Travel Tuesday Top 10: Hotel Loyalty Program Perks

by on April 17, 2012 · 19 comments

in Carlson, Elite Status, Hilton, Hotel Industry, Hyatt, IHG Rewards, Intercontinental/ Ambassador, Marriott, Starwood, Top 10

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For our second post in the Travel Tuesday Top 10 List series, we’ve rounded up a list of the top 10 benefits conferred upon members of various hotel loyalty programs, including several available not just to top-tier members but to mid- and intro-level members as well.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and whether I missed any good ones (also chime in with future lists you’d like to see us do).

Our #1 perk: free WiFi.

1. Free WiFi: Egregiously priced WiFi will hopefully be a thing of the past one day, but until then it’s important to get it for free or else your wallet will take a major hit. More and more hotels have gotten wise lately that offering free WiFi is not only a great way to build loyalty, but also to keep their elite members happy. While many chains offer it to elite members Fairmont and Wyndham win in our book for giving it to all loyalty program members, as do Omni and Kimpton.

2. Suite Upgrades: Many chains offer room upgrades to higher floors and club levels, but Hyatt goes a step beyond and offers Diamond members 4 suite upgrade certificates a year. These certificates are good on stays of up to 7 nights and they are confirmed at time of booking. The only downside is that they aren’t eligible on award stays.

A suite at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome

3. Guaranteed Room Availability: There’s nothing more frustrating than needing a hotel room when a city is completely sold out. Good thing many chains will force rooms to become available for elite members, though you usually have to give at least 2-3 days notice. However Intercontinental Royal Ambassador status requires just 24 hour advance notice.  Reservations must be made before 12:00 midday (local hotel time) 24 hours prior to intended arrival for room availability to be guaranteed. Only in exceptional circumstances where the hotel has been completely reserved by the government and with explicit Priority Club Rewards approval, may a reservation be declined. Rate paid is Best Available.

4. Bonus Points On Spending: Lots of hotels incentivize elite members to spend more money on rooms and experiences by offering bonus points per dollar spent, as well as giving them bonus points bundles as a sort of welcome amenity. Starwood is the clear winner here since even regular SPG members get 2 points per dollar spent (that’s a 100% bonus!), Gold status members earn 3 points per dollar spent, and Platinum members who stay 75 nights or more get 4 points per dollar spent. Tag that along with the Starwood Amex which gives an addition 2 points per dollar and you’ll be swimming in Starwood points!

Elite members earn even more points on dollars spent at hotels.

5. Early/Flexible Room Check-In: It’s always a drag to wait until 3 or 4pm to check into a hotel room, so most chains try to accommodate their elite members for early check-in. However, Intercontinental offers 8:00 am guaranteed check-in and Starwood offers YOUR24, which allows you to check-in at any time during the day. The only catch is, you have to check out 24 hours later. For example, if your flight arrives at 1:00 am, you can confirm that arrival time and check out at 1:00 am the next day, as long as you confirm it within 48 hours. The real benefit is if you check in anytime 9am and after, you still get 4pm late checkout.

6. Award Stays Counting Towards Elite Status: Maintaining elite status can be challenging- especially if you aren’t a business travel road warrior. However, some chains make it easier by counting award nights towards elite status. Starwood recently made this change and they even included their Cash & Points option, which is one of my all-time favorite hotel point redemption options.

7. Rollover Elite Nights: Achieving and maintaining elite status from scratch every year can be a pain, but Marriott and Club Carlson let members rollover nights earned past elite levels.

Not every hotel breakfast is a continental buffet.

8. Free Breakfast: Though most of the major programs at least give their elite members continental breakfast, Hyatt wins this category handily because Diamond members are given a full free breakfast in the hotel restaurant- and some properties even allow room service. No cutting corners here.

9. Lifetime Status: Many airlines offer lifetime elite status to members who fly a certain amount of miles (usually 1 million, 2 million and so on). Hotels have introduced this benefit as well for their members who have shown commitment over a number of years and stays. Starwood recently introduced lifetime elite status as part of it new benefits package. Gold status requires 5 years of elite status (at any level) and 250 nights, while lifetime Platinum status requires 500 nights and 10 years of Platinum status (not consecutive).

Intercontinental Royal Ambassadors get unlimited free minibar beverages.

10. Free Minibar: This isn’t a huge one, but everyone who’s gotten in late to a hotel room and wanted a soda or bottle of water has had to think twice before taking a $10 pint-size bottle out of the minibar. This little benefit for Priority Club Royal Ambassadors means you can drink as much as you like (responsibly!) for free.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Angelina Aucello

    The free wifi thing is a must – totally agree. How do hotels get away with charging as much $30 a day for wifi and not even have wifi in the lobby??

  • MidCentModFan

    Kimpton Hotels offer free WiFi to all members of their loyalty program. You just featured this hotel group in a previous post about the 2012 HotelChatter Annual WiFi Report where Kimpton Hotels was honored for having the best WiFi program. WiFi is only one of Kimpton’s perks. I think they’re loyalty program offers easy ways to obtain free nights (based on number of stays, nights, or even different hotels). Inner Circle status (15 eligible visits or 45 eligible nights within a calendar year) means VIP treatment all the way. I’m definitely a fan of their rooms and service.

  • PJ

    Do you charge overseas starwood stays on SPG cards or Sapphire Preferred?

    I wish AMEX would wake up to the realities soon ?

  • Iolaire

    +1 Kimpton Hotels, various hotels give raid the minibar coupons of $10-$15 including Muse NYC and hotel Palomar in PHI to members with no status whatsoever…

  • PJ

    wow i thought $22 was crazy at Barcelo Palace Cabo

  • Jamison

    you missed Late Checkout!

  • Brad Daniels

    Hi Brian,
    I have been wondering about “guaranteed room availability” when a hotel is already fully booked. What exactly does “chains will force rooms to become available for elite members” mean? Does this mean someone who legitimately booked ahead of time loses their room? And if so, what happens to them/what is their recourse?

    I need to better understand the ethics and implications of this so-called perk before I would feel comfortable taking advantage of it. Does it essentially means screwing over other people who were already booked at the hotel? I hope I’m just not understanding how guaranteed room availability works.

  • thepointsguy

    It doesn’t necessarily mean someone gets kicked out. People cancel at the last minute/ don’t show, so no one really knows what the actual availability will be. This “forced” benefit just means the hotel will accomodate the elite guest and figure it out and handle the oversell if it does happen (those who get “walked” usually get some sort of compensation)

  • Bob

    Omni Hotels also gives free wifi to all members of their program, and they have a generous program overall (I get a bottle of wine and a snack each stay, and bottled water every night, among other things).

  • Greg

    Just goes to show everyone is different. I had to read the list two times to make sure I didn’t miss club lounge access. This can be very beneficial especially with Hyatt who have terrific lounges, especially in Europe and Asia. Lounges not only include free breakfast, but many have a full spread during the afternoon with free open bar, and evening featuring specialty items from the hotel restaurant. In the last couple of months I stayed at the Hyatt in Kauai, Hong Kong (with an amazing view), Berlin, Mainz, and Istanbul.

    My number one hotel benefit is club lounge access which is given for free for Hyatt Diamonds or 2500 bonus points and given also to top tier SPG and Hhonors Gold and Diamonds for free.

  • Bob

    My experience with “guaranteed availability” is mixed. I have always gotten a room when using this perk, but I have been charged FULL price like I never see the hotel sell for at any other time, like $425 when usually paying $99 at a Hilton, and no corporate discounts or other discounts honored.

  • Geoff

    Ditto Greg’s comments, but I’m a Hilton Diamond member and just love the perks we get, mainly in the overseas hotels. Exec Lounge access means leisurely breakfasts, wine and hors d’oeuvres before we go out on the town at night, and desserts and tea afterwards. The US experience isn’t quite as lavish, but in the full-service Hiltons and Doubletrees we have been upgraded and usually treated very well. Hilton’s program really does inspire my loyalty, to maintain that rarified status every year. Favorite spots: Auckland and Dubrovnik Hiltons, plus the Eiffel Tower Hilton which unfortunately was sold to another chain.

  • LA Dave75

    I have a feeling that hotels charge for Wifi for two reasons.

    1) Additional income
    2) Regulate the amount of internet traffic on their networks.

    I’ve stayed at hotels where WiFi was free to everyone and the wireless network is so slow that I get faster refresh webpages from a crappy old Blackberry.

  • Steelsnow

    Will be at the Dubrovnik Hilton in a few weeks, any tips related to it or must dine/see places nearby?

  • Kent Ives

    8. Free Breakfast: Are we sure about this? As a Diamond member, I stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Reston, Virginia 3 nights/week for 5 months and was never offered the full breakfast in the hotel restaurant unless the club lounge was closed. The continental breakfast was good, but the full hotel breakfast would have been great.

  • Jim

    as for #6, is it only starwood that counts award stays toward elite status?

  • Brad

    Are any hotels on the strip in Las Vegas affiliated with the major hotel chains loyalty programs? (overlooking those that are obvious in name) Thanks.

  • progapanda

    The Cosmopolitan – Marriott,
    The Venetian and Palazzo – Intercontinental/Priority Club

  • Jonathan

    Not sure why the delta chain doesn’t get mentioned anywhere. The only downside is that it’s Canadian but there are lots of great locations across Canada but its so good it’s worth mentioining. There platinum plus level is after 25 stays which gives you unlimited best available room upgrades at time of reservation ( I get 2 bedroom suites and club level rooms worth $200-$400 with free apps and booze for the price of a double bed room for as low as $80), free buffet breakfast or room service, $500 dollars to be used towards stays or food each year, welcome snack, late checkout til 6pm and I’ve had early check in as early as 6am, I also earn 1500 aeroplane miles each stay (extremely high when you think that a gas fill up earns you around 20 points) which translates to approximately $15 each stay ( I use these to purchase gift cards ) I also get good car upgrades and a couple maple leaf lounge passes. The deltas are consistently nice with good quality food, rooms and amenities that always include a good gym and indoor pool. They also have good promotions every so often where you get free stays to each stay counts as two stays. There platinum is 15 stays but isn’t quite as good as you only get $300, unlimited best available room upgrade at time of check-in

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