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 C., March 7 2020
Finding the status 'sweet spot' in hotel loyalty programs

Although the top tier of any hotel's loyalty program 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 you're beginning your journey or are sharpening up your status goals, here are the sweet spots you should know about.

Accor Live Limitless sweet spot: Silver + Accor Plus

Accor naturally reserves its best perks for ALL Diamond and Black members, but for everybody else, there's an easy way to 'buy' benefits to enjoy year-round.

That's by purchasing an Accor Plus membership for $395/year – or activating this membership for free if you hold an AMEX Platinum Charge Card.

Being an Accor Plus cardholder also then grants instant ALL Silver.

Combined, here are the benefits you'll enjoy across Accor Plus and ALL Silver:

  • A complimentary hotel night every year, including at five-star hotels
  • Priority check-in and late check-out (subject to availability)
  • A welcome drink at the bar with every stay
  • Savings of up to 50% on dining in Asia Pacific
  • 15% off drinks at hotels in Asia (but not all Asia Pacific)
  • "VIP treatment" at Sofitel, which can often find a welcome amenity placed in your room
  • 10% off room rates at participating hotels, including already-discounted Red Hot Rooms and Private Sale rates
  • Earn 25% more points with every stay, compared to Classic members

Normally, ALL Silver would only be earned after staying 10 nights per year, but doesn't include the most significant perks of dining and hotel rate discounts, or the complimentary night, which are all benefits reserved for Accor Plus members.

Also read: Accor Plus unleashes fast-track to ALL Gold, Platinum

Hilton Honors sweet spot: Gold

Being a popular program for business travellers, Hilton Honors and its Gold tier unlock many useful and tangible benefits, without setting the bar too high.

Achievable in 2021 after just 10 stays, 20 nights or 37,500 base points (normally double these figures) – or gratis for AMEX Platinum Charge Card holders – you'll get:

  • Free daily breakfast or F&B credit at most hotels, including Hilton, Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree by Hilton and more
  • Complimentary room upgrades, subject to availability
  • Access to hotel Executive Lounges, when upgraded to the Executive floor
  • Earn 80% more points on stays, compared to base members
  • Priority check-in and late check-out 
  • Free bottled water and WiFi

That's a solid suite of benefits, with the key difference between Gold and higher-tier Diamond being guaranteed access to hotel Executive Lounges for the latter, regardless of the room type booked or received.

For Gold members, access is only available when their free upgrade is to a room type that provides this access – or when booking an eligible room outright.

ET Executive Floor review: Hilton Sydney hotel

IHG Rewards sweet spot: Gold Elite

With three tiers above the entry level – Gold Elite, Platinum Elite and Spire Elite – IHG Gold Elite could be enough for many travellers, especially when it can be earned after only 10 nights per year.

It's also available as a one-off boost for Virgin Australia Velocity Gold frequent flyers, who can choose between Hilton Honors Gold and IHG Rewards Gold Elite.

Gold Elite status with IHG provides:

  • Priority check-in and late check-out (subject to availability)
  • A "welcome amenity" at the discretion of each hotel
  • Free in-room WiFi
  • Earn 10% more points with every stay
  • At Kimpton hotels, a 'Raid the Bar' credit
  • $30 in-room spa credit, at participating hotels

By comparison, IHG's Platinum Elite tier – the next rung up the ladder – requires four times as many nights to qualify: 40, versus 10.

In return, members only get complimentary room upgrades which remain subject to availability, and a higher bonus rate of 50% on points versus 10% at Gold.

Marriott Bonvoy sweet spot: Platinum Elite

With six rungs on the loyalty ladder, Marriott's Platinum Elite tier sits in the upper-middle of the hierarchy and comes after 50 nights, giving solid perks without travellers having to reach the program's highest tier (Ambassador), or even the second-highest level (Titanium).

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, that's instead the exclusive Concierge Lounge, to which access can't otherwise be purchased.

Marriott Bonvoy Platinum members can access Concierge Lounges, such as at the Marriott Marquis New York Times Square.
Marriott Bonvoy Platinum members can access Concierge Lounges, such as at the Marriott Marquis New York Times Square.

Added to that, Marriott Platinum Elite members also get:

  • Free daily breakfast at most hotels
  • Room upgrades including to selected suits (as available)
  • Earn 50% more points with every stay versus entry-level members
  • Guaranteed 4pm late check-out (or subject to availability at resort and convention hotels)

However, if you can't break the 50-night barrier, Marriott Bonvoy Gold status isn't as attractive as what you could unlock via other hotel chains, albeit again free for AMEX Platinum Charge Card holders.

Gold provides only "enhanced" room upgrades and a possible 2pm late check-out as its key benefits, with no complimentary lounge access or breakfast.

Shangri-La Golden Circle sweet spot: 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 properties such as Shangri-La, JEN hotel, 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:

  • 11am early check-in and 4pm check-out (subject to availability)
  • Room upgrades (again subject to availability)
  • Three complimentary amenities with every stay (e.g. beer, soft drinks, snacks)

Room upgrades are technically to the next-best category, but being bumped to a room type several categories above the one booked isn't unheard of, particularly during school holidays when fewer elite members are staying in-house.

However, access to Horizon Club lounges isn't offered unless staying in a room type that includes this –  only Golden Circle Diamond members are guaranteed that perk.

World of Hyatt sweet spot: Explorist

Sitting in the centre of World of Hyatt's elite tiers, 'Explorist' members gain their stripes after spending 30 nights at Hyatt hotels every year (temporary reduced to 15 nights in 2021).

This status can also be earned after hosting 10 meetings and events, or by collecting 50,000 base points (25,000 in 2021) and delivers:

  • 12pm early check-in and 2pm late check-out (both subject to availability)
  • Upgrades to the best available room at check-in (suites excluded)
  • Earn 20% more points than standard members
  • Four hotel Club Lounge passes every year
  • Daily bottled water and premium in-room Internet

Several of those benefits mirror Hyatt's Discoverist tier – such as free water, WiFi and late check-out – which is an easier goal to aim for if those are the priority, achievable after just 10 nights (five in 2021).

Chris C.

A Brisbane-based contributor to Executive Traveller, Chris Chamberlin 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.

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

14 Nov 2013

Total posts 42

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 1393

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 27

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 320

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,

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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