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Is Hotel Loyalty Even Worth It Anymore?

Remember the good old days of hotel loyalty? When hotels rewarded barely-loyal guests who managed to complete a handful of hotel nights with top-tier status? When the highest category Hilton hotel cost just 50,000 points per night and SPG Platinum members bragged about the incredible room upgrades they got…after shaming the hotel on social media? Those days are pretty much gone. With hotels merging and occupancy rates sky-rocketing, there isn’t much of an incentive to keep guests loyal. It’s time guests do the same.

For many years, I was loyal to Hyatt and I made an effort to maintain Diamond status. It was well worth it for the most part. When I completed my first Diamond challenge, I saved hundreds of dollars on breakfast charges alone during a 3-week family vacation. I once stayed at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands and not only was I able to apply two Diamond upgrades to standard awards and score two Townhouse Suites, the hotel comped breakfast for our entire party of 12. Life as a Hyatt Diamond member was good – while I almost never got an upgrade without using one of my awards, I did get lounge access and breakfast benefits that ended up being useful. Then World of Hyatt came along and maintaining status as a top-tier Globalist required 60 nights a year. That’s when I packed my bags and rededicated myself to Hilton Honors.

Hilton is notoriously generous when it comes to elite status. In exchange for a $95 annual fee, you can score Gold elite status through the Amex Hilton Ascend Card. That gets you free breakfast or an executive room upgrade with lounge access, though I’ve received both. For years, I maintained Hilton Diamond status by completing the $40,000 spending requirement on the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Card. Recently, I even picked up the Amex Hilton Aspire Card, which comes with top-tier Platinum status as long as you have the card. The cost? $450 a year, which I could very well justify considering the card’s other perks.

All was well in Hilton land, until I started trying to put those top-tier benefits to use. Let’s face it: Hilton comes up short in the quality department when it comes to hotels. They have tons of hotels everywhere, but they’re not always the nicest places. Do I take a hit on quality in exchange for a possible upgrade and elite freebies? In the past, I may have gone ahead and stayed loyal, but we’re in a new era where loyalty is pretty meaningless. Sure, Hilton is generous with its benefits, but it’s not always worth the trade-off of staying at a subpar hotel or in a subpar location.

The best approach to loyalty is to yourself. Do what makes you happy. If you’re a Hilton Diamond member but Marriott has a better hotel in New York City, then go with the Marriott. If you’re losing out on elite benefits like free breakfast and room upgrades, see if you can recoup those perks through programs like Visa Signature Hotels, Amex Fine Hotels, or The Hotel Collection. You can make up lost elite point bonuses through shopping portals and OTA rewards programs, like Hotels.com’s 10th-night free benefit.

The point of being loyal to a hotel rewards program is to reward hotels, as much as it is about getting rewarded. If that loyalty isn’t reciprocated through better hotels and experiences, then loyalty be damned. You’re also not rewarding yourself by depriving yourself of a great hotel experience, paying a higher rate to earn points, or settling for a bad location. Stay at the best hotels possible, get the best deal possible, and reap the rewards both during and after your stay.

Are you still loyal to a specific hotel rewards program? I’d love your comments in favor or against hotel loyalty.

[Shutterstock: Hyatt]

Comments are Closed.
steviebaby March 1, 2019

I have just stayed in 3 HILTONs within 1 week. The first one in Abu Dhabi where I have stayed many, many times and given them glowing tributes over the past, has changed its management and it seems its rules. No upgrade, no Lounge access and having been given one final access (as the Front office staff knew me and were embarrassed) I noticed a significant reduction in food Selections/Offerings. I don't know what they have done, but after having written a shaming review, as they (in this case rather stupidly) begged for my views/compliments, the management dearly would love to speak to me it seems from various emails. Joking aside, is this a HILTON group move or just an individual property, i.e. a new manager trying to show how good he is! I did also stay in a Hilton Doubletree by HILTON and a HILTON Garden inn, both in UK, but as these are not the same grade, I could not check the status/benefits so easily. I am GOLD status as I also am with BONVOY, so maybe I can reduce my HILTON patronage if they are going to start 'playing around' with the tier level benfits

WalnutBaron March 1, 2019

I'm a Lifetime Titanium (formerly known as Premier Platinum Elite) member of the Marriott Bonvoy program. For me, the perks of a lifetime of loyalty are definitely still worthwhile--free room upgrades, free breakfast, free access to the concierge lounge, free upgraded Wi-Fi, and guaranteed room availability up to 48 hours prior to check-in. I've been pursued by Hilton and Hyatt over the years offering status matches (which I have accepted), but those haven't been enough to switch my loyalty to Marriott. I admit that the botched conversion of SPG to Marriott and all of the concomitant issues related to it gave me pause, but while I read about a lot of horror stories, I only had one issue personally, and it was promptly handled by my personal Marriott Bonvoy representative on the first request. For all these reasons, I'm sticking with Marriott and happy to do so.

CUSTOMDIRECT March 1, 2019

Having been Platinum at SPG for over a decade, I got very spoiled. The benefits were high-quality, consistent and the recognition was superb! Marriott is a very different situation. As a Lifetime Titanium in "Bonvoy" (what the heck is that about...I can't say the word with a straight face), we'll see how it goes but I did get the Aspire Amex to have Hilton Diamond as a back-up. Regarding airlines, I am a UA MM Lifetime 1K. The airline treats me very well with strong recognition but if I want to fly first, I often have to buy it on domestics(P class is often cheap) and I use miles for International First (or J if there is no F). That way, my expectations align with the program today as opposed to the glory days past. The problem: Being a UA loyalist based in DFW.

Hornetcoach March 1, 2019

I wish we could go back to the good old days, when you could Priceline bid for a 3 star hotel for $30/night and usually get it, but I don't suppose many people want to relive the 2008 crash. The combination of hotels.com and the Venture card is hard to beat, that is a 20% discount with a wide open choice of hotel and location. I always shop around, occasionally the hotel web sites have better deals but not often. I have many of the hotel credit cards, Hilton Ascend, Hyatt, Marriott, SPG, two IHG's, primarily for the sign up bonus. The free night more than pays for the annual fee. I understand the Venture card 10 points deal with hotels.com is supposed to end next year. Until then I expect it will continue to be my first choice, most of the time. I know that if I had high status with a particular chain I would be eligible for more benefits but other than extra points and perhaps breakfast, those benefits don't have much value to me. I need a clean room, comfortable bed and a good breakfast, not much else. Also I trust hotels.com reviews more than I trust reviews on the hotel chain web sites.

The_Bouncer March 1, 2019

I stopped chasing airline status years ago, reasoning that it wasn't worth sacrificing better headline fares elsewhere. I am very quickly coming to the conclusion that hotel loyalty is now in the same category. My main program, IHG, has been nuked out of all recognition, so I have been looking around for a new primary program. Frankly, I'm not finding much. Choice is ok and Wyndham might be a possibility with the new 7,500 point redemptions, but those two chains' global footprints are pathetic. Is there really anything out there that beats hotels.com's stacking of gift-card discounts, 10% rebate and cashback sites?