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Shortcuts to Hotel Elite Status: Cards, Spending and More

March 15, 2017
11 min read
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Airline and hotel elite status is one of the best ways to make your travel experience less stressful and more rewarding. Many of my friends and family members think that you need to be a true road warrior to join the ranks of the elite travelers, but that's simply not true. There are many shortcuts you can utilize to enjoy the perks of status without a crazy travel schedule. Today I want to highlight those very strategies when it comes to earning hotel elite status in 2017 and beyond.

1. Open a Hotel Co-Branded Credit Card

You could enjoy perks at properties like the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Nigel simply by having the right credit card in your wallet.

The first (and arguably easiest) way to obtain elite status in a given program is by simply opening a co-branded credit card. Many card issuers include automatic status just for holding one of their cards, while others give you elite status credits (either stays or nights) that help you meet status requirements by effectively lowering the standard qualification thresholds.

Here’s a quick rundown of co-branded cards that offer elite status outright, or can help you earn it:

  • Club Carlson: Both the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card and the Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa Card include automatic Gold Status, while the regular Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature gives you automatic Silver status.
  • Hilton Honors: Both the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card and the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express give you automatic Gold status, while the regular Hilton Honors Card from American Express confers automatic Silver status. The Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card also offers automatic Silver status, and you'll earn an upgrade to Gold status if you complete four stays within your first 90 days of account opening.
  • World of Hyatt: The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase gives you automatic Discoverist status in the new World of Hyatt program.
  • IHG Rewards: The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card gives you automatic Platinum Elite status. TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig even scored an upgrade to Spire Elite when his sign-up bonus posted as elite-qualifying points a couple of years ago, though it's worth noting that I signed up around the same time and wasn't as fortunate.
  • Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Rewards: The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card comes with credit for 15 elite-qualifying nights every year, which results in automatic Silver status and puts you a step closer to either Gold or Platinum status. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card also gives you automatic Gold status for the first year of cardmembership.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest: The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express both come with 2 stays and 5 nights of elite status credit every year.

As you can see, all of the major hotel chains offer some way of earning credits toward elite status through a co-branded credit card, with most providing some type of automatic status. I would argue that Hilton Gold is the most valuable, as it includes free breakfast and room upgrades, but in any case, getting these perks for annual fees that (mostly) fall under $100 is quite nice.

There's a final card that isn't co-branded with a specific program but does offer elite status in three programs: The Platinum Card® from American Express. The card has offered automatic SPG Gold status for a while (check out this post for an overview of how to activate or renew it) but added Hilton Gold status back in 2015. In addition, SPG Gold grants you automatic Marriott Gold status now that you can link your accounts. The best part is that both of these statuses are available to authorized users on the card as well. I added my brother and sister to my Amex Platinum account for Christmas this year, and my sister already upgraded her Hilton account to Gold for a family trip this summer. The card also has some nice improvements coming at the end of this month, though the annual fee is jumping to $550.

2. Spend a Lot on Co-Branded Credit Cards

Hilton Conrad Featured
Diamond status with Hilton Honors could get you upgraded to the adults-only section of the Conrad Bali, and you can earn this status through spend alone.

In addition to award status (or credits toward status) just for holding these cards, many chains give you the ability to "buy" status or earn additional credits by spending a certain amount on these cards. Here's a rundown of these options:

  • Hilton Honors: You can earn automatic Diamond status by spending $40,000 in a calendar year on either the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card or the Hilton Surpass Amex. You'll also earn Gold status by spending $20,000 in a calendar year on the regular Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card.
  • World of Hyatt: With the recent launch of the World of Hyatt program, you can now earn Explorist status by spending $50,000 in a calendar year on the Hyatt Credit Card.
  • Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Rewards: The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card gives you an additional night toward elite status for every $3,000 you spend (so you can earn Gold by spending $105,000 or Platinum by spending $180,000). You can also keep your Gold status with the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card card after the first year by spending $10,000, and you can earn Platinum status by spending $75,000 (both of which are based on the cardmembership year rather than the calendar year).
  • Starwood Preferred Guest: When you spend $30,000 in a calendar year on the SPG Amex (either the personal or business version), you’ll automatically earn Gold status.

Of course, there are many other cards that provide great benefits for hitting certain spending thresholds, so keep that in mind when you're planning your purchase strategy in 2017.

3. Utilize a Status Match or Challenge

If you can match to Hyatt's top-tier Diamond status, you could enjoy suite upgrades in luxurious locales like Cannes. Image courtesy of the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hôtel Martinez.

Another great shortcut to elite status is leveraging status with one program to get a status match or challenge with another. I wrote about these options back in 2016 (and our post for 2017 is in the works), but several of them have since changed. One of the best sites to monitor to get a feel for your options is Status Matcher, which provides reports of others who have requested matches in your desired program. Just be aware that lying likely won't lead to a successful match!

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Here's a quick overview of your current options:

  • Club Carlson: If you want Club Carlson status, you can email to request a status match, though the program will only offer up to Gold. Top-tier Concierge status must be earned the hard way.
  • Hilton Honors: Hilton launched its most recent status match offer in January, allowing you to enjoy trial Gold or Diamond status for 90 days. Simply visit this site and submit proof of current status and a stay in the last 12 months with another chain. You can then extend that status through March 31, 2019 by completing a certain number of stays (4 for Gold, 8 for Diamond). Based on the drop-down menu on the site, you can match from Choice Privileges, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott or SPG, though reports indicate that other options may be eligible as well.
  • World of Hyatt: Under the now-retired Hyatt Gold Passport program, you did have the ability to request status matches in the past, including a Twitter option in November 2015. However, it appears that there are currently no status match options available with the new program.
  • IHG Rewards: No public offer available.
  • Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Rewards: Typically doesn't offer matches but may offer a challenge after calling customer service or submitting a request through the Marriott Rewards website.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest: Typically doesn't offer matches but may offer a challenge by emailing with proof of your current status.

Just be sure to use this option carefully. Many programs will only allow a single status match or challenge in your lifetime, and others will restrict you from participating if you have recently held status. In other words, you can't hop back and forth between programs by just requesting match after match, year after year.

4. Utilize Airline and Hotel Partnerships

The RewardsPlus partnership between United and Marriott allows you to earn status with one and turn it into benefits with the other.
The RewardsPlus partnership allows you to turn United status into Marriott status.

Another way to earn elite status (or at least take advantage of on-property perks) is by leveraging the emerging partnerships between hotel chains and airlines. At the time of writing, only one offers outright reciprocal elite status: the RewardsPlus program from Marriott and United. If you're Premier Gold or higher with United, you can visit this page to sign up for Marriott Rewards Gold status, which includes room upgrades, lounge access/breakfast, late checkout and bonus points (among other benefits). It will also allow you to then upgrade your SPG account to Gold as well.

In addition to this option with Marriott, you can leverage a few other airline programs to enjoy benefits when visiting SPG properties. Through the Crossover Rewards program, Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallions will receive perks like elite check-in lines, 4pm late checkout and upgrades to enhanced rooms. Meanwhile, if you hold Gold or Platinum status in the Emirates Skywards program, you can also enjoy elite check-in lines and late checkout through the Your World Rewards program. Finally, if you hold Silver, Gold or Platinum status with China Eastern, you can also utilize benefits like late checkout and upgrades to enhanced rooms through the Eastern Explorer Rewards program. While none of these give you outright hotel elite status, it can still make your next SPG stay a bit more comfortable.

5. Plan a Meeting or Group Booking

SPG Pro makes planning meetings at Starwood properties both easy and rewarding.
SPG Pro makes planning meetings at Starwood properties both easy and rewarding.

The final shortcut to elite status comes through meeting planning, as many hotel chains offer perks for bringing large groups to their respective properties. Here's an overview of these programs and how they can give you elite status:

  • Hyatt: The World of Hyatt program gives you 1 bonus point per dollar spent on meetings at Hyatt properties but also gives you Discoverist status after 3 qualifying meetings, Explorist status after 10 qualifying meetings or Globalist status after 20 qualifying meetings (defined as 10 or more rooms occupied per night).
  • IHG: The IHG Business Rewards program gives you 3 points per dollar spent when booking rooms for yourself and others, and these count as elite-qualifying points. You'll earn Gold status with 10,000 points ($3,333 in spending), Platinum status with 40,000 points ($13,333) and Spire Elite status with 75,000 points ($25,000).
  • Marriott: The Rewarding Events program through Marriott Rewards offers bonus points as well as 10 elite night credits when you book 10 or more guest rooms for at least one night, giving you automatic Silver status.
  • SPG: The SPG Pro program for meeting planners allows you to earn bonus Starpoints but also one night toward elite status for every 20 room nights you book.

Be sure to investigate these options prior to booking your next group trip or work meeting.

Bottom Line

Elite status can be incredibly valuable, and thankfully obtaining status with hotel chains doesn’t require you spending weeks away from your family and friends to earn it the hard way. These strategies are simple ways to extend your benefits to other chains and maximize each and every one of your hotel stays.

What are your favorite shortcuts to earning hotel elite status?

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.