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Hotel Elite Status Match and Challenge Plans for 2015

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Hotel elite status is great when you have it, but earning it takes determination. Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen looks at ways to circumvent the usual qualification requirements by way of status matches and challenges.

As 2014 comes to an end, I’m sure that elite status qualification is (and will remain) on many of your minds. Last week, I looked at status match and/or challenge opportunities with airlines to help you plan for 2015. Today I’ll take a different angle and go through the current offers for top hotel chains. If your hotel loyalty is wavering and you want a shortcut to elite status, these tips can help!

A status match or challenge with another hotel chain can open up a host of new benefits.
A status match or challenge can open up a host of new benefits. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

With regard to elite status, there are plenty of similarities between hotel and airline loyalty programs. A status match is when one chain, in an effort to poach you from a competitor, offers you outright status for the rest of the year without any caveats. You don’t need to actually stay in their properties to earn the status. On the other hand, a status challenge typically does require a set number of stays or nights. While a challenge may come with temporary elite status and benefits, you must meet the stay or night requirements to extend your status beyond the trial period.

Because the hotel industry hasn’t seen as much upheaval as the airline industry in recent years, there tend to be fewer “public” status match and/or challenge offers available. Occupancy rates have been steadily increasing over the last several years, and forecasts call for them to rise even more in 2015. As a result, hotel chains have less of an incentive to draw elite members from other programs.

That being said, there are ways that you can jump from one chain to another. Just like with airlines, Status Matcher will give you an overview of recent requests for status matches or challenges across a wide variety of programs. However, if you don’t see what you’re looking for, remember that it never hurts to (politely) ask!

Here’s a rundown of how you can request a status match or challenge with a different hotel chain:

Club Carlson is one of the few programs out there that will match your status (though typically only up to Gold).
Club Carlson is one of the few programs that will match your status (though typically only up to Gold).

Club Carlson – Status Match

Club Carlson has recently been trying to play ball with the big boys (so to speak), with the launch of co-branded credit cards and the opening of many Radisson Blu hotels around the world (see TPG’s reviews of the Chicago, Madrid, Paris, Copenhagen, and Reykjavik properties). Part of this effort has involved status matching for top-tier elites from other chains. To initiate a status match request, simply e-mail goldpointsplus@carlson.com with your Club Carlson number, a screen shot of your current elite status with another chain, and a brief description of your request. Unfortunately, they typically only match to their low and middle tiers (Silver and Gold, respectively).

I took advantage of this back in 2012, using my Hilton HHonors Diamond status to match to Club Carlson Gold. I had a few upcoming stays at the time, and my wife and I were treated very nicely at the Radisson Blu Oslo Airport. Another nice thing about Club Carlson is that they offer soft landings if you don’t requalify for your earned level. Even though I didn’t stay enough last year to maintain status, I was only downgraded to Silver:

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 5.56.07 PM
Club Carlson offers soft landings when you fail to requalify for elite status.

Unfortunately, Club Carlson did devalue their program back in February, but it’s still nice to have options!

Hilton HHonors – Status Challenge

Hilton HHonors used to be my go-to program before their massive devaluation last year. They typically don’t publish a standard status match or challenge program, but all reports indicate that they will offer a fast track to status for elite members from other hotel chains. Simply e-mail hhonors@hilton.com with a screen shot of recent activity on your account (not just a picture of your loyalty card) and ask for a match.

Each request is handled on a case-by-base basis, but I have seen the following offers pop up relatively consistently:

  • Top-tier elites from other programs: temporary (90-day) match to Gold, with a fast track to Diamond by staying 21 nights in those 90 days.
  • Mid-tier elites: temporary (90-day) match to Silver, with a fast track to Gold by completing 5 stays or 10 nights in those 90 days.
  • Low-tier elites: no temporary match, but fast track to Gold by completing 5 stays or 10 nights.

However, this can vary depending on your specific circumstances. I’ve seen mid-tier elites offered a match to Gold and fast track to Diamond, while I’ve seen some low-tier elites simply given Silver status with Hilton HHonors.

A final (unverified) way to fast track to Gold status is through this link, which requires just 4 stays in 90 days (and doesn’t require proof of elite status with another chain). However, this page is technically restricted to members affiliated with a sports group or event. I have read reports of regular members using this link, but as always, your experience may differ!

You must stay 12 nights within 60 days to complete the Hyatt Diamond Challenge.
TPG Content and Community Manager Ryan Gaines got in on the Hyatt Diamond Challenge this year!

Hyatt Gold Passport – None

Until recently, Hyatt Gold Passport offered one of the easiest ways to get around the standard requirements for hotel top-tier elite status. TPG Content and Community Manager Ryan Gaines actually signed up for this challenge back in October. Not only did the challenge offer temporary Diamond status (including 4 suite night upgrade certificates!), it also only required 12 stays in 60 nights.

Unfortunately, rumors started swirling last month that this challenge was discontinued, and TPG soon verified this rumor by reaching out to Hyatt directly. Unless you were able to sign-up prior to October 31, 2014, it appears that you’re out of luck. However, if you did sign up in time, then you still have until the end of your 60 day window to complete the 12 nights and earn Diamond status through 2015.

Hyatt seemed to leave the door open for the status challenge to return in some form, so hopefully the recent changes won’t spell the end entirely.

Though not a status match or challenge per se, IHG does offer you a fast track to elite status by staying with multiple brands in their portfolio.
Though not a status match or challenge per se, IHG does offer a fast track to elite status by staying with multiple brands in their portfolio.

IHG Rewards Club – None

IHG Rewards (formerly Priority Club) is another hotel loyalty program that used to be very generous with status matches. Of course, their top tier (Platinum Elite) really doesn’t compare to other programs’ highest levels, but at least it was easy to reach. Unfortunately, as of this April IHG no longer offers status matches. The only “challenge” they offer is the publicly available Fast Track to Elite Status, which offers a shortcut by staying with multiple IHG brands:

  • Stay 10 qualified nights in 3 or more brands and earn Gold Elite status, which normally requires 15 nights
  • Stay 40 qualified nights in 4 or more brands (3 or more brands for members in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania) and earn Platinum Elite status, which normally requires 50 nights

However, this is open to all IHG Rewards members, regardless of whether you have status with another chain.

Kimpton is another chain with straight-up status matches, though you must have comparable status to their Inner Circle level.
Kimpton also offers status matches, though you must have status comparable to their Inner Circle level.

Kimpton Karma Rewards – Status Match

The Kimpton brand covers 62 boutique hotels in 28 cities around the country, and their loyalty program (Karma Rewards) offers “Inner Circle Reciprocity” for elite members of other hotel programs. The following is pulled directly from their Terms & Conditions:

“If you’re an elite member (in a comparable tier level to Inner Circle, subject to our discretion and review) of another hotel loyalty program and want to match your status to Kimpton Karma Rewards, just email KarmaHelp@KimptonHotels.com with a copy of your credentials and we’re happy to make you a part of our Inner Circle Family.”

Inner Circle normally requires 14 stays or 40 nights, so top-tier status (and possibly even some mid-tier status levels) should match without a problem. You can only do this once per account. However, the status is valid for the remainder of the year in which it’s granted plus the full following calendar year. As a result, if you get a status match on January 2, 2015, you could enjoy Inner Circle benefits for almost two full years.

Marriott
Though not publicly listed, Marriott does offer status challenges for all three tiers of elite status.

Marriott Rewards – Status Challenge

Like many of the chains above, Marriott doesn’t offer a standard or “public” status match/challenge program. However, you may have success by sending an e-mail to elite.member@marriott.com with details of your current status. I’ve typically seen the following challenges being granted:

  • Top-tier elites: complete 9 stays within 3 months to earn Platinum status (usually requires 75 nights)
  • Mid-tier elites: complete 6 stays within 3 months to earn Gold status (usually requires 50 nights)
  • Low-tier elites: complete 3 stays within 3 months to earn Silver status (usually requires 10 nights)

Again, this may vary depending on your circumstances. I have heard of extended time frames of 120 days for the Platinum challenge, and I’ve even read reports of straight-up matches for members who can prove extensive levels of spending. Again, it never hurts to ask!

SPG Platinum
You can challenge to SPG Platinum, though you’ll need to stay 18 nights over three consecutive months.

Starwood Preferred Guest – Status Challenge

While also not widely publicized, Starwood Preferred Guest does offer a status challenge for their top-tier Platinum level. To initiate this process, simply e-mail platinum.liason@starwoodhotels.com with details of your request. You’ll pick a window of three consecutive calendar months, during which you’ll need to stay 18 nights to secure Platinum status. Only paid stays count, so you can’t get around the requirements with award nights or Cash & Points nights.

To be eligible, you must not have held SPG Platinum status for at least five years, and you are only allowed to complete a Platinum Challenge once. However, if you previously signed up for a challenge and fell short, you can re-register for the challenge later in the year (or the following year). Additional discussion is available in this FlyerTalk thread.

Frequently Asked Questions

As you can see, the hotel offerings are bit more convoluted than the status match and/or challenge programs offered by airlines. To help navigate this murkiness, here are answers to some common questions:

Q: When is the best time to request a status match or complete a status challenge?

A: It depends. As I discussed in the airline post, the magic date is usually July 1st or later in the year you challenge. Since you’re requesting the match (or completing the challenge) in the third quarter, your status will typically last for the rest of the year and the entire following year. Unfortunately, details on exactly how each program handles this “cut-off” are scant, so I would confirm (in writing) how long your status will last at the time of your request.

That being said, there are a couple of exceptions:

  1. Kimpton Karma Rewards specifies that any approved request for Inner Circle Reciprocity will be valid for the rest of the calendar year and the entire next year.
  2. Starwood Preferred Guest has typically used April 1st as their cut-off date; anyone fulfilling the challenge after that point will earn status for the rest of the year and the following year.

Again, always double-check these time frames when you make your request.

Q: Do I get to enjoy elite status while completing the challenge?

A: In most cases, no (though there are exceptions). Hilton seems to be the only one that treats the challenge period as a “trial” of elite status. Marriott and SPG, on the other hand, do not. This is one of the most common complaints about hotel status challenges. If you really want to see if the program is good for you, why don’t they let you take it out for a spin? For SPG, you sacrifice the temporary status in favor of being able to redo a challenge if you don’t meet the requirements. After all, if they gave you temporary Platinum status, you could just request a challenge every three months and enjoy status for the few stays you make every year!

Hotels.com_ObviousChoice_RGB_center_1
Be careful with third-party bookings when completing a challenge, as they likely won’t count!

Q: Do previously booked nights count?

A: They should. Any eligible night completed during the challenge period should count toward the requirements. However, you’ll want to be careful with award nights, stays booked with a combination of cash & points, and nights booked through a third-party site, as these will often not count toward the requirements of a challenge, even though they would count toward earning elite status the hard way.

Q: Will I lose my elite status in the program from which I am matching?

A: No. The programs typically use your proof of status only as verification. If you earned Hilton Diamond status and used it to initiate a match with Club Carlson, Hilton is not allowed to demote you, since you met their qualification requirements according to the T&C of the program.

Q: Can I just complete status matches/challenges back and forth to consistently get around the standard requirements?

A: No. This might work for a few years, but most programs have restrictions on how frequently you can request a match or initiate a challenge. Kimpton, for example, limits you to one challenge in the lifetime of your account, while SPG only allows you to successfully complete a challenge once.

Q: Aren’t there easier ways to earn status with other programs?

A: Absolutely! Many co-branded hotel credit cards come with complimentary elite status as long as you remain a cardholder. Examples include:

Q: Can I open one of these cards and use the automatic status to match to another program?

A: You can try, but I doubt it would be successful. Most chains require proof not only of status, but also of the activity (or at least some activity) that led to your status. Automatic status from a credit card with zero qualified stays or nights is unlikely to help!

Final thoughts

Status matching in the hotel industry is neither as useful nor as time-sensitive as with airlines, but if you’re in danger of losing your elite status after this year, or if you have travel plans that would benefit from earning status with an unfamiliar brand, hopefully these tips have given you food for thought.

Are you planning a hotel status match/challenge, or have you undertaken one recently?