Have you ever dreamed of staying in a presidential suite? How about having a private concierge at your beck and call? Or access to a members-only lounge with free food and an open bar? Unbeknownst to the average hotel guest, many of the large hotel chains offer these things - FOR FREE - to their best customers as part of their loyalty programs.
All large hotel families have implemented hotel loyalty programs that are designed to reward the guests who spend the most money at their hotels with massive perks. In order to keep these customers coming back, hotels provide complimentary amenities such as:
- Concierge lounges with free meals, soda, wine, beer, and liquor
- Preferred guest floors (usually at or near the top of the hotel)
- Upgrades to deluxe rooms or suites
- Expanded in room offerings such as robes, slippers, shaving kits, free internet, and bottled water
- Concierge service
- Point multipliers towards earning faster free hotel stays
- Special members-only promotions to earn more free nights
- Late checkouts
- Members only receptions with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar
- And more…
The idea behind the programs is that if they provide enough benefits to customers who have remained loyal, these customers are much less likely to spend their money at another hotel chain (and they spend A LOT of money on hotels every year).
However, you don’t have to be a jet-setter or a road warrior to be treated as an elite guest at hotels. Over my years of staying in hotels, I’ve learned a few key tricks that can help anyone unlock the top tier statuses at the big hotel chains and make the most of their money when choosing accommodations.
The Traditional (Expensive) Road to Elite Perks
At first glance, earning status with a hotel can seem daunting. Let’s take the Starwood brand as an example: to reach their Gold status you need 10 stays or 25 nights in a calendar year. 10 stays assuming an average stay time of two nights at an average hotel rate of $159 amounts to $3,180.
If you assume shorter stays and reach gold status using the 25 nights milestone, it would cost close to $3,975 – and this is just for the low level status! For Starwood’s Platinum Elite level of status, you need 25 stays or 50 nights. Assuming the same stay length and room rate, it would cost $7,950 to reach 25 stays or 50 nights.
These programs are targeted at frequent business travelers who can expense the cost of hotels to their company. Because of this, these programs are generally out of reach for most travelers. Yet by utilizing the tricks in this post, I have reduced the cost of reaching the elite status levels by 75% or even more, and anyone else can too.
Elite Status for Everyone – the Methods that will Unlock Elite Status
The standard tactic for achieving an elite status quickly and for less money is by hotel hopping – changing hotels each night (while staying within the brand portfolio) during a given stay in one city. For example, if you’re going to Seattle for a five night trip, instead of booking a stay at one hotel for five nights, you would ‘hop’ between hotels each night (example: moving from the Westin to the Sheraton, back and forth over the course of five nights), thus earning five stays instead of one stay – and you’re already halfway to status at most hotel chains.
You CANNOT check in and out of the same hotel day after day – the hotels do not count these as individual stays. But often times, hotels of the same brand are located extremely close to one another (sometimes even within walking distance) making hopping even easier. This may seem like an inconvenience, but when you consider the benefits (especially when additional promotions are concerned), it can definitely be worth it.
It should be noted that hotel hopping is only beneficial at the hotels that count stays (in addition to nights) towards elite status; thus hopping will be of no benefit to those looking to earn elite status with Marriott and IHG. Hotels are counting on most people not wanting to deal with the inconvenience of switching hotels and thus spending much more money to achieve the elite status levels, or being shut out of them entirely.
It isn’t necessarily easy, but by spending 5 minutes packing up each morning you can earn your elite status in 25% the time with 25% of the spend – making an otherwise unattainable status available at a fraction of the time and cost.
LOYALTY PROGRAM CREDIT CARDS
Another way to earn elite status is through the hotel branded credit cards. In addition to a large number of other benefits that these cards offer, they credit you with stays towards your elite status, meaning you don’t have to stay as many times (or sometimes not at all) in order to reach the elite level. The following cards offer elite benefits:
Starwood American Express- The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card gives you credit for five nights or two stays towards elite status each year.
Hilton HHonors American Express- The Hilton HHonors American Express and Signature Visa- cards give the card holders automatic Silver VIP status, while the HHonors Surpass American Express card grants the cardholder automatic Gold VIP status.
Chase Hyatt Visa - The Chase Hyatt Visa grants the card holder automatic Platinum status.
IHG Select Visa - The Intercontinental Priority Club Select Visa grants the card holder automatic Gold status.
Marriott Rewards Visa - The Marriott Rewards Visa credit card grants the card holder 10 nights towards elite status while the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card gives you credit for 15 nights towards elite status each year.
A relatively new benefit of some the loyalty programs is reward stays (purchased using loyalty points) counting towards elite status. That means that if you have earned a free night from nine previous stays, you can use the reward night for a free stay, and that stay will count towards your status. Currently, Hilton and Starwood are the only programs offering this benefit, but it can be an excellent way to push yourself over the final threshold to earn status.
If your’re anticipating a high number of stays during a relatively short time frame, many of the major hotel brands offer ‘challenges’ that offer their top tier statuses for less nights with the caveat being you must complete all the nights or stays within a much shorter time window. Below are the status challenges at each of the major hotel chains:
Starwood - Platinum status with 18 paid nights in a three month period
Hilton - Gold status with 4 paid stays or 9 paid nights in a 90 day period
Hyatt - Diamond status with 12 paid nights in a 60 day period
IHG - No current status challenge, but will match status for members who have elite status at another hotel chain
Marriott - Platinum status with 18 paid nights in a three month period
Which Rewards Program Should I Choose?
These programs are designed to reward loyalty, and to play the game you need to be a loyal customer. That means choosing one of the big brands and sticking with it. Below is a short summary of the major hotel brands and their loyalty programs:
Starwood Preferred Guest - One of the best redemption programs with no blackouts and a variety of ways to use your points. Major brands include Westin, Sheraton, W, Four Points, and St. Regis. Preferred status is available to anyone by registering at their website. Gold status is earned after 10 stays or 25 nights, Platinum status is earned after 25 stays or 50 nights. Starwood is lacking in lower end hotels and small town coverage.
Hilton HHonors - Hilton has the best mid-tier status (Gold VIP) of any of the chains, offering benefits that are generally only available to the top status holders at other chains. However, points are generally worth less than with the other programs. Major brands include Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Embassy Suites, Double Tree, and Waldorf Astoria. Blue status is available to anyone who enrolls at their website, Silver VIP status is earned after four stays or 10 nights, Gold VIP is earned after 16 stays or 36 nights, and Diamond VIP is earned after 28 stays or 60 nights.
Hyatt Gold Passport - Hyatt offers some of the top benefits of any elite program, however, their lower end hotels leave something to be desired. Major brands include Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Hyatt Summerfield Suites, and Hyatt Place. Gold status is available to anyone by registering at their website. Platinum status is earned after five stays or 15 nights, and Diamond status is earned after 25 stays or 50 nights.
IHG Priority Club - IHG offers some of the best promotions in the industry, however their elite status is difficult to earn and does not offer many of the best benefits that the other hotel brands have. Major brands include Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and Candlewood Suites. Club Level is available to anyone who registers at their website. Gold Elite status is earned after 15 nights. Platinum Elite status is earned after 50 nights.
Marriott Rewards- With one of the largest footprints of any of the hotel chains, Marriotts can be found anywhere and everywhere and are a popular choice for this reason. Major brands include Marriott, Residence Inn, Courtyard, JW Marriott, and The Ritz Carlton. Marriott has three status tiers; however, they do not reward based on number of stays. Status is only achieved by total number of nights.
Choose one of these programs and book as many stays as you can with them. Each of these chains has a respectable portfolio of hotels that encompass all price ranges from economy to luxury with locations in cities across the world.
Is it Worth the Hassle?
Many people will shrug these tactics off as too much of a hassle. That’s what the hotel chains want – they purposefully make it difficult for the common traveler to unlock these rewards. At the very least, you can register for the free levels of the elite programs (Starwood Preferred, Hyatt Gold, Hilton Blue, IHG Club) and start recognizing some benefits that most travelers miss out on.
But with a little effort and planning, almost anyone who’s traveling can earn the elite benefits, so start working towards them today and take advantage of the perks!