Posted by Ric Garrido

Many travelers do not think about a hotel until the trip destination is concrete and the nonrefundable tickets for the deed are done. The travelers writing on BoardingArea.com tend to think of travel loyalty programs ‘one year at a time’. 

Elite is an annual strategy for many loyalty travelers. Hotel and airline travel offers so much more when you are elite. 

Personally I plan hotel stays throughout the year with the purpose of earning elite in my primary loyalty programs and free nights for cheap upscale lodging with other hotel programs.

Business travelers with 100+ nights per year paid by an employer may not care about counting hotel stays and analyzing the value of points and promotions. But as a frequent guest and traveler who generally pays my own way, I want to stretch my few thousand dollars in annual hotel spend as far as I can. 

When I spend $500 on hotel rooms I try and get $1,000 in hotel value. Over the course of a year’s hotel stays I tend to average that rate.

Meet Me in the Elite Line

You do not need to be a high roller to play the upgrade game. Airlines offer complimentary and certificate upgrades to elite frequent fliers. Hotels offer complimentary room upgrades to high level elite frequent guests.

Attaining top elite hotel loyalty member status takes anywhere from 10 to 50 eligible nights during the calendar year in the hotel program. Nights or stays required for high elite depends on the hotel program. How much you spend to earn elite status is a matter of your travel needs and preferences.

My travel anecdote I typically toss out to readers is top elite status in a hotel loyalty program can be $100 per night added value between bonus points, special offers, hotel amenity gifts, complimentary room upgrades, service issue points (points given when something goes wrong) and extra personal attention.

This value will be quite a bit lower for some frequent guests.  Depending on your travel pattern the added value of high elite may be $50 or less per hotel night.

Large full-service hotels have many rooms and room types and upgrade potential. Room upgrades will be far less in lower hotel market segments. For example, Hilton Hampton Inn, Hyatt Place, Marriott Fairfield Inn, Priority Club Holiday Inn Express properties are the kinds of places where upgrades may be few and far between.

Better room location and view is common for elites.  Frequent guests who commonly have extended stays of three or more nights may have reduced upgrade-to-suite potential. A hotel is less likely to give a suite upgrade to someone on a four-night stay compared to someone staying one night when the suite at check-in time is unsold for that single night.  

Current Fast-Track Elite Promotions

Here are two current promotions to jumpstart elite status at the mid-tier level while you consider the benefits and working your way to a higher level.

Currently Starwood Preferred Guest is offering Gold elite with four hotel stays by January 31, 2011 at three Starwood Hotel brands: Aloft, Element and Four Points. SPG Gold elite normally requires 10 hotel stays or 25 nights in the calendar year. You can earn one year of Gold elite for under $400 compared to around $1,000 without a fast-track promotion.

This offer allows registration until January 31, 2011 and all eligible stays completed during the promotion period are counted. So register and get counted for SPG Gold elite.

Marriott Rewards offers instant Gold Elite via an Air China offer requiring 12 nights within 90 days to maintain elite for 2011. Join Air China Phoenix Miles (Star Alliance member airline) for free.  The great thing about this offer is hotel rates are their seasonal lowest of the year over the next three months in many locations.

Marriott Rewards normally requires 50 nights in a calendar year making this fast-track elite available for 2011 at around $1,000 to $1,200 compared to $4,000 to $5,000 by the normal hotel stay requirement.

2 Responses

  1. Even though I’m a business traveler with 300+ nights a year paid by my employer (albeit a low nightly reimbursement rate), points and miles are still the most important thing to me because my spouse and 3 kids have a seemingly endless need and/or interest in traveling. Other things being equal (meaning one hotel doesn’t have much of an advantage over others), my hotel strategy is determined on a QUARTERLY basis where the most important factor is which hotel group has a promotion that gives me the most points or miles.

  2. At 300 nights per year you don’t really need to worry about maintaining elite status. Gaining the most points for family travel seems like a good plan.

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