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As we are now about half way through the year, and the short-term future of travel is at least somewhat more predictable than it was, I thought it would be a good time to write a post about my hotel elite status strategy for 2021. Please share your own thoughts/targets/goals/strategies in the comments!
What hotel elite status do I have at the moment?
As is often the case, it’s useful to start a plan by looking at what you’ve got.
Due to myriad covid-related status extensions over the last ~16 months, despite pretty much no stays, I still have at least some sort of elite status with most of the major hotel programmes:
- Hilton Honors: Diamond (originally from a status challenge back in 2018)
- IHG Rewards: Spire (and Intercontinental Ambassador). As I already had Platinum status (from the IHG Premium credit card) when I purchased Ambassador, my status got bumped up to Spire.
- Radisson Rewards: Gold (from Amex Platinum).
- Marriott Bonvoy: Gold (from Amex Platinum).
- Melia Rewards: Gold (from Amex Platinum)
- Shangri-La Golden Circle: Jade (from Amex Platinum)
- World of Hyatt: Nothing
Specific expiry dates and rules vary a bit, but basically all of the above are due to run out by early 2022, and I need to requalify by the end of 2021 to keep them beyond that.
What do I want?
As much as possible to be honest – within reason. I like to have the flexibility to choose whichever hotel chain suits my needs best for a particular trip (whether that’s location, price, promotion, whatever), and still benefit from elite status perks.
On the other hand, with international travel likely to be quite challenging in many places for most of the rest of this year, and various commitments here at home, it’s unlikely that I’ll be spending huge amounts of time abroad.
For UK travel, my hotel stays tend to be relatively short 1-3 nights at a time. On longer stays, I’m normally travelling with family/friends and it makes more sense to rent a house/cottage/apartment.
Therefore, as much as I would love to spend a month at Hyatt’s Andaz in Amsterdam (etc) and earn Globalist status cheaply and easily, right now, realistically I doubt it’s going to happen. I may review this later in the year.
Similarly, I could enrol in a Marriott status challenge and earn Platinum status in 16 nights, but 16 nights is actually a substantial commitment for me this year. Marriott’s UK coverage is more limited than some of the other chains too, so I’d have to make more of an effort/pay more. And I wouldn’t receive elite benefits while qualifying.
The only statuses I personally find useful from the Amex Platinum are Radisson Rewards Gold, and to a lesser extent Marriott Gold (if I didn’t have Hilton Diamond, the Hilton Gold status offered by the card is also great). I’ll probably get a new Amex Platinum sometime before early 2022 anyway, so that takes care of those.
The real question then is how do I requalify for Hilton Diamond and IHG Spire…
(Re) Qualifying for Hilton Diamond status in 2021
I find Hilton Honors Diamond status genuinely very useful. Honors Gold is excellent for a mid-tier status, but I like the better upgrades, and guaranteed lounge access that comes with Diamond.
This year, it’s possible to qualify for Hilton Honors Diamond status either through 30 nights or 15 stays (or earning 60,000 base points from stays).
- A Hilton night is any night you spend at a Hilton property.
- A Hilton stay is any one night, or consecutive number of nights, at the same Hilton property. It doesn’t matter if this is two consecutive nights or two billion – it is one stay. Separate bookings for consecutive nights at the same hotel are still just one stay.
Given that my UK stays tend to be short, I’m going to concentrate on making sure I complete enough stays. I’m currently on zero, so will be starting from scratch. Here’s how I intend to go about it:
Step 1: Free Night Certificate
I’ve got an old DoubleTree ‘Be My Guest’ Certificate that has been extended until the end of the year. I’m sure I’ll find a decent use for that in London or Edinburgh, so that gets me to one stay!
Step 2: Existing Bookings
I’ve got a couple of weekend trips at Hiltons already planned, so in theory that would get me up to three stays – but, we can do better.
Step 3: ‘Hotel Hopping’
With a bit of ‘hotel hopping’ I can significantly increase the number of stays I get from my planned trips. Both trips are for 3 nights, and fortunately there are a number of Hilton Honors hotels at similar (and reasonable) rates nearby to each other in both destinations.
By staying at Hotel A on the first night of each trip, switching to Hotel B on the second night, and then returning to Hotel A on the third night, I can pick up 3 stays per trip, rather than just 1.
With two trips planned, that’s 6 stays, so gets me up to 7 stays in total.
Hotel hopping isn’t for everyone, but most of the time I really don’t mind doing it.
Step 4: Points Stays Count
Stays booked using Hilton Honors Points count towards status. Sadly, the days when you could book a UK Hilton Honors hotel for just 5,000 points per night are long gone. However, it’s still easy to find options for 15,000 points or fewer (if you are flexible).
Given that Hilton is currently running a decent bonus on cash stays, I’ll weigh up whether it makes sense to use points or to pay cash for the trips I end up taking this year that I haven’t booked yet. If you’re not sure whether to use points or pay cash for a particular stay, Craig wrote a useful guide you can take a look at here.
As I’m prepared to hotel hop (so that the number of nights is the same as the number of stays), I only really need to book and stay another 8 nights between now and the end of the year. That basically means 3-4 weekends away, which should be easily achievable, as I’ll be catching up with friends and family around the country as lockdown continues to unwind.
Step 5: ‘Mattress Running’
If I do happen to find myself short of a stay or two come December, securing Diamond status for 2022 is well worth the expense of ‘mattress running’ whatever is needed to get me over the line.
A mattress run is essentially a hotel stay that is completely unnecessary. The most extreme example is checking into a hotel and immediately leaving. Slightly less extreme is booking a local hotel and spending the night, even though you live nearby. I could very happily spend the occasional night at a Hilton Honors hotel in Leeds after some Christmas drinks for example, despite the fact a taxi home would only cost ~£20.
(Re) Qualifying for IHG Rewards Spire status in 2021
You may think this is a bit of an odd status to focus on. IHG Rewards doesn’t offer the sort of guaranteed benefits (breakfast, lounge access, etc) that other hotel programmes offer their top-tier elites. However, I do value things like the status points bonus, and Spire can be more useful in practice than is often assumed.
Really though, it’s the fact that it’s quick and easy to requalify that is the main attraction here. Assuming things still work like they used to, if I renew my Intercontinental Ambassador subscription, my IHG Rewards Spire status will also be renewed.
Intercontinental Ambassador status costs ~£145 ($200), which is a pretty good deal in itself. I’ve outlined before how I intend to seriously maximise that though, and maintaining my Spire status on top is just a bonus. If it doesn’t work out as planned, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.
My elite status strategy this year is pretty simple and not exactly ambitious. On the other hand, it’s realistic in the current circumstances, and should mean I have some solid benefits to enjoy in 2022, when (hopefully!) international travel will be back to something like normal.
Are you planning to take advantage of the reduced status requirements that hotel programmes are offering this year? Let me know your ideas in the comments below!