Which Hotel Elite Status is Most Valuable in 2017?

Mar 31, 2017

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve analyzed the elite status tiers for five of the most popular hotel programs out there: Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, World of Hyatt, Hilton Honors and IHG Rewards Club. Each entry in the series attempted to peg a specific value on each status level based on the benefits offered to members at that tier. However, evaluating the programs one by one doesn’t help if you’re trying to decide which one would be most valuable to you (or to a typical traveler). Today I’ll wrap up this series with one final post that compares these elite status tiers across hotel chains to identify which one offers the best bang for your buck.

Any hotel elite status is great, but which program offers the most value? Image courtesy of the Conrad Bora Bora.

Before getting into the analysis, a couple of quick disclaimers. For starters, I’ve done my best to align elite status tiers across three categories: low, medium and high. However, one program only has two levels (SPG), and with many of the others, there isn’t an exact comparison, especially when you consider the qualification thresholds required. That’s why I have provided four different ways of looking at the numbers to compare the different programs.

In addition, I’ve chosen to leave out the top two “uber” elite tiers of the Starwood Preferred Guest program. These levels are truly unique across the five programs I analyzed, so there isn’t a comparable set of benefits out there.

Finally, as I mentioned in each of the original entries, the calculations I used represent my own personal approach to valuing the elite status benefits for each program. As always, feel free to adjust the original assumptions to come to your own conclusion of which programs and elite status tiers are most rewarding for you.

In This Post

Elite Status Valuations

Let’s start by looking at the raw numbers for each tier of hotel elite status. In the following table, I’ve highlighted the most rewarding program for each of the three categories (low, middle and high) in bold:

Program Low Middle High
Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Rewards $75 $1,985 $3,760
Starwood Preferred Guest $685* N/A $3,085
World of Hyatt $150 $800 $3,940
Hilton Honors $50 $980 $2,030
IHG Rewards Club $55 $880 $2,325

*Possible outlier… see below for details.

As you can see, different programs come out on top for each category. However, there’s one key factor that makes this comparison a skewed one: how many stays and/or nights you need to earn a given status level. That’s the key reason SPG Gold is the runaway winner in the low-tier category. Earning this status requires significantly more travel than the other four programs, so you’d expect it to be worth more.

Even though the other categories aren’t as egregiously off, looking solely at the monetary value without considering what it takes to earn that value is essentially worthless. It would be like saying that $2,000 is better than €1,990 simply because it’s a higher number. You have to consider the underlying details. In the case of hotel elite status, it can be viewed three ways:

  • Number of stays
  • Number of nights
  • Amount of spend

Let’s take a closer look at each of these methods now.

Value per Stay

The first way I’ll break down the numbers is by looking at the number of stays that allowed you to earn the status (and resulting value) for each program. My calculation is simple:

Value of the status ÷ Number of stays = Value per stay

Here’s a breakdown of these values for the five programs I analyzed, with the top programs again highlighted in bold:

Program Low Middle High
Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Rewards $12.50 $66.17 $83.56
Starwood Preferred Guest $57.08 N/A $102.83
World of Hyatt $25 $44.44 $109.44
Hilton Honors $10 $40.83 $56.39
IHG Rewards Club $9.17 $36.67 $51.67

As you can see, the same programs earn the top spots for the three categories in this analysis: SPG Gold is the most valuable low-tier status, Marriott Gold is the most valuable mid-tier status and World of Hyatt Globalist is the most valuable top-tier status. However, the numbers are much closer now, especially at the highest level, as SPG Platinum comes up short by less than $7.

Let’s continue to see if the same results hold for the other two methods.

Value per Night

We could also consider the per-night value of each tier, calculated using a similar formula as above but inserting number of nights instead of number of stays. Note that things get a bit trickier here, as some programs only allow you to qualify on nights whereas others allow qualification on either stays or nights. In my earlier posts, I essentially assumed that your average stay was two nights long across all brands with the exception of SPG, since that assumption would jump you into the 50-night Platinum level. For the table that follows, I am going to use the two-night assumption and use the 50-night Platinum value for SPG:

Program Low Middle High
Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Rewards $6.25 $33.08 $41.78
Starwood Preferred Guest $28.54 N/A $58.08
World of Hyatt $12.50 $22.22 $54.72
Hilton Honors $5 $20.42 $28.19
IHG Rewards Club $4.58 $18.33 $25.83

The same programs remain on top for the low-tier and mid-tier categories. However, SPG Platinum jumps to the most valuable spot for top-tier status. Again, keep in mind that this assumes you not only qualify for Platinum status but do so with more than 50 nights, opening up additional perks beyond “standard” Platinum after 25 stays.

However, there’s one final way to evaluate these values…

Return on Spend

The last way to analyze the value of hotel elite status is by looking at the return you’d get on the money you spend. In all entries in the series, I assumed a certain level of spending at these properties. Generally speaking this was $150 per night (or $300 per stay with SPG), so by dividing the value of a given status by the total you’d spend to earn that status, you get a return on your investment, expressed as a percentage.

Here are those calculations:

Program Low Middle High
Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Rewards 4.17% 22.06% 27.85%
Starwood Preferred Guest 19.03% N/A 34.28%
World of Hyatt 8.33% 14.81% 36.48%
Hilton Honors 3.33% 13.61% 18.8%
IHG Rewards Club 3.06% 12.22% 17.22%

In this case, we revert back to the first two methods, with SPG Gold as the most rewarding low-tier status, Marriott Gold earning the most valuable mid-tier status, and World of Hyatt Globalist checking in as the best top-tier status.

Starting From Scratch

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that all of the numbers I used in the initial analyses are based upon the benefits you’d enjoy after earning the status and continuing to requalify in future years. If you are starting with no status, the calculations can be quite different, as you won’t enjoy any benefits for the first several stays or nights at a given chain. However, remember that I did create Excel spreadsheets to help figure out how valuable these statuses are if you’re beginning from scratch. Here are those links:

Overall Takeaways

SPG Gold actually gets you benefits at both Marriott and Starwood properties, making it an underrated but valuable status.

So given these calculations, what are some key things that jump out to me? In no particular order:

  1. SPG Gold is more valuable than many recognize: Gold status in the Starwood Preferred Guest program is typically brushed off as not very valuable. However, my analysis demonstrates that the status brings more value than expected. Not only is it consistently the most rewarding status in the low-tier category, but it would also come in second in the mid-tier category when looking at value per stay, value per night and return on spend. To make it even more valuable, SPG Gold grants you automatic Marriott Gold (the most rewarding mid-tier status) when you link your accounts.
  2. IHG and Hilton need to step up their game: While you could make arguments for Marriott, SPG and Hyatt being the most rewarding program, you’d be hard-pressed to make a similar case for either Hilton Honors or IHG Rewards Club. In the final three valuation methods above, they don’t just come up last… in many cases it’s by a very large margin. I spent many years as a Hilton Diamond member, but it’s clear that my decision to switch my loyalty to Hyatt and SPG was a smart one.
  3. Hotel credit cards can be your best friend: When I examined each program, I assumed that you qualified for the given status the hard way. However, there are many credit cards that provide shortcuts to elite status. In fact, if you open the Platinum Card from American Express, the Hyatt Credit Card and the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, you would enjoy low- or mid-tier status with all five of the above programs for a total expense of $674 per year. This is a great way to make the most of your hotel stays without being a true road warrior.

Bottom Line

As you’ve hopefully seen, hotel elite status can be a great way to make the most of your hotel stays thanks to the litany of benefits it offers. This can range to just a few dollars of value per stay at the low end of the spectrum to $50 or even $100 per stay at the top tier. Only you can decide which program is the best fit for your typical travel patterns, but hopefully this analysis has given you a framework to use as you begin deciding which one should earn your loyalty in 2017 and beyond.

What are the most valuable hotel elite status tiers to you?

Featured image courtesy of the Park Hyatt Sydney.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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