Elite Strategy Session 2012

Elite Strategy Session 2012

Earning points and miles for free nights and flights is one major benefit all members receive with hotel and airline loyalty programs. Elite members strive for more. Hotel loyalty program elite members receive additional hotel stay benefits like full breakfast in a hotel restaurant, free Internet, exclusive lounge access and complimentary room upgrades. These hotel stay elite benefits add up to considerable savings when staying at upscale brands.

Industry experts suggest hotels may pursue an airline baggage fee model for more hotel services in 2012. Most travelers only have the ability to maintain elite status in one frequent flyer program or fly Southwest to avoid baggage fees. The good news is maintaining elite status in multiple hotel programs is far easier.

Jumpstart your elite engine

December is a good month to plan your travel loyalty goals for 2012. Nearly all hotel loyalty programs use the calendar year when counting hotel nights and stays for elite qualification. This means on Jan. 1, 2012 you will likely have 0 stays, 0 nights and 0 miles on your elite counters.

Or you may start 2012 with elite qualifying nights and stays already banked in your hotel loyalty account. Some loyalty members of Marriott Rewards, Club Carlson and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) have a jumpstart with 2012 elite nights and stays credit to begin the new calendar year.

Elite Rollover Nights

Elite rollover nights are features of Marriott Rewards and Club Carlson. Elite rollover nights, a Marriott Rewards temporary innovation initiated in 2009 during the hotel travel recession, gives members the opportunity to reduce nights required for elite status in 2012. Marriott offered elite rollover nights for the past three years, but it remains to be seen if Marriott continues the benefit for the 2012 calendar year.

Club Carlson made elite rollover nights a key feature of its 2011 redesign of the loyalty program for Carlson Hotels including the brands Radisson, Park Inn, Park Plaza and Country Inn & Suites.

How elite rollover nights work

Marriott Rewards has the largest gap of any major hotel program between low tier Silver elite qualification at 10 nights in a calendar year and the next elite tier of Gold at 50 nights. Elite rollover nights means the Marriott Rewards Silver elite member finishing 2011 with 30 elite nights carries over the extra 20 nights beyond 2011 Silver elite qualification to the 2012 elite counter. The 20 elite rollover nights automatically re-qualify the member in January 2012 for 2013 Silver elite. Only 30 more nights are needed in 2012 to reach Marriott Rewards Gold elite.

Club Carlson has a 40 night gap between Gold at 35 nights and Concierge at 75 nights. Elite rollover nights apply to all Silver, Gold and Concierge elite members for 2011 and may reduce the nights needed to reach the next higher Club Carlson elite tier in 2012.

Elite by Credit Card

Hotel loyalty credit cards offer complimentary elite status just for being a card member with Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum, Hilton HHonors Silver and IHG Priority Club Gold. All Marriott Rewards Visa card members receive at least complimentary Silver elite with 10 nights (Visa) or 15 nights (Premier Visa) elite credit as an annual anniversary benefit.

Some credit cards also have elite qualifying spend bonuses. Hilton HHonors American Express Surpass offers Gold elite at $20,000 and top-tier Diamond with $40,000 in annual card spend. Marriott Rewards Visa offers an additional elite night for every $3,000 in card spend. Best Western bumps its MasterCard members one elite tier higher with $6,000 in annual spend. SPG American Express card members receive annual elite credit for five nights and two stays or $30,000 in annual spend confers SPG Gold.

Hotel loyalty credit cards can significantly reduce the overall annual hotel spend necessary to reach elite tiers.

Where Award Stays Count

Starwood Preferred Guest recently implemented a major program change making SPG Gold (10 stays or 25 nights) and SPG Platinum elite membership (25 stays or 50 nights) much easier to attain in 2012. The new SPG policy, effective Oct. 1, 2011, gives elite credit for award stays. SPG free night awards, Cash & Point awards and promotion free night awards, like this year’s free resort night after three stays, all qualify for reaching SPG elite tiers.

SPG is now in a select category with Hilton HHonors and Choice Privileges as the only hotel loyalty programs counting award nights for elite membership requirements.

Fast track Elite gets harder

Hyatt and Starwood replaced elite status matches from competitor programs with Stay Challenges in 2011. Stays Count Double promotions have been noticeably absent.

The best news for frequent guests is no major hotel loyalty program increased the standard elite qualification requirements in 2011. Keep your fingers crossed for 2012.

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