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A few days ago, I attempted to rank a number of hotel chains based on the value of points, cashback, etc. earned for hotel stays. But such considerations are often secondary to the benefits associated with elite status. Of course I’m not referring to a simple Silver status that gets you close to nothing, but relevant levels of status offering benefits such as free breakfast, room upgrades, late check-out, etc. And even though “elite status” is often associated with frequent business travel, this is not always the case. So, how do the major hotel chains stack up?
Best Guaranteed Benefits
Being a Diamond / Platinum / whatever VIP is of little use if your chosen hotel has decided to be stingy to elite guests. Your primary concern might be those elite status benefits that are absolutely guaranteed.
- World of Hyatt (Globalist). Free breakfast at all brands. Guaranteed lounge access (where applicable) 4 p.m. late checkout is never an issue. Globalists receive 4 suite upgrade certificates that confirm the upgrade at the time of booking.
- Hilton Honors (Gold and Diamond). Free breakfast at all brands, after Waldorf Astoria finally joined in last year. Guaranteed lounge access for Diamonds. Fifth night free on award stays.
- Intercontinental Ambassador. Guaranteed one-category room upgrade. 4pm late check-out. Click here for details of recent changes to Ambassador.
- Marriott Rewards (Platinum and Platinum Premier). 5 or 10 Suite Night Awards, confirmed five days in advance of hotel arrival. Free breakfast, late check-out and lounge access all subject to quirks and opt-outs. (click here for more details)
- Radisson Rewards (Platinum). Free breakfast.
- Le Club Accor (Platinum). Lounge access, where available.
- IHG Rewards Club (Platinum and Spire). Zilch. Nothing. Nada. Just bonus points…
Best “Soft” Benefits
Part of the attraction of obtaining elite status is the unquantifiable, “make me feel special” VIP treatment that elites can often receive.
- World of Hyatt (Globalist). Although most benefits are already guaranteed, most Hyatt hotels are good at upgrading Globalists to suites or other preferred hotel rooms. Globalists are assigned a Concierge – some (such as mine) are excellent at arranging special extras, sorting out problems, etc.
- Marriott Rewards (Platinum and Platinum Premier). Elites are promised upgrades to the best available room, including suites.
- IHG Rewards Club (Platinum and Spire). Even though nothing is guaranteed, IHG elites do receive sufficient room upgrades, late check-outs, etc. to deem the status worthwhile.
- Hilton Honors (Gold and Diamond). Late check-outs are often subject to negotiation. Outside of North America, room upgrades are fairly common. In North America, “everybody is elite, so nobody is”. Gold members are often upgraded to an Executive floor (with lounge access) but I’ve found this to be unreliable.
Ease of Obtaining Status (Short-cuts)
There is an obvious trade-off between the ease of reaching a relevant level of elite status (meaning that there are more elites competing for a limited number of upgradable rooms) and the benefits associated with such status, but if you’re looking for a quicker route to elite status, here are your options…
- Hilton Honors. InsideFlyer UK frequently writes about Gold fast-tracks (click here for the current version) and the Gold / Diamond status challenge. Gold usually requires 4 stays and Diamond requires 8 stays, in both cases within a 90-day period. Hilton seems to be relaxed about allowing repeated fast-tracks.
- IHG Rewards Club. Platinum status can be achieved via the IHG credit card (UK) or by signing up for Ambassador. You can also reach Spire status via credit card spend or special “bonus point” hotel rates. Some of the other loopholes (Virgin Atlantic conversions, E-Rewards, etc.) appear to have been closed.
- Marriott Rewards. Although it seems to come and go, it is sometimes possible to apply for a Platinum fast-track / challenge. This is only available once per member’s lifetime.
- Radisson Rewards. Will status match to Gold status, however the benefits of Gold are unimpressive.
- Le Club Accor appears to have closed all of the status matches and other loopholes that were used to travel hack Platinum status.
- World of Hyatt does not status match any more, although US credit card holders occasionally are offered a fast track process.
You can also receive status at five different chains from the American Express Platinum charge card (£450 annual fee), but, with the disappearance of Starwood Preferred Guest, the only truly valuable status is Hilton Gold, which has easier alternative routes…
Obtaining Status the Hard Way
Hotel chains occasionally offer fast tracks and status matches / challenges in order to attract new customers, some of whom will seek to renew their status using the standard qualification criteria, which are listed below. Award stays now count for status purposes at all of these hotel chains.
Hilton Honors – 20 stays for Gold. 30 stays for Diamond. A “stay” is one or more consecutive nights at the same hotel. You can also qualify for status with nights – 40 are required for Gold and 60 for Diamond.
IHG Rewards Club – 40 nights for Platinum. 75 nights for Spire. Alternatively you can earn Platinum by earning 40,000 base points and Spire with 75,000 base points.
Le Club Accor – 60 nights for Platinum.
Marriott Rewards – 50 nights for Platinum. 75 nights for Platinum Premier.
Radisson Rewards – 30 stays or 60 nights for Platinum status.
World of Hyatt – 60 nights for Globalist status.
Receiving a 25% rebate from a combination of promotions, cashback and standard earning is good. Being upgraded to a suite and enjoying free meals is even better!
Again, however, there is a trade-off between:
- the relative ease of obtaining status
- the benefits associated with that status
Perhaps the best news is that you can probably find something that works for you, even though no one programme is perfect. Which hotel chain do you prefer?