The first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic were marked by many hotel loyalty programs making it easier to attain elite status.

Today’s hotel occupancy levels are back at pre-pandemic levels. This means that there is more competition between elite status holders to get space-available and complimentary upgrades to rooms. Sometimes, hotels have to offer less incentives to encourage travelers to return.

These are some things to remember as you plan your 2023 hotel elite status pursuits.

What hotel program offers the best value?

We focus on elite status perks that provide the most tangible value such as suite upgrades, bonus rewards points and free breakfast. These values were then compared with the cost to earn each status level. This allows us to see which elite programs provide the highest return on dollar and which only offer a free bottle at check-in.

This allows us to compare programs by using a single number.

Programs average 14% return per dollar. Hyatt’s elite program stands out with its 26% rate, which is equivalent to earning more than a quarter of a dollar back in value. Hilton follows with a 22% rate of earning.

On the other end of the spectrum Best Western is far behind at 2% return rate.

Target the elite

Our analysis revealed a critical fact: There is hotel elite status and then there is real hotel elite status. Some programs use labels such as “Gold” or “Platinum” to describe benefits that are not luxurious. Others offer tangible, real value to their frequent guests.

Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott offer elite status programs that provide great value for their elite members. The rest? Not so much.

What does this all mean? Do not let this fool you into thinking that elite status is only for those who have less value. IHG may offer the highest status, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting the best value.

Avoid acquiring status through a card

There are two reasons for this. The first is that the amount of time you use hotel elite status will affect its value. Even though you can enjoy the highest status in the world for your stay, if you only use it for a few nights a year, you will not receive many free breakfasts.

The second, and most elite, level of many cards offers very limited benefits, such as free water or complimentary Wi-Fi.

Search for Promotions

It was extremely easy for hotels to maintain or earn elite status in 2020 and 2021, sometimes even 2022. Some hotels reduced the nights required to reach each level. Others offered elite night promotions.

However, this might not be true as often. There will be occasional promotions that offer other routes to elite status than just staying in hotels for a million nights and spending a lot of money.

Hotel elite status 2023, recapped

The reason you choose a hotel brand is not just because of its elite status. It’s important to look at which hotels have the lowest prices and offer the softest pillows. It’s a valuable insight into which loyalty programs are serious in earning customer loyalty.

When it comes to elite status perks, not all hotels are equal. Hyatt and Hilton offer exceptional benefits to elites, particularly those who are higher-end. Radisson and IHG, on the other hand, offer no such benefits.

NerdWallet has collected all information about Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. NerdWallet no longer offers Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card.

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