If you stay in hotels for business or pleasure, you can improve your experience and save money by obtaining elite status with hotel chains. There are definite advantages to having status. I have Platinum status at Hyatt and IHG (Holiday Inn), will have Platinum status by the end of 2016 with Marriott and Starwood, and have Gold status at Hilton. One significant thing about my elite status levels is that I did not achieve these in the traditional way. In all cases I used shortcuts to get or accelerate my elite hotel status.
I retired at the age of 53 in January of 2016 and my wife and I now travel the world full-time. In 2015 I accumulated as many hotel and airline points as I could. See my post How I Amassed 1.3 Million Hotel and Airline Points in Under a Year on how I did this.
Not only have our points payed for a lot of our airline travel and hotel stays, achieving elite hotel status helped tremendously with the quality of our experience and improved our lifestyle with free meals, upgraded rooms and other perks.
What is Status with a Hotel?
Many companies today try to influence consumers by offering benefits to customers that use their products and services frequently. Airlines were one of the first to do this by offering “elite status” with names like Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond and others. Hotels were quick to follow suit.
Benefits of Hotel Status
Benefits vary by hotel chain and status level, but include things like:
- Upgraded rooms
- Late checkout
- Guaranteed availability
- Earn more points per stay than lower status guests
- Welcome gifts such as snacks, bottles of water, free drinks
- Preferential phone numbers and priority for customer service
- Free internet
- Free breakfast
- Access to executive lounges that serve meals and drinks
How Much is Hotel Status Worth?
The value of elite hotel status can be perceived differently from individual to individual. For example, if you are not a breakfast eater, a free breakfast might not have any value to you since you won’t use it. However, if you do enjoy a good breakfast, and the hotel restaurant charges $15 for breakfast, this benefit has real tangible value.
For example, my wife and I recently stayed at the Marriott Shanghai City Center. Our Gold Status gave us Executive Lounge access which served a substantial breakfast in the morning, a dinner in the evening, and had drinks and light foods like fruit and cookies available all day. This cut our daily food budget by more than 70% since we only had to purchase lunch outside the hotel.
One web site that I visit frequently is www.thepointsguy.com. In a February 2015 post, he valued the lowest tier of status at all the major hotel chains as low as $66 per year and as high as $319 per year depending on the chain. The highest level of hotel status can give you over $2000 per year in value according to his analysis.
What Hotels Want You to do to Obtain Status
The goal of hotel chains in offering loyalty programs is to influence you to choose their hotel chain due to the benefits your status gives you. For example, in a given city, in a given locale, hotels of similar quality will be around the same price per night. What the hotel chain is counting on is that you will choose their hotel versus the competition because of the extra benefits that your status gives you. For example, if the Sheraton is $159 per night and the Hilton is also $159 per night and you have Gold status with Starwood (Sheraton) and no status with Hilton, you are more likely to choose the Sheraton even though the price is the same.
To be granted an elite status the traditional way, there are three main ways to qualify:
- Stay a certain number of nights
- Stay a certain number of times (regardless of the number of nights per stay) – this is generally referred to as “stays”
- Spend a certain amount at the hotel to earn points – these points are called “base points” or “qualifying points.” Typically, they only count what you spend at the hotel, usually you get 10 points per dollar spent.
Qualification varies by hotel company and most allow you to achieve status by two of the three methods. E.g. nights or base points, nights or stays. For example, to achieve Silver status with Hilton (their lowest status), you can qualify with 10 nights or 4 stays in a calendar year. To get Diamond status (their highest status), you need 30 stays or 60 nights or 120,000 base points in a calendar year.
So, in general, hotel companies want you to stay a certain number of times or a certain number of nights to obtain status. However, there are many methods or shortcuts to get higher status
Short cuts to status
Here are several ways to accelerate your status at major hotel companies:
- Sign up for a hotel branded credit card
- Spend with a hotel credit card
- Status match or status challenge
- Play the nights vs stays game
- Stay at hotels using your points
- Mattress runs
Please note: this information is accurate to the best of my knowledge at the time of the post. Programs and offers frequently change. The purpose of this post is to let you know some of the methods that can be used to obtain status. Please do your own research on current offers to maximize your benefits with your desired program.
Sign up for a hotel credit card
IHG, Hyatt and Hilton grant elite status to holders of their credit cards.
IHG (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, ) is quite generous with the status they give just by having their credit card. IHG has four levels of status – Silver, Gold, Platinum and Spire. You get Platinum status by signing up for their card. Typically, it takes 40 nights or 40,000 points to get this status. Quite a jump just for having their credit card!
Hyatt gives you their lowest status, Platinum, for having their credit card. It takes just 15 nights or 5 stays to achieve Platinum status, so it is not that much of a bump but still a great advantage for simply having their credit card.
Hilton has many cards from Citibank and American Express. Depending on which card you get, you will receive Silver or Gold status. To get Silver status the traditional way you need 4 stays or 10 nights. It takes 20 stays or 40 nights to get Gold.
Although not a hotel branded credit card, the AMEX Platinum card gives Gold Status at both Hilton and Starwood. However, this card comes with a $450 per year fee. If you are a frequent traveler, the benefits, not limited to the Gold hotel status, may be worth the hefty $450 price tag.
Marriott does not automatically give you status just for having the card, however, they give you nights toward your status. By having a Marriott credit card, you get 15 nights toward status every year on the anniversary date of the card. This is enough to give you Silver status, which requires only 10 nights to achieve.
Similarly, having an SPG American Express will get you 5 nights and two stays toward status every year. This helps, but Gold Status requires 10 stays or 25 nights, so you are still a way off from elite status.
Use a hotel credit card
Hilton has many cards that will grant you Gold status or higher when certain spending thresholds are met. For example, spend $40,000 in a calendar year on the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve card and you get Diamond status. Other Hilton branded cards give higher status at other spending thresholds.
With the SPG AMEX, you can get Gold status when you spend $30,000 per calendar year on the card.
Marriott credit card holders get 1 elite night credit for every $3000 spent on the credit card. This probably helps a little and may make a difference if you have just a night or two to go to reach status. However, it takes 50 nights to get Gold status. If you try and do that with just the credit card, you get the 15 credits on the anniversary of the card leaving 35 more credits to achieve Gold. At $3000 per elite credit, it would take $105,000 of credit card spending to reach that status. Pretty impractical in my opinion.
Hyatt also gives you credits toward status based on reaching spending thresholds. Two stay credits and 5 night credits when you reach $20,000 in spending and an additional 3 stays and 5 nights when you reach $40,000 in spending.
Status match or status challenge
Once you have status with one hotel company, you have more leverage with other hotel companies in obtaining status with them. A “status match” is when one hotel company matches your status with a competing company once you prove you have status with the other company.
For example: you have SPG Platinum and call Hilton Honors and request them to match your status at SPG with Hilton Diamond.
A “status challenge” is similar except that you get the status conditionally for a limited period and must complete a certain number of stays with the challenge hotel.
For example: you have Marriott Gold and call Hilton Honors to request them to match your status to Hilton Gold and they give Hilton Gold for 90 days and will extend for a year if you stay 4 times in 90 days.
Sometimes status matches are advertised. This could be through a targeted email, a web advertisement or through your company’s HR or Travel Department if you work for a large company.
Your best bet may be just to call the company where you want a match and request it. Sometimes the hotel company has a web form for you to fill out.
The web site www.statusmatcher.com is a great site to look at to see what companies are offering matches and the success rate people are having at obtaining matches.
I have used status matches several times over the years. One word of caution though, once you get a status match, you are usually not eligible to receive another status match from the same company for 3 years. So, use your matches wisely, but it is relatively easy to get a status match once you have elite status with one hotel company.
Status match with Starwood and Marriott
The Marriott completed the acquisition of Starwood Hotels in September of 2016 creating the largest hotel group in the world. The loyalty programs, Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, programs will not merge until 2018 at the earliest. However, right now, your status will be matched between Marriott Rewards and SPG. All you have to do is go on either the Marriott Rewards or SPG website and link the two accounts. We are excited about this benefit because by the end of the year we will have achieved Platinum status with SPG (the highest status) and therefore have the highest status with Marriott as well.
Play the nights versus stays game
This can be a way to obtain status a little earlier but comes with some inconvenience. Hilton, Starwood and Hyatt allow you to achieve status by the number of nights or the number of stays. For example, to get Hilton Silver status, you need 4 stays or 10 nights. You can reach status quicker if you split up hotel stays of two or more days in separate hotels rather than staying in the same hotel.
For example: Let’s say you are in a city for a four-day visit. You could check into the Hilton Garden Inn for four nights and be 40% on your way to Hilton Silver status, or you could check into the Hilton Garden Inn for one night, check out, move to the Hampton Inn (in large cities this can be as close as across the parking lot), and alternate back and forth between the Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn for four nights. This gives you four stays, qualifying you for Silver in one four-day trip.
Granted, this takes a little work and you must weigh the inconvenience of doing this. I have done this a few times as a business traveler and it has not been a big deal to me. On business, I am usually out of the hotel by 7:00 AM or earlier and don’t go back until 6:00 PM or later anyway. I am not using the hotel during the day. I pack efficiently, so I am not taking a lot of time to pack and repack each day. If you did that with every hotel stay, you can typically qualify twice as fast on stays as you can with points.
Please note that you must go to a different hotel. You can’t check out and back in to the same hotel on the same day and expect to have it count as two stays. A stay is defined as consecutive nights at a hotel regardless if you have checked out and back in.
Stay at hotels using reward points
This is a benefit that I did not realize until this year. You get credit toward nights or stay status with hotels even when redeeming free nights. We will reach Platinum status, requiring 50 nights, in 2016 but have only purchased two nights in a Starwood hotel. All the other nights came from award stays. A further benefit for us is we almost always take advantage of the “5th night free” when using our SPG points. When you book a category 3 hotel and above using points, a five night stay only costs 4 nights worth of points. So, we get 5 nights toward status and only spend four nights worth of points.
Now I factor in how close I am to an elite status milestone in deciding where to use my reward nights or nights using points.
While technically not a short-cut to elite status since you do have to spend a night in a hotel to get credit toward status, it can be an effective method of achieving status if you are just a few nights away from the next level. For frequent travelers, the next level of elite status can have over $1000 worth of added value.
A mattress run is staying at a hotel simply for achieving status or getting points. You are staying in a hotel when you really don’t have to. This can be a hotel stay in your own city, or where you have another option, like when you sleep in the spare bedroom at Grandma’s house over Thanksgiving.
The end of the year is a good time to evaluate whether a mattress run makes sense for you. For example, if you live in the suburbs of a large city, you might want to book a weekend night or two downtown to do some Christmas shopping or join in the Holiday festivities. What if you always make the trek to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving or Christmas and dread the thought of one more night sleeping on the couch or in that old creaky bed in the basement? You could just book a nearby hotel and have the benefit of achieving the next level of elite status and getting a good night’s sleep.
Remember that most hotels count your hotel nights and stays toward status even if you use points to pay for the room. When you redeem hotel reward points for your mattress run, you can get to that next level of status with no out of pocket expense.
Elite hotel status can offer a greatly improved travel experience and real value. I know for us, having status has saved us a lot of money on breakfast and dinner. We also enjoy the comfort of being upgraded most places we stay and like the convenience of late check-out as we travel the world. By utilizing a few short-cuts, you can achieve status much more quickly than if you simply rely on your hotel nights.