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Anyone can join a hotel loyalty program to earn points redeemable for award nights and other perks. But if you can qualify as an elite member in your favorite program, the perks get better. Free breakfast, free room upgrades and bonus points on stays are just some of the benefits that can make hotel elite status worthwhile.
So what does hotel elite status mean? How do you get elite status with hotels? Which hotel elite status is best? This guide explains everything you need to know about hotel elite status and its benefits.
Common hotel elite status perks
Every hotel loyalty program rewards its elite members a little differently — but not that differently. Common perks include:
Bonus points on hotel stays.
Free breakfast/meal credit or access to lounges serving breakfast or hors d’oeuvres.
The benefits depend on your elite status “tier.” There are usually three to five levels of elite status, with the perks getting increasingly better with each tier.
For example, in the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, Silver elite members get a 10 percent bonus on the points they earn when they stay at participating hotels, while Titanium elites get a 75 percent bonus. In the World of Hyatt program, lower-level Discoverist members might get upgraded to a “preferred room” when they stay, but top-tier Globalist members can often get their room upgraded to a suite for free.
» Learn more: The smart hotel elite strategy for most travelers
How to earn hotel elite status
You qualify for elite status by paying for stays at participating properties in the hotel loyalty program. The more of these “elite qualifying nights” you accumulate in a year, the higher elite status tier you will earn. Usually, the minimum number of nights to earn the lowest level of elite status is about five to 10 nights annually, depending on the program.
You can also earn elite qualifying nights or even automatic elite status by carrying certain credit cards. In most programs, you enjoy that elite status through the end of the year that you earned it, plus the following calendar year.
Whether you earn elite status through stays alone, having the right credit card in your wallet or a combination of the two doesn't matter. The perks are the same for all members of a status tier.
» Learn more: The best hotel credit cards right now
Earning elite status, broken down by hotel brand
Here’s a look at the number of nights you need to attain each tier in seven popular loyalty programs. Keep in mind most of the programs reduced the requirements to earn elite status in 2021, so the minimums listed below apply to 2022 unless otherwise noted.
Marriott Bonvoy has 30 hotel brands, including Sheraton, Westin and Luxury Collection.
Silver: 10 qualifying nights.
Gold: 25 qualifying nights.
Platinum: 50 qualifying nights.
Titanium: 75 qualifying nights.
Ambassador: 100 qualifying nights, plus spend $20,000 in qualifying Marriott purchases.
You can also earn Silver elite status via the 15 Elite Night Credits built-in as perks to certain Marriott-co-branded credit cards. These cards include the Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card. Terms apply.
» Learn more: The complete guide to Marriott elite status levels
Hilton has 18 brands including Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree and Embassy Suites.
Silver: 5 nights.
Gold: 20 nights.
Diamond: 30 nights.
All of Hilton's co-branded credit cards come with automatic elite status at varying levels: Hilton Honors American Express Card (Silver status), the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (Gold status) and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (Diamond status).
» Learn more: Your complete guide to Hilton Honors elite status
IHG One Rewards
IHG has 16 brands including Holiday Inn, Kimpton and InterContinental. IHG offers two metrics to qualify for elite status: nights stayed or “elite qualifying points,” which you can earn through a combination of stays, credit card spending and other activities.
Silver: 10 nights.
Gold: 20 nights or 40,000 elite qualifying points.
Platinum: 40 nights or 60,000 elite qualifying points.
Diamond: 40 nights or 120,000 elite qualifying points.
IHG® One Rewards Premier Credit Card and IHG® One Rewards Premier Business Credit Card cardholders also get automatic Platinum Elite status in the program. Even people with the no-fee IHG® One Rewards Traveler Credit Card receive automatic silver status. Not to mention, if you meet certain spending thresholds, all cardholders can upgrade to a higher level of elite status.
» Learn more: Get to know IHG elite status
World of Hyatt
Hyatt’s 20 brands include Hyatt Regency, Miraval and Andaz. Earn elite status in the World of Hyatt by accumulating qualifying nights or “base points,” which are World of Hyatt points you earn through hotel stays, excluding bonus points.
Discoverist: 10 nights or 25,000 base points.
Explorist: 30 nights or 50,000 base points.
Globalist: 60 nights or 100,000 base points.
Lifetime Globalist: 1 million base points since joining the program.
Holding the World of Hyatt Credit Card automatically gets you halfway to Discoverist due to its included five elite night credits. You can also earn two elite night credits for every $5,000 of spending put on the card.
» Learn more: What you need to know about Hyatt elite status
Choice Hotels has 12 brands including Quality, Econo Lodge and Cambria Hotels. For 2021, Choice Privileges reduced the number of nights you need to qualify for elite status, but they’re still mum on whether they’ll go back to their previous elite night requirements in 2022. Here are the thresholds for 2021.
Gold: 7 nights.
Platinum: 15 nights.
Diamond: 25 nights.
The program's Choice Privileges® Mastercard® includes Gold status for cardmembers.
» Learn more: The complete guide to Choice Privileges elite status
Best Western Rewards
This loyalty program has 18 brands including Best Western, Glo and World Hotels. If you have elite status with a competing hotel chain, Best Western will give you comparable status in their program. Just apply for a status match.
You can also earn elite status by staying a minimum number of nights, completing a minimum number of stays or earning a minimum number of points in the program.
Gold: 10 nights, 7 stays or 10,000 points.
Platinum: 15 nights, 10 stays or 15,000 points.
Diamond: 30 nights, 20 stays, 30,000 points.
Diamond Select: 50 nights, 40 stays or 50,000 points.
» Learn more: What you need to know about Best Western Rewards
Wyndham is the largest hotel group in the world based on number of properties, with Ramada, LaQuinta, Super8 and Days Inn among its 20 brands.
Gold: 5 nights.
Platinum: 15 nights.
Diamond: 40 nights.
The Wyndham Rewards Earner® Plus Card comes with Platinum-level membership perks.
Best overall hotel elite status program
NerdWallet conducted a deep dive analysis of hotel elite status programs to figure out which program's entry-level, mid-level and high-level status tiers provided the most value to members. Our goal was to better understand the cost-to-benefit ratio of these programs (as in, how much would someone need to spend in order to unlock access to a specific tier of benefits?).
Our winner? World of Hyatt.
The top three programs (Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott) offer similarly valuable programs, but Hyatt takes the lead due to its consistent value.
» Learn more: Is hotel status worth considering this year?
Best perks for lower-tier elites
Most travelers don’t spend the equivalent of two months every year staying in hotels, so lower tiers of hotel loyalty programs are the only tiers within reach.
Here are some of the best program perks for low-level elites.
Hilton Honors Silver elites: Free fifth night on award stays
Hilton Honors elites, including at the Silver level, can get a fifth night free when they book five consecutive nights and pay with points.
Here's a starter pack to get to know Hilton Honors better:
Choice Privileges Gold elites: Your Extras
Elites in the Choice Privileges program, including bottom-tier Gold level elites, get a choose-your-own-benefit perk called Your Extras when they stay. Gold elites can choose 400 Choice Privileges points, 100 airline miles, 20 cents per gallon in Fuel Rewards savings at Shell and some other stations, a $2.50 credit on Amazon, a $2.50 discount on Uber or a $5 coffee card.
Here's a starter pack to get to know Choice Privileges better:
IHG Gold elites: $30 in-room spa credit
This perk is only good at certain properties, but if you’re at an IHG hotel with spa services, $30 off could be just the nudge you need to splurge on a luxurious treatment without even leaving your room in most cases.
Learn more about IHG's loyalty program, IHG Rewards:
World of Hyatt Discoverist elites: Preferred room upgrade
On top of the World of Hyatt points you earn when you stay at participating hotels, World of Hyatt elites, including those at the lowest Discoverist level, will be offered a preferred room at check-in at most brands. These rooms aren’t an upgrade in room type or category, but you might get a room with a nicer view or on a higher floor.
While room upgrades are a common elite status perk across programs, Hyatt is one of the few to offer it at the lowest tier.
Get to know Hyatt:
Best perks for top-tier elites
If you anticipate sleeping in hotels 50, 60 or 75 nights a year, you could earn top-tier elite perks to make all those stays more comfortable. Here are some of the best.
Marriott Bonvoy Platinum and up: Free breakfast or club lounge access
Depending on the hotel where you stay, Marriott Bonvoy elites at the Platinum or higher level can often choose free breakfast in the hotel restaurant. At other properties, they get access to the hotel’s club lounge, where complimentary drinks, hors d’oeuvres or breakfast items may be served.
» Learn more: Top things to know about M Club lounges
World of Hyatt Globalist elites: Guest of Honor
If you want to share the elite experience with others, Globalists can do it with Hyatt’s Guest of Honor program. These top-tier elites can pay for their friends’ or families’ room with points and gift the Guest of Honor designation so their guests will have access to the same Globalist perks. That means the guests of honor will also get resort fees waived, parking fees comped, rooms upgraded and more.
» Learn more: How Hyatt’s Guest of Honor benefit works
Hilton Honors Diamond elites: Elite status gifting
Hilton Diamond elites are the only folks who can give a gift of Gold or even Diamond elite status to a friend or family member. Unlike Hyatt’s Guest of Honor perk, when members gift elite status, it applies for an entire year, not just one award stay. The Diamond member must stay 30 nights in a calendar year to be able to gift Gold status and 60 nights a year to gift Diamond status.
IHG Spire elites: 10 a.m. early check-in
It might sound like a lower-level perk, but anyone who’s flown on a red-eye, arrived exhausted and had to kill four or five hours in a strange town before they could lie down on a bed will love this perk. Spire elites have to select it as a “stay preference” when they book and it may not always be available.
Popular credit cards with automatic hotel elite status
If you want to be an elite in your favorite hotel chain but just can’t travel that much, carrying the right credit card could be your ticket. Some of the credit cards that bestow automatic elite status carry annual fees — some quite steep — so don’t sign up unless you’re sure you can get enough value from the card.
The most popular cards with built-in hotel status include:
The Platinum Card® from American Express (annual fee: $695): Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold. Enrollment required. Terms apply.
IHG® One Rewards Premier Credit Card (annual fee: $99): IHG Platinum.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (annual fee: $550): Hilton Honors Diamond. Terms apply.
World of Hyatt Credit Card (annual fee: $95): Discoverist.
Is hotel elite status worth it?
Before you shoot for elite status, first try to figure out which hotel loyalty program you’ll use most. For example, if you insist on luxury hotels but most of your travel is to see Patriots’ home games, you’ll want to give your loyalty to Marriott Bonvoy since they have the only four-star property in Foxboro, Massachusetts — The Renaissance by Marriott Boston Patriot Place.
If you’re an inveterate road-tripper prone to one-night stays along highways, Choice Rewards might be for you since Choice Hotels operates Rodeway Inn, Econo Lodge and other properties that tend to cater to automobile travelers.
Once you pick your hotel group, read up on exactly what you need to do to become an elite member and what perks you can expect once you qualify. We’ve given a dollar value to each level of elite status for the major hotel elite status programs and rated which ones are worth the investment to help you decide if it’s worth it to pursue elite status.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card