Is It Worth Earning Hotel Elite Status From a Credit Card?

Sam KemmisNovember 13, 2019

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Of the many benefits offered by hotel credit cards, elite status is one of the most compelling. Yet it might also be one of the most misunderstood and overrated.

The advantage is obvious: Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on hotel stays to earn elite status, you can sign up for a credit card that grants it automatically. However, the less obvious drawbacks might mean that the annual fees of these cards don’t offset the value you’re really getting.

Ultimately, deciding whether elite status is worth the annual fee for you depends on how much you travel and how much you value the perks elite status offers. Here, we’ll explain how to earn status through a credit card, as well as the pros and cons of doing so.

Which cards offer elite status?

Many branded hotel credit cards offer some level of elite status; you’ll often get the lowest status tier with lower-fee cards, and the second tier with premium cards. One premium non-branded travel credit card, the The Platinum Card® from American Express, offers hotel elite status as well.

Here are cards that offer status, along with their annual fees, the elite status they offer and how this status tier ranks within the specific program. For example, Marriott Bonvoy offers five real tiers of status (excluding the basic “member” level), and Gold is the second-lowest tier — so this status is labeled as “two (of five).”

Card

Annual fee

Elite status offered

Program status tier

$550

Marriott Bonvoy Gold

Two (of five)

#rowspan#

#rowspan#

Hilton Honors Gold

Two (of three)

$0

Best Western Gold

One (of four)

$59

Best Western Rewards Platinum

Two (of four)

$0

Hilton Honors Silver

One (of three)

$95

Hilton Honors Gold

Two (of three)

$89

IHG Platinum

Two (of four)

$95

World of Hyatt Discoverist

One (of three)

$95

Marriott Bonvoy Silver

One (of five)

$0

Marriott Bonvoy Silver

One (of five)

$75

Radisson Rewards Gold

Two (of three)

$0

Wyndham Rewards Gold

One (of three)

Wyndham Rewards® Visa® Card (annual-fee version)

$75

Wyndham Rewards Platinum

Two (of three)

Does it make sense for you?

Instantly earning “Gold” or “Platinum” status without booking a single night may sound compelling, but don’t let those glittery precious metals fool you.

For one thing, hotel elite status generally isn’t as valuable as airline status. Sure, you might get upgraded from a “King Room” to a “King Deluxe Room,” but the relative difference is usually much less stark than an upgrade to first class from economy.

For another, hotel elite status only provides value in proportion to how much you use it. So if you’re an infrequent traveler who wouldn’t earn status normally, you’ll only really reap the benefits of status a few times a year.

To help make your decision, here are some pros and cons of card-earned elite status.

Pro: It’s easy

Some people (like us) actually enjoy the game of tracking elite status progress, and finding shortcuts and tricks to getting there quickly. If that doesn’t sound like you, earning status through a card offers one big perk: It couldn’t be easier.

Simply sign up for the card, connect it to your existing hotel membership account and your status will be automatically applied. No status challenges, matches or other reward nerdery required.

Con: Low-tier hotel status doesn’t offer much

Most of the lowest-level hotel elite status tiers offer a laundry list of features like “no blackout dates” and “exclusive rates.” But these benefits, when inspected closely, are little more than hand-waves.

Take Marriott Bonvoy Silver status, which lists 11 benefits including the two above — none of which are very valuable. The points bonus is a mere 10%, which means you’d earn 1100 points instead of 1,000 points on a $100 stay at most properties — hardly thrilling. And perks like “Cash + Points” and “Mobile Check-In” are offered to anyone with a Bonvoy membership, so they aren’t really elite benefits at all.

Don’t be lured by shiny metals. Research the benefits of card-earned elite status before signing up.

Pro: You don’t have to be loyal

One of the biggest annoyances with earning elite status the old-fashioned way is being limited to one hotel brand for all your travel.

For example, say you’re trying to earn IHG status and are visiting Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Even though Cabo is a popular vacation destination, IHG only has two properties there: a Holiday Inn Express and a Holiday Inn Resort. Instead of choosing from among the many amazing hotels in the area, you’re stuck with either choosing between these two or not earning elite-qualifying nights at all.

Card-earned elite status doesn’t carry this limitation. You might prefer to stay at an IHG property if you have the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card since you’ll receive some Platinum benefits — but you’re not bound to those properties in order to earn status for the following year. You already have it from your card.

Con: It might not be worth the annual fee

The basic question to ask yourself is whether the elite benefits you’ll receive combined with the other perks of your hotel card will offset the annual fee.

For cards with no annual fees, the stakes are low — but if you’re considering shelling out $550 a year for the The Platinum Card® from American Express, make sure you’ll get your money’s worth.

The bottom line

The phrase “elite status” may bring to mind a globetrotting professional getting upgraded to fabulous penthouse suites. So earning status without doing all that globetrotting might seem like an ideal shortcut.

However, there’s elite status and then there’s elite status. No cards offer the highest tiers of status for any program, which is where the truly “elite” perks kick in. Instead, these lower tiers offer modest perks, such as a few extra points and a bottle of water at check-in.

For semi-frequent travelers who get enough value from these perks to offset the cards’ annual fee, a hotel card could be a no-brainer. For others, they may not be worth the hassle and cost.

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 2020, including those best for:

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet’s official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.