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Airline status vs. hotel status: Which is better, according to these TPG staffers?

Aug. 30, 2022
11 min read
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When it comes to elite status, are you dedicated to a certain program, always traveling with that particular airline or staying at that particular hotel chain?

Or are you more of a free agent, open to flying with any airline or staying at any hotel where you can use your points and miles?

Some people have very strong feelings about pursuing elite status with hotel or airline loyalty programs. That's not the only element to consider, though. Maybe you only care about earning elite status on one side of this conversation.

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Related: So, what exactly is elite status in travel — and how can I get it?

That's the case with these two TPG staff writers. Let's look at why one finds elite status with airlines more important while another thinks hotel status is more beneficial.

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Why hotel status is more important to me — Ryan Smith, credit cards writer

The JW Marriott Maldives. NICKY KELVIN/THE POINTS GUY

To be fair, I have Silver status with United Airlines. However, I didn't get that status from flying, and I don't think I'll ever get airline status that way, given my preferences and travel. However, I have Globalist status with World of Hyatt, Titanium Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy and Diamond status with Hilton.

Before we talk about why I think hotel status is better, let's look at some common perks you'll get with hotel programs' elite status:

  • Space-available room upgrades at check-in, including suites for top-tier members.
  • Free breakfast or an on-property food and beverage credit, though this is sometimes limited to two people only (even if a whole family is staying in the room).
  • A welcome amenity like points or a free beverage.

It seems easier to me

To start, I find hotel status much simpler than airline status. Rather than tracking "some of column A and some of column B" (how I understand the path to earning airline status in many programs), you just need to put your head on a pillow at a hotel. Sleep there, that's it. If I stay a certain number of nights, I get the corresponding status, and I find that approach refreshingly simple.

All hotels in that program are equal

Where I sleep doesn't matter. With airline status, paying more to fly in business class or first class helps you earn status faster. With hotels, one night is one night, whether it's at the luxurious Park Hyatt Maldives or an inexpensive Hyatt Place near an airport. As long as I stay the requisite number of nights, I don't need to keep track of which hotel brands I'm staying at during those nights.

You spend more time at a hotel on most trips

Third, most people spend more time at their hotels than on their flights during a vacation. I'm sleeping at the hotel every day, while I'm only on the plane to get there and get back home. Thus, receiving perks at the hotel affects every day of my trip. Things like daily free breakfast or upgraded rooms affect a much larger portion of my holiday than an upgraded seat on a flight. Free breakfast for a family can provide hundreds of dollars in savings during a trip.

Related: Comparing 4 top hotel elite status levels — and how to earn them in 2022

A suite at the Hyatt Regency JFK Airport. BENJI STAWSKI/THE POINTS GUY

I find paying extra points for flight upgrades easier than paying for room upgrades

Speaking of upgrades, I can use extra airline miles to fly in business class on long-haul flights if I want to fly in a better seat. If I want this upgrade, I only need to pay these extra miles once (or twice, if it's a round-trip flight).

However, if I want to guarantee an upgraded room and don't have some status that could lead to room upgrades, I will need to fork over extra points every night of my trip. Paying double points for a suite upgrade every night of a weeklong holiday can add up. Because of this, I prefer free upgrades with hotel elite status and upgrade certificates.

Hotel status helps me save money

While I admit that flying in premium cabins on a flight is more comfortable, I don't think flying in a nicer seat saves me money on my trip. At least on long-haul flights with full-service airlines, everyone will get a meal. At most hotels, only those with elite status will get free food. The exception is hotels with free breakfast for everyone, though these aren't the majority.

And while we're on the topic of perks, some hotels will offer free rides to and from the airport for elite members, meaning you will save money on a taxi or rental car. Elite status can lead to big savings at a hotel, while I don't think it puts money back in my pocket during a flight.

Free stays count toward hotel status

The biggest factor is that hotel chains count award nights toward status. Not many times do you earn credit toward airline status when flying on an award flight.

Thus, you need to spend real money. However, staying at a hotel using points or free night certificates is still considered a "stay" and counts toward the nights you need for elite status. I can earn status without ever paying to stay at a hotel, which might be the element that sways me the most toward preferring hotel elite status over airline elite status.

Related: Which hotels count award stays toward elite status?

And that brings us back to where we started: I have Premier Silver status with United because it's a perk offered by my Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite status. So, yes, I do have airline status with one program, but it didn't come from flying because I usually travel on points and miles. That makes me ineligible for airline status in most programs, and I'm OK with that. If I want to fly in the front of the plane, I will use extra points and miles to reserve one of those seats.

Why airline status is more important to me — Kyle Olsen, points and miles reporter

Even though I'm taking the airline status side of this debate, I love hotel status.

I am an Ambassador Elite member with Marriott Bonvoy, a World of Hyatt Globalist and a Hilton Diamond. For all the reasons Ryan described — particularly the breakfasts, suite upgrades and potential ways to save money — hotel status rocks. But despite that, I firmly believe that airline status is better.

While I am an AAdvantage Platinum member, my status crown jewel is United Airlines Premier 1K. So what about airline status makes it far more rewarding than hotel status?

International business-class upgrades

United Boeing 787-9 Polaris business class. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

First and foremost, it's the upgrades — and I'm not talking about a so-called first-class seat with 2 inches more of width on a regional Embraer E175.

As a Premier 1K member, I receive 320 PlusPoints per year. That's enough for 10 long-haul upgrades from Premium Plus to Polaris business class in a year. And despite lengthy upgrade waitlists, I've developed a list of the best ways to have my PlusPoints upgrades clear over the years.

For example, earlier this year, I used 30 PlusPoints to get upgrades from Premium Plus to Polaris business class on a 16-plus-hour nonstop flight from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Singapore Changi Airport (SIN). Incidentally, the seat that I was upgraded to was selling for well over $10,000.

PlusPoints have helped me fly more comfortably in business-class seats that I would have never flown in without my United status.

Valuable redeemable miles

Air Canada business class on a Boeing 737-8. MAX KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Thanks to United's membership in Star Alliance and American's in Oneworld, I've been able to maximize my miles by flying premium cabins on partner airlines. As a Premier 1K member, I earn 11 miles for each dollar I spend on United. Since I've routinely been able to redeem my United miles at 5 cents apiece, I'm effectively getting 55% of my paid ticket value back in miles for future flights — and that's before using a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express, which earns 5 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly with the airlines or through the Amex Travel portal (on up to $500,000 of airfare purchases per calendar year). TPG values each Amex point at 2 cents, so by using the Platinum Card and earning 5 points per dollar, that's an extra 10% back in Amex points on airfare.

By maximizing redemptions, between 11 MileagePlus miles and 5 Amex points per dollar, I stand to get around 65% of my airfare expenses back in points. No hotel elite status that I'm aware of can compare to that. Of course, this completely depends on how much you can redeem your miles for.

Unparalleled support

Passengers wait in line at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on July 29, 2022. FREEK VAN DEN BERGH/ANP/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

This summer proved to be an exceedingly challenging time for the airlines. When your flight is canceled, the race to get rebooked — against your fellow passengers — begins.

The secret to snagging those few seats on the next departure is quickly getting hold of an airline representative. Throughout the summer, even during weather meltdowns in Newark, the United Premier Priority Desk was quick to connect its elite members with capable representatives and get them rebooked. That far beats waiting in multihour customer service lines (whether in the airport or on the phone), which any customer without status found themselves doing.

A way to earn without breaking the bank

There are promotions that make earning airline elite status less expensive. BEN SMITHSON/THE POINTS GUY

Ryan brings up a valid point about qualifying for hotel status. While it might be more straightforward to earn, that doesn't mean it's less expensive. For example, through the end of the year, there's a trick for earning top-tier British Airways Gold status on North American flights for under $3,000. By traveling on partner airlines, there are many tricks for quickly earning American AAdvantage status and United MileagePlus status. That's how I am earning top-tier Premier 1K status with less than $7,500 of annual spending.

Also, with the new American Airlines Loyalty Points system, TPG staffer Nick Ewen earned American Airlines Gold status for less than $100.

While some credit cards provide hotel elite status, earning airline status can be easier than doing mattress runs.

Bottom line

As you can see, no two people have the same travel style. One type of elite status is usually more important than the other. For you, your preference likely depends on your travel style, goals and upcoming destinations.

The costs you incur during travel and what type of elite status can defray these expenses also play an important role in deciding whether to pursue elite status with an airline, a hotel program or both.

Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.

Featured image by THE VINES RESORT AND SPA
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases