Breakfast, upgrades and more: 3 TPG staffers reveal their favorite elite status perks
Loyalty programs naturally want to reward their most loyal — and most valuable — travelers. Many programs do so by offering elite status to travelers who spend the most money or time with them.
If you hold mid- to top-tier elite status with a loyalty program — and travel with the program frequently — you'll likely get thousands of dollars of value from your status each year. So, once you have elite status, it's often compelling to continue spending, staying and flying with certain programs to reap the rewards of your status while requalifying for another year. Hence the hamster wheel of elite status.
From World of Hyatt status to elite benefits thanks to Japan Airlines, TPG staffers hold many levels of status with many different airline and hotel loyalty programs. In this article, TPG's points and miles team discuss their favorite elite status perks.
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Andrew Kunesh, editor
I hold a handful of elite statuses with Alaska Airlines, Air Canada, Delta, Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton and United — some low-tier and some top-tier. Status with each program makes the travel experience better in its own right, whether that's because of an upgraded inflight experience, a better hotel room or the ability to move to an earlier or later flight on a whim.
These perks have become especially important as I get on the road again, both for work and pleasure. So, let's look at three elite status perks that I've come to love over the years.
Room and seat upgrades
Whether to a hotel suite or a business-class seat, upgrades are always a treat. Thanks to my Marriott Titanium Elite and Delta Platinum Medallion status, I get the bulk of my upgrades at Marriott hotels and on Delta flights (versus stays and flights with other companies).
As a soon-to-be Delta Diamond Medallion, I'm looking forward to choosing Global Upgrade Certificates as one of my Choice Benefits (even though Delta is devaluing them next year) to upgrade international flights to Delta One business class. I've had pretty good luck with upgrades this year, too. Many of my domestic flights have cleared upgrades at the last minute, and hotel upgrades have been plentiful.
However, my favorite upgrade of the year was at the Le Roch Hotel & Spa in Paris, where the hotel moved me to a suite with its own steam room. This was all thanks to my Marriott status, which makes me eligible for space-available upgrades. Trust me when I say a good steam is the perfect cure for jet lag.
Bonus points and miles earning
I love earning and burning points and miles — and elite status can make the earning part a lot easier. Most elite statuses award members bonus points; for example, I earn a 75% bonus on Marriott stays thanks to my Titanium Elite status. Standard members earn 10 points per dollar at most properties, but I earn 17.5 points per dollar. This quickly adds up to more free stays, especially since the bulk of my hotel stays are at Marriott properties.
The same goes for airline status. Having Delta Platinum Medallion status means I earn 9 SkyMiles per dollar instead of the 5 SkyMiles per dollar a member without elite status would. Further, my United Gold status means I earn 8 miles per dollar over 5 miles per dollar. Earning more airline miles on paid flights quickly adds up to more award flights when combined with miles I earn from transferable points credit cards.
I love airport and hotel lounges. There's something about a place to hang out with a beverage, snacks and reliable internet that's comforting to me — especially when I'm traveling for work. On the hotel side, my Marriott Titanium Elite and Hilton Diamond status guarantee access to hotel lounges, which generally offer visitors complimentary happy hour and breakfast. This ends up saving me a lot of money in cities like Oslo, Norway, and Hong Kong, where food can be expensive in tourist centers.
On the other hand, I get alliancewide lounge access with SkyTeam and Star Alliance thanks to my Delta and United status. Unfortunately, this doesn't give me access to those airlines' own lounges in a lot of cases. Still, I bridge that gap with credit cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express and United Club Infinite Card. Regardless, this has helped me visit top-notch lounges like the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge in Toronto (YYZ) and the Singapore Airlines lounge at London Heathrow (LHR).
Katie Genter, senior writer
Since 2017, I've traveled full time as a digital nomad. When my husband and I gave up our apartment and sold or donated most of our belongings in 2017, we only had a few elite statuses. But, while living on the road, we've picked up multiple airline and hotel elite statuses.
Currently, I hold American Airlines Executive Platinum (Oneworld Emerald), Asiana Diamond (Star Alliance Gold) and Malaysia Enrich Gold (Oneworld Sapphire). And I'll pick up two low-tier airline elite statuses by the end of 2021 in the form of Delta Silver Medallion and United Premier Silver.
Meanwhile, on the hotel side, my husband and I split our stays, so we each hold high-tier hotel elite status in several programs. But we typically travel together and hence benefit from our combined hotel elite statuses. Between the two of us, we currently hold Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite, Hilton Honors Diamond, World of Hyatt Globalist, IHG Rewards Spire Ambassador, Wyndham Diamond and Choice Privileges Diamond.
Thanks to our elite statuses, we get significant value from perks like free checked bags, elevated earning rates, complimentary hotel breakfast and priority check-in and boarding. The following three elite perks are my favorites.
Like other TPG staffers, I get a lot of value from upgrades. In fact, upgrades on domestic awards are one of the primary reasons I may still try to requalify for Executive Platinum status in 2022 despite AAdvantage's switch to Loyalty Points. Plus, systemwide upgrades have allowed me to fly in business class on several inexpensive economy fares over the years.
Holding Star Alliance Gold and Oneworld Emerald status has let me snag preferred seats with extra legroom when flying in economy on some Oneworld and Star Alliance carriers. The extra few inches of legroom in these seats can make a massive difference if I'm looking to work on my laptop in flight.
We've also gotten some notable upgrades at Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton and IHG hotels due to holding high-level elite status with these programs. Suite upgrades are relatively rare, but we frequently get upgrades to rooms with impressive views, extra windows or more space. And we usually get our preference of a room on a high floor far from the elevator. Since we work from our room on most trips, these small but frequent upgrades provide significant value.
Related: How I landed a premium suite upgrade midway through my stay
One of my favorite elite status perks is lounge access. Thanks to Hilton Diamond, World of Hyatt Globalist and Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite status, my husband and I can access the club-level lounges at most Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott properties. Even while traveling during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we've gotten excellent lounge perks during stays at the Hyatt Regency JFK Airport at Resorts World New York, Sheraton Istanbul City Center and Four Points by Sheraton Bogota.
But perhaps even more valuable than hotel lounge access is airport lounge access. Oneworld Emerald status (via American Airlines Executive Platinum elite status) unlocks some amazing lounges when flying internationally. Before the coronavirus pandemic halted most leisure travel to Asia, I loved using my Oneworld Emerald status to visit some of the best airport lounges, including The Pier First Class in Hong Kong, Japan Airlines' First Class Lounge in Tokyo and Malaysia Airlines' First Class Lounge in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From a sushi station in Tokyo to sit-down dining in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, I always enjoyed the culinary offerings at these lounges.
Related: Airport lounge wars: How credit card companies are competing for your preflight cocktail
Guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout
The most valuable hotel elite status perk for my husband and me is the guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout. Granted, many hotel elite statuses offer late checkout as a perk. However, availability and checkout time are typically at the hotel's discretion, so you often won't know until your checkout date whether the hotel will approve your late checkout request.
World of Hyatt Globalist status and Marriott Platinum Elite status or higher provide guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout with relatively few exclusions. So, when we stay with Hyatt or Marriott, we know we can rely on having our room until 4 p.m.
As such, we're often willing to pay more to stay at a Hyatt or Marriott. After all, guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout usually allows us to work a full day before checking out. And 4 p.m. checkout is extremely valuable before catching evening flights to our next destination.
Related: Why I'm striving for higher Marriott Bonvoy status this year
Benji Stawski, writer
Despite traveling a lot less than usual over the last year and a half, I currently hold several airline and hotel statuses, ranging from entry-level to top-tier.
I have Alaska Airlines MVP, JAL Mileage Bank Diamond, Hilton Honors Diamond, Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite and Hyatt Discoverist. I earned some organically, while I enjoy others through cobranded credit cards and status matches. Here are some of my favorite benefits.
Having complimentary breakfast on site is very convenient and can be a big money-saver, especially if you're traveling with others. Depending on how substantial the offering is, I'll sometimes try to time my free breakfasts strategically so that they keep me full through lunch.
I currently get complimentary breakfast through my Hilton Honors Diamond status (which I have through my cobranded Hilton credit card). However, for at least 2021, Hilton has replaced this with a $10-$25 daily food-and-beverage credit per person at U.S. hotels. While some people might appreciate the greater flexibility, I personally got more value from this benefit when it was a proper continental breakfast. Hopefully, I'll get World of Hyatt Globalist status one day as its free breakfast benefit is unparalleled.
Extra-legroom economy seating
While first-class upgrades are great, they can be challenging to get — especially if you're toward the bottom of the elite-status ladder. Luckily, most elite statuses offer access to extra-legroom economy seating. With Alaska Airlines, even entry-level elites like myself can lock in extra-legroom exit-row seats at the time of booking.
Personally, I think that an exit-row seat can be almost as good as first class on shorter domestic flights. Several airlines even offer passengers seated in extra-legroom economy seats extra perks like free alcoholic drinks.
Related: How to snag an exit-row seat when flying US carriers
Nowadays, it's relatively easy to get airport lounge access if you have the right credit cards. However, many of the world's best lounges are reserved for premium and elite passengers. For instance, in the U.S., Admirals Club members don't get access to American Airlines' Flagship lounges. These are typically exclusive to business-class and first-class passengers on long-haul and premium transcontinental routes. But thanks to my Oneworld Emerald status through Japan Airlines, I get access whenever flying American, including on domestic itineraries. Similarly, hotel lounges are typically reserved for elite members — or those willing to pay a pretty penny.
Airport and hotel lounges can be a welcome respite from the stresses of travel. These more exclusive lounges that are harder to shortcut access into tend to also offer more substantial food, allowing you to save more on eating out.
Related: The 7 do's and don'ts in an airport lounge
Elite status provides many valuable perks. But, typically, earning elite status requires significant spending and travel. However, it is possible to use credit cards to earn elite status in some programs. For example, cardholders of The Platinum Card from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express can enroll to get Marriott Gold Elite and Hilton Gold status as a card perk.
Meanwhile, other cobranded credit cards can allow you to jump-start elite status. For example, you can earn up to 30 elite night credits per year with a combination of Marriott Bonvoy cards. And you could spend your way to status in 2022 with AAdvantage cards -- or use a combination of card spending and flying to earn American Airlines status.
Finally, you may also be able to status match to earn elite status in a new program. But whether you earn elite status as a card benefit, through a status match or via traveling with the program, consider how to best use the program's elite status perks on your travels. After all, elite status perks are only valuable when you travel with the program.