I recently wrote a post comparing the major hotel loyalty programs, sharing what I view as the pros and cons of each. There are various factors to consider, ranging from a hotel group’s global footprint, to elite recognition, to the points earning structure.
For many people, the single most valuable perk of hotel elite status is upgrades to suites. In this post I wanted to compare the suite upgrade policies of the “big four” hotel loyalty programs, to determine which is best.
Comparing hotel loyalty program suite upgrade policies
Who doesn’t love a suite upgrade? I mean, it might not be necessary on a one night stay at an airport hotel when you’re traveling alone, but it sure comes in handy when you’re traveling with family on a special vacation.
Fortunately hotel loyalty programs may offer suite upgrades to their most loyal members. In this post I wanted to compare the suite upgrade policies of the four all-around most lucrative hotel loyalty programs — Hilton Honors, IHG One Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, and World of Hyatt.
Let’s look at the complimentary upgrade policies of each program, and then we’ll also look at opportunities available through each program for securing suite upgrades in advance.
Below is my ranking of hotel loyalty program suite upgrade benefits, starting with the best.
World of Hyatt
World of Hyatt Globalist status sets the standard for suite upgrade policies, both when it comes to space available upgrades, as well as the ability to confirm upgrades in advance.
Hyatt Globalist members receive unlimited space available suite upgrades at check-in, subject to availability. If a standard suite is available, you should receive an upgrade to this as a Globalist member.
Furthermore, with the World of Hyatt Milestone Rewards program, Globalist members who rack up 60 elite nights in a year earn four confirmed suite upgrade awards, each of which can be used to confirm an upgrade to a standard suite at the time of booking for up to seven nights, with no capacity controls — as long as a standard suite is available for sale, you can confirm it.
You can earn further suite upgrade awards for over qualifying for status (you can choose a suite upgrade award at 70, 80, 90, or 100 elite nights), or if you’re a lifetime Globalist member. Note that even elite nights earned with credit cards count toward these hotels.
You can’t beat the combination of unlimited suite upgrades subject to availability, plus easy to earn confirmable suite upgrades that can be used at the time of booking.
Marriott Platinum members and above receive unlimited space available suite upgrades at check-in, subject to availability. If a standard suite is available, you should receive an upgrade to this as a Platinum member and above. Note that at Ritz-Carlton properties, suite upgrades are only offered to Titanium members and above.
Furthermore, with the Marriott Bonvoy Choice Benefits program, members can select further benefits when passing 50 or 75 elite nights in a year (even elite nights earned with credit cards count toward this). At each threshold you can select five suite night awards, each of which can be used to confirm a suite upgrade at most five days before arrival.
Ultimately I get quite a bit of value from these, but they have limitations — there are capacity controls on these, each is only valid for one night, and five days in advance isn’t that far ahead to be able to confirm an upgrade.
I’d say Marriott has a pretty well-rounded policy, between what’s tied for the best space available suite upgrade policy, and the confirmed suite upgrade policy (even if it’s the weakest one of the three that exist).
IHG One Rewards
With the recent launch of the IHG One Rewards program, IHG has considerably improved its suite upgrade offering. While the space available suite upgrade benefit isn’t particularly strong, I do appreciate the new confirmed suite upgrade opportunities.
IHG One Rewards Diamond members receive room upgrades subject to availability, and these upgrades may include standard suites. However, upgrades are offered at the hotel’s discretion, meaning that a hotel doesn’t have to make a suite available for an upgrade, even if it’s empty.
While the space available suite upgrade offering is weak, IHG now has an impressive confirmed suite upgrade option. With the IHG One Rewards Milestone Rewards program, members can earn up to three confirmed suite upgrades per year (which would require earning 70 elite nights).
Each confirmed suite upgrade can be used to confirm a suite upgrade between one day and 14 days prior to arrival, for a stay of up to five nights. These can only be used on cash stays, and not when redeeming points.
While IHG’s space available upgrade benefit is pretty weak, at least the confirmed upgrade perk is a great opportunity. It’s jus too bad it’s not valid when redeeming points.
As much as I’ve become a big fan of Hilton Honors in general, the program’s suite upgrade benefit is the weakest of the “big four.” Not only is the space available suite upgrade benefit not particularly strong, but Hilton also doesn’t offer any opportunities for confirmed suite upgrades in advance.
Hilton Honors Diamond members receive room upgrades subject to availability, and these upgrades may include standard suites. However, upgrades are offered at the hotel’s discretion, meaning that a hotel doesn’t have to make a suite available for an upgrade, even if it’s empty.
As mentioned above, Hilton Honors also doesn’t have any sort of suite upgrade certificates that can be used to confirm an upgrade in advance.
An important suite upgrade reality check…
As anyone with hotel elite status can attest to, just because you’re entitled to a suite upgrade subject to availability doesn’t mean you’re going to get one:
- Even when hotels are fully playing by the rules, there will often be more elite members eligible for suite upgrades than available suites (just as airlines offer elite members complimentary upgrades, but that doesn’t mean there will be seats available)
- That doesn’t factor in that lots of hotels don’t play by the rules, and will do everything they can to avoid providing a suite upgrade; this comes down to the fact that most hotels are individually owned, and either only have a management or franchise agreement with the major hotel group
As is the case with many aspects of elite recognition, I generally find that the further you get from the United States, the better elite recognition is. With that in mind, what has my experience been with the major hotel groups when it comes to space available suite upgrades?
- I find that Hyatts are best about trying to provide complimentary suite upgrades when available, and I tend to get them pretty regularly, especially outside the United States
- With Marriott I only very rarely get proactive suite upgrades within the United States; there’s tons of competition for upgrades, and I find that I have the best luck internationally, and also when using suite night awards
- With Hilton I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a suite upgrade within the United States, while I get them fairly regularly abroad; I’d say that in Asia and the Middle East my suite upgrade percentage is roughly the same with Marriott and Hilton
- I unfortunately don’t have any firsthand experience with IHG’s new top tier status yet, though historically I haven’t found IHG to be too good about proactive upgrades
Anyway, that’s just my experience…
Suite upgrades are one of the best perks of hotel elite status, though not all suite upgrade policies are created equal. First you have the difference of how hotel loyalty programs offer space available upgrades — some offer suite upgrades subject to availability, while others offer them at the hotel’s discretion. Then you have some hotels that offer confirmed suite upgrades, but even those policies differ significantly between hotel groups.
When it comes to suite upgrades, personally I think World of Hyatt wins, followed by Marriott Bonvoy, followed by IHG One Rewards, followed by Hilton Honors. Admittedly people will have different takes, though, depending on their hotel stay patterns.
What has your experience been with elite status suite upgrades at hotels? Which program is your favorite?