The Best Hotel Elite Status for 2019
This year was a big year for hotels and hotel loyalty in general. SPG and Marriott merged to create hotel superpower. Hilton added new brands to their portfolio. Hyatt partnered with the Small Luxury Hotels, and IHG and Kimpton finally became one big happy rewards family.
With so many things moving and shaking, where should our loyalty (and yours too) be in 2019 and beyond?
Our Unique Situation
I want to start out with our unique situation, because I feel that it might be very similar to many of yours as well. After the merger of SPG and Marriott, we were left with Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite status. That’s a lot of fancy adjectives, but in the end, it means that we don’t HAVE to stay any more at a Marriott or SPG properties to try and accrue elite status. We’ve got it for life, so if it suits our needs, we’ll do it!
Hilton Diamond Status is easily attained through the Hilton Aspire card (read more) or spending on the Hilton Ascend card (read more). We don’t HAVE to stay there either in order to have top tier elite status.
So, with those two major chains already locked down, where do we go from here? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of all the chains and hopefully that’ll be what you need to make your decision as well.
Marriott Rewards (formerly SPG)
It’s going to take me a long time to stop calling the former SPG program by any other name. SPG was the best in so many aspects from earning to redemption, that a piece of all of our hearts died on August 18th when the programs became one.
If you don’t have any status after the merger then you’ll be starting from scratch. There are a few ways to earn status via credit cards which might make life a little bit easier:
- Amex Platinum (read more)
- SPG Luxury card (read more)
- SPG Regular Credit Card (read more)
- Chase Marriott Credit Card
If you don’t have those cards or are averse to spending on them, then it’s going to be the old fashioned way. Sleeping in beds!
- Silver = 10 nights a year
- Gold = 25 nights a year
- Platinum =50 nights a year
- Platinum Premier = 75 nights a year
- Platinum Premier with Ambassador = 100 nights plus $20,000 a year in spending
That last one is going to hurt, as we’ve been SPG Ambassadors for years now. With the new $20,000 spend requirement we’re probably going to have to look elsewhere. In all honesty, we had considered continuing our stay trend with SPG and Marriott simply to keep our ambassador. She’s wonderful and makes magic happen when we need it. But, with a $20k requirement, I’m sorry to say that 2019 will be our last year with her. Sorry if you’re reading this! We still love ya!
Hilton is a great hotel chain for their footprint. In most cities in the world you’re going to find a Hilton branded hotel. In the United States alone there are hundreds of hotels (what seems to mostly be Hampton Inn and Suites) wherever you want to stay.
Without a credit card, the levels are as follows:
- Silver = 4 stays or 10 nights
- Gold = 20 stays, 40 nights, or 75,000 base points
- Diamond = 30 stays, 60 nights, or 120,000 base points
Our one major gripe with Hilton’s program is that there aren’t a ton of aspirational properties. It’s very difficult to get excited about an Embassy Suites or a Doubletree. Sure, there are some Conrad properties and Waldorf Astoria brands, but the luxury that comes with those seems to be more of a traditional luxury. We’re more into the modern luxury (think West Elm and Crate and Barrel) instead of the 100 year old chandeliers and gold-trimmed wardrobes.
IHG Rewards Club
Talk about lack of aspirational hotels… the IHG rewards club, in my opinion, wins the award for most basic, uninspiring, lonely looking hotels of all. With such brands as Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, and Holiday Inn Express, they’re pretty much the B and C list hotels that you can earn points at.
Ok, ok, ok… I’m going to get some loyalists that tell me there are Kimpton hotels (I’m looking at you, Lee) and Intercontinental Hotels, but they are SUCH a small portion of their overall footprint that it’s almost not even worth it.
The elite benefits at hotels suck. No free breakfast. Barely any upgrades worth mentioning, and in our experience any chance of a late check out is scoffed at with a look of disdain much similar to that of a Walmart cashier when you’re trying to buy a money order.
To get that top tier status you’ve got to
suffer through stay 100 nights in their ridiculous wonderful hotels. This hotel chain won’t be our focus brand any time soon.
If you’re a fan and you’re looking for the IHG credit card from Chase, you can absolutely apply. The signup bonus is generous and you can redeem those points for some aspirational hotels and luxury hotels… or a handful of nights in a Candlewood Suites during a promotion.
Hyatt Hotels and World of Hyatt
This one I’m on the fence about. On the one hand, Hyatt has a very small footprint of hotels, especially for where we travel. When we do go somewhere that Hyatt has a property, it’s almost invariably a Hyatt House or Hyatt Place hotel. While those are perfectly fine, they don’t inspire me in any way. Literally, they are the same exact carbon copy of a hotel that you’ll find anywhere in the world.
On the other hand, the Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt, Park Hyatt, and Unbound Collection hotels are listed among some of the most sought after and luxury hotels in the world. The problem? The cost.
Hyatt hotels seem to always be the most expensive options no matter where we travel. If we’re traveling for business we can’t stay there because it’ll pass the minimum spend. If we’re traveling for pleasure, I don’t want to fork over $250-300 a night for a hotel, especially if we’ve got points in a bunch of other programs.
Earning Elite Status isn’t nearly as difficult as the other programs, but it does provide a challenge, given their small footprint.
- Discoverist = 10 nights a year
- Explorist = 30 nights a year
- Globalist = 60 nights a year
You can get status with the World of Hyatt credit card, but in order to get that top tier status, be prepared to shell our some serious cash. You can earn basic Discoverist status just by holding the card.
Maybe the best loyalty isn’t being loyal to a brand? Hotels.com has an interesting program that is worth taking a look at. The value prop is quite simple. Stay 10 nights, get 1 free. That stay value is the aggregate value of all the hotel nights prior. So if every night was $200, then you get a $200 credit for the next hotel stay. The downside is that if the stay you want is $150, you don’t get that $50 as a future credit. You’ll lose it.
We wrote an in depth article here about hotels.com and their loyalty program. If you haven’t considered them, it might be a good option. Considering that TopCashBack also offers typically in the range of 4-10% cash back on all stays, you can get even more money back for your trips! Currently there is a nice TopCashBack referral and new sign up bonus. If you don’t have an account yet, sign up here.
So, 2019… what’s best?
I think, for us, we’re going to TRY and give Hyatt a shot. We’ve got Marriott, we’ve got Hilton, and IHG doesn’t really seem to appealing. In the worst case scenario, we’re going to have a ton of Hyatt points that we can use on stays. I might be able to swing 60 nights just staying in Hyatt Place and Hyatt House for all my business trips, and if we mix in 5-10 nice stays using points on our trips, it just might be enough.
The part that sucks with any hotel program starting from scratch is the status chasm. We’re a “nothing” right now with Hyatt, so we’re going to have to start from square one. Scratch. They’re not known for status match offers, and when I called and asked I was shut down pretty hard.