Is hotel elite status worth it anymore?
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Once a sought-after achievement for travelers both frequent and occasional, most hotel elite status levels no longer have that same super-exclusive allure.
It is easier to come by hotel elite status than ever before thanks both to numerous hotel credit cards that offer it as a perk, and the fact that many hotel brands have slashed qualification requirements during the pandemic.
In short, it makes us wonder: Is hotel elite status worth it anymore?
Here’s why hotel elite status no longer feels as special … but also some of the reasons you might still want to aim for it, even if you only travel from time to time.
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Hotel elite status perks
If you aren’t already familiar, what hotel elite status does — and doesn’t — get you varies a lot by status level, program and brand.
Hotel status may entitle you to you anything from just 500 more bonus points on a stay to a full room-service breakfast included for the whole family, a massive suite upgrade, waived resort fees, free parking and more.
Related: Is airline elite status worth it anymore?
When staying with the brands and programs that are more generous, the (included) juice has in the past been worth some level of squeeze, but the last few years have brought lots of changes to the world of hotel loyalty programs and hotel operations, which could shift the equation.
Qualification has become (too) easy
In the past, the primary way to achieve hotel elite status was through paid stays — the more nights you stayed, the higher the status you earned. Only true road warriors had a shot at top status with some programs. Now, however, it feels like you barely have to do anything at all to become an elite.
That’s thanks to hotel credit cards that offer status automatically, but also a raft of status extensions, earning promotions and expiration waivers that have spawned a glut of hotel elites (and folks with free night awards and suite upgrade certificates) just waiting in the wings for travel to resume in a meaningful way.
This year has also presented a unique way of earning status faster than usual due to decreased qualification thresholds during the pandemic.
For example, the World of Hyatt program, which is generally regarded as one of the most rewarding hotel loyalty programs, slashed qualification criteria in half for 2021. On top of that, the World of Hyatt Credit Card is currently offering new applicants who apply through Sept. 30, 2021, two tier-qualifying night credits for each eligible night stayed through Dec. 31, 2021, as part of its welcome offer.
That means earning World of Hyatt’s valuable top-tier Globalist status can be effectively done in as few as 15 nights instead of the usual 60, making it much more within reach for those who are traveling right now.
Generally speaking, more lenient qualification requirements can be good news for those seeking status as it’s easier to argue a status level is worth it if you can snag it just by holding a credit card, or you can earn it with a small number of nights.
If everyone is elite is no one elite?
On the flip side, while easy access to hotel elite status is a good thing for travelers looking to level up, it does mean there are probably more elites, especially here in the U.S., than there are upgrades and perks to go around.
An easy gauge for this is when you are traveling in Europe or Asia. There, it’s more common to be treated as pseudo-royalty with upgrades and the like thanks your hotel status because it’s typically more difficult for travelers based in those areas to earn status without the credit card boosts available here in the U.S.
But, when traveling in an area where there are lots of elites (i.e. domestically), the finite availability of benefits such as suite upgrades mean many elites will simply miss out on perks they may feel entitled to based on the stated benefits.
We’ve also seen some properties that receive lots of loyalty program visitors institute longer minimum-night-stay requirements for folks hoping to use points (thus making it harder to redeem for stays), while others try to skirt around offering very much in the way of an elite breakfast benefit.
So while easier status qualification is a good thing — it’s possible that it has also caused hotel programs to devalue their elite status offerings.
In addition to a large pool of elites, during the pandemic, we’ve seen hotel loyalty programs lessen the quality and quantity of some perks they offer elites, on top of a reduction in the general offerings we’ve come to expect during stays.
Restaurants have been closed, room service has been reduced or discontinued altogether, club lounges have not all reopened and housekeeping is no longer a standard amenity everywhere. But even before the pandemic, loyalty programs were changing and slashing elite benefits.
For example, Marriott began encouraging guests to waive housekeeping at check-in and opt for bonus points instead. And some popular brands, such as Ritz-Carlton, don’t offer many measurable elite perks at all.
Many hotels have also done away with welcome amenities. Hilton slashed the already dramatically changed the breakfast benefit that came standard for Gold and Diamond elites within the U.S. Space-available upgrades are also less likely to come through with a lot of the major chains now due to capacity limitations and more last-minute upsells to that hotels now proffer in order to generate more cash quickly.
That said, hotel elite status hasn’t gone totally downhill.
When hotel elite status is still worth it
Despite the diminution of some perks and the large number of travelers with hotel elite status, there are plenty of reasons why you might still want to pursue hotel elite status for yourself. There are certainly plenty of TPG staffers who still keep a close eye on their hotel elite status progress.
First and foremost is that, because it’s so easy to achieve these days, there’s simply no reason not to do so. Beyond that, though, there are other benefits to becoming or remaining a hotel elite.
Pick up the easy status
If you can get your hotel status just by leveraging a credit card already in your wallet — or by strategically adding one that will help boost your status levels — why not do that?
For example, the Hilton Gold status you can enroll in with your The Platinum Card® from American Express or get automatically when you open the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card probably won’t land you the world’s greatest suite upgrade. But if it gets you some extra points and some food and beverage credit then make sure you’re using it on your Hilton stays.
Double down if you are already loyal to one hotel brand
If you stay at one or two hotel chains often enough to earn some status, it makes sense to continue doing so rather than spreading your stays around and not earning any status at all. That way, you can be sure of at least some perks during your travels. Additionally, if you can bump up to the next level with just a little extra effort, it can be worth it to activate free breakfast or score some confirmed suite upgrades.
For example, there’s a world of difference between Hyatt Explorist and Hyatt Globalist status that can be worth pushing for a few more nights to unlock the perks such as complimentary club access or breakfast during stays and suite upgrades. Likewise, if you make the leap from Marriott Gold status to Platinum, you can select from Annual Choice Benefits that might include extra elite night credits or five Suite Night Awards, which can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
There are still exciting perks to be had
No matter how many people have status, the fact remains that there are perks that make chasing status still worth it. Those include things like:
- Space-available room upgrades, and even suite upgrades at the higher echelons
- Club lounge access at certain premium properties
- Welcome amenities of extra points, on-property credits or free food and beverages
- Early check-in
- Late check-out
- Dedicated customer service phone lines and desks at hotels
- Priority and guaranteed reservations
Depending on how high you aim, you could get substantially better treatment with your hotel chain of choice with the right status level. For example, if free hotel breakfast is a perk you can unlock, and you can take advantage of it many times a year during various stays, that can be enough of a money-saver to convince you to redouble your efforts to reach a higher tier.
That said, hotel amenities and elite perks are likely to remain fairly curtailed for the foreseeable future thanks to uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, so always plot your status strategy with an eye to the benefits you absolutely value versus those that are just nice to have on an occasional basis.
It might feel like there’s no reason to chase hotel elite status anymore given how easy it has become to earn and how few perks seem to remain, especially with certain chains or programs. And it may be true that it’s not worth actively chasing status levels for a random hotel chain where you don’t stay frequently, it’s still worth factoring status into the equation.
Afterall, having status is still better than no status at all.
Ongoing benefits such as late checkout, complimentary Wi-Fi and food and beverage credits can still make having and earning status worthwhile … especially if you can leverage your stay activity and credit card offerings to attain the higher echelons of status without much extra time or cash outlay.
Just considering how easy it is to earn hotel elite status, though, whether through credit cards, lowered qualification requirements, status matches or good old-fashioned paid hotel stays — it still makes sense to achieve and maintain status with brands that you patronize, even if you only stay a few times a year.
Additional reporting by Eric Rosen.
Featured photo by Brian Kelly/The Points Guy.
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