Advice for picking a hotel chain as a leisure traveler

The new year is right around the corner, and for a lot of people that means it’s time to rethink their hotel strategy for the next year, as most elite status counters reset on January 1. This post will focus on leisure travelers, since for business travelers hotel choice is often dictated by company policy, location of hotels, etc.

I’ll also only focus on what I consider to be the five “big” hotel loyalty programs — Hilton HHonors, Hyatt Gold Passport, Marriott Rewards, Priority Club Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest. Admittedly this is highly subjective, so I’m not suggesting that my suggestions are right, but am rather only proving a framework for my thought process.

For what it’s worth I’m presently Starwood Platinum, Hyatt Diamond, InterContinental Royal Ambassador/Priority Club Platinum, Hilton Gold, and have been Marriott Gold in the past.

And it may surprise some of you to hear this coming from me, but I don’t think being loyal to a hotel chain always makes sense. Years ago most hotel chains had extremely generous promotions that almost always made “mattress running” economical. Hyatt’s “Faster Free Nights” promotion comes to mind, whereby they offered one free night after two stays at any of their properties. Unfortunately we rarely see promotions as generous anymore, though on the plus side elite hotel benefits have improved considerably lately, so it’s a bit of a trade off.

Still, if your primary goals with hotels is to get a comfortable place to rest your head at night, you may very well be better off just using Priceline or booking independent hotels. There’s no doubt that independent hotels can be a much better value if you don’t care about elite benefits, and many are even higher quality than their chain competitors. Furthermore, if you’re into truly high end hotels and don’t really care about cost as much, I highly recommend using American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts and Virtuoso, which get you elite-style treatment at many luxury hotels without loyalty programs (and even many with). I love these programs, especially in conjunction with regular elite benefits at high end hotels I frequent.

With that out of the way, I figured I’d provide a quick rundown of status with each of the major programs, and under which circumstances I think each is worth pursuing. This won’t be a thorough analysis of the elite benefits of each program, but rather an overview of my thought process in selecting the right program.

Hilton HHonors

Hilton isn’t my favorite loyalty program, though they’re growing on me.The thing about Hilton is that it’s extremely easy to achieve mid and top tier status with them. You get mid tier (Gold) status for as long as you have their Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Card (which has just a $95 annual fee), and top tier (Diamond) status if you spend $40,000 in a calendar year on either the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Card or Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express.

The cool thing is that both Gold and Diamond status get you free internet and breakfast/lounge access. One of the only meaningful differences between the two levels is that in theory Diamond members get suite upgrades (at the hotel’s discretion), though in practice that’s often not the case. Furthermore Diamond members get a larger points bonus and are guaranteed lounge access, while it’s based on availability for Gold members. That being said, if you don’t get lounge access as a Gold member you get restaurant breakfast, which many prefer anyway.

In my opinion Hilton HHonors is the best program if you make fewer than 25 stays per year at hotels or want easy top tier status up front. They give you Gold status just for having a credit card, and $40,000 of spend for top tier status isn’t half bad either. It’s worth keeping in mind that Hilton has a ton of properties all over the world, so is a great secondary program if your primary status is with a chain that doesn’t have as large of a global footprint as Hilton. I won’t even mention actually qualifying for status with them, given the easy ways out there to avoid having to do that.

Starwood Preferred Guest

If there’s one program with which you should earn status “the hard way” it’s Starwood, in my opinion. They’re not perfect, but they’re a very well rounded program.

They have a good number of properties — substantially more than Hyatt, but also substantially fewer than Hilton or Marriott.

Platinum status with them is awesome. It gives you free internet, guaranteed 4PM late check-out, free continental breakfast (which you have to choose as your Platinum amenity with each stay), and suite upgrades based on availability. Earning Platinum status takes a reasonable 25 stays or 50 nights, and if you qualify based on 50 nights you earn 10 suite night awards, which can be used to confirm a suite upgrade five days before arrival.


Metropolitan Suite from Suite Night Award at St. Regis San Francisco

25 stays or 50 nights are reasonable requirements, in my opinion, though what makes it even easier is that both the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express OPEN get you two stays and five nights towards status annually. That means between the two cards you get four stays and 10 nights towards status, lowering the threshold for Platinum to 21 stays or 40 nights. That’s extremely reasonable, in my opinion, and provides a threshold that most travel nuts can achieve.

Like I said, status with them isn’t perfect. Sometimes you have to fight for suite upgrades, though for me the suite upgrade fiasco has improved considerably since I started earning suite night awards. I can use these to lock in the suite upgrades that matter the most to me five days out. Previously I was getting suite upgrades on my one night airport hotel stays, but missing upgrades for the stays that actually mattered.

So I think Starwood provides a great balance in terms of benefits, properties, and elite status qualification. They don’t have hotels everywhere, but they have enough of a footprint to make them your primary chain, in my opinion.

Hyatt Gold Passport

I love Hyatt Gold Passport. They consistently under promise and over deliver, and I love them for that. There’s just one small problem — they only have around 500 properties worldwide, and that’s not really enough to make them a primary chain, in my opinion.

Top tier status with them takes 25 stays or 50 nights, much like with Starwood, and the benefits are great — guaranteed 4PM late check-out, free internet, guaranteed lounge access or hot restaurant breakfast, upgrades to the best non-suites, and four confirmed suite upgrades, which can each be used to confirm a suite upgrade for up to seven nights at the time of booking. Those suite upgrades are hugely valuable. Being able to confirm a suite for the stays that matter most to you at the time of booking sure adds a lot of value to the program.


Suite upgrade at Andaz West Hollywood

Hyatt recently added a benefit to their Chase Hyatt Visa Card whereby you get two stay credits and five nights towards status annually if you spend $20,000 on the card, and an additional three stay credits and five nights towards status upon spending $40,000 on the card in an annual year. I don’t find either threshold especially enticing, since $40,000 of spend on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Card will get you top tier status without spending a night at their hotels. That being said you get Hyatt Platinum status for as long as you have the card, which at least gets you free internet.

I still think the benefits you get for top tier status are well worth the stay/night requirements. That’s why I think Hyatt is a great secondary program for the super-frequent leisure traveler. They’d be a great primary program if they had a larger global footprint, though their current portfolio is lacking hotels in some major cities.

Marriott Rewards

I’ll keep this short — Marriott has the highest elite qualification tiers of any of the major programs, yet offers fewer published benefits than Hyatt, Starwood, and Hilton. The only thing they have going for them is how many properties they have globally, which is where Hilton and Marriott both shine. If you decide to be loyal to Marriott for whatever reason, the easiest way to get status with them is through The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Visa Card, which offers you Gold status for the first year, and allows you to maintain it for just $10,000 of spend on the card per year. While this is technically status in the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program, the benefits are virtually the same. At Marriott properties you get free internet, lounge access/breakfast, etc. Now, the card does have a hefty annual fee of $395, though comes with a lot of other benefits that justify that, as discussed in this post.

Priority Club Rewards

Priority Club is only worth mentioning in passing, because as far as loyalty programs go, their benefits are a bad joke. If you do frequent their hotels the Priority Club Select Visa Card does get you Platinum status for as long as you have the card, so is worth having. But there’s no point in really having any loyalty to the chain beyond that.

Conclusion

I’m tweaking my hotel strategy somewhat for the coming year. I’ll continue to have Starwood Platinum and Hyatt Diamond be my primary hotel programs that I actually work to requalify for. While I slightly prefer Hyatt Diamond status, Starwood has the edge in terms of their properties worldwide. But I’ll also be going for Diamond status with Hilton by spending $40,000 on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Card. I find the return on the card to be pretty good to begin with, and it only becomes more rewarding when you factor in Diamond status. I probably won’t make more than a dozen or so stays at Hilton properties per year, mostly on points redemptions, but it’ll be nice to have top tier status for those stays.

So sum it all up, here are my suggestions:

  • If you don’t make enough hotel stays to qualify for top tier status, stick to Hilton. They give you Gold status just for having the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Card (which is a really decent mid tier hotel status), and Diamond status for a reasonable $40,000 of spend per year.
  • Starwood is a great primary program thanks to a combination of their elite benefits and portfolio of hotels.
  • Hyatt is a great secondary program due to the great benefits, or is a great primary program if you frequent destinations in which they have hotels.
  • Hotel elite status isn’t worth it for everyone. There are plenty of hotels that are cheaper and higher quality than chain hotels, and if you’re really into luxury hotels, look into American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts and Virtuoso.

Any questions or comments?

(Full disclosure: I earn a referral bonus for anyone that is approved through some of the above links. I’m very appreciative of your support, regardless of whether or not you use my links.)

Comments

  1. wow, you have been really tough on Priority Club lately. After all these years of Royal Ambassador, am a bit surprised. I like them because they are good for the budget traveler.

    Is it better to put the $40k in spend for Hilton Diamond status on the Amex Surpass or Citi Reserve?

  2. I used to be big on Marriott Rewards, but with the new Club Carlson Visa that has just come out and all of the bonus points, benefits, and free nights that it makes available to card holders, both my wife and I are now card carriers.

    I see the logic in not being loyal to one program, but for my family, loyalty to Club Carlson has paid off in amazing ways that we couldn’t have imagined prior to joining the program.

  3. WHat..no mention of Club Carlson? I think they had some fab promotions this year and EASY to get points to boot. Those points have come in handy for our holiday in Florida next year so at the moment Club Carlson is my fav at the moment. Priority Club is ok but nothing to write home about…when checking in they didn’t even mention I was a gold member. Pffff!

  4. As a frequent traveler, but not so much as to earn top tier elite status with many hotel programs, I personally look at the mid-tier elite benefits. And in doing so, I personally find that Hyatt provides terrific benefits at the Platinum level (yes, I know that they are getting rid of Platinum Extra awards). But reaching Platinum isn’t hard at all, requiring only five stays, and I think the benefits are nice: a 15% point bonus when choosing points, a preferred room including rooms on higher floors or larger rooms (a benefit I have gotten many times), complimentary in-room Internet access, a 2pm late check-out.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for listening.

  5. What’s the best way to find a Virtuoso agent? I’m staying in a luxury hotel next year and want to take advantage of any benefits I can get by booking through Virtuoso.

  6. I wish HHonors would include free breakfast at Waldorf-Astoria properties. I really don’t understand why they don’t.

    I also wish that the SPG Platinum breakfast benefit were full breakfast, instead of Continental. (Actually wish this for HHonors too). While many properties are generous, some are very stingy with their definition of Continental breakfast and/or charge a ridiculous upcharge to full breakfast, sometimes as much as $20/person.

  7. Lucky – So which status would you rather have SPG platinum or Hyatt Diamond? Hyatt diamond has been awesome for me but I probably won’t be requalifying for it because its too costly. (I obtained it by doing the challenge 12 nights in 60 days)

  8. Nice summary.

    I’ve been pleased with Priority Club platinum, which has gotten me much nicer rooms (if not actual upgrades).

    I’ve always received a full breakfast with HHonors Gold in Europe (including the Waldorf Cavalieri Waldorf in Rome).

    And Carlson has paid off well for me, too.

  9. Just being picky but I think Ritz Carlton gold does not get you lounge access at their properties, only Marriott properties.

  10. Even though on paper marriott status is difficult to obtain and doesn’t have the most benefits, they have the best customer satisfaction. They have service down pat and just know how to run hotels. My best hotel stay last year was at the Marriott Khao Lak. As a gold (Thanks to the ritz Carlton Card) I recieved an upgrade to a 2 story suite, breakfast, free drinks during happy hour, and 20% off all food and bev throughout the stay. But the highlight of the stay was the resort and staff themselves. I don’t stay and marriotts often, but when I do, I usually have nothing to complain about.

  11. The cynic in me wonders whether Club Carlson would’ve gotten a mention in this thread if their credit card were to net referral $$$

  12. There are two definitions of “leisure” traveler. You seem to be aiming at the luxury leisure traveler.

    To the more budget conscious, I would point out that Marriott has been offering Megabonus stay-two-get-one opportunities that allow an infrequent traveler to get free night certificates. Pretty rich in my view. The Marriott Megabonus certificates are probably the best deal going for the leisure traveler.

    Priority Club is a great program for infrequent travelers. The points don’t expire and the programs has quarterly bonuses that can make the occasional stay very lucrative.

    Finally, business travelers on an expense account wouldn’t be caught dead in a Choice hotel, but for leisure travelers on a budget it’s another matter. They have been offering promotions with 8,000 points for every two stays. Combined with “sales” on Europe properties, and this is the best deal in the hotel world. I spent several nights recently in Choice hotels in Venice and Paris for 8-12,000 points per night. Great value for the leisure traveler.

  13. I bet if Club Carlson credit cards had affiliate links they would certainly be included here as the program can be quite a good fit for the leisure traveler. Instead, we get the Marriott Ritz Carlton $395 fee card pushed?

    Come on dude!

  14. Good post. I just asked this question to you a few days ago on “ask Lucky” so it’s nice to see a detailed opinion. (And thank you for answering my question there too! See ya Marriott)

  15. Yea, I agreed on the 2 types of travelers. You are talking about the ones who travel a lot. What about those who don’t? There was an article in nbc news that American are taking less vacation than before.
    I am sure they don’t stay 25 times in a year for vacations. Please note done people only have 15 days or less for vacations.

  16. Hi Ben… Thanks for the analysis. It made me realize that 50 nights is within reach if I add the Starwood Business card to my wallet and do a few $80 mattress runs at the Four Points SFO. Just booked them! BTW… my mileage run trip to Beijing is going great! I was at the Great Wall this morning and am now in Shanghai for 2 nights at the Andaz. Thanks again for the November post on the low fares to Beijing that got me here!!!

  17. I love Priority Club. Sure, it’s trivial to get top tier status, but I think that’s why it’s great for leisure or less frequent travelers.

    I’ve found I almost always get a room upgrade. I know that’s a YMMV kind of thing, but this has been the case for me in Washington DC, NYC, and a variety of smaller towns domestically. I hear complaints about this a lot but I haven’t found it to be a problem.

    The biggest reason though is that I want to be able to get as many free nights as possible. By stacking priority club promotions I can get a free night for every 2-3 paid nights, which I think it just about unbeatable.

    And another thing I like about them is that they have more international hotels than most programs. Many times I’ll find no Hilton or Hyatt but an ICHG available. Quick example: In Argentina Hilton has only Buenos Aires, and Hyatt has Buenos Aires and Mendoza. But ICHG offers hotels in 5 cities.

  18. @travelbloggerbuzz – I just saw you talking trash on TPG’s site as well as Lucky’s. You hardly have any traffic (many with no comments to your postings). You should stop making troll posts to get people to go to your website. It’s really tacky what you are doing..

    @Lucky – great writeup and very helpful. I’m a PC Plat and Ambassador with Intercontinental. Have enjoyed the perks so far in Zurich and Tokyo. I’ve been pondering joining more programs (I did join Hyatt, but haven’t stayed with them since I joined), but PC has been good to me for my twice yearly international travels. Luxury Hotel stays are a major part of why I travel so I think focusing on free breakfast or internet just don’t rank very highly when I choose a hotel, so not worth trying to accumulate points that I probably won’t use in other plans. Marriot’s and Sheraton’s just don’t excite me enough to stay with them.

  19. I do about 60 nights a year as a business traveller – but I own my own small business so am extremely price / value conscious and probably exhibit behavior more akin to your leisure traveller.

    As you said up front, I almost always go for independent hotels or small chains. The bonuses from the elite programs simply don’t begin to make worth paying $50 extra, $100 extra, or even double to stay at them. I do shop around but return sufficiently often that I’m genuinely recognized at hotels – and that counts for far more than the fake recognition that the programs offer. On the rare occasion I travel to a city where I can’t find a small hotel, then I tend to stick with Hilton, and it reminds me why I avoid chain hotels in the first place!!

  20. So say your a leisure traveler who is not concerned with status and benefits but more interested in getting valuable redemptions for “free” rooms. You earn your points via chase UR and will be mostly dumping points earned into either Marriot or priority club, which program is better?

  21. The one thing I ponder in Hyatt Diamond vs. SPG Platinum is SPG upgrades to a Suite upon check-in, where Hyatt no longer does this (used to in the past.) Four confirmed suite upgrades with Diamond is nice, but only on paid stays at aspirational properties which makes for a pricey proposition since that is where you would most want to use points to save money.

    Lucky, can one use points for a stay at expensive SPG properties and use status for upgrades, or combine it with an upgrade cert if you stay the 40/50 nights? This would seem to be a better deal for someone who has tons of stays at lower priced properties, but wants to use the points for a suite at a resort or Tokyo type property.

  22. @ Carl — Keep in mind I’m being tough on Priority Club and not InterContinental. InterContinental has a separate Ambassador program, though I didn’t include them since I don’t consider them to be one of the “big five” loyalty programs. The other issue with InterContinental is that they don’t define qualification criteria, and I’d hate for someone to put a bunch of night in at Priority Club hotels, only to not get an invitation.

    I *do* think the actual Priority Club program is a joke, though, compared to status with other programs. But up until this point it has been easy to earn, so that’s not unreasonable.

    As far as the $40K of spend goes, I think it’s much better spent on the Citi Reserve, if for no other reason than the free weekend night you get after spending $10K. That’s worth 40K-50K points for me, so adds greatly to the value of the incremental spend.

  23. @ Rob — Royal Ambassador is awesome, though I have no plans on maintaining the status next year. They don’t have enough hotels and I’ve found the elite benefits to be watered down somewhat over the past couple of years, and without published criteria it’s not really worthwhile to maintain status with them, in my opinion.

  24. @ Cole — With the exception of Priority Club, all of these chains do. Hilton and Starwood even offer stay credits on award stays.

  25. @ Bethany — I was trying just to stick to the “major” programs. Club Carlson can be a great program as well, but it’s not one I have much experience with in terms of elite benefits, and I didn’t want to cover too many programs in a single post.

    @ Anita — You can google for a Virtuoso agent, or email me and I can recommend one.

    @ Carl — Agree on both counts.

    @ Romsdeals — Purely in terms of the status benefits I prefer Hyatt, but if I had to choose one it would be Starwood because they have more hotels.

    @ Nick — You’re absolutely right, I didn’t phrase that clearly.

  26. @ Peetyrd — They do indeed have high customer satisfaction and do extremely well at the Freddie Awards, which blows me away.

    @ Damon — Sorry I wasn’t clear on that. For leisure travelers that do less than 25 nights per year at hotels, you can’t beat Hilton Gold status just for having their card. You also get Hyatt Platinum status (which at least gets you free internet) with their co-branded cards. Priority Club even gives you top tier status with their card. I think those benefits are tough to beat just for paying an annual fee of <$100.

    @ Mary Beth — Happy to hear you're having a great time! Love the Andaz Shanghai!

    @ Brett — For the reasons you mention they're a GREAT chain. Issue for me is that there's only so much of an upgrade you can get at a Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express. And they don't technically honor elite benefits on award stays, which somewhat takes the value out of the status away at nicer hotels.

    @ NB — Sounds like a great strategy!

    @ MM — Both of those are pretty bad transfer values, though between them I think Marriott is probably slightly better. That being said, Hyatt is a much better transfer partner and has lower redemption rates.

    @ Randy — I don't remember any time where suite upgrades at check-in were a Hyatt Diamond benefit. You can indeed use Starwood suite upgrades on award stays, so that is a nice benefit. That being said, with Hyatt you can outright redeem points at a reasonable rate for suites, paying just a 50% premium in points. I've also found most Park Hyatts great about upgrading to deluxe rooms that are similar to junior suites.

  27. As you said in one of your comments, SPG credits award stays. For me that was easily the deciding factor in choosing to pursue status with Starwood. Platinum benefits at Cash and Points prices? Sign me up!

  28. Cash plus points counting as a stay/night, suite upgrades with status, definitely has this Hyatt Diamond pondering a switch to SPG Platinum next year (If business trips don’t allow for both.)

    Used to work at the Grand Hyatt in DC many moons ago and we automatically upgraded Diamonds to suites in the mid-90’s, but that was a while ago and I’m not sure if it was corporate policy for the status.

  29. Priority club is great if you want non-intercontinental reward rooms. Though they keep restricting their program every 2 years. This year they introduce qualifying nights.

    In my experience intercon reward nights are not available saturday nights (Sydney & Tahiti for sure).

    Gold and platinum are easy but don’t expect any of their extras beyond extra points.

    SPG now offers lifetime status…. a big switch for me.

    HNY everyone.

  30. Does bring up a question, not sure if you already answered previously, but does SPG status match Diamond?

  31. I met you at FT University last week.
    I view Priority Club in a far more positive light. If Priority Club has a decent Point Breaks list it makes it a valuable program for free Hotel Nights (I’ve taken advantage of nearly a dozen nights on Point Breaks @ 5000 points each). Combine that with stackable promotions its easy to add up points quickly for paid stays. Finally combine it with a large number of properties at different levels, its easy to use for all types of travelers. Major negative is on the service side as their call center is Philippine based with a staff that’s not always knowledgeable.
    Any word (or rumor) if Hilton plans to reinstate “Point Stretchers” next year?

  32. Lucky, how do you plan on spending $40k? Are you using any “tricks” to meet spending, or how do you plan to achieve this?

  33. Didn’t see the $30k spend on SPG mentioned for gold status which I use since I travel only for leisure and can’t hit the nights -I use the points for stays, get gold amenity (Internet), upgrades and on occasion club floor w/amenities.
    Another option is AMEX Platinum to give you SPG gold status, lounge access and GOES, etc which for a true leisure traveler may be great benefits without high spend/night requirements

  34. @Lucky,
    Thanks for write-up. IMHO:
    1. Marriott almost always have better promotion rewards than Hilton in the past 3 years. For example, Marriott currently offers one free night for two stays 09/15/2012 – 01/15/2013. Last summer, the same promotion. Besides, it often offers 25 nights for 40,000 points. Ritz Carlson offers 30K points for 4 nights 06/2012 – 09/2012. Remeber Marriott category 4 needs 20K points while Hilton category 4 requires 30K points. My conclusion is, for frequent hotel stayers, Marriott is a better choice.
    2. Hilton mistreated customers frequently. You mentioned a story of a diamond member reservation changed last minute by Hilton. As a Hilton Diamond member, I was mistreated by Double Tree in July 2012 and Hilton answered me they would give hotel 5 business days to solve issues with customers before they stepped in and after 5 months they still never answered me. That is why I purposely stayed in Hilton 16 stays this year (I gave up my Hilton Diamond into a Gold status for 2013) and stayed 118 nights at Marriott (Marriott has a rollverover program to rollver over elite stays over 75 nights — another advantage Marriott beats Hilton).
    3. On 12/3/2012, Club Carlson just released its first Visa Card (with US Bank) that offers awesome benefits to beat all other hotel credit card holders’ reward program (see http://www.clubcarlson.com). Besides automatic Gold Elite Status (50% points bonus each stay) and 85K initial points after 2,500 purchase, each $1 gets you 5 hotel points and the last night free for reward stay two or more consectuive days. I just applied for the card and if I can get the card I will stay in this hotel much more.
    4. Hilton and Marriott have roughly same number of hotels worldwide, 3600 and 3700 each. And in reality, both Marriott and Hilton are located in the same places (at least in the US). So, I don’t think it is really useful to maintain both highest status with hilton and marriott. Since Hilton diamond is easier to get than Marriott Platinum, you may choose Hilton. For a frequent traveler who can stay sufficient nights each year, I think Marriott is a better choice than Hilton. After that, both Starwood and Club Carlson have 1,000 hotels worldwide but Club Carlson has a credit card Gold status offer while Starwood credit card offer is partially helpful towards Platinum. The choice for one of them should depend on his projected number of annual stays.
    Finally, when you spend $40K at Hilton Credit Card, you could have spent on Starwood AmEx to get 40K Spg points which is much more valuable than hhonors points.

  35. Lucky, as you pointed out the other day, Hilton offers ways to earns lots of points. With Diamond status, you earn 20 points per dollar spent when selecting points and points as your earning style. Then factor in 500 bonus points for booking online with a Hilton AMEX and 10-12 points per dollar spent on a Citi Hilton reserve Visa or AMEX Surpass card. Then add in a Hilton promo for double or triple points, and the points really add up. I don’t see Hyatt, SPG, or Marriott offering any of these types of options. Reward redemptions are good too with AXON or GLONs costing 36-37K per night for a 4 night or longer redemption.

  36. Switched from Marriott to Hyatt earlier this year; it was a good decision. No more hideous carpeting!

  37. @ Carl — The Ambassador program is for those that rack up at least 100 elite qualifying nights per year. It gets you a personal “ambassador” that helps with your reservations and can usually help with upgrades and special requests. I don’t see all that much value in the status, but then again I’ve never had it, so…

  38. Hi Lucky,

    I’m with you on trying to do $40K spend for Diamond status on the Citi HIlton in 2013! One question though – you can’t do the Amazon payments thing with Citi since it codes as a cash advance right? So I’m assuming you won’t be doing that and instead doing ‘normal’ spend plus Vanilla reloads? Did you manage to find a CVS in Seattle that will sell you the VR’s with a credit card? I haven’t found one yet in LA…

    Stacey

  39. @ stacey — No CVS in Washington State, sadly, though I have family back in Florida, so…

    I wasn’t aware that Amazon Payments counted as a cash advance on the Citi Hilton Reserve. If that’s the case it’ll be a bit tougher, so let me do some research on it.

  40. Yeah, per MMS and FM Citi codes Pay Pal and Amazon as cash advances so I think I’ll save my SPG Amex for those and try to use Citi for VR’s (if I can ever find anywhere to sell to me with a cc!)

  41. I am very pleased with Starwood as my primary program (have been Gold for several years; earned Platinum this year thanks to award nights/stays counting toward status).

    This illustrates a key issue – dilution of Platinum suite upgrade benefits since many more Plats are chasing the same number of suites. (It’ll be interesting to see how effective Suite Night Awards are at getting Plats a suite when they really want it.)

  42. Randy – note that the “sweet spot” for SPG points redemptions is Category 2-5 hotels. The Cat 6-7 properties usually give a poorer “exchange rate” on points. (Hilton is the opposite – the “sweet spot” for points redemptions is high end properties.) This has been discussed in more detail in other blog posts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *