Best elite benefits for not-so-frequent hotel guests

The hotel guest has one primary objective – a sense of getting good hotel stay value for the money paid. The goal of the traveler is to find hotel value for any hotel whether booked through Priceline, Expedia, or a major hotel brand website.

Elite member recognition as a frequent guest can tip the scale for sticking to a specific hotel loyalty program member hotel over other lodging choices. The benefits of being an elite member in a hotel program combined with rebates on the cost of rooms in the form of hotel points, free nights and airline miles offers added value to the frequent guest.

Elite is High Value Strategy for Hotel Stays

An $80 upscale hotel room bargain gets blown out of budget with a $40+ hotel restaurant breakfast charge for two. Internet access can set you back $10 to $25+ per night at many high-end hotels.

Hotel loyalty program elite status is the best way to upgrade your hotel life for less cash. You do not have to be top tier elite with 25+ hotel stays a year in a loyalty program to receive valuable benefits like free internet, free breakfast and room upgrades.

Lower Elite Tier Benefits Survey

Hilton HHonors Gold (16 stays or 36 nights)elite offers rewarding benefits with free internet, breakfast globally except for Waldorf Astoria, and room upgrades, some with executive lounge access. Award stays count for elite credit.

Hilton HHonors Silver (4 stays or 10 nights) earns 15% bonus points which amounts to 16.5 points per dollar rather than 15 points/$1 for Points & Points earners. HHonors Silver elite has few benefits besides the 15% to 25% points discount for elites on award stays of four nights or more. Marriott and SPG offer all members 20% discount with 5thnight free awards.

Marriott Rewards Gold (50 nights) elite gets complimentary breakfast, except at resorts and Courtyard Hotels. That is a big gap in coverage with over 800 Courtyard hotels globally. It is hard to be Marriott Gold and an infrequent guest. Marriott Rewards Silver (10 nights)provides few useful hotel benefits except late checkout. The 20% bonus points is slightly more than HHonors Silver elite (15%).

IHG Priority Club Platinum (50 nights or 60,000 points). Priority Club counts all points earned and reaching 60,000 points is far less costly and easy to earn on far fewer than 50 nights. Platinum elites do not have a defined benefit for breakfast or even internet access, but room upgrades are a possibility and 50% elite bonus grows points more quickly. Gold elite is a 10% elite point bonus and little more benefit. Ambassador membership ($200 or 32,000 points)is useful for room upgrades, late checkout, 5,000 bonus points, annual Buy One Get One Free weekend night and other defined amenities only available at 170 InterContinental Hotels.

Club Carlson Silver elites (10 stays or 15 nights) are eligible for room upgrades, earn an extra 1,000 points online booking bonus, early check-in and late checkout and elite roll over nights. Gold elite (20 stays or 35 nights) adds a welcome gift. All Club Carlson members receive high speed internet, but only top tier Concierge elites (30 stays or 75 nights) have a free breakfast benefit.

Starwood Preferred Guest – Gold elite (10 stays or 25 nights) has a benefit of 4pm late checkout and a higher room category upgrade; mostly preferred view room, and with luck, sometimes a suite. Upgrades do not apply to Aloft or Element and late checkout is limited at resorts and conference hotels.

SPG launched new elite benefits March 1, 2012:

SPG Gold members

· Hotel Stay Welcome Gift – Choose from Starpoints (up to 250 points/stay) or free internet or free beverage.

SPG Platinum elite (25 stays or 50 nights) receive free internet and consistent room upgrades including suites and lounge access. Hotel Stay Welcome Gift – Choose from Continental Breakfast for entire stay or Starpoints (up to 500/stay) orlocal gift.

Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum elites (5 stays or 15 nights) are eligible for room category upgrades, free internet globally, 2pm checkout and every third stay earns a Platinum Extra Award for a choice of bonus points and F&B choices. Stay 15 to 24 times and the Award includes Regency Club upgrade or free breakfast. Diamond elites (25 stays or 50 nights) receive free breakfast and four confirmed suite upgrades.

Best Value Lower Tier Elite Benefits:

1. Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum (5 stays or 15 nights) free internet, upgrades, 2pm late checkout and 15% bonus points.

2. Hilton HHonors Gold (16 stays or 36 nights) free breakfast, internet, upgrades, lounge access and 25% bonus points. Award stays count for elite credit.

3. SPG Gold (10 stays or 25 nights) free upgrades, 4 pm late checkout, 50% elite bonus points and choice of free internet. Award stays count for elite credit.

4. Club Carlson Silver (10 stays or 15 nights) room upgrades, online booking bonus, elite roll over nights, early check-in/late checkout and 25% bonus points.

Consider the benefits of elite status that offer you the most value and choose your hotel loyalty programs accordingly in 2012.

This Loyalty Traveler article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of InsideFlyer and this version has some SPG benefit updates announced a couple of weeks after this article was originally published.

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.

More articles by Ric Garrido »


  1. Interesting that you state HH Gold has 4pm late checkout. I have bnever been afforded more than a 1pm late checkout as a gold member with Hilton.

  2. Thanks for the usual great analysis, Ric!

    IMO, the two programs with the best mid tier value are the Marriott & Hilton Golds, especially in Asia/Pacific region where you get lounge access and breakfast.

    SPG Platinum and Hyatt Diamond both offer great benefits, but their mid tier status (Gold & Platinum respectively) are lacking in benefits and in terms of value.

  3. Kalboz,
    I agree Hilton is strong mid-tier, but what is attractive about mid-tier from Marriott (and what level are you calling mid tier)? Silver gives nearly nothing and gold gives mediocre mid tier benefits with qualification requirements greater than those of Spg plat or Hyatt diamond. Cc tricks can reduce that some, but the program still does not look very competitive or rewarding.

  4. @David, when you “stay” just one night then that one night is one stay. A stay is any number of consecutive nights at one hotel, regardless of number of check ins and check outs.
    So if you arrive on day 1, stay overnight, check out on day 2, check in again on day 2, stay another night, and check out on day 3 to leave, then this counts as one stay.
    At least that’s the rule I usually read.

  5. In my opinion, Hilton Gold gives the most value. they give them away all the time and the benefits are amazing for a mid tier status

  6. @David – the way I like to explain stays and nights is with a concrete example.

    As Ralfinho stated, consecutive nights at a hotel is one stay, even if you booked separate reservations.

    Some locations have multiple brands in the same program right by each other. San Francisco Airport has Embassy Suites, Hilton, DoubleTree and Hilton Garden Inn all on the same street near each other.

    If there is a promotion based on hotel stays or if I want to reach elite status more quickly I can book consecutive nights at the different Hilton brands at SFO.

    Thursday at Embassy Suites, Friday at Hilton, Saturday at DoubleTree and Sunday at Hilton Garden Inn.
    My account registers 4 nights and 4 stays elite credit.

    Say I find I prefer Embassy Suites and Hilton. I can stay Thursday and Saturday at Embassy Suites SFO and Friday and Sunday at Hilton SFO. This is still 4 nights elite credit and 4 stays elite credit since I am not spending consecutive nights at the same hotel.

    Assume I am in San Francisco for a conference and I can’t take the time to hotel hop but I am flying in and out of SFO.

    I arrive on Monday and stay at Hilton SFO for one night and then go to Hilton Union Square for three nights and stay Friday night at Hilton SFO before flying out of town.

    I now have earned 3 elite stays and 5 elite nights. Hilton Gold takes 16 stays or 36 nights and HHonors Diamond takes 28 stays or 60 nights. Frequent guests with 1 or 2 night stays will earn elite more quickly by stays compared to nights.

  7. Ric, thanks for another excellent comparative analysis. There’s no question Hilton is king, Marriott is the dunce, and Carlson is the joker because it’s hard to imagine even 10 stays at their oddball properties. Hyatt wins hands-down over SPG because only 5 nights are required and you may score free food and drink via certificate, plus free internet. King Hilton offers free internet, breakfast, upgrade, huge choice of properties for hotel-hopping, and more points earned toward free nights via CC tie ins, HH and airline promos, and 1,000 everyday VS airline miles per stay returned to HH at 1:2.

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