Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
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 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.
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 get you anything from 500 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.
Included room service breakfast. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY
When staying with the brands and programs that are more generous, the (included) juice has, in the past, been worth some level of squeeze. However, 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 member.
That’s thanks to hotel credit cards that offer status automatically. It’s also due to a raft of status extensions, earning promotions and expiration waivers that spawned a glut of hotel elite members (and folks with free night awards and suite upgrade certificates) just waiting in the wings during the height of the pandemic.
On top of this, last year presented a unique way of earning status faster than usual due to decreased qualification thresholds. 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.
This year, Marriott made it easier than ever to earn coveted Marriott Bonvoy Platinum status by making it an automatic perk of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card. Alternatively, if you prefer Hilton hotels, you could get top-tier Diamond status just by holding the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card.
Generally speaking, more lenient qualification requirements can be good news for those seeking status: 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.
The information for the Hilton Honors Aspire 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.
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 elite members, 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 a pseudo-royalty thanks to 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.
BENJI STAWSKI/THE POINTS GUY
However, when traveling in an area where there are lots of elite members (i.e., domestically), the finite availability of benefits such as suite upgrades means many elite members 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); 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 elite members, during the pandemic we saw hotel loyalty programs lessen the quality and quantity of some perks they offered to elite members; this comes on top of a reduction in the general offerings we’ve come to expect during stays.
Restaurants were closed, room service was reduced or discontinued altogether, some club lounges still haven’t totally reopened and housekeeping is no longer a standard amenity everywhere. However, 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. Also, some popular brands, such as Ritz-Carlton, don’t offer many measurable elite perks at all.
IGOR VERSHINSKY/GETTY IMAGES
Many hotels have also done away with welcome amenities. Hilton slashed the already dramatically changed breakfast benefit that came standard for Gold and Diamond elite members 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 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 member.
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, you can enroll in Hilton Gold status with The Platinum Card® from American Express or get status automatically when you open the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card; however, the status probably won’t land you the world’s greatest suite upgrade. 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’re 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 might make it worth pushing for a few more nights to unlock the perks; these perks may include 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; these can be worth hundreds of dollars depending on how you use them.
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.
Dedicated customer service phone lines and desks at hotels.
Priority and guaranteed reservations.
SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY
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 value versus those that are just nice to have on an occasional basis.
How to replicate hotel elite status
Credit card perks
Premium travel credit cards like the Platinum Card from American Express and the Visa Signature or Infinite Collection cards (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve) grant access to hotel collections with elite-like perks standard with every reservation. When you book an American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts property or you book through Visa Luxury Hotel Collection, you can expect all or some of the following amenities every time, without holding any status at all:
Space-available upgrade at check-in.
Breakfast for two each day of your stay.
Resort credit worth $50 or more per room.
Complimentary in-room Wi-Fi.
Capital One just announced its Premier Collection — a curation of luxury hotels around the world, some of which are only available to reserve through Capital One Travel and for Capital One Venture X cardholders.
Related: 48 hours with Chase Sapphire Reserve
Book directly with the hotel
If you’re still a little unsure of booking hotels through third-party platforms after what happened to some travelers at the onset of the pandemic — canceled reservations, no refunds or being outright stranded — then you can always book directly with the hotel. In fact, if you’re looking to replicate elite-like perks without hotel status or through your credit card’s booking platform, booking directly is the next best thing.
When you book directly, you can take advantage of lounge rooms that give you the perk of lounge access; this might come with complimentary breakfast, snacks and drinks throughout the day. Or, reserve your room as a package that includes breakfast, valet parking, Wi-Fi or more. Booking directly ensures that you get the perks you want while earning loyalty points that you can later redeem for award nights.
Book with a travel agent
Travel agents are also a great way to get elite-like perks on vacation and they even do all of the planning for you. In particular, Virtuoso travel agents and agencies have exclusive relationships with top luxury hotels and resorts around the world that allow them to pass on perks to their clients when they book through them. Perks include space-available upgrades at check-in, complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi, and resort credit — all without having status or a particular credit card.
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. It may be true that it’s not worth actively chasing status levels for a random hotel chain where you don’t stay frequently. Still, it’s worth factoring status into the equation.
After all, having status is still better than having 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. However, there are ways to experience elite-like perks without holding status with a hotel chain.
Booking your hotel through your credit card’s hotel program, booking directly with the hotel or booking with a travel agent are all fantastic ways to get the comforts and perks you love without chasing status. You’re outright paying for the perks you want whereas with elite status you’ve earned them, so to speak. The bottom line is that yes, hotel elite status is worth it, but it may also be worth it to book your hotels in such a way that you get those coveted perks no matter what through the options listed in the article.
Additional reporting by Eric Rosen.