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Best top-tier hotel elite status for your family — from free breakfast to confirmed suites

April 25, 2020
13 min read
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Editor’s note: At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information needed to make educated decisions about travel and rewards-earning strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route networks. But we are sharing this information to provide value for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.

This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

Once you have kids, the prism through which you view life changes. That extends to travel: While everyone enjoys being pampered, families have many different requirements and priorities from their hotel loyalty programs than single business travelers. For example, a suite upgrade is nice for all travelers, but that separate room makes all the difference when you have a napping toddler.

To help those who travel with a crew, TPG is breaking down top-tier hotel loyalty programs through the lens of the benefits that appeal most to families. The four programs that most families will probably utilize with the greatest frequency are: IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt.

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Not a bad spot for a free breakfast. (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Not a bad spot for a free breakfast. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

World of Hyatt Globalist status

The top-tier elite status in the World of Hyatt program is Globalist status, which is earned after 60 eligible nights or 100,000 base points in the program in a calendar year. If that sounds out of range, it might be easier than you think since the World Of Hyatt Credit Card normally comes with five night credits and you can earn an additional two elite-qualifying nights with each $5,000 you spend on the card.

Related: 7 ways Hyatt Globalist elite status can make your next trip better

Hyatt Globalist is the most clear-cut upgrade from mid-tier hotel status in the four programs we're looking at today. Hyatt loyalists tend to be #hyatt4ever because once you're a Globalist, it's hard to go back.

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Hyatt Globalist status strengths

As a Hyatt Globalist you'll receive unlimited lounge access, upgrades (including four confirmable suite upgrades each good for up to a seven-night stay), waived resort fees on both award and paid stays and waived parking fees on award stays. You can also share your Hyatt perks with others via the Guest of Honor program. Additionally, Hyatt has partnerships with M life and American Airlines, allowing you to earn points and potentially leverage elite status.

Hyatt Regency Club Lounge. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Hyatt Globalist status limitations

Hyatt is growing pretty rapidly, but has a more limited footprint than some other programs.

If you only stay at Hyatt brands, you may miss some swaths of the globe. Another quibble with Hyatt Globalist status is that many of the Hyatt properties that families utilize will be either Hyatt Place or Hyatt House — hotels where having status almost doesn't matter as both brands offer free breakfast to all who book direct and suite upgrades are limited.

Related: Why families need the World of Hyatt credit card

(Photo courtesy of Hyatt Regency Lost Pines.)

Marriott Bonvoy Platinum and Titanium Elite status

The top elite status tiers in the Marriott Bonvoy program are technically Titanium Elite that is earned after 75 nights and Titanium Elite with Ambassador, earned after 100 nights. However, many of the day-to-day perks, such as space-available upgrades and free breakfast options, are unlocked at the Platinum status achievable after 50 nights.

You can earn 15 night credits toward status with one of the Bonvoy family of cards, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which puts Platinum status just 35 nights away. In fact, having both a consumer and small-business Marriott credit card, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card, means that you can actually start the year with 30 of the needed 50 elite status nights.

The free breakfast benefit that starts at Platinum status is a bit of a mixed bag at Marriott properties: With 29 chains, each seems to have its own breakfast policy, and some, notably Ritz-Carlton and Edition, have no guaranteed breakfast benefit option at all.

Related: Which Marriott credit cards are right for you?

Marriott Platinum breakfast at the St. Regis New York. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Marriott Bonvoy Platinum and Titanium status strengths

Many (though not all) Marriott brands make free breakfast a Platinum option at check-in. Some hotels are more generous with this policy than others, but we've generally experienced a trend toward this getting more generous, not less.

Breakfast buffet at the Westin Mammoth. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Space-available upgrades to suites can technically happen at check-in and Platinums and above also get club lounge access. At some Marriott properties, Titaniums will get even better treatment. The distinction between Platinum and Titanium status is somewhat nebulous and could vary widely, depending on which property you visit. For instance, at the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista I got free parking and a waived resort fee as a Titanium member, even though neither is an official Bonvoy-listed benefit.

One big pro in the Bonvoy Titanium column has little to do with Marriott. The RewardsPlus partnership lives on with the Marriott Bonvoy program, so as a Titanium or Ambassador traveler, you’ll be able to link your Marriott account with your United MileagePlus account and enjoy automatic United Premier Silver status. Silver status comes with Economy Plus seats for two at check-in and the ability to see more award space.

Economy Plus seating. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.)

Marriott Bonvoy Platinum and Titanium status limitations

Marriott Suite Night Awards (SNA) are available as elite bonus options starting at the Platinum level. That sounds great as you could theoretically confirm a suite in advance. However, in practice they can be much more difficult to redeem than a Hyatt confirmed suite upgrade.

Related: What is Marriott Bonvoy elite status worth?

Suite Night Award success at the Westin Snowmass (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Suite Night Award success at the Westin Snowmass. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Hilton Diamond status

The top-tier elite status in the Hilton Honors program is Diamond status, which is typically earned after 30 stays, 60 nights or by earning 120,000 Hilton base points in a calendar year (which equates to $12,000 in spending).

You’ll also be upgraded to Diamond status by spending $40,000 in a calendar year on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card or Hilton Honors American Express Business Card. But really, those are all the hard ways to earn this status since level Diamond status is included as an automatic benefit on the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Included breakfast for Diamonds at the Conrad Bora Bora. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Hilton Diamond status strengths

Hilton Diamond is the only truly meaningful top-tier hotel status given automatically with a credit card sign-up. While both Hilton Gold and Diamond offer breakfast, only Diamond status guarantees lounge access. Both Gold and Diamond are also eligible for room upgrades, but my experience is that many Hilton properties roll out the red carpet for Diamond in a way they don't for Gold.

Related: The top 6 benefits of Hilton Diamond status

Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem. (Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy.)

Hilton Diamond status limitations

If you don't want to worry about Diamond status, know that Hilton Gold is very easy to earn via a variety of methods. Hilton Gold Status comes with other cards such as The Platinum Card® from American Express, Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card. Considering it is just a mid-tier status, Hilton Gold is robust, offering free breakfast and upgrades on its own, and may be sufficient for many families.

Related: Choosing the best Hilton credit card for you

IHG Spire Elite status

The top-tier elite status within the IHG Rewards Club is Spire Elite status, which is earned after 75 qualifying nights or 75,000 elite-qualifying points in a calendar year. With IHG's earning rates at 10x per dollar at most chains, you will likely earn 75,000 points before 75 nights.

The bottom line with IHG Spire Elite: It's probably the least valuable of the top-tier programs, especially for families. The minimal difference between Spire Elite and Platinum status, which comes with the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card, make earning Spire Elite status mostly useless — and it doesn't even convey breakfast, making it not particularly useful for most families compared to other options.

Related: Score freebies with the Kimpton secret password

IHG Spire status strengths

The 100% bonus on points means you can earn points at a very quick rate, especially when you factor in promotions. Spire Elites also might have a better shot at upgrades, although this is more anecdotal than spelled out. Hertz Five Star Status comes as an IHG Spire perk, which could score you some upgrades if you don't already have car rental status through a premium credit card.

IHG Spire status limitations

IHG lacks a basic breakfast benefit, even at the Spire Elite level. Other benefits, such as potential upgrades and late checkout, don't differ substantially from Platinum and Spire Elite, so while IHG has some pretty cool properties in its lineup (especially the Kimpton brand), we probably wouldn't go out of our way to earn these status levels.

Kimtpon Seafire Resort on Grand Cayman (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
Kimtpon Seafire Resort on Grand Cayman. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy.)

Bottom line

If you are already planning family trips to areas where full-service Hyatt properties are available, Hyatt Globalist status truly can't be beat. But that's a relatively big if, even with all the recent expansions into other brands.

Hilton Diamond status has the unique ability to be earned solely through simply possessing a credit card, and my experience with the program has been nothing but positive. To be transparent, the Amex Hilton Aspire card that conveys Diamond status as a built-in perk carries with it a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees), but the card really is worth it for families if you use the perks (once travel begins again). Diamond status aside, the card comes with up to a $250 annual resort credit (applicable even to room charges) and up to a $250 airline fee credit. If the annual credits aren’t enough, the Hilton Aspire also offers a free weekend night annually, arriving around your card anniversary, that you can use at almost any Hilton hotel with standard room reward availability.

Conrad Bora Bora (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Conrad Bora Bora. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Marriott Bonvoy's top elite status tiers have to be dinged a bit because of the lack of benefit consistency across brands and the limitations of the Suite Night Awards. However, it is still a good elite status that is pretty easy to earn if you have both a personal and small business Marriott credit card.

In the end, the hotel elite status program that makes the most sense for your family will be the one that most closely matches your travel patterns. I don't recommend picking your destination because of your hotel status — choose where you want to go and then work backward from there.

For more elite status inspiration:

Summer Hull contributed to this post.

Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

Featured image by Included room service breakfast at a St. Regis (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
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.