Finding the status 'sweet spot' in hotel loyalty programs

While elite hotel memberships like Diamond and Titanium are highly sought after, sometimes Gold, or even Silver, is all you need.

By Chris Chamberlin, March 7 2020
Finding the status 'sweet spot' in hotel loyalty programs

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 Accor Live Limitless (ALL), Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards, Shangri-La Golden Circle and World of Hyatt.

Accor Live Limitless: Silver + Accor Plus

Accor naturally reserves its best perks for top-tier ALL Platinum cardholders and the new above-Platinum Diamond and Black tiers, 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 cashed in at a range of properties, including five-star stays at high-end Sofitels. Being an Accor Plus member also grants instant ALL Silver status.

This unlocks 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.

ET review: Pullman Sydney Airport hotel

Presenting your Accor Plus membership card at participating hotel restaurants in Asia Pacific provides instant savings of up to 50% on the food bill, even when not staying at the hotel.

You'll get 25% off when dining alone or with three others; 33% off when dining with two other guests; and 50% off when dining with one companion. Participating hotels in Asia also provide a 15% discount on drinks.

Across Asia Pacific, Accor Plus members get a further 10% off the lowest-priced room rates at participating hotels, including already-discounted Red Hot Rooms and Private Sale rates.

(ALL 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.)

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.

If you receive such an upgrade, you also get access to the hotel's Executive Lounge, where available, which higher-tier Diamond members are guaranteed access to with every stay.

ET Executive Floor review: Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel

Gold members earn 80% more points than base members, alongside other benefits available to lower-tier guests as well such as priority check-in, late check-out, complimentary WiFi and bottled water.

IHG Rewards Club: Gold Elite

With three tiers above the entry level – 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 bar credit with every stay.

ET 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.

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.

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.

ET 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.

However, if you can't hit the 50-night barrier, Gold status isn't as attractive as what you could unlock via other hotel chains, with only "enhanced" room upgrades and a possible 2pm late check-out given as key benefits, with no complimentary lounge access or breakfast.

Shangri-La Golden Circle: Jade

With a little over 100 participating hotels worldwide, Shangri-La's Golden Circle program isn't as far-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: at Hong Kong's Hotel Jen, for example, breakfast can be taken at the property's Michelin-awarded on-site restaurant.

ET review: Hotel Ken Hong Kong by Shangri-La

Continuing its perks, Jade members get 4pm late check-out – which can normally be confirmed at check-in – plus 11am early check-in and room upgrades, subject to availability.

Upgrades are technically to the next-best room type, but being bumped to a room type several categories above the category booked 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 with every stay 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.

ET 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.

Also read: Hyatt, Shangri-La extend all elite status by one year

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 140

Seems to me Chris that all these programs with the exception of Hilton Honours are designed to simply confuse the Punters. I've got HH Diamond. Easy. I've also got Sofitel Acor Silver with Acor Plus but linking the two accounts is virtually impossible. IHG - I give up - 6 membership tiers and then there's the Club rooms thingy you still have to purchase on property to get in the lounge. IMHO, Hilton is the only way to go for simplicity if nothing else.

You don't by chance also have (or have had) an Ibis Business card attached to your Accor Le Club account? I've heard that it can be tricky to link Accor Plus with your Le Club if you already have an Ibis Business card attached (both are essentially add-on paid memberships, and the computer doesn't play nice if you have more than one), but as an Accor Silver + Accor Plus member myself, I found the sign-up process very smooth and the Accor Plus was automatically integreated with my general Accor membership, and the perks like 'Stay Plus' (the free night every year) and the 10% discount on rates automatically became available in my Accor account, and the Accor Plus membership card lists both my Accor Plus membership and Le Club status.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 140

Not that one for me. I did have IHG Spire Elite last year after a lot of stays for work in 2016 but that was a waste of time IMHO. A very confusing program to utilize the benefits!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 367

I find HH gold is the best of them all. So easy to attain (can get it just from credit cards either instantly or fast track) and free breakfast is a great perk.

I've even been upgraded to 1 bedroom suite in my most recent stay in Chicago Londonhouse from the basic room. Love it!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Sep 2011

Total posts 85

As I recall Accor Plus is only for Asia Pacific?

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

14 Nov 2013

Total posts 42

You are correct Hilton has the best loyalty program along with perks, they always acknowledge your status and have never failed to upgrade me. IHG which i hold platinum is confusing and im always having to re confirm at check in that they have recieved my requests prior. With Intercontinental if you have Ambassador status which you can purchase that is also a good program and from memory only costs about $200

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1390

Problem is HH gives away Gold on cereal packets so often uses the subject to availability clause, not even differentiating earned Gold.

In my mind it's Diamond or bust with Hilton, albeit that's my personal preference for EL over breakfast

29 Jun 2017

Total posts 1

Discovery/GHA is a fav of mine for the fact only 30 nights to top (black) and normally a couple times a year they run double night credits. Top tier with approx 20-25 nights, too good!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 20

GHA / Rydges Black has been great - some great benefits in some hotels, including Australia. I have also been Hyatt Globalist / Diamond for about 8 years - along with a number of other chains - Hyatt is by far the best at looking after the top tier. Agree the Hilton Gold is a good options too as trying to maintain top teir for mulitple programs is hard work.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 307

I don't like the way points just expire with GHA, Rydges, , it's not a bad program but points just drop off when you are finally thinking about using them, I have had that happen twice so now I mainly stick with HH and IHG,

19 Sep 2017

Total posts 11

why spend aud395 on OZ A+ for one night free accommodation, if you can get two night free with CNY2500 or even cheaper idr2650k?!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 May 2015

Total posts 78

I switched my loyalty from Accor to Hilton at the beginning of last year and can say that the Hilton loyalty program is light years ahead of what Accor is offering. I was Accor platinum for about 5 years but dropped down to Gold this year after deciding to reduce stays at Accor after one too many poor loyalty experiences. With Accor the loyalty experience is very inconsistent, and from my personal experience I've had a number of stays where it would have been better if I had no Accor status whatsoever. A case in point was a stay earlier this month at the Sebel Busselton in WA. At check-in there was no status acknowledgment whatsoever. An upgrade was offered only after I asked. I also had to ask about welcome drinks and was told there were bottles of water in the apartment. Late check-out was granted until 10.15 (a whole 15 minutes). There was no welcome amenity. Relating this back to Chris' article I would say the sweet spot for Accor is probably booking a cheaper prices through a 3rd party website where you can use a promo code and perhaps even get a cashback. Overall I have found Accor to be a massive hassle. It's a shame, because when I have stayed at an Accor hotel that understand loyalty the experience has been fantastic!

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