Hotel living in a city of high-rise rates

Here are some thoughts on maintaining hotel loyalty elite status while traveling in cities of rising rates. STR, the hotel data company for North America, reported average daily rates last week in the U.S. were $154.50 for upper-upscale hotel market segment with occupancy at 78.0%. The luxury hotel market segment had average daily rates of $260.71 with occupancy at a high 77.3%. 

As a leisure traveler over the past decade, I have felt that an adequate annual budget for maintaining top elite status while primarily staying in upper-upscale market segment hotels takes between $3,000 to $4,000 a year. I’ve spent more and I have spent less, but $3,000 is typically around the minimum spend I can expect when planning to earn top elite like SPG Platinum, Hyatt Diamond, Hilton Diamond or Carlson Concierge elite. 

Marriott will likely take more than $3,000 for Gold elite at 50 nights and much more for Platinum at 75 nights, although elite rollover nights can reduce the annual spend somewhat. Priority Club qualification on points should take far less than $3,000 to earn 60,000 points for Platinum. I requalified for 2012 Priority Club Platinum elite status yesterday after less than $500 in hotel stays in 2011.

My Priority Club account has earned 117,330 points in 2011 and Platinum elite membership is earned with 60,000 points in a calendar year. I have earned Platinum elite status through December 31, 2012 after just 5 paid hotel nights in 2011. 

Maintaining hotel elite status in a city of rising rates

Upper-upscale market segment hotels like full service Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and Starwood properties will frequently have rates in the range of $150 to $200 per night. 

The highest rates might be during midweek nights like in downtown San Francisco where business travelers and convention goers fill hotels on high rates. The highest hotel rates may be weekend nights like in my hometown of Monterey where many Californians come to vacation on weekends. 

$150 to $200 per night hotels on a $3,000 to $4,000 budget gets you 15 to 26 nights a year in hotels. It is tough to earn top-level elite status with fewer than 30 nights a year in hotels unless you only do one-night stays. 

Most hotel loyalty programs qualify members for elite status by either nights or hotel stays. Carlson, Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood require fewer stays than nights for elite qualification. 

Top-Tier Elite Qualification Published Requirements (in a calendar year)

  • Marriott Rewards Platinum = 75 Nights
  • Club Carlson Concierge Elite = 30 Stays or 75 Nights
  • Hilton HHonors Diamond = 28 Stays or 60 Nights or 100,000 base points ($10,000 hotel spend)
  • Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond = 25 stays or 50 nights
  • Starwood Preferred Guest = 25 stays or 50 nights 
  • InterContinental Royal Ambassador has unpublished qualification terms which are generally reported to be around 50 to 60 nights in IHG brand hotels with stays in at least 3 different InterContinental Hotels in a 12-month period of Ambassador paid membership.

I have met many business travelers who spend 40 to 50 nights a year in hotels and never have attained top elite status. Most business travelers average two or three night stays. If you spend 60 nights a year in hotels with 20 hotel stays and 42 nights Hilton and 18 nights in Marriott, then your HHonors Gold and Marriott Silver elite receives minor attention compared to what you would likely experience as HHonors Diamond. 

The leisure traveler spending $3K to $4K can have four or five extended stay vacations a year staying in nice upper-upscale hotels at $150 to $200 per night. Most of my friends fall in this category of travelers who pay high rates in desirable places and never qualify for more than low-level elite hotel loyalty membership.

My objective throughout the year is finding upper-upscale hotels where my average daily paid rate is well below the average $155 per night for a U.S. upper upscale hotel. I regularly find upper upscale hotels in the $100 range during slow business and low occupancy periods. This allows me to stay 30 to 40 paid nights and the ability to maintain top-elite status with good elite benefits and hotel selection whether that loyalty program is Hilton, Hyatt, SPG or another hotel loyalty program.

Typically I spend about 80% of my paid hotel nights in upper-upscale hotels and around 20% in midscale brands like Four Points, Hyatt Place, Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn/Hilton Garden Inn.

Conventions and Events are a Leisure Traveler budget buster 

Conferences like the International Pow Wow in San Francisco this past week tend to push the daily hotel rates up to $250 to $300 per night for upper-upscale hotel brands like Hilton, Hyatt Regency, Marriott, and Westin. These high rates force the leisure traveler down to 10 to 16 nights a year if staying within a $3,000 to $4,000 budget. You are severely limited on your ability to earn hotel elite status while staying in the upper-upscale hotel market segment and paying high rates. 

I plan for hotel travel 12 months a year with a goal of maintaining top elite status in at least one program (currently I’m top-elite in four hotel programs). I seldom book a hotel more than one week in advance, but when I see good value hotel deals, like my W Silicon Valley $64 Best Rate Guarantee nights this weekend that I found a few weeks back, I jump on them to earn loyalty points and elite credit stays. 

Then, when I really need a hotel in a specific place like downtown San Francisco last week, I am able to spend points for nice upper-upscale hotel rooms with elite benefits like free internet or free breakfast and free room upgrades. Rates were over $200 and $300 at hotels around Moscone Center during International Pow Wow 2011 travel convention. Rates are about the same next month in downtown Vancouver for the Travel Blog Exchange 2011 conference.  My points earned steadily over the past year allow me to stay in upper upscale hotels in the center of the action at a fraction of the published paid rates by using points awards. 

The fact that most other guests at these hotels are paying $200 to $300 per night does not impact me. I spent $120 and 60,000 Priority Club points to stay two nights at the InterContinental San Francisco and saved nearly $500 on the published lowest rate. I stayed at the Starwood Luxury Collection Palace Hotel on a Cash & Points award and paid $103 (after tax) and 4,800 points to save over $200 on the lowest published rate. My SPG Platinum elite status also waived the $20 daily internet fee at the Palace Hotel. I booked both of these hotels within 24 hours of arrival during one of the year’s biggest conventions in San Francisco.

So if you are one of those high-paying guests during hotel convention times, or even worse, you are staying at the airport and spending two hours a day commuting to and from the city center from your budget hotel…

“Welcome to Loyalty Traveler.” 

This is where you will find tips on getting hotel value for the frequent guest. 

You do not have to book far in advance to get the best hotel rates. You just need to plan far in advance so you have plenty of points and hopefully elite status, rather than plenty of cash to cover your hotel needs when staying in a city of high-rise and high rate hotels.

Article Correction May 31: This post originally listed occupancy for upper-upscale hotel segment incorrectly at 68% rather than 78.0%.  The upper-midscale hotel segment was 68% occupancy.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined in 2008.

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  1. Thanks for the blog!

    One question about point and cash, as I was looking into booking at SF on 6/11. I don’t see any cash and points availability for all SPG properties near downtown… So, is it more likely to find such combination as we get closer to the date? How does a hotel decide to give such an option or not in their reservation system? Thanks much!

  2. Points & Cash is limited availability. Really it depends on occupancy and revenue projections.

    Points & Cash sometimes become available closer to booking. During the convention in San Francisco last week there were several days of no Cash & Points and then availability of Cash & Points opened up for Palace Hotel and I grabbed a night. Over several days the Points & Cash option for Palace Hotel appeared and went away again and reappeared.

    No other SPG hotels had any Cash & Points awards during Pow Wow convention.

    San Francisco has picked up tourism big time in 2011 and rates are much higher than one year ago for downtown. I see far less Cash & Points availability in 2011 in downtown San Francisco.

  3. I’ve got 94000 priority points and a 3 night NYC stay in July upcoming. I’m circling hotel indigo in Chelsea and wondering would you spend 75000 for 3 nights, 60000 plus $120 for 3 nights or $180 plus 45000 points for 3 nights. Hard to figure out what is best value.

    Thanks again for your great blog!

  4. Ric, this is a good article explaining the cost of top level elite status in various hotel programs. With reagrds to Hilton’s program, I have found them to be excellent even as a Gold, especially when traveling internationally. Hilton’s Gold level is the best of any mid range elite program IMHO. It is earned with either 16 stays or 36 nights. You receive an upgrade to the Executive floor on a space available basis and free internet. If the hotel does not have an Execuitve floor or no upgrade to the Executive floor is available, a room upgrade and free breakfast are provided.

    The main benefit to Diamond seems to be guaranteed room reservations and the Diamond special arrangement which will make award stays possible even when there is no inventory. You are also guaranteed access to the Executive lounge. I have found that elite Hilton status is far more rewarded at international locations where I have received suites as a Diamond at the discretion of the hotel.

  5. @Chitownflyer – Some of my best upgrades with HHonors happened as HHonors Gold.

    Those reward night stays arranged through Diamond desk were the most valuable aspect of HHonors Diamond to me since my wife and I traveled so frequently during peak seasons of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter over school holidays.

    @Michael – What is the room rate? I generally try to use Points & Cash and buy 10,000 points for $60. That conserves points for future reward stays. Assuming your 25,000 points is saving at least $150, then buying 10,000 points for $60 is actually getting a better return on your points.

    For example $175 for Hotel Indigo after tax is $7 per 1,000 points redemption value. Buying 10,000 points at $6 per 1,000 points redemption value means you are buying points and spending them immediately for a higher value.

    With only 94,000 points you lose reward redemption opportunities if you book 75,000 points in free nights now and drop your account to 19,000 points. You can’t afford the InterContinental Barclay on points if a supermodel suddenly wants to hang out with you.

    I booked the IC San Francisco in two single night reservations on Points & Cash last week to buy 20,000 points and spend 60,000 points when I only had 71,000 in my account.

    I suggest spend the $180 if you can afford it and keep 49,000 points in your account. At least for me I think I would find two free IHG hotel nights at a Crowne Plaza or Holiday Inn likely worth more than $180 in room rate savings sometime in the next year.

  6. At about $240 per night after tax or 25,000 points, then you are getting good redemption value for your points over $9 per 1,000 points.

    This is a good time to buy 10,000 points for $60 for the stay or even more if you want to make separate Points & Cash reservations for each night and buy 30,000 points.

    Buy 10,000 points for $60 and pay 25,000 points per night. You are getting $180 value for the other 15,000 points redeemed and your redemption value has increased to $12/1,000 points for those 15,000 points rather than $9 per 1,000 points if you spend 25,000 points without using Points & Cash.

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