Which hotel elite program is best?

17

Following the news that IHG is introducing exciting new elite benefits, it’s now worth comparing IHG to the other chains that offer significant elite perks: Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt.  Which chain offers the most compelling elite benefits?  And which benefits are easiest to obtain?  To be clear, the goal here isn’t to decide which has the best loyalty program overall, but rather to drill down into the quality and obtainability of each chain’s elite perks.  This will provide the fodder for future discussions about which program is best overall.  That discussion would consider not just elite benefits, but other important factors too such as award prices, point earnings, 4th and 5th night free award bookings, and more.

Elite Benefit Summary Chart

Hilton Hyatt IHG Marriott
Breakfast
Breakfast details Daily food & beverage credit within U.S. Continental breakfast for 2 elsewhere Lounge access, or full restaurant breakfast for 2 adults + 2 children when lounge is unavailable Full breakfast for 2 Varies by brand: nothing, $10 per day, breakfast in lounge, breakfast in restaurant
Elite nights required for free breakfast 40
(28 in 2022)
(Gold Status)
60
(Globalist Status)
70
(Diamond Status)
50
(Platinum Status)
Earn benefit w/ credit card shortcuts?
Club Lounge
Elite nights required for unlimited free lounge access 60
(42 in 2022)
(Diamond Status)
601
(Globalist Status)
40
(via Milestone Rewards)
50
(Platinum Status)
Earn benefit w/ credit card shortcuts? No
Confirmed Suite Upgrades
# nights upgradeable N/A 7 5 5(2)
Earliest upgrade can be confirmed N/A At booking 14 days in advance 5 days in advance
Upgrade point stays? N/A Not Yet
Upgrade free night certificate stays? N/A No Not Yet
Elite nights required for suite upgrade awards N/A 50
(via Milestone Rewards)
20
(via Milestone Rewards)
50
(Via Choice Benefits)
Earn benefit w/ credit card shortcuts? N/A No
Early Check-In & Late Check Out
Elite nights required for guaranteed 4pm late check out N/A 60
(Globalist Status)
N/A 50
(Platinum Status)
Elite nights required for requested early check-in N/A N/A 40
(Platinum Status)
100 + $20K Spend
(Ambassador Status)
Earn benefit w/ credit card shortcuts? N/A
Late Check-Out

Early Check-In

Late Check-Out
Other Great Perks All members get waived resort fees on award stays. Gift Gold status with 40 nights; Upgrade gift to Diamond at 70 nights. Globalists get free parking on award stays & waived resort fees on paid stays. All members get waived resort fees on award stays. N/A United Airlines Silver status for Titanium elites (75 nights)
Key Credit Card Shortcuts
Automatic Elite Status Gold status with Surpass or Business card. Diamond status with Aspire card. Discoverist status with World of Hyatt card or business card. Platinum status with Premier or Premier Business card Gold status with $450 Bonvoy Brilliant or Ritz card.
Meaningful Elite Status with Spend Diamond status with $40K spend on Surpass or Business card. N/A Diamond status with $40K spend on Premier or Premier Business card Platinum status with $75K spend on Bonvoy Brilliant or Ritz card.
Automatic Elite Nights N/A 5 Nights per year with the World of Hyatt card N/A 15 Nights with one or more consumer cards + 15 Nights with one or more business cards
Elite Nights with Spend N/A 2 Nights per $5K with consumer card. 5 Nights per $10K with business card. N/A 1 Night per $5K with Bonvoy Boundless card.

(1) Hyatt also offers Club Access Awards as Milestone Rewards beginning at 20 nights.
(2) Marriott offers five 1-night Suite Night Awards as a Choice Benefit at 50 elite nights and again at 75 elite nights each year.

Let’s now dive into some of the major perks to see which programs are best…

Free Breakfast

Hyatt's Royal Palm's Resort Scottsdale Breakfast French Toast
My free Globalist breakfast at Hyatt’s Royal Palm’s Resort in Scottsdale Arizona

Best Breakfast Benefit: Hyatt and IHG tie

On paper at least, it appears that IHG may have the best breakfast benefit since it includes a hot breakfast for 2, with very few exclusions.  I believe that even if you have lounge access during your stay, you’ll still be eligible for free breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant.  Hyatt comes very close, but will only provide free breakfast in the lounge when available.  On the other hand, Hyatt includes up to 2 children in the free breakfast benefit so that could be a tie breaker for some.  Hilton only guarantees a continental breakfast outside of the U.S. and food & beverage credits within the U.S.  Marriott has far too many exceptions to their breakfast benefit to be a legitimate contender here.

Easiest to Obtain Breakfast Benefit: Hilton

There’s really no contest here at all.  With Hilton, Gold status gets you the breakfast benefit, and you can get Gold status simply by having any one of several Hilton credit cards, or an Amex Platinum card.

Lounge Access

Hilton London Heathrow Executive Lounge entrance 

Best Lounge Access Benefit: Hilton, Hyatt, and IHG tie

I’m not judging the quality of the lounges here.  I wish I could, but I don’t have enough experience at Hilton and IHG lounges to make a credible comparison.  Instead, I’ll simply note that Marriott offers the worst benefit here because Marriott’s lounge access benefit doesn’t apply to all brands.  For example, high level Marriott elites don’t get free access to Ritz-Carlton club lounges.

Easiest to Obtain Lounge Access: Hilton

Again, there’s no contest here at all.  With Hilton, Diamond status gets you the lounge access benefit, and you can get Diamond status simply by having the Hilton Aspire card or by spending $40K in a calendar year on the Surpass or Business card.

Confirmed Suite Upgrades

Suite at IHG’s Kimpton Muse Hotel NYC. I was upgraded to this suite at check-in thanks to my IHG credit card Platinum status. In the future it will be possible to upgrade in advance with a confirmable suite upgrade Milestone Reward.

Best Confirmed Suite Upgrade Benefit: Hyatt

Hyatt, by far, offers the best confirmable suite upgrades.  Each upgrade certificate can be used to upgrade a stay of up to 7 nights, and it can be applied at the time of booking to either a points stay or a paid stay.  Unfortunately these upgrades cannot be applied to stays booked with free night certificates.  IHG’s upgrades are next best with 14 day in advance confirmed bookings, but until they add the ability to upgrade award stays they’ll remain limited. Marriott brings up the rear partly because their upgrades aren’t confirmed until 5 days in advance (at best), and because many brands are excluded from this benefit, and many individual properties opt out.

Easiest to Obtain Confirmed Suite Upgrade: IHG

A confirmable suite upgrade, good for up to a 5 night stay, is available as a Milestone Reward after only 20 qualified nights and another can be chosen at 40 nights.  Hyatt and Marriott both require 50 nights for the first upgrade certificates.

Guaranteed 4pm Late Check Out

On a recent stay at the Park Hyatt NYC, I took full advantage of my guaranteed 4pm late check out.  I ate a leisurely (and free) room service breakfast and then spent significant time at the hotel’s pool, hot tub, and steam room.

Best 4pm Late Check Out Benefit: Hyatt & Marriott tie

Both programs offer guaranteed 4pm late checkout to high level elites, but both also have exceptions (such as resorts) where late check out is subject to availability.

  • Hyatt: late checkout is subject to availability at hotels with a casino, Destination Residences, and Hyatt resorts, and (b) late checkout is not offered at Hyatt Residence Club resorts.
  • Marriott: 4pm guaranteed except at resort and convention hotels and Design Hotels, where it is based upon availability.

Neither Hilton nor IHG offer 4pm late check-out at all.

Easiest to Obtain 4pm Late Check-Out Benefit: Marriott

Marriott offers this benefit to those with Platinum Elite status.  This can be earned through $75K spend on certain cards, or you can get a huge leg up towards Platinum with 30 elite nights towards the 50 required by simply having both a consumer and business Marriott card.  See also: Shortcuts to Marriott Platinum Elite status.

Best Elite Program Overall

Best Benefits Overall: Hyatt

No contest here.  Hyatt has the best top-tier benefits.

Easiest to Obtain Elite Benefits: Hilton

Again, no contest.  Hilton makes it easy to obtain top tier status simply by having the Hilton Aspire card or by spending $40K in a calendar year on the Surpass or Business card.  And Gold status (which offers the breakfast benefit) is even easier.  Gold status is a free perk of the Hilton Surpass and Business cards, and also a free perk with the Amex Platinum card and Platinum Business card.

Final Thoughts

Despite the fact that IHG has greatly improved their elite program, they still don’t compete well with Hyatt on quality of perks, or with Hilton on ease of obtaining perks.  That said, they’ve come a very long way to be included in this kind of analysis at all.  And, on a number of measures, they’ve leapfrogged Marriott with better benefits and fewer exceptions.

Regular readers won’t be surprised at all that I crowned Hyatt best regarding quality of perks.  I’ve been a Hyatt fanboy for a while and that hasn’t changed.  But Hyatt’s elite program isn’t much use unless you earn 50 or 60 elite nights per year.  Even with credit card spend helping, that’s a very high bar.  That brings us to Hilton…

Meaningful elite status with Hilton is so easy to get that it’s almost an afterthought.  Of course, nearly everyone should have at least Gold status with Hilton.  It’s just a credit card away.  That’s why when I think about earning hotel elite status, I don’t really think about Hilton.  Hilton doesn’t require much mental energy or debate.  The questions I have are more about how hard I’ll try to earn status in the other programs, in addition to Hilton.  With Marriott, I already have lifetime Platinum status and so there’s little reason for me to pursue status each year at all.  With Hyatt, the answer is always yes: I’m going for it — I love it.  And, for the first time ever, the answer with IHG is maybe!

And finally, I’ll leave you with this: for most people it doesn’t make logical sense to pursue hotel elite status.  By avoiding the elite status treadmill, you’re free to pick whatever lodging looks best for your needs.  You might find, for example, that an independent Bed & Breakfast is both cheaper and provides a much better included breakfast than anything you can get from a chain hotel.  You can also book hotels through various specialty booking services (like Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts) in order to get elite-like benefits without elite status.  See: Getting the elite experience without elite status via credit card & preferred partner hotel booking programs.  So, why do I ignore this advice and chase elite status?  For me, it’s part of the game.  Plus, it’s my job.

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John Thompson

Is Wyndham’s program so bad that it doesn’t deserve a mention?

Nun

Another factor is the “reward velocity.” In which direction is the program moving? Maybe this applies more to the overall program rating.

Marriott already told us we’re about to get creamed next year, so I am definitely changing my points earning away from them.

Last edited 1 month ago by Nun
iamhere

Your analysis does not include a lot of factors, such as how people meet the nights or points to be able to get the benefits.

For example, you assume that Marriott loyalty members will obtain all of their nights via stays, but if you have a business and a personal Marriott credit card you get 30 nights. That means you just have 20 nights to get the Platinum benefits that includes lounge access and Marriott frequently offers double night promotions – usually once or twice a year.

Regarding the late checkout, in my experience, it really depends if the hotel is willing to give it to you or not. Many hotels will give a 2pm late checkout, although the hotel is not full and the loyalty program says you can have until 4pm.

Jota

In the chart HHonors status requirements are temporary lowered, therefore it should be written the actual amount of nights for Gold 40 and Diamond 60 or written with remark. Other chains have still basic requirements.

Jak

“Neither Hilton nor IHG offer 4pm late check-out at all.”

I think there needs to be an asterisk here since Intercontinental (part of IHG) Ambassador status includes guaranteed 4pm check-out but only at Intercontinental hotels. It’s also the easiest status to get because all you have to do is pay $200.

Cavedweller

On the Aspire card ($450) u can get the Bonus night after u cancel the card correct ??? The 150K works and the P pass and the year end night will do it for me..
Thanks

TravelerMike

I agree that IHG has done a great job of making themselves a “new” contender. But, I’m kind of surprised that you didn’t include the benefit of earning free nights either through credit card spend, obtaining status, and/or as milestone rewards.

TravelerMike

Fair enough … this post is more about the perks that one would have once achieving an elite status with the various programs. And along those lines, to use your favorite program, Hyatt: On the way to achieving Globalist, a person will almost always (C19 specials aside) get at least 2 Free Night Certificates (FNCs) – one Cat 4 at 30 nights, and one Cat 7 at 60 nights. And if spend on the consumer card is used in part to get there, then that is potentially another Cat 4 FNC. So, while pursuing Globalist, I am pretty much guaranteed 2, if not 3, FNCs. Whereas I believe that Marriott doesn’t have a FNC as an elite perk until one reaches Titanium status. Then, IF one spends the $40k on the Hilton Surpass / Business card to reach Diamond status, then they would have one of the most valuable FNCs as a perk. Of course, if you achieve Hilton status without using a credit card, then no FNC. Similar to Hilton, only if you use the Premier card to achieve IHG Diamond status by spending $40k on the card, do you get a FNC since one comes with the card, otherwise, no FNC.

So, I guess I treat FNCs as a perk the same way that lounge access and suite night upgrades are considered perks. And similar to how both breakfast/lounge access and suite upgrades become a perk as part of the Milestone Rewards (for Hyatt and IHG), I consider a FNC a perk, for Hyatt at least, as part of the Milestone Rewards.

Respectfully,
–Mike

P.S. I’m a huge fan of you guys and all the great content you put out – one of the very few websites out there where I try to read all the posts and watch all the YouTube videos!

James King

If you look at the IHG Ambassador program, it’s $200 and you get a load of benefits including platinum status, plus a free night ( that takes care of the $200 outlay)..

Ben

It’s an interesting program but isn’t the free night restricted to the weekend and only on IC hotels (not kimpton)? Also I think it’d only valid as a 2nd night on a paid stay

Last edited 1 month ago by Ben
Retired Gambler

Also obviously focusing on one of the programs needs to consider the fit for the individual traveler. For example Hyatt had a much smaller footprint that may not work for everyone. Also some people like to max award nights at lower-mid grade properties (e.g., Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, Fairfield Inn) while others only want to save for high end 5 star experiences.

Personally I have status (top w Hilton and Marriott and next to top w Hyatt and IHG) through credit cards, lifetime status and revolving status matches so don’t need to chase status and consider myself a free agent. When planning a trip I look at hotels in all 4 programs plus independents. My main criteria is location and then cost. Frankly free breakfast and the chance for suite upgrades are nice but don’t factor into my decision. I only sleep in the hotel and spend my time exploring the area or on other activities so the hotel amenities (provided the hotel itself is acceptable quality) just don’t matter to me. No reason to stay somewhere for breakfast when I could pick a hotel better suited for my stay and buy breakfast. I’m not that cheap that something “free” drives my decision making.

Cavedweller

Correct if Free is nice and works out Great.I had Free Breakfast at Sheraton in Kauai after 2 I ate at local places.The local places were 20 mins but not the same thing every morning . A lot of these people travel 3 months out of the year or like my buddy with his hockey team. May get that Aspire card 6/1 it will cover 4 nights+perks for 4+ trips.
I wonder who Samantha is ?
Have Fun First and Always !!!

Gene

@ Greg — Why even bother to put Marriott on the chart when they don’t honor their elite benefits?

Renee

Agree. We have been battling Marriott for Platinum status. We have the Marriott Boundless car d for years and put several thousand dollars in it annually and they continue to tell me that it’s only the Ritz card that allows spending to increase your elite status.