Here’s the Hotel Loyalty Program Choices I Made in 2015

With my travel done for 2015, I took a look at my hotel stays for the year. I think I’d like to be home more.

I requalified for the top top tier hotel statuses that I care about, Hyatt Diamond and Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum. I requalified with Starwood at over 50 nights, which means I earned 10 suite night awards.

I don’t value the extra Starpoints or 24 hour check-in benefit enough to push myself to 75 nights with Starwood, and I value my Hyatt status too much to hit 100 nights with Starwood for my own Ambassador. I do have the equivalent from Hyatt, a Private Line Agent, grandfathered in from back when any Diamond could request one.

Here’s my hotel nights broken down by chain for the year. This includes ‘non-qualifying’ nights. For instance, Hyatt Gold Passport reward nights do not count as elite qualifying and I spent 3 nights on points at the Park Hyatt Sydney and 5 nights on points at the Park Hyatt Maldives.

View from my room at the Park Hyatt Sydney

Water Villa at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa Maldives

Similarly, I spent a night at an IHG hotel speaking at a conference that posted as non-qualifying because the room was part of a master billing arrangement.

I logged 137 hotel nights in 2016. That’s more than I’d like, though more than enough to retain Starwood Platinum and Hyatt Diamond.

As I’ve written Hilton is my ‘backup chain’ because they have the easiest to earn mid-tier status. I was actually a Hilton Diamond this year via a targeted promotion (a large portion of American AAdvantage Executive Platinum members were given Hilton Diamond).

I received my first-ever Hilton suite upgrade at the Hilton Colombo

I’m no longer an Intercontinental Royal Ambassador, and next year I won’t even be a Platinum (which isn’t even top tier anymore.

I earned Marriott Silver in 2014 with 13 nights, but only spent 1 night with Marriott in 2015. Even with their ‘rollover nights’ I won’t retain any kind of status with Marriott. Of course United mid-tier elites get free Marriott Gold status which is great, they can make Marriott their ‘backup chain’ in lieu of Hilton.

At some level I’m grateful for the Marriott-Starwood merger. I’ll worry less about requalifying as a Starwood Platinum, splitting the bulk of my stays evenly between Starwood and Hyatt.

My handful of stays outside of big chains were among the most interesting. In Logan, Utah I discovered what could be the most lucrative earning structure of a hotel rewards program. I returned to the clean and comfortable albeit Spartan Premier Inn attached to the Abu Dhabi airport. And I spent a night at the lovely Washington Duke Inn, invited to campus by a law school class.

Washington Duke Inn, Duke University

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. — Hilton: 13 stays / 37 nights – retained Diamond [have more stays after requal; all award stays.]
    — Hyatt: 2 award stays / 6 nights – retained Platinum through CC
    — Marriott: 1 award stay / 2 nights – retained Gold as a UA 1K through United/Marriott JV called RewardsPlus
    — SPG: 1 C+P stay / 1 night – Retained Gold through the AMEX Business Platinum cards

  2. If you ever need a hotel in Macao again, the Conrad Macao upgrades HH Golds and Diamonds to very nice suites. Diamonds receive a Premier or above suite. As a Gold, we received a King Deluxe Suite, which was easily large enough for a family of 4. It had an entertainment room with a convertible couch. From all on-line sources that I had researched, the Conrad Macao reliably upgrades HH elites. Overall the hotel is a very nice property, with a great location.

  3. Stays outside the big chain: 3 nights at PARKROYAL Yangon (Myanmar) and 8 nights at Kempinski Fleuve Congo Hotel in Kinshasa (Dem Repub of Congo) earned me the Platinum status (2nd tier) in Global Hotel Alliance’s loyalty program called DISCOVERY. The GHA worldwide portfolio of hotels includes some incredible luxury hotel ‘collections’ and hotels & resorts with superb service and overall quality…

  4. “My handful of stays outside of big chains were among the most interesting.”

    How not at all surprising! I don’t understand people who come to Europe and stay “in chains” (use of quotation marks intentional). When in Paris I stay a stone throw from the Sorbonne at Hotel Design or Hotel Select. Can’t understand anyone opting for Hyatt or SPG, even though I am respectively Diamond and Platinum myself. In Vienna I always choose Hotel Altstadt (only this year I have learnt they are part of SLH). And so on and so forth.

    I stay at the most exciting place there is in town (or outside of town) – if it happens to earn me points fine but it does not drive my decision.

    Good on you Gary (and others) to give it a try!


  5. Gary, with the recent Hilton status match, what are your thoughts about the risk of “when everybody’s a diamond, nobody’s a diamond” for 2016?

  6. @colleen they don’t really give meaningful upgrades at most hotels, so most of the benefits don’t really trade off with each other, more diamonds won’t really take away from the experience to a large extent

  7. @Gary, the self-proclaimed “thought leader in travel”, continues to be totally clueless: “…they [HHonors] don’t really give meaningful upgrades at most hotels…”

    Please stop commenting about things that you clearly know too little or nothing about. I have provided the evidence ad nauseam to show that you are just dead wrong, but you have simply chosen to ignore it, as you typically do about anything that does not jive with your many misconceptions.

    I will be doing a post soon on this, but once again, in 2015 I have stayed at Hilton 15 times so far and have gotten upgraded to a suite 13 times (87% success rate). I have provided the link to where I reported clearing 12 of 12 suite upgrades last year, with pictures of the inside of each suite. Before you launch into the cockamamie about how my upgrades have been only in Asia, here are some of properties where was I was upgraded to a full or junior suite THIS YEAR:

    — The Drake Hotel Chicago – December 2015
    — Hilton Berlin – October 2015
    — Hilton Orlando Buena Vista – October 2015
    — Hilton Sandton (a suburb of Johannesburg, SA) – September 2015
    — Hilton Milan – August 2015
    — Hilton Toronto – May 2015
    — Conrad Chicago – April 2016

    The last time I checked, none of those cities/properties were in Asia.

    @colleen — The answer to you question is that Hilton has such a large “footprint” that the limited number of Diamonds that they will add as a result of this Diamond status match, which they rarely do, will have a minimal effect on suite upgrades, as these depend on AVAILABILITY at check in, on a case-by-case basis. Rather than listening to @Gary, who clearly has limited experience with the HHonors program despite being constantly negative about it, you should wait until after @Lucky at One Mile at a Time (OMAAT), who just became a HH Diamond through this status match, tries out the program and then OBJECTIVELY reports on his ACTUAL experience.

    BTW, @Lucky recently did a post at OMAAT in which he described MY APPROACH to being successfully upgraded at Hilton properties (~90% of the time since 2012) that you might wish to check out.

    Good luck!

  8. Thanks for the input @Gary and @DCS. I guess I have fairly low expectations, so I’m not as concerned about suite upgrades. But after reading recent reviews of Centurion lounges, my concern is about overcrowded Exec Lounges at Hilton properties – thinking Conrad BKK next month.

  9. DCS you push hotels at the front desk for an upgrade. You aren’t getting upgrades based on your status. Hotels give them to you to shut you up.

    When they’re given automatically it’s in Asia Pacific which is a whole different story.

  10. @Gaty sez: “DCS you push hotels at the front desk for an upgrade. You aren’t getting upgrades based on your status. Hotels give them to you to shut you up.”

    More silly stuff from the “thought leader in travel.” HHonors Diamond suite upgrades are “complementary” and depend on availability at check-in as enshrined in the program’s T&C. Nowhere does it say that a hotel has to proactively offer members a suite upgrade, so that if a member is dumb enough not to make a pitch for one, then he or she is clearly not playing the miles/points game with a “full deck”.

    Go ask HH Golds out there how often they have parleyed their way into a suite. Heck, most are happy to just be upgraded to the exec floor, which I take for granted as a Diamond.

    Like I said, please stop commenting about things that you either know nothing about or are not sufficiently objective about to be credible.

    G’day from my villa on a 5-night award stay at the highly aspirational Conrad Koh Samui!

  11. @Gary – Your response to DCS is exactly what I was thinking, but was trying to refrain from saying. Thanks.

  12. 2014 I stayed 104 nights in Hiltons and 2015 I think it’s 65 give or take a night (haven’t checked lately) I will say you both are right – hilton upgrades mainly in non- usa properties and most of my upgrades are in asia/europe. In the states having gold status is almost as good as diamond but I do get a few a year in the states and in asia upgrades are easy.So you both are right

  13. Gary, as someone who touts Starpoints as one of the most valuable currencies, I’m shocked that you see little value in getting the extra Starpoint for every dollar you spend at SPG hotels. When you qualify for SPG75 and are in SPG hotels 75+ nights a year, that is a nice bonus. But for me the Your 24 benefit is even better because it has allowed me to avoid paying for an additional night on numerous occasions if you know how to work it. A lot of my flights to Asia (and even some in the US like my current trip to CVG) arrive late at night/early morning with arrival at the hotel after midnight. Normally to have a room available for check in I would have to book arrival on the previous day. With Your24, I book arrival for the day I actually get to the hotel and avoid paying for the prior night. I have never been charged an extra day for checking out at noon or later rather than the Your24 check in time of 1a.m. or 2a.m..

    Thanks to status matches, I’ll be trying Hyatt and Hilton more in 2016. It is unfortunate that Marriott has not announced what will happen to the SPG program because right now I don’t see much incentive to ensure that I requalify for SPG100 or even SPG 75 (being Lifetime SPG Platinum) without knowing if the SPG program will even survive the merger.

    I assume your nights in SPG hotels include 5 nights for your SPG Amex personal card and 5 nights for your SPG Amex business card otherwise SPG75 would have been easily attainable for you this year.

  14. @Christian — You can think whatever you like. It simply means that you too are not playing the game with a “full deck.” The whole point of the game is to beat the programs at their own game by, well, gaming the system. Hilton says that an upgrade can be any of a number of things, including suite upgrades, but does not offer suites proactively, then you force their hand by asking for a suite because the rule is theirs and they allow it. To not make a pitch for a suite when offered something else is to do exactly as the program had hoped you would when they made the rule purposely loose.

    Bottom line: I am winning; you can go on whining all you like…

  15. @DCS – Everybody likes to be right. You just seem to want it more than most. Please, stop throwing out the insults because someone has the unmitigated temerity to disagree with you.

  16. No status whatsoever gained for my stays this past year:

    Marriott: 1 night
    Best Western: 1 night
    Wyndham: 1 night
    Non-chain: 1 night
    Airbnb: 128 nights… Then again, 122 of these were consecutive nights at a single property, so it was more the equivalent of a rental than a hotel stay.

    Oh, and also: camping 2 nights, family cabin 4 nights.

  17. Ron, did you enjoy the current and free cashback AmEx offer for Airbnb customers? (If you’d rather hold cashback than points anyway)

  18. @Christian — Put forth a counter argument to what I said and we’ll debate it factually. The whining about everyone’s desire to win and how I want it more (winning is not everything; it is the only thing!), or how I insult everyone who disagrees with me (I have not insulted you yet!) is just worthless psychobabble…

  19. @John – an extra Starpoint per dollar on, say, $10k spend is 10,000 points. That’s not enough for me to choose SPG 75 > Hyatt Diamond, for instance. I love hte concept of Your24 and it’s hugely valuable for Europe and India/Mideast stays for sure! I loved guaranteed 8am check-in [not ‘we’ll try’ like SPG] at Intercontinentals when I was Royal Ambassador as well…

  20. @DCsked With regard to Hilton. Its a benefit you have earned not a game you should have to play. That’s why I left Hilton for Hyatt. Where they know how to proactively treat there best clients. So nice to get upgrades without begging and being asked at check if you would like 4pm checkout, instead of pleading to get an extra hour.

  21. @Gary, Your24 is a request but I don’t recall ever being denied. Sometimes though it takes several emails before the request is confirmed especially on early morning check ins that always seem to confuse staff.

  22. @Robert — Yours is a sense of entitlement. You earn no “benefit” that’s not spelled out in the program’s T&C. To expect more than is offered by the program’s rules is called -pejoratively — to feel “entitled”. I hope you did not let the door hit you on your way out of HHonors…

    As a loyalty program, Hyatt GP is, at best, a work in progress; at worst, a joke. I am not sure what more you need to see to realize that, after they badly and publicly botched, yet again, their Diamond status match and then they went “dark” for 3 full days during which members were held hostage and could do no points-related activities…

    BTW, with my travel pattern, and supposing that I can even “confirm” them, 4 DSUs would not last me beyond the first 3 months of the year. Fortunately, my “unconfirmed” HHonors Diamond suite upgrades are UNLIMITED and are good on ANY eligible revenue or AWARD stay of ANY length, which affords me the opportunity to keep staying in suites from December to December.


  23. To any SPG75s who have had trouble with Your24 requests, try the email version of HUCB or your Platinum or Ambassador reps. Politely refuse to take no for an answer. I’ve had good luck with it. It might work for you sometimes.

  24. @John advises: “To any SPG75s who have had trouble with Your24 requests, try the email version of HUCB or your Platinum or Ambassador reps. Politely refuse to take no for an answer. I’ve had good luck with it. It might work for you sometimes.”

    I believe that is a very sound advice for elites in most programs who are not getting promised perks. However, @Gary would disagree with that approach because, according to him: “You aren’t getting [the perk] based on your status. Hotels [will] give them to you to shut you up.”
    Amazingly myopic, coming from the self-proclaimed “thought leader in travel”!

  25. Hyatt: 24 nights and Diamond status until 2017 through last summer challenge
    Marriott: 34 nights and will be kicked down to Gold in March
    IHG: 9 awesome nights all on points in Phuket – Platinum Ambassador forever through card and buying annual Ambassador!
    Hilton: Zero nights and Diamond until March 2017 through Twitter

    @colleen, the Conrad BKK lounge is already crowded because it is tiny to start out with!

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