This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

There’s no question that holding elite status at a hotel chain can improve your stays, thanks to benefits like late checkout and complimentary room upgrades. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at the top-tier statuses across all hotel programs, to help you determine which is the best fit based on your preferences and travel habits.

Whether you travel for business, pleasure or a combination of the two, holding hotel elite status can make your trips more enjoyable due to the array of benefits the major chains provide. However, if you aren’t a road warrior (or are like me and recently left the world of road warriors), you probably don’t rack up enough stays or nights in a year to earn top-tier status with multiple programs. You also may be thinking about your plans for 2016, so today I’ll do a detailed comparison of these levels across the major chains to help you decide which one fits best with the perks you want on your next stay.

Rooftop pool at the Andaz San Diego.
Hyatt Diamond status can get you a number of perks at properties like the Andaz San Diego, but is it the best top-tier hotel status?

Before we get into the nuts and bolts, here’s an overview of the different characteristics I considered for this analysis:

  • Qualification criteria: Each program sets specific stay and/or night requirements that you must hit each calendar year to earn top-tier status, so we’ll look at how easy (or hard) it is to reach the highest level in each one. Remember though that you can get around these with certain credit cards (as you’ll see below).
  • Award nights: A related characteristic is whether the chain counts award nights toward status, so we’ll see which programs give you credit when you redeem points for free stays.
  • Bonus points: Each program provides members with bonus points per dollar spent, so we’ll look at these bonus amounts. To compare apples to apples (since we know that not all points are created equal), I’ll utilize TPG’s most recent valuations to calculate the additional return you get for every dollar spent with each chain.
  • Room upgrades: Scoring a better room than the one you booked can really enhance a trip, so we’ll see how each chain handles upgrades.
  • Suite upgrades: I’ve separated out suite upgrades since there’s a wide spectrum for how hotel programs handle these. Some chains offer specific instruments to confirm these upgrades while others exclude them altogether. A simple “Yes” indicates that they aren’t specifically excluded from the benefits.
  • Breakfast: I’ve learned that starting a busy day of touring is much better with a full stomach, so we’ll take a look at how each chain deals with breakfast.
  • Other amenities: This category includes things like complimentary internet access and welcome gifts.
  • Published added benefits: Some chains allow additional perks for surpassing higher stay/night thresholds, so we’ll see how you can make your status even more rewarding.
  • Lifetime status: We’ll take a look at which chains give you a pathway to earning lifetime status.
  • Credit card: As I hinted at above, there are certain credit cards that allow you to get around the top-tier qualification criteria, so we’ll take a look at those options.
  • Value: This last category will take a look at the overall value you can get out of a program based on my analysis earlier in the year. I’ll include a yearly figure as well as the value you can expert per stay and per night.

So … which hotel program is best for you? Let’s start with a comparison table that breaks down the major benefits offered by each of the six major hotel programs out there:

 

Club Carlson Concierge

Hilton HHonors Diamond

Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond

IHG Rewards Club Spire Elite

Marriott Rewards Platinum

SPG Platinum

Qualification Criteria

30 stays/75 nights

30 stays/60 nights/120,000 base points

25 stays/50 nights

75 nights/75,000 based points

75 nights

25 stays/50 nights

Do award nights count?

Yes

Yes

No (though Points + Cash do)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Bonus Points

75% (additional 6% return)

50% (additional 2.5% return)

30% (additional 2.7% return)

100% (additional 7% return)

50% bonus (additional 3.5% return)

50% (additional 2.5% return)

Room Upgrades

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Suite Upgrades

Yes

Yes

Specifically excluded from complimentary upgrades, but Diamond members get 4 Suite Upgrades on paid stays of up to 7 nights each

Properties aren’t “required to upgrade members to suites” but it certainly can happen

Yes

Yes, plus 10 Suite Night Awards for Platinum members with 50+ nights

Breakfast

Yes (continental)

Yes (available as a My Way benefit selection, excluding Waldorf Astoria properties)

Yes

No (unless you’re upgraded to a club floor)

Yes (continental or lounge access)

Yes (continental, as a welcome amenity choice)

Other Amenities

Early check-in/late checkout, welcome gift

Late checkout, premium internet, bonus points and/or snacks at certain brands

Welcome amenity or point bonus, premium internet, late checkout, 2 United Club passes

Priority check-in, choice benefit upon qualification

Late checkout, premium internet, arrival gift, United Premier Silver status

Premium internet, bonus points on Uber trips and Delta/Emirates flights, benefits when flying Delta and Emirates

Published Added Benefits

None

None

None

None

None

Additional benefits at 50, 75, and 100 qualifying nights

Lifetime Status

None

Yes, after 10 years of Diamond AND at least 1,000 paid nights

Yes, after 1 million base points ($200,000 spend) AND 10 years as a Gold Passport member

None

Yes, after 750 nights AND 2 million points

Yes, after 500 eligible nights AND 10 years of Platinum status

Credit Cards

Automatic Gold status through Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card, though no way to earn Concierge Status

Automatic Diamond status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year on both the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card and the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express

2 stays/5 nights credit when you spend $20,000 annually, and additional 3 stays/5 nights credit when you spend $40,000 annually on the Hyatt Visa Card, though no way to earn Diamond status

Automatic Platinum Elite status with IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, though no way to earn Spire Elite status

15 elite credits every year plus an additional credit for every $3,000 spent on the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, so you can “buy” Platinum status by spending $180,000

2 stays/5 nights credit on the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, though no way to earn Platinum status

Value Per Year

$1,472

$1,324

$1,947

N/A

$2,110

$1,465

Value Per Stay

$49.07

$44.13

$74.88

N/A

$55.53

$58.60

Value Per Night

$28.31

$29.42

$51.24

N/A

$28.13

$38.55

As you can see, there are some definite similarities across the various programs, but which program comes out on top in each category?

Qualification Criteria

Both Hyatt and Starwood Preferred Guest allow you to earn top-tier status by completing just 25 stays or 50 nights. However, I’ll give the nod to SPG here because they count both paid and award stays towards elite status qualification. You can also earn credits toward qualification simply by holding the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, whereas Hyatt requires you to spend $20,000 a year to utilize those benefits.

However, some might argue that Marriott and IHG are the winners in this category, since both those programs make it the hardest to earn elite status.

Bonus Points

This is an interesting category, with bonuses ranging from 30% to 100%. However, the percentage can’t be taken by itself, as you need to include two additional pieces of information to really analyze the best option:

  1. How many points that bonus creates
  2. The value of those points

Surprisingly enough, the two clear winners are Club Carlson and IHG Rewards, two programs that don’t typically make the cut when discussing the most rewarding hotel loyalty programs. Their top-tier elites earn an additional 6% and 7% returns (respectively) on paid stays.

The dining and living areas of our enormous suite.
Our massive suite at the St. Regis Bal Harbour was a result of my SPG Platinum status.

Room/Suite Upgrades

I combined these two categories because all chains include room upgrades as a benefit. However, the programs handle suite upgrades a bit differently. IHG Rewards, for one, specifically says that hotels aren’t required to upgrade top-tier elites to suites (and in fact, the upgrade benefits don’t apply on award stays at all). Hyatt Gold Passport is simultaneously generous and stingy; Diamond members do get four suite upgrades per year valid on paid stays of up to 7 nights, but suites are technically excluded from the program’s complimentary upgrades (though I haven’t seen that enforced strictly).

I’d give the nod to SPG in this category due to the fact the standard suites are part of the regular Platinum upgrade benefit and also available to be confirmed in advance by 50-night Platinums using Suite Night Awards.

Our VERY full breakfast table on Saturday morning.
The Andaz Wall Street includes a terrific breakfast spread for Diamond members on the weekend.

Breakfast

Most of the chains are relatively comparable when it comes to free breakfast (with the exception of IHG, which doesn’t give you breakfast unless you are upgraded to a club floor). To be honest, I have found that the breakfast benefit for top tiers is highly dependent on the individual property. Some, like the St. Regis Bal Harbour, put on an impressive display, whereas others provide the most basic of spreads.

Other Amenities

This aspect of top-tier status is much harder to judge, as much of it depends on what you prefer during a hotel stay. I would put Club Carlson and IHG at the bottom (with relatively unimpressive benefits), but at the other end, I’d probably call it a toss-up between Hyatt and SPG. If you regularly take Uber during your hotel stays and/or frequently fly Delta or Emirates, SPG is probably your best bet. I was able to rack up a lot of extra SPG points when traveling on Delta, though like TPG, I too have now broken up with Delta. As a result, I am now a Hyatt guy through-and-through.

Published Added Benefits

Unlike the last category, this one is easy: SPG is the winner by virtue of the fact that no other chain awards incremental benefits above the standard qualification thresholds. These were added in March 2012 as a way to reward those travelers who spend 50, 75 and 100 nights in Starwood properties each year. Benefits include:

  • 50 nights: 10 Suite Night Awards
  • 75 nights: 4 Starpoints per dollar spent plus YOUR 24
  • 100 nights: Starwood Ambassador service

Though these may not be the most valuable or useful benefits out there, it’s still great to see a program recognizing loyalty above and beyond a given qualification threshold. I certainly wish other chains would do so!

Hilton Lifetime Diamond card
Hilton was the latest chain to add the ability to earn top-tier status for life.

Lifetime Status

Two of the programs (Marriott and Hyatt) have offered the ability to earn lifetime status for years, while SPG joined the party in 2012 and Hilton HHonors jumped on the lifetime status bandwagon earlier this year. I’d say that this is a toss-up between Marriott Rewards and SPG, though I’d probably give the slight edge to Marriott. The program’s criteria for Lifetime Platinum status was actually loosened back in 2012, as you no longer need a certain number of years of status to qualify.

Even though you need many more nights than SPG (750 compared to 500), Marriott does count all points and stays toward lifetime status (including those earned on credit cards). Remember too that Marriott’s footprint is also much larger than SPG’s, with roughly three and a half times as many properties, making it much more likely that you’ll find a Marriott hotel in your next travel destination.

The J.W. Marriott Beijing is one Category 5 property with PointSavers availability next month.
Marriott’s top-tier Platinum status is within reach with the program’s co-branded credit card from Chase.

Credit Cards

I love the fact that so many credit cards include automatic hotel elite status. However, just a few allow you to earn top-tier status by virtue of your spending (though TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig did discover that there are sometimes glitches that allow it to happen!). The two easiest are from Hilton, as the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card and the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express both grant you automatic Diamond status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card also allows you to purchase top-tier status, though it’ll require you to spend $180,000 (without any Marriott stays).

Value

As mentioned earlier, this final category is based on the analysis I did on all levels of hotel elite status earlier this year. My preferred program (Hyatt Gold Passport) actually came out on top, with value per stay ($74.88) and per night ($51.24) landing significantly higher than the other programs.

Hilton Conrad Featured
Top-tier hotel status can open up valuable benefits like the adults-only club area of the Conrad Bali.

Bottom Line

Any type of hotel elite status can be quite valuable, and these programs are making it easier than ever to earn status through avenues like credit cards and status matches. However, top-tier status is really in a league of its own and can provide some incredible benefits on your next trip. While some properties might provide you additional benefits (like the baby girl cake pops we got at the St. Regis Bal Harbour), hopefully this post has given you some guidance as to which top-tier hotel elite status fits best with your travel style.

What is your favorite top-tier hotel elite status?

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

There’s no telling how much longer these cards will be around and available for new applications because of the Marriott takeover, so now might just be the perfect time to apply. Apart from hotel redemptions, you can transfer Starpoints to over 30 airline partners, and now also transfer points from Starwood to Marriott Rewards at a 1:3 ratio, opening up even more redemption options.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on International purchases.
  • Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
  • Redeem Starpoints® at over 1,300 participating hotels and resorts in over 100 countries and for flights on more than 150 airlines with SPG flights, all with no blackout dates.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and Conditions apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.74%-19.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Balance Transfer Fee
3.00%
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.