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While the top tier of any hotel's loyalty program always provides that chain's best perks, reaching such stratospheric levels isn't always easy – especially for travellers who spread their wings and venture to a variety of destinations, staying with different hotels throughout the year rather than only one brand.
That's why savvy travellers look for the status 'sweet spot': the level of each hotel rewards program that provides a raft of practical benefits, even if you're not holding the most elite membership card.
Whether your travels take you all over the world or you're beginning your business journey, here are the status sweet spots you should know about in Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards Club, Le Club AccorHotels, Marriott Rewards, Shangri-La Golden Circle and World of Hyatt.
Hilton Honors: Gold
As one of the more popular programs for business travellers, Hilton Honors' Gold tier unlocks many useful and tangible benefits for globetrotters without setting the bar too high.
After 20 stays, 40 nights or earning 75,000 base points in a calendar year, you'll start receiving complimentary daily breakfast at most of the program's associated hotel brands including Hilton, Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, Hilton Garden Inn, DoubleTree by Hilton and more, along with free room upgrades.
Officially, those upgrades are to the next-highest room type, subject to availability, although many hotels go above what's 'required' to recognise their loyal guests, by upgrading Gold-level members to rooms on the Executive floors – and if you receive such an upgrade, you also get access to the hotel's Executive Lounge (higher-tier Diamond members are guaranteed this with every stay).
AusBT Executive Floor review: Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel
Gold members also earn 80% more points than base members, alongside other benefits also available to lower-tier guests such as priority check-in, late check-out and complimentary WiFi and bottled water.
IHG Rewards Club: Gold Elite
With three elite levels above the entry tier – Gold Elite, Platinum Elite and Spire Elite – IHG Gold Elite could actually be enough for many travellers, especially when it can be earned after only 10 nights per year.
Gold Elite members qualify for priority check-in, late check-out (subject to availability), a "welcome amenity" at the discretion of each hotel (below, for example), can earn 10% more points than regular members, and when staying at Kimpton brand hotels, receive a US$10 bar credit with every stay (boosted to US$15 in New York).
AusBT review: InterContinental Osaka hotel
By comparison, Platinum Elite requires four times as many nights to qualify – that's 40 per year, versus 10 for Gold – but only adds complimentary room upgrades which are subject to availability, and a higher earning rate of 50% more points than base-level members, versus 10% at Gold.
Le Club AccorHotels: Silver + Accor Plus
Accor naturally reserves its best perks for top-tier Le Club Platinum cardholders (awarded after 60 nights per year), but for everybody else, there's an easy way to 'buy' benefits to enjoy year-round, and that's by purchasing an Accor Plus membership for $395/year.
To help offset the cost, members receive a free hotel night every year which can be redeemed at a range of properties, including five-star stays at high-end Sofitels, for example, and being an Accor Plus member also grants instant Le Club Silver status.
This gives you priority check-in, late check-out (subject to availability), and 'VIP treatment' at Sofitel, which can often find a welcome gift of wine, fruit or chocolates placed in your room. Add to that the promise of a welcome drink with every stay, such as an Espresso Martini at the Pullman Sydney Airport hotel.
AusBT review: Pullman Sydney Airport hotel
Presenting your Accor Plus membership card at participating hotel restaurants also provides instant savings of up to 50% on the food bill – and a 15% discount on drinks in Asia – even when not staying at the hotel, while Accor Plus members also get a further 10% off the lowest-priced room rates at participating hotels, including already-discounted Red Hot Rooms and Private Sale rates.
(Le Club Silver status can also be yours after staying 10 nights in hotels every year, but doesn't include the dining, drink or room discounts, or free hotel night every year, as given to paid Accor Plus members.)
Marriott Rewards: Platinum Elite
With six rungs on the loyalty ladder, Marriott's Platinum Elite tier is around the middle of the hierarchy and comes after 50 nights, giving solid perks without travellers having to reach the program's highest tier, or even the second-highest level, and that starts with hotel lounge access with every stay, where available.
In most properties, that gets you into the same Executive or Club lounge as available to guests staying on the Executive/Club floors, while in some hotels – such as the New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square – you'll instead have use of an exclusive Concierge Lounge, to which access can't otherwise be purchased.
AusBT review: New York Marriott Marquis hotel
Platinum members also enjoy free daily breakfast at most hotels, room upgrades to suites (as available), earn 50% more points on stays compared to entry-level members, and qualify for a 4pm priority late check-out – although if you can't hit the 50-night barrier, Gold status isn't as attractive, with only "enhanced" room upgrades, no lounge access or breakfast and a possible 2pm late check-out only.
Shangri-La Golden Circle: Jade
With a little over 100 participating hotels worldwide, Shangri-La's Golden Circle program isn't as wide-reaching as many of the larger chains, but the scheme's Jade membership tier can be unlocked after only 10 stays or 20 nights each year.
Covering hotels such as Shangri-La, Hotel Jen, Kerry Hotels and Traders Hotels, Jade members start by enjoying free restaurant breakfast every day of their stay. This isn't simply a coffee voucher, either: at Hong Kong's Hotel Jen, for example, breakfast can be taken at the property's Michelin-awarded on-site restaurant.
AusBT review: Hotel Ken Hong Kong by Shangri-La
Continuing its perks, Jade members get 4pm late check-out, 11am early check-in and room upgrades, all subject to availability. Upgrades are technically to the next-best room type, but being bumped several categories higher isn't unheard of, particularly during busy times like school holidays when fewer elite members are staying in-house.
Jade members can also nominate three complimentary amenities to be provided in their room at no charge, ranging from snacks and fruit through to soft drinks, sparkling water and beer, although access to Horizon Club lounges and the like isn't offered unless staying in a room type that includes this: only Diamond members are guaranteed that perk.
World of Hyatt: Explorist
Sitting in the middle of World of Hyatt's elite tiers, 'Explorist' members gain their stripes after spending 30 nights at Hyatt hotels every year, receiving perks such as upgrades to the best available room at check-in (excluding suites), along with 20% more points earned on stays compared to standard members.
Hyatt also gives Explorists four hotel Club Lounge passes every year to use when staying at Hyatt group hotels – such as for entry to the Hyatt Grand Club in New York – as only top-tier Globalist members enjoy access year-round with every stay.
AusBT review: Grand Hyatt New York hotel in Midtown Manhattan
However, travellers who can do without lounge passes and aren't fussed by the possibility of room upgrades could instead aim for the easier Discoverist tier, earned after only 10 nights and providing the same 2pm late check-out and 12pm early check-in (subject to availability) as Explorist members receive.
The same is true of priority check-in, daily bottled water and premium in-room Internet, which are offered from the Discoverist tier and up.