Reader Bob asked the following question on the blog yesterday:
Excluding simply personal preferences, in your opinion, which hotel brand offers the best rewards based on status? For example, is SPG Platinum truly worth the effort if it wouldn’t be achieved due to actual travel/stays?
We are partial to SPG and have lifetime Gold Status. We’re wondering whether it might be beneficial to chase another hotel brand’s status for 2015.
I think the thought process of deciding which status to go for is an interesting one. And I think before you even think about that, it’s worth thinking about whether it even makes sense to go for hotel status at all.
Back before I lived in hotels full time I had a hard time mentally justifying being loyal to a hotel chain. So I figured I’d share my general thought process.
There’s an opportunity cost to staying at chain hotels
This is a really important point that I think is often overlooked. By staying at a chain hotel you’re often compromising on price and experience.
There’s no arguing that in most places in the world you’ll get a more “authentic” experience at a local, non-chain hotel, than at a cookie cutter chain hotel. For that matter, while I haven’t done it personally, I know a lot of people are flocking to Airbnb in place of hotels.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there are plenty of unique chain hotels out there, and I love how many chains are expanding their brands to move away from the “cookie cutter” model. But on average, you’ll certainly not get as unique of an experience at a chain hotel as you’d get at a local hotel.
Hotel Des Indes, one of the most charming and unique SPG properties I’ve stayed at
Chain hotels are usually more expensive as well. They have management fees to pay to corporate, they know people will pay a premium to stay with them, they have points to award, etc.
My point is, sometimes it makes sense to look outside of chain hotels and focus on local hotels when going through the thought process.
Sometimes you can receive elite benefits without being elite
If you mostly stay at luxury hotels, keep in mind that programs like Virtuoso and American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts often give you amazing perks without actually having status. You receive free breakfast, room upgrades, hotel amenities, free wifi, late check-out, etc.
American Express FHR benefits at St. Regis Bangkok
And if you have a great travel advisor that has a relationship with the hotel, they may be able to do even more than that. These really are the equivalent of elite perks at luxury hotels without the need for loyalty.
Lots of ways to get elite status for cheap
When people tell me they don’t stay at hotels all that much but want elite status, my first question is always “well, do you have the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express? The card has a $95 annual fee, and just for keeping it you receive Gold status, which gets you free breakfast/executive club lounge access and free internet.
Complimentary breakfast at Conrad Hong Kong as HHonors Gold member
The other thing to keep in mind about Hilton is that they have properties almost everywhere. So while I’m primarily loyal to Hyatt and Starwood, being loyal to both of them is sort of out of necessity, since they don’t have hotels everywhere. As a matter of fact, combined they only have a bit more than half as many properties as Hilton.
Similarly, the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card gives you Platinum status for as long as you have the card, for an annual fee of just $49 (which is waived the first year). Is it the most useful status? Nope. But at such a low cost, it’s a great deal.
Suite upgrade at Crowne Plaza Doha as an IHG Rewards Club Platinum member
So there’s something to be said for having elite status with a chain that has properties everywhere. Are Hilton and IHG properties my favorite? Nope. But there’s no denying the programs are useful, especially for the occasional traveler.
Don’t value perks at face value
If you do “invest” a lot of money into hotel status, don’t fall into the trap of valuing perks at face value, in my opinion. In other words, if you get Hyatt Diamond status and do a week in a suite at a Park Hyatt, I wouldn’t mentally account for everything at face value.
In other words, I wouldn’t say “oh, I got a $1,000 per night suite and breakfast which would have cost $150 per night, so during my week stay I received over $8,000 of value.”
Amazing breakfast at Park Hyatt Zurich — but how much is it really “worth?”
That certainly sounds nice, but for both hotel and airline redemptions, I always try to value the perks at what I’d otherwise be willing to pay for them. Because I’m not receiving $8,000 worth of “value” if I would have never been willing to spend that much for the experience.
The Hyatt and Starwood status that’s worth going for
As I’ve explained many times before, I’m primarily loyal to Hyatt Gold Passport and Starwood Preferred Guest, and have top tier status with both programs. Both require 25 stays or 50 nights to earn top tier status, though there are ways to “reduce” those thresholds a bit:
|Qualification Method||Starwood Platinum||Hyatt Diamond|
|Co-Branded Credit Card||Two stays and five nights towards elite status just for having the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express |
(if you have both cards, that means you start each year with four stays and 10 nights towards status)
|Two stays and five nights towards Diamond status when you spend $20,000 on the Chase Hyatt Visa Card in a calendar year
Receive an additional three stays and five nights towards Diamond status when you spend $40,000 on the Chase Hyatt Visa Card in a calendar year
(if you spend $40,000 per year, that means you receive four stays and 10 nights towards status each year)
|Eligible Stays||All Starwood stays count towards status, including free night and Cash & Points bookings||Points + Cash bookings count towards status, while outright free night stays don’t|
As you can see, the elite qualification threshold can be lowered to 20 stays or 40 nights with credit card spend. Starwood counts Free Night as well as Cash & Points stays, while Hyatt counts Points + Cash stays towards status. So in many cases you don’t have to make anywhere close to that many revenue stays to earn status.
I guess to some up my general thoughts:
- Think about what you’re most looking for with elite status, because in many cases staying at independent hotels or booking through Virtuoso/FHR can represent a better value
- If you do want status but are not an especially frequent traveler and go all over the place, it’s tough to beat HHonors Gold status through the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express.
- If you do stay a bit more often, Hyatt and Starwood are worth considering, especially if you can lower the threshold through their co-branded credit cards (I value Hyatt and Starwood top tier status most because of confirmed suite upgrades, guaranteed late check-out, quality of properties, etc.)
- It could be worth “mattress running” a few nights in order to qualify for status, but I wouldn’t do more than five or so unnecessary nights with either chain in order to achieve top tier status
For those of you that don’t stay at hotels all that often, what do you consider to be the best option for achieving hotel status, and do you ever “mattress run?”