Shortcuts to Hotel Elite Status: Cards, Spending and More

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Not everyone travels frequently enough to earn elite status with a hotel loyalty program the normal way, but as TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen explains, you can still reach elite tiers through credit card perks, status matches and more.

If you’re reading this post, chances are you enjoy traveling and would like to do more of it (ideally for free using points and miles!). One of the biggest aspects of planning a trip is figuring out where you want to stay, and hotel elite benefits can play a large role in this. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a road warrior to enjoy these perks when traveling for pleasure, and today I want to go through some shortcuts to earning hotel elite status.

1.Get a Hotel Co-Branded Credit Card

If you book your hotel through an OTA, you could take advantage of the site's Best Rate Guarantee.
Opening a hotel’s co-branded credit card could offer you some great perks through automatic elite status.

The first (and arguably easiest) way to obtain elite status in a given program is by simply opening a co-branded credit card. Many card issuers include automatic status just for holding one of their cards, while others give you elite status credits (either stays or nights) that help you meet status requirements by effectively lowering the standard qualification thresholds.

Here’s a quick rundown of co-branded cards that offer elite status outright, or can help you earn it:

  • Hyatt Gold Passport: The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase gives you automatic Platinum status.
  • IHG Rewards: The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card gives you automatic Platinum Elite status. TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig even scored an upgrade to Spire Elite when his sign-up bonus posted as elite-qualifying points last year (it’s worth noting that I signed up around the same time and wasn’t as fortunate).

As you can see, all of the major hotel chains offer some way of earning credits toward elite status through a co-branded credit card, with most providing some type of automatic status. I would argue that Hilton Gold is the most valuable, as it includes free breakfast and room upgrades, but in any case, getting these perks for annual fees that (mostly) fall under $100 is quite nice.

2. Spend A Lot on Co-Branded Credit Cards

Hilton Conrad Featured
Diamond status with Hilton HHonors could get you upgraded to the adults-only section of the Conrad Bali, and you can earn this status through spend alone.

In addition to award status (or credits toward status) just for holding these cards, many chains give you the ability to “buy” status or additional credits by spending a certain amount on these cards. Here’s a run-down of these options:

  • Hyatt Gold Passport: You can earn 2 stay credits and 5 night credits by spending $20,000 on the Hyatt Card in a calendar year, and you earn another 3 stays and 5 nights when you spend $40,000.
  • Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Rewards: The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card gives you an additional night toward elite status for every $3,000 you spend (so you can earn Gold by spending $105,000 or Platinum by spending $180,000). You can also keep your Gold status with the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card card after the first year by spending $10,000, and you can earn Platinum status by spending $75,000 (both of which are based on the cardmembership year rather than the calendar year).
  • Starwood Preferred Guest: When you spend $30,000 in a calendar year on the SPG Amex (either the personal or business version), you’ll automatically earn Gold status.

Of course, there are many other cards that provide great benefits for hitting certain spending thresholds, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your purchase strategy in 2016.

3. Utilize a Status Match or Challenge

Hyatt Cannes Suite Featured
If you can match to Hyatt’s top-tier Diamond status, you could enjoy suite upgrades in luxurious locales like Cannes.

Another great shortcut to elite status is by leveraging status with one program to get a status match or challenge with another. I wrote about these options back at the end of 2014, but several of them have since changed. One of the best sites to monitor to get a feel for your options is Status Matcher, which will provide recent reports of others who have requested matches in your desired program. Just be aware that lying likely won’t lead to a successful match!

Here’s a quick overview of your current options:

  • Club Carlson: If you want Club Carlson status, you can email statusmatch@goldpointsplus.com to request a status match, though the program will only offer up to Gold. Top-tier Concierge status must be earned the hard way.
  • Hilton HHonors: Hilton was offering a formal status match at the end of 2015, but that ended as of January 11. Still, many reports indicate that you can email HHonorMyStatus@hilton.com to request a match, and programs that have been successfully matched in the last month include Accor, Club Carlson, Best Western and Marriott. Amex Platinum cardholders also receive free HHonors Gold status.
  • IHG Rewards: No public offer available.
  • Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Rewards: Typically doesn’t offer matches but may offer a challenge after calling customer service or submitting a request through the Marriott Rewards website.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest: Typically doesn’t offer matches but may offer a challenge by emailing Platinum.Liason@starwoodhotels.com with proof of your current status.

Just be sure to use this option carefully. Many programs will only allow a single status match or challenge in your lifetime, and others will restrict you from participating if you have recently held status. In other words, you can’t hop back and forth between programs by just requesting match after match, year after year.

4. Utilize Airline and Hotel Partnerships

The RewardsPlus partnership between United and Marriott allows you to earn status with one and turn it into benefits with the other.
The RewardsPlus partnership allows you to turn United status into Marriott status.

Another way to earn elite status (or at least take advantage of on-property perks) is by leveraging the emerging partnerships between hotel chains and airlines. At the time of writing, only one offers outright reciprocal elite status: the RewardsPlus program from Marriott and United. If you’re Premier Gold or higher with United, you can visit this page to sign up for Marriott Rewards Gold Elite status, which includes lounge access/breakfast, late checkout and bonus points (among other benefits).

In addition to this option with Marriott, you can also leverage a couple of other airline programs to enjoy benefits when visiting SPG properties. Through the Crossover Rewards program, Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallions will receive perks like elite check-in lines, 4pm late checkout and upgrades to enhanced rooms. Meanwhile, if you hold Gold or Platinum status in the Emirates Skywards program, you can also enjoy elite check-in lines and late checkout through the Your World Rewards program. While neither of these gives you outright hotel elite status, it can still make your next SPG stay a bit more comfortable.

5. Plan a Meeting or Group Booking

SPG Pro makes planning meetings at Starwood properties both easy and rewarding.
SPG Pro makes planning meetings at Starwood properties both easy and rewarding.

The final shortcut to elite status comes through meeting planning, as many chains offer perks for bringing large groups to their respective properties. For example, Starwood Preferred Guest recently launched SPG Pro to encourage professional meeting planners as well as regular travelers who book group rates to book with SPG. You’ll earn 1 elite night credit for every 20 rooms you book, so if you’re responsible for organizing a large convention, you can earn Gold status with 500 rooms or Platinum Status with 1,000 rooms.

Here are some of the other programs out there:

  • Hyatt: The Hyatt Gold Passport Planner Rewards program gives you bonus points for meetings but also gives you Platinum Status after 3 qualifying meetings or Diamond status after 10 qualifying meetings (defined as 10 or more rooms occupied per night).
  • IHG: The IHG Business Rewards program gives you 3 points per dollar spent when booking rooms for yourself and others, and these count as elite-qualifying points. You’ll earn Gold status with 10,000 points ($3,333 in spending), Platinum status with 40,000 points ($13,333) and Spire status with 75,000 points ($25,000).
  • Marriott: The Rewarding Events program through Marriott Rewards offers bonus points as well as 10 elite night credits when you book 10 or more guest rooms for at least one night, giving you automatic Silver status.

Be sure to investigate these options prior to booking your next group trip or work meeting.

Bottom Line

Elite status can be incredibly valuable, and thankfully obtaining status with hotel chains doesn’t require you spending weeks away from your family and friends to earn it the hard way. These strategies are simple ways to extend your benefits to other chains and maximize each and every one of your hotel stays.

What are your favorite shortcuts to earning hotel elite status?

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