Intro to Hotel Loyalty Programs

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. 

This article is part of the multi-part MTH (“Make Travel Happen”) series designed to provide beginners with all the information needed to reach their travel goals. 

Most hotel loyalty programs have a tiered loyalty system where you are given more perks and benefits as you spend more nights at their hotels and are awarded higher tiers of status. Some of the loyalty programs have 3 tiers, while others have a 4-tiered system. Many of the benefits are standardized across tiers but some of the programs offer certain benefits that others don’t at similarly ranked tiers. Here’s an overview of the different tiers offered by five of the major hotel programs and a look at how you could earn status with these hotels.   

Entry-level tier

Typically, the first tier is “earned” as soon as you sign-up for the loyalty program. It’s a sweet deal because just for the few seconds it takes to put in your contact information, you can get benefits like free internet, 5th night free benefits, and sometimes even late check out. The free internet and 5th night free benefits can be quite valuable especially when you consider that you’re getting those benefits just or signing up with the program. 

Example of entry-level tiers include:

  • Hilton HHonors Blue Member
  • Hyatt Gold Passport Member
  • IHG Rewards Club “Club” Member
  • Marriott Rewards Member
  • SPG Preferred Member

As I’ve stated before, another benefit of signing up for these programs is that you might become eligible for targeted credit card offers, so it’s always a good idea to sign-up. 

First tier

The next tier is the first “true tier” since it will actually require you to have hotel stays at the hotel. These tiers typically require around 10 stays to qualify for them, although some programs like SPG don’t even have an easily obtainable first tier. On occasion, you might get randomly granted first tier status, as last year IHG randomly bumped me from Club to Gold Elite after I had transferred points and made a booking with IHG (but hadn’t stayed a single night). 

These benefits may include:

  • Priority check-in/late check-out (as opposed to guaranteed)
  • Bonus rate of earning points with reservations (around 15 to 20%)
  • Discounts on certain bookings, gift shops, etc.
  • Complimentary internet (usually standard speed)

Example of first tiers include:

  • Hilton HHonors Silver Member — 4 stays or 10 nights 
  • Hyatt Platinum Membership — 5 stays or 15 nights 
  • IHG Rewards Club Gold Elite Member — 10 nights 
  • Marriott Silver Elite Member – 10 nights 

Credit cards that will automatically offer you these statuses include: 

Mid-tier

The mid-tiers are those levels achieved just before you reach the highest level. At this level, the benefits start to become much more attractive. This is the level that I think interests the average traveler the most since there is usually good value in the benefits and the tiers can often be obtained automatically with credit cards (with no stays or nights required). 

These benefits may include:

  • Complimentary breakfast for you and your guest
  • Lounge Access
  • Late check-out (up to 4pm)
  • Upgrade eligibility 
  • Gifts/bottles of water
  • Enhanced (high-speed) internet
  • Bonus rate of earning points with reservations (around 25%)

Examples of mid tiers include:

Credit cards that will automatically offer you these statuses include: 

Highest Tier 

The highest tiers offer enhanced benefits from the mid-tier levels, but many times the benefits aren’t necessarily going to blow you away compared to what’s offered by mid-tier status.  

These benefits may include:

  • Guaranteed reservation if made before 48 hours of booking
  • Better or more frequent room upgrades
  • Complimentary gifts
  • Increased bonus rate of earning points with reservations (50% to 100%)
  • Dedicated reservation lines
  • Complimentary status with airlines (Marriott and United)

Personally, I find that the value to obtaining the highest status to only be of high value when the benefits serve a specific purpose. 

For example:

  • If you’re a frequent business traveler the increased bonus earning rate of up to 100% can create substantial additional earnings over time.
  • If you frequently find yourself in positions where you’re attending events last minute and struggling to find availability at hotels, the guaranteed room benefits can be invaluable.
  • If you frequently fly with an airline like United then the complimentary Silver status can provide you with many potential upgrades on your flights. 

Of course, it’s always nice to have a better shot for better upgrades and the little gifts or exclusive deals that are offered at times due to your status, I’m just not sure that these benefits would motivate me to obtain elite status without an additional specific benefit. 

Examples of top tiers include:

  • Hilton HHonors Diamond Member — 30 stays or 60 nights 
  • Hyatt Platinum Passport Member — 25 stays or 50 nights 
  • IHG Rewards Club Spire Elite Member – 75 nights 
  • Marriott Rewards Platinum Elite Member — 75 nights 
  • SPG Platinum Member — 50 nights 

You’re probably not going to be able to find a credit card that will offer you automatic top elite status. Instead, credit cards will usually offer you “elite credits” that can be used to jump-start your way to top elite status, or in some cases, they’ll allow you to earn top status by spending a substantial amount of money (like $40,000 annually) on their card

If you don’t travel all the time for leisure or for business, spending 50 plus nights at a hotel is not easy and it might seem impossible to ever obtain top status with many of these hotel chains. The solution is usually to get on board with a credit card that offers you mid-tier status and then use hotel stays or status challenges/matches to reach top status. 

Status challenges

Status challenges are promotions that hotels regularly issue that will offer you an elevated status level if you stay in one of their hotels for X amount of nights or stays. Usually, they offer a sort of “fast track” to earn status so that you only have to stay around 10 or 12 nights to reach the next status level. Sometimes, the hotel will even allow you to experience the benefits of the elevated status tier while you’re working your way to complete the challenge.  

Status matches

Status matches are when a hotel program will grant you a certain level of status based on your existing status with another hotel loyalty program. Not every hotel (looking at you Marriott) will honor status match requests but it’s always worth a shot. Sometimes you can simply email someone at the rewards department of the hotel program you’re gunning for and request a match. Other times, you’ll utilize an official status match process that the hotel advertises. For example, you can read about our successful status match to get Hilton HHonors Diamond status here

Lifetime status

Finally, if you maintain elite status for long enough and meet a certain amount of stays within those years, many hotel programs will off you lifetime status! Lifetime status is often subdivided by tier, so for example you could earn “lifetime gold status” or “lifetime diamond status.” You’ll need to maintain status for anywhere from 5 to 10 years and accumulate a lot of nights (easily 250+) or a lot of points if you’re planning on earning lifetime status. 

These programs that offer lifetime status include: 

Final Word

If you get into MTH heavy you will no-doubt obtain a couple of cards that offer elite status and you might eventually work your way up the tiers for most (or all) of these programs if you play your cards right with status matched and challenges. Ultimately, you’ll have to experience the benefits for yourself to see if status is worth it for you but speaking from personal experience, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the upgrades, free breakfasts, lounge access, and complimentary internet at many of the properties I’ve stayed at. 

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