Reader Question: Do you need to physically show up at a hotel in order to check in?

Jan 27, 2021

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

With many hotel chains reducing 2021 elite requirements and some even offering limited-time promotions for bonus elite credits, it’s time to make your plan if you hope to qualify for hotel elite status this year. As a quick refresher, World of Hyatt offers members enrolled in the Bonus Journeys promotion extra points and double elite nights for eligible stays through Feb. 28. On Feb. 16, Marriott will launch a similar promotion that will allow members to earn double points and elite night credits for stays of two nights or more through April 27. Any status you earn this year will be valid through February 2023.

Given how valuable status can be, if you don’t have any trips planned, you may consider a mattress run or booking a hotel just to earn elite night credits. TPG reader Alex wants to know if he has to physically show up at the hotel to check-in and earn his night credit.

I’m based in California and am one night short of qualifying for Hilton Diamond status for the year. I’m trying to find a cheap room for a mattress run and see some deals in Texas. If I use Hilton’s mobile key when I check-in, do I need to physically show up at the hotel or can I do everything remotely?

TPG READER ALEX

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Checking into a hotel remotely

First of all, good for Alex for getting creative and looking for hotel deals outside his own hometown. People in high-cost-of-living areas like California, New York or D.C. might struggle to find cheap, low-category properties for mattress runs. But if you live in a cheaper area, there might be more deals. Before we dive into Alex’s specific question, it’s worth noting that he could also book an award night and still earn an elite night credit. This means he wouldn’t have to spend any cash, which might be preferable for some people.

Most of the major hotel chains offer mobile check-in/mobile key system at select properties. Although they’ve expanded availability in response to the pandemic, it’s definitely not universal yet.

Alex is lucky that Hilton is the only chain that will consistently issue you a mobile key without also requiring you to stop by the front desk. With Hyatt and Marriott, it’s more of a hit-or-miss, while IHG requires you to go to the front desk.

This means that in theory, Alex should be able to get away with checking in to a hotel in Texas from his house in California, but the reality is a bit more complicated.

Related: How to book Manhattan’s secret — and cheapest — Marriott ‘mattress run’

The caveat

First of all, not every property fully utilizes the mobile key feature. Hotels sometimes list mobile key as an amenity if it’s available, but there’s no easy way to confirm. If it’s offered, but a hotel is having technical difficulties, you may still be required to stop by the front desk and pick up your key manually. While this doesn’t apply to Alex’s specific situation, most international properties will also require you to verify your ID in person, so this definitely wouldn’t work outside the U.S.

Even if everything goes well, Alex may not get the elite night credit he’s after. Some readers in the TPG Lounge have pointed out that hotels are aware of this mattress running practice. Hilton has been known to monitor digital keys to see if they were ever actually used and deny/clawback elite nights from guests who clearly never actually entered the room they were supposed to be staying in.

Other chains likely do this as well, and they could technically close your loyalty account if they catch you doing this. This is a pretty big risk for Alex to take — the difference between Hilton Gold and Hilton Diamond status is massive (a jump of about $1,800 according to TPG editor valuations), and it would be a shame to fall short by just a night or two because of a mattress run gone wrong.

Related: What is Hilton Honors elite status worth?

Other ways to qualify for hotel elite status

A much easier and safer way for Alex to guarantee Hilton Diamond status would be by leveraging Hilton’s cobranded credit card offerings.

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is one of the most popular cobranded credit cards on the market, in large part because it automatically offers top-tier Hilton Diamond status to all cardholders. All you have to do is pay the card’s $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).

You can more than recoup that expense with hundreds of dollars in annual statement credits, including an up to $250 annual airline incidental fee credit, a up to $250 annual Hilton resort credit at participating hotels, and an up to $100 property credit on eligible stays of two nights or more at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels. Add in a 150,000-point welcome offer (after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months) and a free weekend night certificate on account opening and on your account anniversary each year, and you have a pretty sweet deal.

If you aren’t sold on the Aspire (even though it’s one of the few cards that can pay for itself and then some), you should consider the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card instead. The card comes with a more modest $95 annual fee (see rates and fees) and you’ll have to spend $15,000 a calendar year to earn a weekend night certificate.

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: Hilton Surpass versus Hilton Aspire: Which card is right for you?

Normally Surpass cardholders get automatic Hilton Gold status, but you can upgrade to Diamond by spending $40,000 in a calendar year. Since the Surpass offers a nice 6x points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets, this can be a great way for families with big grocery bills to upgrade to Diamond. The Surpass also has a great welcome offer at the moment: you can earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases on the Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership.

While Hilton is the most generous when it comes to elite status shortcuts, there are ways to fast-track status with other hotel chains as well. For instance, World of Hyatt Credit Card and several cobranded Marriott cards come with some form of automatic elite status and annual elite night credits. For more fast-tracking strategies, visit this guide.

Bottom line

Hilton is the only hotel chain where Alex might be able to get away with mattress running from a distance, but it’s a big risk to take, especially with a year of Diamond status on the line. Even worse, his account could be shut down, in which case he’d lose all of his hard-earned points.

Risk tolerance is a personal question. If I were in this situation, I’d either pay up for a local hotel instead (where I could check-in in person, even if I didn’t spend the night) or look to use credit cards to help me upgrade to the next rung of status. If you do end up booking a room you don’t plan on using, consider offering it up for charitable use.

Thanks for the question, Alex, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us.

Ethan Steinberg contributed to this story.

Featured photo of the DoubleTree by Hilton Perth Northbridge courtesy of Hilton.

For the rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire, please click here.

For the rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass, please click here.

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