lounge. Need to meet a work colleague… head to the lounge. Hate being “that poor guy” eating dinner alone in the corner of some restaurant… head to the lounge. Fancy a G&T during happy hour… head to the lounge.
Not all executive lounges are great… some are truly appalling. And if I’m in Japan I assure you that I’m enjoying a good sushi or teppanyaki restaurant rather than eating in a hotel lounge. But a hotel with a proper lounge is essentially offering you an all-inclusive package, without the all-inclusive price tag or the drunks taking advantage of the open bar.
And, if we’re being honest, how many times have you gone out for dinner in Europe and ended up wasting 40-50 euros on a rubbish meal in a touristy restaurant? You might have had a decent meal in the lounge, complete with wine and dessert…
Of course, you can always just book a room category that comes with lounge access, but that can easily cost you an extra £30-40 per night, if you’re lucky…
This is almost an afterthought, since promotions drive my travel hacking of hotel stays a whole lot more than the extra points I get due to elite status. But those bonus points still add up, and we can estimate their value by looking at my valuation chart.
Hyatt Globalist gets me an extra 1.5 points per dollar spent. That’s about a 2.5% rebate/bonus.
SPG Platinum gets me an extra 1 point per dollar spent. That’s also about a 2.5% rebate/bonus.
Hilton Honors Diamond gets an extra 5 points per dollar spent. In a weird coincidence, that’s also about a 2.5% rebate/bonus. The current promotion also offers 10 bonus points to Diamond members, so there’s another 5% on top.
Marriott Rewards Platinums earn an extra 5 points per dollar at most full-service brands. This works out to a rebate/bonus of approximately 3.5%.
I’ll throw some love to IHG Spire, since the main elite benefit is the 100% bonus points you will earn. This works out to a rebate/bonus of approximately 5%. You will also receive 25,000 points for qualifying for Spire, which is worth roughly £100-125.
You might not ultimately be willing to pay for any extra little perks. But it’s always nice to have free high-speed Internet when wanting to watch something on Netflix. Hotel management might have left some fruit, water, or even a bottle of wine for you in your room. I’ve stayed at resorts where certain pools were “elite members only”. These little things might make all of the difference between a mediocre hotel stay and a great one.
Elite status isn’t for everybody and Dr. Redeye will surely try to convince you not to bother. But if you like getting valuable things for free, can manage to reach elite status without doing silly things, and require enough hotel nights each year to actually take advantage of your elite status, then I definitely recommend that you should pick a hotel chain or two and aim for the highest level of elite status on offer. The benefits should be worth it!
And I couldn’t possibly fail to provide a link to the funniest ever Youtube video about Diamond guests and their giraffes…