Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Aug 12

The Olympics of Hotel Elite Status: Part Two

A couple of days ago, I covered what I feel are the best levels to shoot for in each of the elite programs at Marriott, Starwood and Hilton. Today, I’m going to cover both Hyatt and IHG (Intercontinental and Holiday Inn, among others). The short version for these two? You’ll need the top tier to make them count.

Hyatt Gold Passport

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Sweet Spot: Diamond

Hyatt has three tiers: The base status you get for joining, Platinum (5 stays or 15 nights) and Diamond (25/50).

Unlike Starwood, a two-tier program that offers decent benefits at its first elite tier, Hyatt offers very little. You get a preferred room, but that does not include access to the club lounge. You’ll also get a 15% bonus on points earned (Base is generally five points per dollar.) and premium Wi-Fi. The best benefit may be the 2:00 p.m. checkout.

The benefit to a weak Platinum Tier is that Hyatt offers one of the best, if not the best, top tiers in the industry. Diamond benefits:

  • Your bonus doubles to 30%.
  • You get automatic club access. Hyatt’s lounges are pretty good, so it’s a nice benefit. Even better: If access is not available due to demand, you get a 2,500 point bonus and full breakfast for up to four people in your room. Many Diamond members value the “exclusion” benefits as better than lounge access itself.
  • You’ll receive a welcome amenity at check-in and can extend check-out to 4:00 p.m.
  • Suite upgrades: You’ll receive four suite upgrade awards each year. At the time of booking, you can use the certificates to upgrade yourself on a stay of up to seven nights. That could be almost a full month per year spent in a Hyatt suite.
  • Unique feature: If you use your points for somebody else, they will receive Diamond benefits, as well. Most hotel chains offer benefits only to the elite members themselves.
  • Two United Club passes per year, good for lounge access at the airport.

Earning Status (Other Than Stays)

Again, the credit card is the way to go. They’ll give you Platinum status immediately, but if you spend $20,000 annually, you’ll receive two stay credits and five night credits toward Diamond. Spend another $20,000 and you’ll pick up three more stay credits and another five nights toward status. In other words, you’ll be 20% of the way to Diamond. You get two free Hyatt nights upon sign-up and one free night at a Category 1-4 hotel each year. The card is free the first year and costs $75 each year afterward. I don’t have a link to the card on my credit card page, but you can apply through the Hyatt website here.

IHG Rewards Club

It would be unfair to say that IHG’s only worthwhile status is its top tier, Spire Elite, but only because Spire isn’t particularly useful, either. Many people end up with status by accident (more on that later) or because they have no choice but to stay at Intercontinental properties (including the Holiday Inn brands and Crowne Plaza). There is a base level as well as three elite levels, which are Gold (10,000 points or 10 nights), Platinum (40,000/40) or Spire (75,000/70). You’ll earn 5-10 points per dollar spent, based on the property at which you stay. Gold status gets you an additional 10% bonus, while Platinum ups that bonus to 50%, as well as a few other minor benefits.

Spire, the top tier, doesn’t do much more. The biggest benefits are getting 100% bonus points, a choice benefit (25,000 points or the ability to gift Platinum status) and Hertz Gold Plus Five Star status. This is not a particularly valuable status.

Earning Status (Other Than Stays)

Intercontinental Paris - Le Grand. One night for $49.

Intercontinental Paris – Le Grand. One night for $49.

The credit card is the only saving grace with this program. And this is a must-have card, even if you don’t normally stay at IHG properties. The card costs nothing the first year and $49 per year afterward, but it gives you a free night at any property in the system with availability on your card anniversary every year. None of this “only categories 1-3” business. Any property. The card also gives you Platinum status, which we’ve discovered is just above “useless.”  But the best part is, spending on your card generates base points that count toward status. So you could earn status without ever actually staying in a property.

Do yourself a favor, though. Don’t get the card now. The sign-up bonus is “only” 60,000 points, which will also get you a free night anywhere, and then some. Every so often, they raise the bonus to 70,000. Wait for the extra points.

Ambassador Status

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The best available status at IHG is, unfortunately, one you have to pay for and good only at InterContinental properties, not the other brands.. Ambassador status gets you a lot of individual amenities, ranging from a free weekend night to welcome amenities at your hotel. It costs $200 for the first year, or 32,000 points. You can renew afterward for $150.

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