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Hotel Elite Status Match and Challenge Plans for 2016

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Status matches and challenges are great opportunities to fast-track your way to elite perks within various hotel programs, and luckily most of the major brands offer such programs. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at the currently available options.

We are well into 2016, which means the clock is ticking on qualifying for elite status. Hopefully you already have a plan in place regarding elite status qualification (or requalification) for your favorite hotel chain(s). However, if not, it isn’t too late to consider a status match or challenge. Earlier this month I went through the various programs currently offered by the major US airlines, and today I want to shift my attention to hotel programs to see if one of them makes sense for you.

Le-Meridien-Piccadilly-Central-London-Hotel-1
A status match or challenge can be a nice shortcut to perks on your next hotel stay.

Before getting into the specifics, though, a few quick disclaimers. First, be forewarned that hotels may try to verify that your request is legitimate (one TPG reader discovered this last year when status matching to Alaska). Status that’s been granted or obtained through hotel credit cards rather than earned may not be enough. This also impacts any fraudulent requests. You may think that Photoshop and the resulting fake credentials will be enough to fool a new hotel program into thinking that you actually hold status. Not only is this dishonest; it’s also unlikely to work.

Second, be sure you understand the full terms of the requirements of the match or challenge. With some programs, you don’t even need to currently have status with another hotel chain, while others require proof. Some programs will give you temporary status as you work toward qualifying for more permanent status. Even the most legitimate requests for status can be waylaid by misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the rules.

Another year means another opportunity to hit calendar-year spending bonuses.
The timing of your request for status is critical. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

In addition, take your time to consider the options and the timing before jumping in. Just about all programs impose a restriction on how frequently you can utilize a match or challenge. For some, it’s every five years, while others only allow it once per lifetime of the account. The timing is critical as well. You may be able to extend your status even longer by requesting it or completing it at the right time. You also, of course, want to make sure to put in the request before your current status expires.

Finally, remember that there are many ways to earn status without actually staying in hotels or going through a status match or challenge. A large number of these methods involve hotel credit cards. For each of the chains below, in addition to highlighting the current programs in place to match your status from a competitor, I’ll also list any available credit cards that include automatic status or shortcuts to elite status.

Now that all of that is out of the way, where do the major hotel programs currently stand on status matches or challenges? Unfortunately, only a few make this information publicly available, and many will grant a match or challenge on a case-by-case basis. A great site with user-submitted data is StatusMatcher.com, which will give you an idea of your options. You can also always check a specific hotel chain’s forum on FlyerTalk.

Here’s a rundown of what you’ll currently find (remembering that there are always exceptions):

CLUB CARLSON

radisson blu oslo
Club Carlson will match up to its Gold status, though you can also get this through a credit card.

The Club Carlson program allows current elite members from other programs to request a status match by emailing their current credentials to statusmatch@goldpointsplus.com. Unfortunately, the program’s top tier (Concierge) isn’t applicable and must be earned the hard way. Even if you hold top-tier status with another chain, the best you can hope for is Club Carlson Gold. Generally speaking, top-tier elites will be matched to Gold while middle-tier elites will be matched to Silver. However, this isn’t always the case. For example, I’ve read reports of Hilton HHonors Gold being matched to Club Carlson Silver and Club Carlson Gold, while Marriott Rewards Gold appears to typically match to Silver.

Here’s a list of programs that are eligible for a status match (based on this report):

  • Hilton
  • Marriott
  • Hyatt
  • Starwood
  • Intercontinental
  • Delta Hotels
  • Choice Hotels
  • SAS- Eurobonus
  • Azimut
  • Accor
  • NH Hotels
  • Melia Hotels
  • Rotana
  • Jumeirah International

Club Carlson will only match your status once per lifetime of the account, and reports indicate that this rule is enforced.

Credit card option(s): The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card ($75 annual fee) includes automatic Gold status, while the regular Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature Card ($50 annual fee) comes with automatic Silver status.

HILTON HHONORS

Doubletree by Hilton Queenstown in New Zealand
Hilton is continuing to match statuses through June 30.

In April, Hilton extended its status match program through mid-2016, allowing elite members from other programs to potentially snag Hilton elite status through March 2018. To utilize the match, visit this link to enter your account details. You must provide both proof of your current status and proof of at least one stay with that chain during the past 12 months. You also must submit the request by June 30 to take advantage of the program. Based on reports from TPG readers, it appears that most top-tier statuses (and even some mid-tier ones) will match to Hilton Diamond, including:

  • Hyatt Diamond
  • IHG Spire and Platinum
  • Marriott Platinum
  • SPG Platinum

Other levels will likely confer Hilton HHonors Gold, though one TPG reader reported being matched from mid-tier Hyatt Platinum to top-tier Hyatt Diamond. In addition, if you requested a match recently and were only granted status through 2017, there’s no harm in contacting Hilton HHonors to see if it will extend you to 2018 with this new offer. As usual, there’s no harm in trying, though don’t be surprised if the request isn’t honored.

Credit card option(s): Both the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card ($95 annual fee) and the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express give you automatic Gold status and the option of earning Diamond status by spending $40,000 in a cardmembership year. You also get automatic Gold status when you have the Platinum Card from American Express. Meanwhile, the no-fee Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card and no-fee Hilton HHonors Card from American Express include automatic Silver status.

HYATT GOLD PASSPORT

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa
Hyatt used to consistently offer status matches or challenges, but those programs have been discontinued (at least temporarily).

Hyatt made waves last fall with a status match option via Twitter and then came back with another status match offer aimed at SPG elites in January. Unfortunately, both of those options now appear to be expired. It also used to be possible to sign up for a challenge instead using mid- or top-tier elite status with other programs. This would typically require six nights within 60 days to earn Platinum status and 12 nights within 60 days to earn Diamond status. This program has also been discontinued for the time being.

That being said, it still may be worth submitting a request for a status match or challenge, especially if you have a significant amount of travel coming up at Hyatt properties. To initiate the request, send an email to goldpassport@hyatt.com with proof of your current status. You never know!

Credit card option(s): The Hyatt Credit Card comes with automatic Platinum status, and you can earn an additional 2 stays and 5 nights toward Diamond status by spending $20,000 in a calendar year and another 3 stays and 5 nights by spending $40,000 in calendar year.

IHG and KIMPTON KARMA REWARDS

IHG acquired Kimpton Hotels back in 2014 but has pledged to keep the boutique “chain” and its Karma Rewards program intact — at least through the end of 2016. However, I’m grouping them together here not only because they share a parent company but also because they no longer offer any status match or challenge program. I actually utilized one with Kimpton back in 2015 and really enjoyed a year of Inner Circle status. The details were actually published in the program’s terms and conditions, but that page has since been updated.

Keep in mind too that the two programs are still entirely separate, so you can’t earn or redeem IHG points at Kimpton properties (and vice versa).

Credit card option(s): The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card includes automatic Platinum elite status (though TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig managed to turn the sign-up bonus on the card into Spire Elite status last year).

MARRIOTT REWARDS

Marriott JW Zhejiang Anji entrance featured
Marriott is another chain that offers status challenges.

One of the biggest news stories of the points and miles universe in 2016 has been the pending Marriott-Starwood merger. However, it remains status quo for now, and that applies to Marriott’s status challenge program as well. To initiate, simply call Marriott Rewards customer service at 801-468-8000 or request one online. There isn’t any type of published criteria or thresholds for this, so there’s really no way to know what your offer will be until you call or submit the request online.

However, most reports indicate that the following criteria applies for the three levels of Marriott elite status:

  • Silver: 3 stays in 3 months
  • Gold: 6 stays in 3 months
  • Platinum: 9 stays in 3 months

What’s especially interesting about these options is that Marriott usually only allows you to qualify on nights, yet the challenge is based on stays. When you think about it, this makes sense. Someone could easily have two extended work trips from Sunday to Friday and rack up 10 nights without much effort. It takes a lot more to get nine separate stays.

There are a few additional items to note. You can only utilize this status challenge once every 12 months, which is much more generous than others. You typically won’t get temporary status, but if you do meet the requirements, your status will be upgraded for the rest of the year and the entire following year. Finally, many reports indicate that you must have at least some activity on your Marriott Rewards account to qualify.

Credit card option(s): The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card includes 15 elite night credits (good enough for automatic Silver status) plus an additional elite night credit for every $3,000 you spend on the card. In addition, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card includes Gold status in your first year, and you can keep that active by spending $10,000 each account year or reach an upgrade to Platinum status by spending $75,000.

STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST

St Regis Princeville Resort photo SPG promotion April 2016
SPG offers a consistent challenge to both Gold and Platinum status.

It remains to be seen what happens to Starwood Preferred Guest once the merger with Marriott is finalized, but for now it remains one of the most valuable programs for hotel award stays. While SPG doesn’t offer a straight-up status match, you can request a status challenge by emailing platinum.liason@starwoodhotels.com. You’ll need to complete 9 paid nights for Gold status and 18 nights for Platinum status within a three-month time period to complete the challenge. You can actually choose either the month prior, current month or next month to begin (e.g., April 1 – June 30, May 1 – July 31, etc.). This can be very helpful if you’re unsure of your upcoming travel.

However, there are some important restrictions to keep in mind:

  • You can’t participate if you’ve had SPG Gold or Platinum status within the last five years.
  • You’re only able to successfully complete the challenge once per lifetime of your account.
  • Only paid nights count; award nights, Cash & Points nights and night credits from the SPG credit cards do not.
  • You won’t be able to get temporary status, but if you sign up for both the Gold and Platinum challenge, you can get upgraded to Gold after 9 nights on your way to the 18 nights required for Platinum.

Credit card option(s): Both the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express include 2 stay credits and 5 night credits toward elite status each calendar year. You’ll also enjoy automatic SPG Gold status by holding the Platinum Card from American Express, though you do need to call and reactivate it each year.

Bottom Line

A status match or challenge can be a great way to leverage current status with a hotel chain and turn it into status with another. This gives you a great opportunity to “test drive” another program before fully committing, and it can also unlock valuable rewards like suite upgrade certificates. Just remember that these programs all do come with various restrictions, so be sure to do your homework before initiating the request.

Featured image courtesy of the Conrad Pune, India.

What are your recent experiences with hotel status matches/challenges?

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