5 ways hotels can improve top-tier elite status for a post-pandemic world
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The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been kind to hotel elite status. While status was extended early in the pandemic (and elite status requirements reduced), we didn’t see many further enhancements. In fact, Hilton temporarily removed free breakfast for Hilton Honors Gold and Diamond members at its U.S. properties. Instead, these elites now receive food and beverage credits, which will vary by property.
While it’s nice to have this flexible credit, those who enjoy breakfast at higher-end properties like Waldorf Astoria and LXR will find themselves paying out of pocket for a standard meal. So in my eyes, it’s a massive devaluation for Hilton’s most valuable elite members who may frequent luxury properties.
This got me thinking: In a perfect world where hotel elite status was improved instead of devalued, what would I like to see in terms of new top-tier benefits? I brainstormed a handful of benefits I’d like to see added to the major hotel loyalty programs that would improve the guest experience and make me more likely to switch my loyalty.
While these are purely wishes, I tried to keep them as reasonable as possible, so you won’t find any crazy asks here.
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Guaranteed suite upgrade certificates
Marriott Bonvoy is my hotel loyalty program of choice and Marriott’s elite status has treated me well. However, one thing that has consistently annoyed me about the program is Suite Night Upgrade certificates awarded as a Choice Benefit.
In theory, these certificates let you request an upgrade to a suite of your choice. That said, the upgrades are still up to the hotel to process. I have far lower than a 50% success rate of using these upgrades — hence why I have ten unused certificates in my account. I’ve been denied everywhere, from high-end JW Marriott’s to limited-service properties, with no rhyme or reason.
I’d like to see hotels work with franchisees to offer guaranteed suite upgrades certificates for elites. These would take priority over all other upgrades and — like an airline upgrade certificate — confirm the guest automatically if space is available. This would be far less frustrating than an elite hoping to use a certificate for a special occasion, only to be denied when checking in. It would make the benefit feel significantly more premium.
More sharable benefits
One of my favorite World of Hyatt Globalist perks is Guest of Honor. This lets Globalist members share their elite status benefits when booking an award night for a friend or family member. The guest is eligible for free upgrades, breakfast and all the other benefits that come with the member’s top-tier elite status.
I’d like to see other hotels offer similar benefits to their top-tier elites. Ideally, I’d like to see it offered on all stays booked for others and have a set number of “status passes” that a member can give to friends, family members or colleagues that can be used regardless of how a hotel stay is booked.
This is great for the elite and recipient, as it gives the guest a taste of the elevated experience that comes with elite status. At the same time, it’s good marketing for the hotel group too. If a business traveler gifts a status pass to a colleague, said colleague may consider changing their own loyalty to the hotel group in question.
Option to choose free lunch or dinner
I love a good brunch, but I’ve never been a huge hotel breakfast fan. Sure, it’s nice on weekends, but if I’m racing to a meeting or otherwise need to get to work, chances are I’m skipping the free breakfast for a coffee and pastry at a local coffee shop.
Because of this, I’d like to see hotels give elites the option to swap their free breakfast for a free lunch or dinner at properties with an on-site restaurant. This makes the benefit far more flexible and useful for business and leisure travelers who have somewhere to be in the morning. Whether this is a credit or a full-blown meal, having the option to choose would be a huge perk.
Another interesting take on this is giving elites a gift card to a nearby restaurant. This would be a great way to help travelers explore local cuisine, but it would help the restaurant industry that badly needs cash flow after pandemic shutdowns.
Reduced redemption certificates
Here’s an interesting one: I’d like to see hotels take a page from Air Canada Aeroplan’s book and offer reduced award certificates to elite members. Under Air Canada’s elite status program, select elite levels get Priority Rewards certificates that can be used for a 50% discount on select award tickets, which can mean real savings on longer flights.
I’d like to see hotel elites get something similar when reaching top-tier elite status and set milestones. This would be a great way to reward business travelers and let them take their families on longer trips at better properties with their hotel points. Plus, it will also incentivize leisure travelers to stay loyal to use these certificates to stretch their points further.
Ideally, I’d like to see these be uncapped and valid at any property, but I’d assume that we would see category restrictions or limit how many points you can save if introduced. Regardless, I think they could have immense value at little cost to the hotel group.
More points bonuses
One thing I like about Hilton Honors are the Milestone Bonuses. These let you earn bonus points when you hit certain night thresholds. After you stay 20 nights in a given year, you’ll earn 10,000 bonus points for every 10 nights you stay. This is a great way to encourage Hilton members to continue staying at their properties, even after achieving elite status.
World of Hyatt has a similar program called Milestone Rewards, but it awards upgrades, club passes and other perks to members. For example, after you stay 20 nights (or earn 35,000 Base Points), you earn two Club Lounge passes. After 30 nights, you earn two more and a free night certificate.
I’d love to see the rest of the major hotel loyalty programs — namely Marriott — roll out similar benefits. Like reduced redemption certificates, this can be an excellent way to reward business travelers who spend lots of time on the road, along with leisure travelers who can easily move their loyalty elsewhere.
I like points bonuses the most as these have the most tangible value. Sure, Club Lounge passes are great, but it’s hard to know when you’ll use them. This is especially true if your travel mostly takes you to limited-service properties where there’s no lounge. Plus, many hotel lounges are still closed due to the pandemic.
The same goes for free night certificates. These are often capped at a certain value and cannot be upgraded using points. Giving elite members points means they can choose to redeem them however they’d like and combine them with existing point balances for an epic getaway.
Barring a few exceptions, hotel elite status has never been as valuable as airline elite status and we haven’t seen many enhancements over the years. However, with a few tweaks, I think hotel status could become more worthwhile for travelers and build brand loyalty in the process.
Here, I outlined a few perks I’d like to see over the coming months. Any of these would help me continue to stay loyal or consider a jump to a new hotel group.
Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy
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