Hilton Honors loyalty program Hilton Hotels Worldwide hotel loyalty programs IHG One Rewards InterContinental Hotels Group Marriott Hotels Marriott Rewards (replaced by Marriott Bonvoy)

Making Elite with Marriott, IHG and Hilton

Elite status is the primary way to earn more points and benefits from hotel loyalty programs. Elite members earn 10% to 50% more bonus points per dollar in hotel spend. High elite status brings many additional benefits with hotel stays including complimentary breakfast, free room upgrades, welcome gifts and free internet.

Hilton HHonors and Marriott Rewards have a high bar for reaching top elite status. Most frequent guest travelers will only spend sufficient nights in a hotel to earn either Hilton HHonors Diamond (28 stays or 60 nights) or Marriott Rewards Platinum (75 nights).

Elite Membership Tiers

Marriott Rewards (Marriott Rewards membership levels link)

  • Silver = 10 nights (20% elite bonus points).
  • Gold = 50 nights (25% elite bonus points).
  • Platinum = 75 nights (50% elite bonus points).
  • Marriott offers elite rollover nights for 2012 hotel stays to make 2013 qualification easier.

Hilton HHonors (HHonors membership levels link)

InterContinental Hotels Group Priority Club Rewards (Priority Club membership levels link)

  • Gold = 15 nights or purchase for $50 or earn 20,000 qualifying points in a calendar year (10% elite bonus points).
  • Platinum = 50 nights or earn 60,000 qualifying points in a calendar year (50% elite bonus points).
  • InterContinental Ambassador = $200 membership fee or32,000 Priority Club points. InterContinental Ambassador benefits apply only to stays at InterContinental Hotels.(Ambassador FAQ)
  • InterContinental Royal Ambassador = by invitation only for select Ambassador members (top 1%) based on factors of total number of nights stayed and revenue. Unpublished qualification criteria estimated to be around 60 hotel nights in IHG properties with stays in several InterContinental Hotels.  FlyerTalk has a thread where members attempt to determine the criteria for Royal Ambassador membership.

Elite Qualification Routes Compared

There are differences in the way each hotel loyalty program qualifies elite members. This post will compare the routes to elite membership in Hilton HHonors, IHG Priority Club and Marriott Rewards. The specific benefits an elite member receives at different membership levels in each hotel program will be discussed in separate Loyalty Traveler posts.

Priority Club Elite

Priority Club is one of the easiest hotel loyalty programs to qualify for high elite Platinum status despite showing the qualification level as 50 nights. And these are 50 paid nights not counting reward stays using points or Points & Cash stays. Only Hilton HHonors, Starwood Preferred Guest and Choice Privileges credit reward stays for annual elite tier qualification.

60,000 qualifying Priority Club points is an easy to reach threshold for guests staying far fewer than 50 nights in a calendar year at IHG hotels. Priority Club counts almost any point earned in your account as an elite qualifying point. About the only Priority Club points that do not count as elite qualifying are points purchased for Points & Cash stays when paying $40 for 5,000 points or $60 for 10,000 points as part of a Points & Cash reward booking. Qualifying points include base points and bonus points earned from hotel stays, bonus points earned from promotions and points earned from partner activities.

Example of earning 60,000 points for Priority Club Platinum elite membership

  • Purchase 20,000 Priority Club points for $230 = 20,000 points.
  • Hotel stays = 20 nights at Holiday Inn and HI Express @$100/night rate = 20,000 base points.
  • Priority Club Double Points Promotion (Jan 23-Apr 30, 2012)  = 20,000 bonus points.
  • Gold elite 10% bonus points = 5 nights at $100/night rate = 500 points.
  • Total = 60,500 qualifying Priority Club points with 20 hotel nights to earn Platinum elite.

These two activities of buying points and hotel stays during the Priority Club Double Points promotion qualify the Priority Club member for Platinum elite after only 20 hotel nights rather than 50 nights. This is just one example of how easy it is to reach Priority Club Platinum and start earning 50% bonus points.

InterContinental Ambassador lets you buy your way to elite

InterContinental Ambassador is a $200 initial membership ($100 renewal) annually paid program if you are looking for complimentary luxury hotel benefits to supplement those $300 per night stays at InterContinental Hotels. There are many InterContinental Hotels with rates below $150 night many nights of the year, yet there are other IC properties where $300 per night would be quite a discount rate at any time of the year.

InterContinental Royal Ambassador members receive a certificate in their membership packet to gift membership to one other.


Marriott Rewards Elite

Marriott Rewards is consistently voted the best hotel loyalty program in business surveys and even the Freddie Awards in recent years. Marriott Rewards has maintained the toughest elite qualification criteria of any major hotel loyalty program for many years. Mid-tier Gold elite at 50 nights and high-tier Platinum elite at 75 nights far exceed other programs. Hilton, Starwood and Hyatt have hotel stays as an alternative route to elite membership. Stays are a far more favorable qualification route for guests who typically stay one night at a time.

Hilton HHonors Diamond requires 60 nights and Marriott Rewards at 75 nights is 25% more nights than HHonors.  And HHonors counts hotel nights on rewards.

Hilton HHonors takes only 28 stays for HHonors Diamond elite as a different elite qualification route. This means a member can earn HHonors Diamond elite with as few as 28 one-night stays and some of those stays can even be reward stays using points.

Marriott Rewards Elite Rollover Nights is a competitive edge

Elite Rollover Nights appeared in 2009 when the hotel industry was severely impacted by a sudden cutback in global travel.  Marriott Rewards did not alter its stringent elite qualification criteria, but instead lowered the elite qualification threshold in one way, while providing incentive to continue staying with Marriott even after attaining elite status for the calendar year.

Elite Rollover Nights carry any nights in excess of the elite level for the current year to the next calendar year. In 2012 a member who stays 33 nights in Marriott brand hotels earns Silver elite for 2013 after 10 nights, but fails to reach 50 nights for Gold elite. This member starts 2013 as Silver elite and the 23 nights stayed in 2012 above the Silver elite qualification level rollover to 2013 elite qualifying nights. The member starts 2013 with 23 elite qualifying nights and only needs 27 nights in 2013 to reach Gold elite rather than 50 nights. The member will earn Gold elite after 27 nights in 2013.

Elite rollover nights are a powerful incentive for staying with Marriott Rewards as a Silver elite, even if Gold elite is not achievable in 2012.

Marriott Rewards offers Elite Rollover Nights as a promotional benefit to members. 2012 will be the fourth year this benefit has been offered, however, the announcement to extend elite rollover nights did not come until late December 2011. Hotel nights in 2012 will automatically rollover to 2013. There is no guarantee the elite rollover nights benefit will be repeated again for hotel nights stayed in 2013.

Club Carlson set elite rollover nights as a standard program benefit when the new hotel loyalty program launched April 2011. This is the only other hotel loyalty program to offer elite rollover nights.

Hilton HHonors Elite

Hilton has several routes to high elite Diamond status.

  • 28 stays can be as few as 28 one-night stays in a year and reward stays count too.
  • 60 nights including reward stays.
  • 100,000 base points = $10,000 in spend. That might be one wedding or company party.
  • HHonors Surpass American Express gives cardmember Diamond elite after $40,000 annual spend.

The multiple routes to reach elite are a competitive advantage of Hilton HHonors over Marriott Rewards.

In my opinion Hilton HHonors Gold (16 stays or 36 nights) is one of the best mid-tier elite levels to have for any hotel loyalty program. HHonors Gold elite is frequently offered in fast-track promotions for as few as four stays in 90 days. A new or returning HHonors member can receive benefits of free internet and free breakfast on hotel stays through 2013 after just four stays.

Elite Status Promotion: Hilton HHonors Gold elite fast-track for Carlson Wagonlit Travel customers. Earn HHonors Gold elite after four stays within 90 days of promotion registration.  Loyalty Traveler post Sep 6.

Elite Status Promotion: HHonors Gold VIP elite after 4 stays or 9 nights in 90 days at U.S. hotels with Hilton HHonors MVP. Promotion registration required.


HHonors Reward Stays are Elite Qualifying Stays and Nights

Hilton HHonors was also a pioneer in elite status qualification when it became the first hotel loyalty program to count reward nights and stays several years ago. Choice Privileges and Starwood Preferred Guest are two other hotel loyalty programs that changed in the past couple of years to count reward stays for elite status.

The introduction of HHonors Points & Money Rewards in 2011 means counting reward stays for elite qualification is even more rewarding. Points & Money rewards require only 50% standard reward points. A member with 100,000 points can buy two category-7 standard reward nights at 50,000 points each.  Points & Money rewards allow the same 100,000 points to buy four separate category-7 reward nights with a cash supplement ($85/night) and earn up to 4 elite qualifying stays and 4 nights.

HHonors Points & Money are a 2011 reward enhancement, even though the program also introduced HHonors Premium Rewards that seems to have negatively impacted Diamond level members with decreased access to room rewards at the standard rate.


Elite Challenges

Marriott offers a Gold Challenge for 12 nights in 90 days or Platinum Challenge with 18 nights in 90 days. You receive gold or Platinum elite level for 90 days and drop back to earned status if challenge not successful. You must be enrolled in either Gold or Platinum Challenge. You do not earn Gold elite if you fall 3 nights short on a Platinum Challenge with only 15 nights even though that would have been sufficient for the Gold Challenge.

Elite level membership after completing the challenge is maintained at Gold or Platinum elite through February 2013, unless you requalify for the same or higher tier. So you need to have 50 or 75 nights in 2012 to retain elite level through 2013. Challenges starting in July 2012 may last through Feb 2014. FlyerTalk thread on Marriott Platinum and Gold Challenges from last six months and Dec 2011 thread.

Hilton offers Diamond Challenge for 19 to 21 nights in a 90 day period. FlyerTalk thread.

HHonors status match discussed in this FlyerTalk thread. Remember that status match is generally a once-in-a-lifetime match when granted by a hotel loyalty program. Challenges can be periodically repeated. Do not waste a status match unless you plan to use it. You may regret it a couple of years from now when you could really use the instant elite status and that long expired top elite member card is sitting in your drawer.

Marriott elite status match FlyerTalk thread.

You can generally get a status match if you truly have the potential of a high-revenue guest with frequent hotel stays. The people getting instant status through a hotel loyalty promotion and no record of frequent stays might find it more difficult to get a hotel loyalty status match.

The Credit Card Route to Elite

Marriott, Hilton and IHG Priority Club offer an easy route to low tier elite simply by enrolling as a credit card member with Hilton HHonors Visa or American Express, Marriott Rewards Visa or Priority Club Visa.  Hilton HHonors is the winner for credit card benefits.

  • All HHonors credit cards confer complimentary HHonors Silver elite. HHonors Diamond membership is achievable through HHonors Surpass American Express after $40,000 annual card spend.
  • Marriott Rewards Visa gives either 10 or 15 elite nights annually for instant Silver elite status.
  • Priority Club Visa gives complimentary Gold elite.
  • This Loyalty Traveler post from March 2011 is still fairly accurate on the elite benefits available through hotel points credit cards.
  • Disclosure: I do not partner affiliate with any credit card providers. The links in my posts where I discuss credit cards are not affiliate marketing links for my Loyalty Traveler business.

Loyalty Traveler series: Comparison of Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards and IHG Priority Club hotel loyalty programs

1. Hilton, Marriott and IHG Hotel Brand Market Segments (Jan 15, 2012) – this post lists the different hotel brands, number of hotels in the brand, percentage of hotels in each brand and brand’s hotel market segment.

2. Hilton, IHG Marriott: Earning Base Points and Miles (Jan 17, 2012).

3. Making Elite with Marriott, IHG, Hilton (Jan 18, 2012) – Discussion of elite qualification requirements, elite status challenges and status matches.

This series will continue with a look at the redemption options using points and comparative analysis of these three programs.

IHG Priority Club has major changes taking effect in reward tiers for free nights January 18, 2012. I will compare reward cost for Hilton, Marriott and IHG free nights after the Priority Club changes are published and the new higher rates are in effect.


  • Aditya January 18, 2012


    Thanks for a great post. I have signed up for many benefits and gotten Ambassador Gold last year after 4 night stay ( promo) got the priority club CC and got bumped up to Ambassador Platinum. Staying In Seoul, Osaka and Yokohama for next 11 days in IHG and hoping to get qualification for this year and then move back to Mariott to sign up for their Gold Promo. What I would like to see is whats the best hotel program for redeeming miles? I believe its still the SPG what do you think?

  • Ric Garrido January 18, 2012

    The best points-to-miles exchange rate programs are Marriott and Club Carlson, followed by SPG and Hyatt.

    The advantage of SPG over the others is the rate of earning Starpoints on the SPG American Express card earns miles faster than earning points on other hotel credit cards.

    Assume all earning is from hotel stays.

    SPG 40,000 points = 50,000 air miles. Assume $13,333 in hotel spend at 3 points/$1 (SPG Gold or Platinum) to earn 40,000 points.

    $13,333 hotel spend in Marriott earns 133,000 points even with no elite status or about 160,000 points as Marriott Silver elite.

    125,000 Marriott points = 50,000 miles for many airlines or 35,000 for other airline partners. Marriott can be a better earning program depending on airline partner.

    $13,333 in hotel spend for Club Carlson = 267,000 with no elite status. Assume over 300,000 points after online booking bonuses.
    100,000 points = 18,000 miles or 54,000 airline miles for 300,000 points.

  • eye January 18, 2012

    Great post. I look at your website multiple times a week right before any type of travel and especially when it’s a business trip. I will be traveling a little more this year, but not excessively. I just want to hit Elite status and Marriott or Hilton so I’ll probably take advantage of the Elite challenges. Keep up the great work. Thank you!

  • Andy January 19, 2012

    I think Marriott is overvalued. There are nothing special about Platinum benefits while the requirement is to the roof

  • Paul January 19, 2012

    Good comparison summary. The Marriott Rewards Premier Visa also gives you 1 night credit of each $3K spend. That’s good for people who normally qualify as Gold based on nights to reach Plat. I like this much better than having the large spend only of SPG AMEX and Hilton Amex to reach a higher tier.

  • Ric Garrido January 19, 2012

    @Paul – I agree that Marriott Rewards Visa has an advantage over Hilton and SPG. I should have stated Marriott’s credit card advantage is the bonus nights for elite. This is helpful for members trying to reach Gold and Platinum with a 10 night or 15 night boost. And the additional elite night for each $3,000 spend makes it fairly easy to pick up more elite nights.

    HHonors requires a load of spending to reach Diamond elite.

  • Scottrick January 19, 2012

    Thanks for posting this, Ric. I need to start thinking about adding a hotel program to my list of top-tier statuses.

  • W. Roy January 22, 2012

    On your IHG buy miles, you suggest buying 20000k miles for 230.

    Couldn’t you also say buy 40000k for 460, and then do 10 nights under the double promotion? at that point, you’re spending a lot less than in your example. (I’m guessing the example wasn’t a “minimum spend” one)

  • Ric Garrido January 22, 2012

    No I was not trying to show the minimum spend to Priority Club Platinum in the example. You can buy 50,000 points and get Platinum on a couple of stays.

    I mention buying points as a strategy, but it is one I rarely use. I like earning points from hotel stays.

  • […] where you travel and which hotels are available there. All things being equal, you can refer to this blogpost for a good comparison of the various advantages of each program (obviously this is a US-based post […]

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