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Hotel frequent guest programs work in many ways the same as airline frequent flyer programs do – you’re promised a set of benefits in exchange for your loyalty to the hotel chain. However, hotel frequent guest programs promise a lot of benefits and then it is up to the individual hotel for execution – some hotels are great about elite perks, while others laugh in your face that no suites are available even though the hotel is empty.

How do you actually select a hotel frequent guest program to be loyal to? Well, there are many factors including elite tier qualification, the benefits you value most, how often will you stay with the chain, will you go out of your way to be loyal, etc. These are all very important things to ask yourself before you commit to a chain. Ideally, you will want to make a decision before the new year – so that on January 1st, you can begin your loyalty.

Where Do You Travel The Most?

Depending on the hotel chain you select, they may have hotels almost everywhere or they may only have hotels in bigger cities. Every hotel chain is different and while most major cities have at least one hotel associated with every chain, it isn’t the case everywhere – especially outside of North America.

  • Where do you plan to travel the most?
    • Is it domestic or international?
  • What are your frequent destinations – check what hotels are available and how they are priced, will you be able to stay at them?
    • Are there multiple hotels from your selected chain in case one hotel is fully booked?
  • What do you value most in a hotel room/stay – and is that available through your selected chain?

Have a plan and research hotels where you plan to travel and stay the most.

What Elite Tier Can You Reach? Can You Re-Qualify?

Plan your year ahead and do your research – how many nights will you stay with this hotel chain? Which elite status level can you reach? It is important to plan and research if this hotel chain has hotels available where you plan to travel – and if you can actually afford those hotels. It never hurts to lock in reservations that are refundable so that you have your hotel stays planned out for the year ahead. Take into consideration various promotions that might be offered or credit cards that award elite qualifying nights.

  • Re-qualifying for elite status every year is important – do you see yourself traveling and staying with this chain for the years ahead?
  • Will you be able to re-qualify year after year for your desired status?
  • Does the tier level below your desired tier also include a variety of benefits in case you drop down a tier?

What Elite Hotel Benefits Are Offered?

After you have planned what elite tier you can reach with a hotel frequent guest program based on the number of nights or stays you will complete and potentially any credit card elite nights, have a look at what benefits are offered at that tier level. Hotel programs have many different elite tiers – ranging from entry-level to super exclusive tiers. Generally, entry-level elite status offers things like a preferred room upgrade, more points earned, and later check-out.

After you reach mid-tier and top-tier, you will most likely be able to enjoy free breakfast and suite upgrades as well as 4PM check-out, depending on the hotel chain you select. Make sure to go through all the benefits carefully and ask yourself if they will all be worth it at that level.

Is There a Hotel Credit Card Available?

Many hotel frequent guest programs have various credit cards which provide benefits and perks depending on the card you have. Of course, there will most likely be a sign-up bonus in the form of points or free nights after spending X amount. Have a look at what credit cards are offered for what hotel chain and see what benefits you will value the most – is it entry-level elite status, a free night certificate, or something else?

Many hotel credit cards offer some number of elite qualifying nights towards status in the hotel’s program – these elite nights could help you reach another tier, depending on the nights you already plan to stay. Some higher-end hotel credit cards also offer mid-tier elite status levels which could include benefits like free breakfast or suite upgrades. Be sure to also take a look at what bank is offering what card and recall your approval rate with said bank.

Does This Hotel Chain Deliver Promised Benefits?

This is a tricky one because ultimately while hotel frequent guest programs promise a set of benefits, it really is up to the individual hotel for delivering those benefits. Hotels love to get out of offering free breakfast or suite upgrades to loyal members… especially in the U.S.. You will find that as an elite member of a chain, your experience will be very different depending on what part of the world you are in. Top-tier members are treated like royalty in Asia while the same members in the U.S. could be treated the same as every other guest without any “thank yous”, depending on where you stay.

Be sure the chain you selected for loyalty has a good record of delivering benefits across their hotel portfolio. For example, Hyatt is usually the best, and most Hyatts treat elite members well, followed by Marriott which has hotels playing games with breakfast and suite upgrades, followed by Hilton which doesn’t promise late check-out or suite upgrades, even to top-tier members.

All in All

It is important to carefully look over the perks and benefits offered by each hotel frequent guest program and then based on where your travels take you, if you can actually build loyalty with that chain and then enjoy the benefits. Usually you will want to qualify for at least the higher mid-tier elite level with a hotel program in order to receive some meaningful benefits as the entry-level elite tiers don’t provide that many valuable perks – always do your research and plan out your year prior to deciding on a loyalty strategy.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.