Hotel loyalty programs have banked their fate on the cards. In 2013, grabbing hotel loyalty elite by credit card membership is an easy catch for hotel stay benefits. Several hotel loyalty programs in recent years shifted strategy to favor credit card membership over hotel stays as an alternative and quicker route to elite status.
Hilton HHonors exemplifies the shift with its HHonors Reserve Visa credit card launched in 2012. Gold elite status is a complimentary card benefit for an annual membership fee of $95. For 2013, Hilton HHonors raised requirements for Gold elite to 20 stays, up from 16 stays or 40 nights, up from 36 nights. HHonors increased the spend requirement for Gold VIP to $7,500 in hotel spend, up 25 percent from $6,000. Diamond status in 2013 requires 30 stays (up from 28) or 60 nights (no change) or 120,000 base points (up from 100,000). Another card benefit is one free weekend night as an anniversary gift for any category hotel and some Waldorf-Astoria hotels. There are a few property exceptions, but the free night trumps the category limited free night offers from Hyatt and Marriott credit cards.
HHonors Surpass American Express offers access to deeply discounted AXON four-night award stays at 145,000 points for Category 7 hotels. AXON awards save 25,000 points compared to HHonors VIP member four-night award at 170,000 points. HHonors Category 6 hotel AXON awards are 125,000 points compared to HHonors VIP four-night awards for 136,000 points.
Hyatt Gold Passport introduced its Visa card in 2010 with the benefit of complimentary Platinum elite. In 2011 the card added an anniversary free night benefit for Category 1-4 hotels. Some Hyatt Gold Passport promotions in 2012 included 20 percent more bonus points just for being a Hyatt Visa cardmember.
In 2012, Hyatt Visa added card spend elite stays and nights credit. Spend $20,000 and earn two stays and five nights elite credit. Spend $40,000 and earn another three stays and five nights. Credit card spend of $40,000 earns 20 percent of the stays and nights for Hyatt Diamond elite. This is not particularly lucrative compared to earning top-tier HHonors Diamond elite after $40,000 annual spend with Hilton HHonors American Express Surpass or the Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa.
Starwood Preferred Guest American Express offers cardmembers two stays and five nights elite credit each year as a card benefit with no spend requirement. In 2012, SPG created Lifetime Elite members. Qualification for Lifetime Gold elite is 250 nights and five years SPG elite membership. Earn Lifetime Platinum with 500 nights and 10 years Platinum elite membership. As of March 1, 2012 SPG counts award stays and nights for elite qualification. The ability to earn stay and night credit for up to three rooms per stay reserved and paid by SPG member is another strategy for faster SPG elite.
Marriott Rewards gives its Visa card members 10 or 15 elite nights depending on credit card type. These credit card bonus nights confer Silver elite. Card members earn one additional elite free night with every $3,000 in credit card spend. Marriott Rewards Gold elite, the level where benefits improve hotel stays, requires 50 eligible nights. Marriott lowered lifetime elite requirements significantly for 2013. Marriott Rewards also made elite rollover nights a permanent feature of the program. Elite nights earned in 2013 above the status you held in 2012 rollover to the 2014 calendar year.
IHG Priority Club Rewards changed the way it counts eligible points for elite status in 2013 by differentiating elite from non-elite qualifying points. In prior years, almost any points earned counted for Priority Club elite status. Hotel stay base points, points packages and all partner activity bonus points, including credit card points, still count as elite points. Hotel stay and Priority Club promotion bonus points are non-elite points. Hopefully Priority Club Platinum at 50 nights, or harder-to-earn 60,000 elite qualifying points, will spur improvements to Platinum elite benefits to make membership worthwhile.
Club Carlson launched its Visa card offers Dec. 1, 2012. Premier Rewards Visa Signature and Business Rewards Visa offer complimentary Gold elite. Hotel stay qualification for Gold elite takes 20 stays or 35 nights. All three Club Carlson Visa cards have a high-value hotel award benefit of last night free for two-night or longer stays using points. These benefits easily make the annual fee of $50 to $75 negligible.
Hotel loyalty credit cards make good sense for leisure and business travelers staying at chain hotels. Hotel loyalty credit card members receive benefits of elite status like free Internet, breakfast, room upgrades and discount award stays for under $100 a year for credit card membership compared to loyal frequent guests spending several thousand dollars per year on hotel stays to earn these same elite benefits.