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6 hotel loyalty program changes I want to see in 2021

Jan. 15, 2021
7 min read
Kimpton Rowan, Palm Springs
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Most of the big hotel loyalty programs have extended elite status and the expiration of rewards. Some have even reduced elite status qualification requirements for 2021, delayed planned award chart changes and announced big promotions. However, I don't think they should stop yet.

Unlike many premium credit cards, we haven’t seen much in the way of new benefits to keep members loyal. Industry experts are predicting that it could be years until travel fully recovers, so hotels need to step up their game.

In this post, I will share six hotel loyalty program changes I'd love to see happen this year.

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More collaboration with airlines

Several hotel chains have partnerships with airlines and provide certain elite members with reciprocal benefits. For example, Marriott Bonvoy partners with United and World of Hyatt partners with American Airlines.

In Marriott's case, Titanium Elite and Ambassador Elite members get complimentary United Premier Silver status, which comes with a 40% mileage bonus, access to Economy Plus/preferred seating at check-in and more. Similarly, Hyatt gives its Explorist and Globalist elites opportunities to fast-track American AAdvantage status. Additionally, all Hyatt elites can earn one bonus point per dollar spent on qualifying AA flights, while all American elites can earn one bonus mile per dollar spent on qualifying Hyatt stays.

It would be great to see programs like Hilton Honors and IHG Rewards Club announce similar partnerships. Additionally, Marriott could enhance its partnership with Marriott by offering reciprocal point earnings like Hyatt does with its American partnerships. These partnerships make hotel elite status much more desirable and can influence what hotels frequent travelers are loyal to.

Marriott Bonvoy Titanium and Ambassador elites enjoy complimentary United Premier Silver status. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Reducing elite qualifications permanently

Many hotel chains have adjusted their elite status qualifications in the last couple of weeks. Some have made it easier to qualify for status this year through limited-time promotions, while others have reduced 2021 qualifications altogether.

Even with COVID-19 vaccines starting to become available to the general public, many industry experts predict that it will take several years for travel demand to bounce back. Business travel will take even longer to recover and may never return to the pre-pandemic level. While loyalty programs can't continue giving away elite status too easily forever, they still need to make it attainable.

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Longer-term adjustments need to be made based on demand. For instance, Hilton and Hyatt cut elite status requirements in half this year. While it's unlikely those adjustments would continue next year, permanently reducing the requirements by 20 to 25% seems realistic.

Related: All of the elite qualification changes you need to know about for 2021

Hilton and Hyatt reduced elite status qualification requirements by 50% this year. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Fortunately, even if qualification requirements go back to normal next year, there will still be ways to fast-track elite status. That's because most hotel credit cards come with some form of automatic elite status. For instance, you can get automatic top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond status just by having the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Additionally, a number of cards, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, come with automatic elite night credits.

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.

Related: The best hotel credit cards

More confirmed suite upgrades for top-tier elites

World of Hyatt is currently the only program that lets members confirm suite upgrades at the time of booking. Marriott allows members to confirm upgrades in advance through Suite Night Awards (SNAs), but they only begin to clear within five days of arrival, and even then, there’s no guarantee that they'll clear. Meanwhile, Hilton and IHG don't offer confirmed suite upgrades at all. Hilton piloted confirmed suite night upgrades at booking in 2019, but there've been no updates since then.

Expanding this benefit for top-tier elites would go a long way for members and shouldn't cost the hotels much, considering many suites are currently sitting empty anyway.

Related: How and when to use Hyatt upgrade certificates

World of Hyatt is best for confirmed suite upgrades. (Photo courtesy of Hyatt)

Make suite bookings more rewarding

Speaking of suites, hotels should make stays in suites more rewarding. Right now, with all chains, members earn one elite night credit per night (excluding promotions) regardless of the room type. On the other hand, many airlines award elite qualifying miles based on the cabin flown, with business and first-class earning more elite qualifying miles than coach. Suites can often cost more than double the standard room price, so hotels should consider rewarding those that pay for them with extra elite night credits. Although minor, this change could drive up suite bookings.

Related: The best credit cards to jump-start elite status

Waive resort fees on award stays

Per program rules, Hilton and Hyatt are the only major chains to consistently waive resort fees on award stays. Marriott and IHG, on the other hand, do not. If you're redeeming points for a free night, you want your night to be free. These mandatory charges typically range from $20 to $50 a night, so they can really add up. Even worse, they are often hidden from travelers until they reach the checkout page.

These fees often include benefits that elites would get anyway, such as premium internet and bottled water. Obviously, I'd like to see resort fees eliminated entirely, but waiving them on award stays would be a good start.

Related: How to avoid resort fees

Hilton and Hyatt waive resort fees on award stays. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Add a tier above Hilton Diamond

The final change I'd like to see is specific to Hilton Honors. Specifically, I'd like to see Hilton add a new elite tier above Diamond.

There's lots to love about Hilton Diamond, such as free breakfast, the opportunity to get suite upgrades and how easy it is to get to this level. However, adding a higher tier would reward those who earn status through loyalty, as opposed to a cobranded credit card or status challenge. You can read more about why I think Hilton should do this in this post, but it would be a good opportunity for the program to offer key benefits it currently lacks, like confirmed suite upgrades and late check-out.

Related: 7 reasons to get the Amex Hilton Aspire card

Bottom line

Elite status and reward extensions, reduced qualification requirements and promotions are great, but there's still much to be desired. Hotel loyalty programs need to do more to encourage members to be loyal and spend more nights with them once these limited-time changes begin to expire. It will be interesting to see how hotels adjust their loyalty programs in the coming months.

Featured image by laure joliet
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.