Beginner’s Guide to Free Travel: Fast Track to Hotel Elite Status

Beginner’s Guide to Free Travel

To the average person traveling once a year, hotel elite status can seem out of reach and quite costly to achieve. Both of these assumptions are myths. Status can be achieved cheaply and sometimes pays off in a single stay. Some of the perks of status include the following:

  • Complimentary room upgrades
  • Breakfast for the duration of your stay
  • Club lounge access where you can enjoy complimentary food and drinks
  • Free bottled water and snacks in your room (with some hotels, this includes anything from the mini bar)
  • Free wifi
  • Bonus points on your stay

The savings afforded to those with status add up fast and you can enjoy your stay that much more if you don’t have to worry about getting nickle-and-dimed for everything at the hotel.

Achieving top-tier status with the major hotel chains would require 25-30 stays/50-75 nights. At an average rate of $100 per night, this would cost $2,500-$7,500 to achieve.

Most of us don’t spend 10% of our time in hotel rooms, so elite status and the benefits it affords us might not appear to be worthwhile. Fortunately, there are a few ways to bypass the typical requirements and get elite status for next to nothing:

1. Credit Cards. Every major hotel chain has a credit card that offers cardholders some level of status for either having the card or meeting a certain spending requirement.

Club Carlson. The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature and Business Rewards versions both offer Gold status, while the Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature card comes with Silver.

Silver status typically requires 15 nights/10 stays per calendar year, while Gold status requires 35 nights/20 stays.

Hilton. Hilton requires 4 stays/10 nights for Silver, 20 stays/40 nights for Gold, and 30 stays/60 nights for Diamond status. With Hilton’s massively devalued award chart, one of the only perks of having a co-branded credit card is the ability to achieve status easily and use it to match to another program.

The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card offers the best elite benefit, granting instant Gold status for as long as the card is held and offering the ability to upgrade to Diamond status after $40,000 spent per calendar year. If this sounds like a hefty sum, you might want to read up on how to meet $40,000 in spending requirements each month.

The Hilton HHonors Surpass is a bit less generous, granting Gold status the first year. Status can be extended by spending $20,000. Otherwise, status reverts to Silver for as long as the card is held. Like the Reserve, cardholders can earn top-tier Diamond status by spending $40,00 per year.

The Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature and Hilton HHonors American Express both grant cardholders Silver status, though Amex cardholders can upgrade to Gold after spending $20,000 per year.

Silver status is more or less useless, though Gold is equivalent to top-tier status with other programs. Gold members get complimentary breakfast, wifi, and upgrades based on availability. Diamond status is flightly more generous, offering members club lounge access and higher point bonuses on paid stays.

Hyatt. Top-tier Diamond status requires 25 stays/50 nights, while Platinum requires 5 stays/15 nights. Chase Hyatt Visa cardholders get Platinum status for as long as they hold the card, with the option to spend their way to Diamond status: $20,000 gets you 2 stays/5 nights towards status, while $40,000 gets you another 3 stays/5 nights. This makes it easier to achieve status once your other options have been exhausted (see below).

IHG Rewards. The IHG Rewards Club Visa grants cardholders instant top-tier Platinum status for as long as the card is held. Otherwise, IHG requires 50 nights/60,000 base points for Platinum. IHG Platinum members get free wifi and room upgrades, based on availability.

Marriott. Marriott Rewards members need 10 nights to obtain Silver status, 50 nights for Gold, and 75 for Platinum. The Marriott Rewards Premier card grants 15 nights towards status, while the Marriott Rewards Credit and Business cards grant 10 nights. All three cards offer the ability to earn unlimited elite credits based on spend: 1 night per $3,000. For a total of $105,000, you can earn Gold status, while $180,000 gets you Platinum.

Starwood. Starwood grants Gold status after 10 stays/25 nights and Platinum after 25 stays/50 nights. The Starwood Preferred American Express personal and business cards both offer 2 stays/5 nights towards status. The Business card offers Gold status after $30,000 spent per calendar year. The great thing about Starwood is that members can earn elite credit on award stays, making it slightly more manageable to reach top-tier status.

2. Status Match/Challenge. Once you’ve achieved status with one program, you can get your status matched to another. The most valuable elite level is Hilton HHonors Gold status, which is offered to Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve and Hilton HHonors Surpass cardholders.

This level is valuable for two reasons: 1. Gold members get complimentary wifi and breakfast – a benefit most other rewards programs reserve for their top-tier levels. 2. Hilton Gold status can be used to get a challenge for Hyatt’s top-tier Diamond status. Hyatt will offer you full Diamond benefits for 90 days and if you meet the 12 night stay requirements, your status is extended through the end of the following year.

Starwood offers a status challenge rather than a match, requiring you to complete 18 nights within three months in order to obtain Platinum status.

To get a status challenge/match with the major hotel programs, simply send an email to the appropriate department with proof of your current status from another program (a screenshot will do):

3. Fast Track Offers + Mattress Runs. Some folks who travel frequently for work will hop from one hotel to another in order to qualify for status based on stays. For the rest of us, mistake rates and various promotions in combination with elite status might make it worthwhile to go mattress running.

Currently, Hilton HHonors is offering Carlson Wagonlit customers automatic Gold status after registering and completing 4 stays within 90 days. Amex Corporate cardmembers can fast track to Gold after 2 stays within 90 days.

IHG Rewards is offering fast track Gold status to anyone who completes 10 qualifying nights at 3 qualifying IHG brands. Members can also earn Platinum status by staying 40 nights at 4 IHG brands. IHG Platinum status can be used to request a Diamond challenge from Hyatt.

I wouldn’t go this route unless you’re mattress running for points anyways, as there is an easier way to get IHG Platinum status (see #1). Those of you mattress running during the IHG Big Win promotion, however, might benefit from this fast track offer.

Some hotel rewards programs, like SPG, also grant elite credit on hotel stays. It isn’t an ideal use of points, but if you find yourself short a few nights and can’t find a cheap mattress run, this is an option. Loyalty Traveler has a great post outlining programs that grant elite credit for award stays.

For most low to mid-tier status levels, it makes better sense to have a hotel credit card than to mattress run. While top-tier elite status can be tough to crack with enormous amounts of spending requirements, the elite credit offered for bonus spend can make it easier for mattress runners to get their status cheaply.

Which hotel programs do you have status with, and how did you obtain it?

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7 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide to Free Travel: Fast Track to Hotel Elite Status

  1. This is a good reference point for people. I did not know about the AMEX Hilton offer. I usually send people to the Carlson Wagonlit offer. However, the AMEX Hilton promo is Silver Status for 2 stays and Gold Status for 4 stays:

    “Complete two qualifying stays within 90 days of offer registration to earn Silver status, or stay four times within the same period to attain Gold status.”

    Also, you should be aware that Hilton does not always update their website correctly and I have had to have my Friends & Family call to get their status updated after the 4 stays.

  2. Pingback: Hotels Full Time Travel | Travel Is Free

  3. Status matches are a great tool to get elite benefits quickly. However keep in mind that you can usually only do it once per loyalty account. So you have to qualify on your own the year after and it gets really easy to get used to elite treatment :)

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