Earning points and participating in hotel frequent guest programs is just as important as collecting miles for flights. Chances are if you frequent fly around the world, you also stay in hotels. While some prefer to stick with non-chain hotels, the fact is that lots of people do prefer chains due to their familiarity and consistency – not to mention that you’ll receive elite benefits such as free upgrades and breakfast when you reach a certain level of hotel elite status.
The most popular hotel chains include Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, Radisson, Choice, and others. Those who have participated in the miles and points hobby long enough know that Hyatt usually offers the best elite recognition and benefits, with Marriott following. Hilton is okay but doesn’t even guarantee late check-out or upgrades for elite members, making benefits weak.
Hotel Elite Status Levels
Every hotel chain has their own loyalty program – you can even transfer in points to some of these hotel programs from popular flexible and transferable bank points programs. You generally earn points for hotel stays based on how much money you spend on a hotel night and then you’ll receive bonuses for being an elite member.
Every hotel chain’s frequent guest program publishes their own benefits and elite levels, however generally speaking, there are around 3-5 tier levels.
The starting entry level membership which has no elite status does offer some benefits such as preferred pricing and room availability – therefore even if you aren’t an elite member, just by having membership you’re already getting some benefits.
Then you have elite status which is often a few tier levels, like Silver, Gold, Platinum, etc. – the higher your status is, the more benefits you are entitled to. Every year, you have to re-qualify for elite status by staying a certain number of nights or stays.
Hotel Elite Status Benefits
The higher your hotel elite level is, the more benefits you can experience. Do note that hotels love to play games with elite members and sometimes you have to fight for your entitled benefits, such as upgrades. This depends generally where in the world you are, for example, in Asia, service is almost always amazing and above and beyond.
The lowest/entry-level elite status (like Silver, for example) will offer you a few benefits such as a preferred room upgrade, more points earned, and perhaps late check-out.
Once you reach the mid-to-high elite levels, you can generally expect a number of benefits, which can include the following – do note that every hotel chain publishes their own benefits so these do differ from chain to chain.
- early check-in: if a room is available prior to the published check-in time you will usually get it ahead of other guests
- room upgrade: up to standard suites
- free and fast WiFi
- complimentary breakfast for you and one guest
- late check-out: usually 4PM
- club access
- more points earned per stay
- elite welcome gift
- dedicated staff who can help the most loyal members
- the highest elite members usually have a booking guarantee so they can pay a premium to get a room even if the hotel is sold out
Again, each hotel chain publishes their own benefits so these will differ slightly. For example, Hyatt and Marriott guarantee their mid-top tier members late check-out at 4PM whereas Hilton doesn’t guarantee late check-out.
Elite status recognition and benefits theoretically should apply in every hotel from that chain, however hotels love to play games with loyal members. The biggest issue is usually with room upgrades – most of the time you can check what rooms are available for your night and see if suites are available. If you’re an elite member who is entitled to a suite upgrade, you can check if one is available and then you’ll know if the hotel will upgrade you or not at check-in. Sometimes they’ll tell you that they’re sold out or a suite is not available at which point you can show them the chain’s website and go back and forth. Sometimes the availability online isn’t accurate entirely, so usually I inquire about a suite if I’m not upgraded and leave it there instead of pushing it further (unless the games they’re playing with upgrades are really obvious).
The quality of benefits you receive depends on what hotel you’re staying at and in what part of the world. For example, in Asia, the quality is usually amazing – from club access to breakfast to room upgrades, they really treat members well. Meanwhile in North America, you’ll find that breakfast and club offerings are really basic and nothing amazing – same with hotel and room quality, in some cases.
All in All
Participating in hotel loyalty programs is just as important as collecting miles for flights. There’s never a cost to join, so you should always credit your hotel stays where possible. While we understand some people prefer non-chain hotels, business travelers often do prefer chains due to the familiarity and benefits offered.
If you have a premium travel rewards credit card, some of these offer entry-level hotel elite status just for having the card, you don’t have to qualify with any nights or stays. This is a benefit to those who do not frequently stay at chains as then they’re able to still take advantage of some of the benefits without having to qualify every year. Selecting a hotel chain for loyalty may not be easy – it all depends on where you travel, what benefits matter most to you, and how much value you’ll be able to extract from the program for your stays. You can always be loyal to more than one chain and adjust your participation as your travels change.