The Points Guy has an interesting post today on how he intends to achieve top-tier elite status with hotel loyalty programs this year. I thought it was a great post, and I agree with his conclusion on why it’s better for him to stick with one or two hotel chains rather than hopping around to save a few dollars here or there, considering he spends 75+ nights a year in hotels. As a top-tier elite, you’ll definitely save money on things like in-room internet, breakfast at the hotel, and free drinks, not to mention the comfort perspective of potential suite upgrades.
But what about us leisure travelers? What if all of your travel lumped together still only qualifies you for low-level status at best? Previously, I’ve talked about how I determined low-level airline status wasn’t worth it for me, but I’ve never actually run the numbers from a hotel standpoint. So now I wonder – is it worth it to go out of your way to ensure low-level hotel status?
Let’s look at the levels you’d qualify for at 25 nights and what benefits you receive at these levels:
- Hilton Silver (10 nights or 4 stays; Gold is not until 36 nights or 16 stays): 15% points bonus, elite only rewards (ranging from 15% off reward redemptions of 4 nights to 25% off 6 night stays), complimentary health club privileges
- Hyatt Platinum (15 nights or 5 stays; Diamond is not until 50 nights or 25 stays): 15% points bonus, free internet, bonus perks after every third stay (choose from 1000 bonus points, welcome amenity, complimentary beverage, etc), room upgrade (subject to availability), guaranteed room availability
- Marriott Silver (1o nights; Gold is not until 50 nights): 20% points bonus, weekend discount (10% off at participating Courtyard and SpringHill Suites properties), free internet in Asia-Pacific hotels, elite-only rewards (20% off reward redemptions of 5 nights), gift shop discount on Marriott-branded merchandise
- Priority Club Gold (15 nights or 20,000 points; Platinum is not until 50 nights or 60,000 points): 10% points bonus
- Starwood Gold (25 nights or 10 stays; Platinum is not until 50 nights or 25 stays): 50% points bonus, late checkout (upon request, and subject to availability; note most other hotel programs offer this as a benefit to ALL members, even without status), room upgrade (subject to availability), check-cashing privileges (up to $300)
All in all, benefits seem to come in two forms: point bonuses and the “extras”. Let’s try and put a monetary value on these so we can do a little analysis (keeping in mind these values are based on a traveler with 10-25 hotel nights per year).
Point Bonuses: This varies hugely. Over an entire year of traveling, Priority Club’s stingy 10% bonus would still only add up to less than 3,750 points based on 25 nights at $150/night, so I’d value that at only about $20-30. Hyatt’s 15% bonus results in roughly 3,000 bonus points based on the same amount of nights at the same pricepoint, but 1000+ bonus points on every third stay could add up quickly for someone who typically only stays one night at a time. After a year, you could have enough bonus points for an extra free night or two at low-level hotels, which I roughly value at $250. Starwood’s generous 50% bonus could also theoretically be enough points for a night or two, so again I’ll value this at about $250. Marriott and Hilton are somewhere inbetween Priority Club’s lousy bonus and Hyatt/SPG’s generous earnings. TOTAL VALUE: Up to $250
Extra Perks: Again, it varies by program with Priority Club remaining in the bottom of the pack since they don’t offer any extras compared to a base-level member. I’m going to ignore some of the benefits (do people really buy Marriott-branded tote bags? or cash checks at the Sheraton?) since I think they’re just fluff. I think room upgrades are wishy-washy, since they are never guaranteed at this low level of status, and even if you do get one, you may not even notice (room “upgrades” are so loosely defined that a lot of the time it simply means a corner room or higher floor; suite upgrades are usually reserved for higher-level elites). However, free internet is worth about $10-20/day and health club fees are probably in the same range, though many travelers likely won’t even take advantage of these amenities (how many leisure travelers hit the gym every day?). Hilton and Marriott’s VIP rewards (needing less points on long award stays) obviously hold true value if you are planning on a long reward stay at a single property since these savings may end up equal to enough points for an extra free night. Lastly, if you can find a participating property that qualifies for Marriott’s weekend discount rate, you could be saving $10-20/night. Overall, I think most people will receive only minimum value from the extra perks, but if played strategically, I can see the potential for savings. TOTAL VALUE: Up to $500
Based on my travel style, this value of elite extras is overstated – I tend to stay at places where small fitness centers and internet are free anyway, and most of my stays (free or paid) are only 1-3 nights before I move on to the next location, so I don’t qualify for discounts on reward nights. For some, though, low-tier elite status could provide up to $750 in value, which is an average of $30/night over 25 nights. That’s real money! If you think you’d use a lot of these member benefits, I can definitely see a reason to stick with a preferred program.
But what if you’re like me and the point bonus is really the main benefit? I valued that bonus at $250 over the course of the year, or a savings of $10/night over 25 nights. Of course, $10 saved means more money in your pocket, but it’s just as likely that by shopping around you’ll find a hotel that’s $10 cheaper to begin with. Maybe this week I’ll stay at Hyatt because the rate is cheaper by $10 but next week I’ll stay with Hampton Inn because it’s the cheapest option. In the long run, I’d break even, and if by switching hotels I save more than $10/night, I’m money ahead. My personal conclusion? Working toward elite status at this level isn’t necessary. That being said, I’ll probably still end up with status of some sort just by coincidence: Hilton’s silver status could be obtained in as few as 4 nights if they are all separate stays, and I’ve got a few rollover nights already with Marriott. Plus, there are usually a few promotions each year where you can grab a status upgrade for free. Although I might not work to earn low-level status, I’ll definitely take it if they are giving it away for free!
Keep in mind that by simply being a base member of loyalty programs even without status, you’ll normally get a few perks in addition to earning base points, such as a designated customer service phone line and a reservation guarantee (they’ll bump a non-member before they bump you if they’ve overbooked). Therefore, I think it’s always worthwhile to join a membership program before you stay with a hotel…you never know when it’ll come in handy!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether or not you think low-level status is worth it. Are your conclusions different?