Using Hotel Points for Suites and Upgraded Rooms

If you’re like me, you don’t really care what room you get on a short business stay. My only really strong preference is not to have a connecting room, those don’t tend to isolate sound very well, and what I want most is a quiet room. Most of the time my elite status gets me into club lounges, and ‘club level’ upgrades are nearly meaningless. With most city hotels I don’t much care about the views. My work-related stays are generally quite short.

But traveling for leisure, I’m generally not alone, the stays are often a bit longer, and I really enjoy an upgraded room. Some people don’t share me feelings in valuing that, and that’s cool, they think “I’m on vacation and I’m not going to spend much time in the room, so why do I need a view of the ocean from my room when I’ll see the ocean from the beach?” But to me if I’m going to stay on the beach I want to see the ocean, when I wake up in the morning or when I go to bed at night. I value that upgrade.

And I’ve had some great upgrades, and spent a good bit of time thinking about how to get those upgrades. I even compiled some of that advice in “How to Score the Best Hotel Room Upgrades”

Some programs are great at offering up upgrades as a benefit of elite status. For the most part those are also the programs which are the best at offering upgrades to non-elites on points.

The best elite-status upgrades are offered by Hyatt Gold Passport and Starwood Preferred Guest.

  • Hyatt allows their Diamond members to upgrade paid stays at time of booking four times per year, up to 7 nights each time. They’re the only program offering true confirmed at booking suites, taking risk out of the equation. The only real downside is that these confirmed upgrades are available only on paid stays, not on award stays.
  • Starwood allows their Platinum members who have qualified based on staying at least 50 nights (but not who made 25 stays without 50 nights, and not who qualified as a meeting planner) to express priority or preference for an upgrade up to 10 nights per year, with those upgrades assigned beginning 5 nights prior to arrival. These are valid on paid or award stays.

Marriott has removed the exclusion of suites from their program, so has Hilton, but in neither case are suites really a benefit of the program to the extent that if a suite is available the hotel is obliged to provide it based on status. Priority Club doesn’t really offer suites as a program benefit at all. Of course some hotels may be more generous than the programs they are a part of require.

Unsurprisingly, then, Starwood and Hyatt also offer the best upgrade possibilities for non-status members. Although Starwood’s upgrades are much more expensive than Hyatt’s. Hyatt Gold Passport really offers a tremendous value for upgrades.

Priority Club: Goose Egg for Points Upgrades

The loyalty program for Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, etc. does not offer award nights for anything but base-level rooms. This is also the points redemption program for Intercontinental hotels, those tend to have quite a few suites but there’s no way to use points to redeem for a suite. And Priority Club is also the only program that does not honor most elite benefits (like upgrades) on award stays, so if you spend points for a room an elite can’t count on an upgrade either — though some hotel properties go above and beyond these minimum requirements

This is why on anything but a short city stay I really don’t like spending Priority Club points. While I did get a junior suite of sorts at the Intercontinental New York Times Square recently, and they honored the Royal Ambassador minibar benefit, their welcome letter specifically says such benefits aren’t honored on award stays. That makes me feel like an unvalued guest.

    What the letter says your status isn’t entitled to at the Intercontinental Times Square

Priority Club is clearly the worst major program for getting upgraded rooms on points, whether you are an elite member or not.

Hilton: New Upgrade Options Based on Price of Upgraded Room

Up until mid-2011 there was no way to use HHonors points for upgrades — whether on a paid rate to get into a better room, or to spend more points for a better room on an award night. Then they rolled out all of these benefits.

The way they did it is to basically let you use points for better rooms based on the price of those rooms.

So an award night costs a fixed number of points based on the room category that a given hotel is in. The regular room might be 25,000 or 50,000 points per night, regardless of the rate that the hotel is getting for that night’s stay.

But if you want an upgraded room, they’ll take the price of the room on the given night and use your points as cash at a fixed value to ‘buy’ that room. That means if the room rate for the upgraded room is inexpensive on a given night, the points price is inexpensive. If the room is being advertised at a high rate, it can take a ton of points for the room. I’ve seen some rooms advertised at over half a million points per night.

It’s always work comparing the different rooms being offered at booking to see which one best matches what you’re looking for. And since premium room award prices vary based on the price of the room you’re booking, it’s also worth checking back because if the price falls the points price does too, you may want to cancel and rebook later.

At the same time that they introduced the ability to spend rooms for upgraded rooms, they also took away a benefit from Diamond elite members. It used to be that if a standard room wasn’t available at the hotel, they would still force the reservation and let you spend points. Now they say that’s no longer necessary since you have the option to spend additional (it could be hundreds of thousands of) points for any available room in the hotel.

Still overall I give them credit, I think the HHonors program has gotten better rather than worse.

    Sometimes you don’t even need an upgrade — the base room at the Conrad Koh Samui

Marriott: on Award Nights, Extra Points for a Better Room are Possible. Your Mileage May Vary in the Particulars.

Marriott offers both paid upgrades (book a base-level room on points and add cash to buy up to a better room) and points upgrades (spend additional points for the better room). They don’t offer the ability to use points to upgrade a paid reservation.

One room upgrade costs 5000 points per night. But some hotels require multiple 5000 point upgrades. And what that gets you varies by hotel.

A paid upgrade is described as follows:

At select hotels you can pay for an upgrade on a cost per night basis. The specific price varies by hotel and will be charged to your room during your stay.

It’s hard to imagine this is described as a benefit of the program and it’s something you can do with pretty much any hotel, book a room and ask them how much money they want for a better room. I’ve done this for instance at the Park Hyatt Maldives and the Sheraton Saigon.

But this is also the chain that trumpeted the rollout of a new ‘feature’ they called cash and points — the ability to combine a paid booking and a points booking on a single reservation. When you could already book a paid night and a points night consecutively, the only difference now is you can use one confirmation number. A huge benefit! Not what we usually think of as ‘cash and points’, other chains let you combine cash with points for discounted reward night reservations.

Starwood: Good, and Often Expensive, Upgrade Options

Starwood will allow you to use points for upgrades on paid stays only on specific (“RACK, COR, SET, or BAR”) rates, only within 5 days of arrival, and it’s quite pricey — a suite upgrade costs the same number of points as a standard room award per night. So if you’re paying ‘best available rate’ at a category 4 property, then if a suite is available 5 days prior to arrival you can spend 10,000 points per night for to confirm the suite.

Starwood offers upgrades for additional points on top of the regular award night price. Suites cost double where available. A category 4 award night is 10,000 points. A category 4 suite night is 20,000 points.

    You can spend twice the points for a suite at the Westin Diplomat

There are lesser upgrades as well, and those vary in number of points based on the hotel category and the quality of upgrade based on hotel. Some upgrades are almost unnoticeable. Others are meaningful. You pretty much have to call Starwood, ask them for the room description attached to each upgraded award rate plan to find out what you’re going to get. I’ve booked junior suite awards in Italy for a very modest number of points, other times spending 1500 extra points per night wouldn’t get you anything you’d recognize as an upgrade. So this can be a good deal or not a good deal, you have to investigate for each stay.

Hyatt: The Best Value Upgrades, By Far

Whereas Starwood wants double points to redeem award nights in a suite, Hyatt offers standard suites for about a 50% premium over regular free night awards.

There’s a 3 night minimum stay on these redemptions, and there are a handful of properties where you cannot spend additional points for suites — the Hyatt Regency Kyoto and Paris-Madeleine, Park Hyatts Sydney and Beaver Creek, Hyatt Residence Club Resorts and Hyatt Place properties.

These awards book into the base-level suite, as indicated on each hotel property’s page on the Hyatt website. When a standard room isn’t available for redemption you can spend modest points for better rooms. And you can have the better experience, guaranteed at booking, even without status.

    Bedroom of suite at Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur

Suites at some properties are only incrementally more expensive than regular rooms, I recall staying at the Hyatt in Bellevue Washington where a suite priced only at about $50 more than a regular room. But suites can also be several multiples of a regular room, even ten times as much, so spending 50% more points can represent a huge value-per-point value there as well (of course you need to actually care about the room itself for this to matter).

A 50% premium is a great deal at the Park Hyatt in Paris or Park Hyatt Tokyo at the top end, it’s also a great value at the Park Hyatt in Mendoza, a category 2 property where the suite is really quite nice.

Hyatt Gold Passport also offers what is by far the most generous points upgrade benefit for paid stays.

You have to pay the ‘Hyatt Daily Rate’ rather than a discounted rate to be eligible to upgrade. And at resorts you have to pay for a deluxe (eg partial ocean view) room as well.

But the following points prices will upgrade you for up to four nights. These are not upgrade prices per night. So while a hotel like the Westin Tokyo will cost an extra 20,000 Starpoints per night for a suite, confirmed only five nights in advance, Hyatt Gold Passport will let you confirm an upgrade at the much nicer Park Hyatt Tokyo for just 6000 points. Total. For four nights. Crazy.

You cannot book suite awards or upgrades online, it has to be done through Hyatt’s customer service center.

A base-level member who cares about suites and pays for their stays could do a lot worse than getting the Hyatt Visa or a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus or Ink Bold, earning points for their spending and in the latter three cases transferring those points over to Hyatt Gold Passport and using the points to upgrade to suites.

And indeed now that I write this, I wonder why on my non-discounted stays I ever am in anything other than a suite, given how reasonably-priced those upgrades are (subject to availability)?

What is nice though about Hyatt’s Diamond confirmed suite upgrades versus the points upgrades is that the former can be used on any rate booked directly with Hyatt, even with conference and corporate rates.

Clearly though Hyatt offers the most generous point upgrades, and my sense is overall that this is an under-recognized benefit of the program which otherwise gets tons of kudos for Diamond confirmed suite upgrades, their breakfast benefit (hotels without lounges offer full breakfast for up to 4 people), and award values at the top end.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve always felt like using extra points to get a suite is a waste of points. I spend so little time in my hotel room, generally I am happy with a clean room and a comfy bed. The only time I am willing to pay a little extra is in Hawaii, I love listening to the ocean at night, is there anything more relaxing?

  2. The problem with Hyatt’s guaranteed suite upgrades is that they are capacity-controlled, so oftentimes they aren’t available, even when the hotel is selling suites on its website. I’ve had multiple problems trying to secure guaranteed suite upgrades, and it involves long hold times when I’m talking to the Hyatt reservationist who must manually call the property to check on availability. Even then, I’m often only able to secure a suite upgrade for a mere portion of my stay. Then I have to keep calling back over and over as the date of my stay approches. It’s very time consuming and extremely frustrating.

  3. Gary,

    I’ve been an SPG member for a long time, and have only recently gotten into the Hyatt and Hilton game. I have mid-level status in all three programs, pretty much all through credit card activity. I don’t stay enough to do it the hard way.

    The more I get into the Hyatt program, the more I like it. But A Kimyai is right — upgrade certs are capacity controlled, at least those distributed with the Hyatt credit card for existing platinums. I tried booking the PH Wash DC for NYE via AmEx FHR and then applying an upgrade certificate. HGP told me no problem, but when they had to call the hotel, the hotel said “heck no, we want to (and will) sell the suite that night.” The Hyatt Arlington, with its whopping four suites, was happy to oblige. ($70/night including brekkie, was a wonderful rate to pay.)

    As per the “to suite or not” question… my wife and I find we like the extra room. So, I think it all comes down to how large a standard room is. We stayed on the club floor at the Millenium Hilton BKK — those rooms were small, next time we’re getting a suite at that property. However, the club rooms at the Plaza Athenee BKK were huge and I can’t justify the additional outlay.

    If I can get them at a marginal increase in cost, I will. This means that if I can otherwise afford the standard room at a Hyatt property, I’ll pay for it and upgrade. But I can’t always do that — for instance, I’ll never pay the $600/night at the PH Tokyo that it takes for a standard room.

  4. Very good post. I value suites like you do. For me, it is the perk that I value most out of a loyalty program. I’ve stopped pursuing SPG suites after realizing the suite awards were ridiculous. Hyatt is the only one where it’s feasible to aim for suites, and as a result, that is where I have shifted my dollars.

    Fairmont isn’t as big a chain (though it’s growing). They, too, have confirmed suite upgrades for elite members. You can apply the upgrades to award rooms, too.

  5. I agree with your thesis and note that Suites are great for families and could be cheaper than buying two standard rooms – if the upgrade price is right. Unfortunately most programs dont guarantee suites for elites unless u spend the points and Hilton often charges a ridiculous “price” for such rooms. I just wish it was easier to earn SPG and Hyatt points. I have a ton of useless Hilton points.

  6. Gary: I’m not sure why you keep on saying that Hyatt Diamond “guarantees full breakfast for up to four people.” The GM of Park Hyatt DC very clearly told me that free breakfast is for up to 2 people during my recent stay as a Diamond. Also, if breakfast is guaranteed for up to 4 registered guests, then the problem is that many hotels (especially in Asia) do not allow you to reserve a room when selecting 4 guests, or they force you to book a very expensive suite category that can officially accomodate 4 guests. I’m not saying that you’re necessarily wrong about 4 guests getting breakfast, but in practical terms I haven’t been able to secure it in my Hyatt stays.

  7. @daniel m.. those are the terms and conditions.. up to 4 registered gueats in the room. Very common for hotels to be able to regiater four in a rom
    In some regions more than two traditionally incurs an extra charge. And not all hotels such as where rooms are tiny can accommodate that many. But if you can regiater four all get breakfast.

    Hyatt olive 8 will do four even when only two are registered!

  8. Okay, thanks for clarifying, Gary. I’ll keep Hyatt Olive 8 on my radar for the future.

    Indeed it’s been my experience that Hyatts in the US are okay with registering 4 while Hyatts in Asia either make you get a more expensive room or make you pay an extra guest charge for the 3rd and 4th guests.

    But anyway, good to know about the terms and conditions in the future should I ever need it!

  9. I think upgrades-for-cash deserve more credit as well. I’ve had tremendous success booking rooms on points (typically with midlevel status) and arranging paid upgrades in advance. It does well to email the hotel directly, know what the possibilities are, and to be willing to negotiate. Granted, they are going to cost money out of pocket, and might not provide the same overall value you can get out of Hyatt, but this definitely opens up a lot more upgrade possibilities at Priority Club, Marriott, and Hilton hotels.

    @Gary, do you have any other specific advice for this strategy?

  10. @daniel m, we are a family of four & we had no problems in Asia …

    When we booked the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, I did it through the Diamond CS line. Two nights on points preceded by a paid night to which I used one of my suites upgrades. They not only let us have breakfast for 4 during our stay, they also let us keep the suite even on the nights on points. That was in December/January (high season) as we spent NYE in the suite overlooking Ratchprasong intersection where they had the end of year fireworks.

    Breakfast at the lounge was awesome, so were all other amenities.

  11. We stayed 2 weeks+ in hawaii one year and had to book 2 nights in Waikiki at the end of our trip…I looked at princess kialani (sp?) and all spg had listed was the basic room on a low floor with noise and no view. AA had just started offering hotel and rental cars for points, so I checked on that hotel…they had different prices for each room catagory and they were cheaper than SPG points!!! spg would have only been cheaper on a 5 night stay. We wound up getting a high floor room with an awesome view for less than the same relative amount of points as spg wanted for the basic low level room. It didnt translate to every spg property but certain catagories were cheaper, with more options using AA.

  12. Please let me know if I’ve go t this right. I’m just a regular ‘ol Hyatt member. No status at all. A room “costs” me 12,000 point. For an additional 6,000 I can upgrade to a suite? Is that an additional 6,000 per night or 6,000 for my entire stay?

  13. @Patrick– when booking an award night, its a 50% premium per night to redeem for a suite. When booking a paid night, it’s just 6000 points for the entire stay (up to 4 nights) to confirm a suite.

  14. Ahh… so when you are paying with real $$, it’s 6,000 points for the entire stay vs. the 50% “upcharge” when using all points.

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