1. Introduction 
  2. Elite status (Tiers, ease of earning, lifetime)
  3. Room upgrades (suites!)
  4. Breakfast and lounge access
  5. Late checkout
  6. Miscellaneous (Customer service, Tech/IT, BRG, promos, partnerships)
  7. Points earning rates and redemption values
  8. Global footprint analysis
  9. Conclusions


To gain outsized value from the programs, it is almost crucial to hit one of the elite levels that each one offers. Frequently the best benefits are only available at the highest tiers and so the ease of attaining elite tiers is critical to your choice of loyalty program (right behind career and marriage decisions. Maybe.)

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)

Profile: Around 1300 hotels, mostly high end, luxury and upscale with good worldwide spread but mostly metro/urban.

Starwood has two elite tiers with the following main benefits;

Gold (10 stays or 25 nights or shortcuts or 500 room nights in meetings):

50% boost in points earning from base (3 points instead of 2 per USD)
Guaranteed 4 pm checkout except resorts and conference hotels (often more, subject to hotel discretion)
Upgrade to preferred rooms (usually within category or sometimes one category)
Complimentary high speed internet (available as either a welcome amenity or automatically if booked via official channels)
Elite benefits/points earning with some partners such as Delta, Emirates and Uber
Lifetime Gold requirement: 250 (paid+award) nights and 5 years of earned Gold status

Platinum (25 stays):

Upgrade to best available rooms including suites
Continental Breakfast (usually full breakfast if breakfast is selected as welcome amenity)
Lounge Access
Guaranteed 4 pm checkout except resorts and conference hotels (frequently more if requested and available)
Complimentary high speed internet
Elite benefits/points earning with some partners such as Delta, Emirates and Uber
Lifetime Platinum requirement: 500 nights (paid+award) and 10 years of earned Platinum status

Platinum (50 nights or 1000 room nights in meetings) additional benefits:

10 Suite Night Awards (can be used to confirm suites upto 5 days in advance subject to availability)
or 1 free night at a Category 1-5 hotel
or Gift Gold status to a friend (note: does not work well as a birthday gift….)
or 5 Elite Qualifying nights to help achieve higher status (non redeemable nights)
or choice of other (lesser) benefits

Platinum (75 nights or 1500 room night in meetings) additional benefits:

Your24 – 24 hour anytime check in and check out 24 hours later subject to availability 2 days in advance
100% boost in points earning (4 points/USD instead of 2) highest boost in industry, but not highest earning rate overall.

Platinum (100 nights or 2000 room nights in meetings) additional benefits:

Personal Ambassador/Concierge

I count SPG amongst the easiest to qualify for since they are the only ones that count multiple rooms towards qualification each night. You can have 3 rooms count every night in the same hotel (they would credit as 3 stays and 3 nights). Similarly 3 rooms booked for 4 nights would count as 3 stays and 12 nights (or halfway to Gold status!). All brands count the same and there is no penalty for staying at lower end brands.

SPG counts award (redemption) nights as well, further easing qualification.

Starwood mid-tier status (Gold) is very easy to attain and actually comes with worthwhile benefits such as confirmed 4 pm checkout, 50% boost in points earning (sorely needed as SPG base earning levels are abysmal) and sometimes, an upgrade (but don’t count on it).

SPG is very active with credit card partnerships internationally and you can find Gold status for free with high tier cards (even with non co-brand cards) or accelerated earning of Gold status after 1 stay (eg: Mastercard in Asia Pacific).

SPG Platinum is the most rewarding status of any chain in my opinion and can be had for the lowest threshold (25 stays!). Platinum (50 nights) is worthwhile to aim for, Platinum (75 nights) is also useful for its points earning boost if it is possible to do that many nights in a year with the same chain. Platinum (100) is largely not worth the incremental cost/effort.

Lifetime status requirements as listed above are the most reasonable of all chains.

For meetings/events, every 20 room nights booked earn you 1 status qualifying night (maximum of 20 status qualifying nights per event). You can mix and match events and personal stays to reach your goal and there is no minimum per night rooms limitation (you can book 5 rooms for 4 nights to make it 20 room nights). You also earn 1 status qualifying night for every 20 nights as a Travel Professional or Executive Assistant (booking for others such as clients). The sweet spot for this method of earning is if you hold very large events with a lot of room nights.


Hilton HHonors

Profile: Around 4500 hotels, mostly lower and mid range, weak high end, very dense in some regions but with some geographical gaps in others.

Hilton has 2 meaningful elite status levels (Silver is only as good as Zimbabwean Currency).

Gold (20 stays or 40 nights or 75000 base points or shortcuts):

25% points earning bonus
Late checkout subject to availability and hotel discretion
Upgrade to preferred rooms subject to availability (average expectation: within category or one category) and only applicable at upscale brands such as WA, Conrad, Hilton, Curio and DoubleTree. Others such as Embassy Suites/Garden Inn and below are not required to upgrade.
Continental Breakfast (as a welcome amenity choice depending on brand) except Waldorf Astoria
Lifetime Gold: No such status currently exists.

Diamond (30 stays or 60 nights or 120000 base points):

50% points earning bonus
Late checkout subject to availability and hotel discretion
Complimentary high speed internet
Upgrade to higher category rooms subject to availability (better upgrades than Gold, minimum 1 category, on an average: best non suite room, suites rarely without ‘request’). Only valid at upscale brands. No upgrade at Garden Inn and lower brands.
Continental Breakfast at all brands (instead of having to choose vs points) except Waldorf Astoria
Lounge Access
Lifetime Diamond requirement: 1000 paid nights and 10 years as Diamond

If SPG Platinum (25 stays) is the best elite status for least effort with actual stays (25 separate nights), Hilton Gold is the easiest for those without any appreciable number of stays especially if you have access to one of the many channels for getting it ‘free’ (0-4 nights). Hilton, along with SPG, is the most active globally in having co-brand cards and status grants or accelerated earning on high tier Visa/Mastercards (often requiring between 0-4 stays) in Asia and Middle East.

Hilton also has accelerated status grant programs for employees of most global corporations with a 0-4 stay requirement. If you can get it for between 0-4 stays, it beats SPG Platinum in value for money/effort despite its lower benefits and becomes the status to have for anyone staying less than 25 separate nights in a year. If you can exceed that number with a single chain, SPG Platinum is the better status overall.

Gold can also be achieved with 75000 in base points which translates to 4300 USD in expenditure (approximately) as an existing Gold member or roughly 5000 USD as a base member.
(Assuming Points+Points MyWay Earning of 17.5 points/USD as Gold and 15 points/USD as base member)

Diamond can also be achieved with 120,000 base points which translates to approximately 6000 USD as an existing diamond member or roughly 8000 USD as a base member.
(Assuming Points+Points MyWay Earning of 20 points/USD as Diamond and 15 points/USD as base member)

Hilton does not grant multiple stay/night credit for multiple rooms but does count award/redemption nights.

Points earned for meetings/events are classified as Bonus Points and do not count towards status earning (which requires base points on room and incidental spend)

Lifetime Diamond status requirements are quite steep relative to SPG and Marriott.

Hyatt Gold Passport

Profile: Around 600 hotels, mostly upscale and luxury with massive portfolio………gaps.

Hyatt is the hardest to achieve elite status with (from scratch), it does not have a valuable mid tier (Platinum is only as good as Monopoly money) and only has one meaningful elite tier.

Diamond (25 stays, 50 nights or 10 meetings/events):

30% points earning bonus
Lounge Access
Continental Breakfast in lounge (Restaurant breakfast if no lounge)
Upgrade to best available rooms subject to availability (excluding suites)
Complimentary premium internet
Late checkout confirmed till 4 pm except resorts
4 Diamond Suite Upgrades (4 vouchers for suites confirmable-subject-to-availability at time of booking for upto 7 days per voucher. Potentially 28 confirmed nights in suites OR….4 nights….)
MGM M-Life Platinum membership (via status match)
Lifetime Diamond Requirements: 10 years of GP membership (non elite acceptable) and 1 million base points (USD 200,000 of paid stays)

You need to achieve these with a footprint of only about 600 hotels (vs SPG’s 1300 and Hilton and Marriott’s 4500+). It is hard to find a Hyatt and much harder to find a cheap Hyatt. Internationally, it’s not unusual to see a Park or Grand being the only (usually expensive) Hyatt in a city.

The benefits are better than Hilton Gold, on par (or better or worse depending on situation) with Hilton Diamond or Marriott Gold/Platinum and usually (though not always) worse than SPG Platinum. There are virtually no co-brand or accelerated card earning programs internationally. You could do a status challenge but maintaining status thereafter is very difficult due to cost and lack of properties .

Lifetime status requirements are very steep (about 1000 nights if a relatively high average of 200 USD per night is used).

There is no credit for multiple rooms booked per night and Hyatt is the only major chain which does not grant any credit towards award/redemption nights either. This makes maintaining Diamond status very hard.

It is tough to recommend to anyone who doesn’t already know what they are doing. However, if you find a shortcut to elite status for a year or two, you should obviously take it (despite not being able to maintain it in future) as the confirmed suite upgrades are the strongest benefit of its type in the industry.

The ‘shortcut’ is to book 10 meetings with Hyatt (defined as minimum of 10 rooms per night) or a catered banqueting event (eg:wedding) with no real minimums (hotels may define their own policy). Unfortunately there is no partial credit for booking say, 9 events and Marriott is better with events earning anyway. There is also no real incentive to exceed 10 meetings in terms of status earning. The points earned from meetings are classified as bonus points and do not count towards Lifetime status earning.

Marriott Rewards

Profile: Around 4500 hotels across all segments and in all regions.

Marriott has two meaningful elite status levels (Gold and Platinum, Silver only worth as much as a hugs voucher) and very little differentiation between them. In fact, little to no difference in benefits, just a slightly higher points earning bonus, welcome amenity and obviously, higher prioritisation for checkouts and upgrades (but same actual policy for both).

Gold (50 nights or 5 meetings/events):

Late checkout till 4 pm except resorts and conference hotels subject to availability and hotel discretion (no guarantee)
Lounge Access
Breakfast (at less than half of hotels and brands, so not really)
Complimentary premium internet
Room Upgrades (average of 1 category. Suites very rarely, if requested). Definitely no suites at Ritz Carlton.
25% points earning bonus
Lifetime status: 500 nights (all types, paid+award+credit card) and 1.6 million points (all sources, including bonuses and events)

Platinum (75 nights or 8 meetings/events):

Late checkout till 4 pm except resorts and conference hotels subject to availability and hotel discretion (no guarantee)
Lounge Access
Breakfast (at less than half of hotels and brands, so not really)
Complimentary premium internet
Room Upgrades (avg of 1 category till best non-suite room. Suites on request. Sometimes. Maybe)
50% points earning bonus
Lifetime status: 750 nights (all types) and 2 million points (all sources)
United Airlines Silver Status (reciprocal benefits match)
Hertz Car Rental Status

At first sight, Marriott’s requirements look immensely high (highest in industry), but on closer examination there are many shortcuts. Firstly, there is little distinction between Gold and Platinum benefits so it is hard to justify 25 extra nights for a slight earning bonus and welcome points. Practically, Gold can be considered their highest tier and grants benefits broadly similar to other top tier programs.

Add to this the fact that Marriott members can earn 10 elite night credit towards qualification for every meeting, wedding, catered event or even meeting room rental (no maximum limit!) and this becomes the easiest program to qualify for by far if you hold events or even small meetings.

Furthermore, as a member of the Ritz Carlton Rewards (no big differences in benefits to Marriott Rewards, only in branding and promotions) you can earn double nights credit when staying at Ritz Carlton hotels, bringing the nights requirement down to a very manageable 25 (in theory, if you exclusively stay at Ritz Carltons).

But there is more! Marriott also has rollover nights, so nights in excess of a status tier requirement ‘rollover’ into the next year so you don’t start from scratch. For example if you have 74 nights this year, only 50 are needed for Gold, so (74-50) = 24 rollover into the new year and you start the new year with 24 nights already (halfway to Gold). Though if you stayed 1 more night you would become Platinum, get almost no extra benefits and lose all your 24 rollover nights!! Bad program design!

If you stay 125 nights, only 75 nights are needed for Platinum and so 50 will rollover into the new year and you start off as Gold already! Rollover nights only apply when maintaining current status or achieving a higher status and only rollover once (they expire after one year). To calculate rollover nights in the new year (eg: 2017), they look at base nights in the previous year (2016), not the total of 2016 (base from 2016 + rollover from 2015 to 2016).

However, rollover nights do count twice towards lifetime status!! So if you stayed 125 nights in one year (2015). They count as 125 nights in that year (2015) PLUS (125-75) = 50 nights in the next (2016) and then all the regular nights you would stay in the new year (2016) anyway.

If you have a very heavy stay pattern, Marriott is the chain to give your nights to since 300 nights in one year mean 300 + 225 rollover nights (300-75) = 525 lifetime nights in a single year of 300 nights and you have already made lifetime top tier Gold provided you have 1.6 million points which is approximately 125,000 USD in spend as a Gold member which is amongst the lowest needed for any chain and includes points from all sources (events, stays, bonus points, promo points, compensation points, credit card spend).

But there is more! Reward nights are also counted towards status qualification (recent change).
And yet,there is more, they also allow you to buyback status every year by paying using points!

Marriott Rewards is a very corporate traveller/event booker/lives-out-of-hotels-guest focused program and in the right circumstances, can be the easiest to qualify for if you book meetings or are aiming for Lifetime status since it is the only one where you can get Lifetime status in a single year either via stays or events! (5 meeting room rentals to Gold or 30 in one year for Lifetime Gold!).


Accor Le Club

Profile: Around 3700 hotels out of which 2700 participate in the loyalty program distributed across all segments and regions though very sparse in North America. Exceptionally strong in Australia (bigger than all others combined).

Accor has 2 meaningful elite status tiers (Silver is worth less than all the other worthless statuses of others..).

Gold (30 nights or 10,000 points, 7000 ‘status’ points from next year):

Late check out (based on availability and highly based on hotel discretion)
Room upgrade (highly based on hotel discretion, strict max one category or within category)
Approximately 50% earning bonus from base
Hertz car rental status

Platinum (60 nights or 25000 points, 14000 ‘status’ points from next year):

Late check out (based on availability and hotel discretion)
Room Upgrade (based on hotel discretion, max one category)
Lounge Access (lounges are much rarer in Accor portfolio)
Approximately 75% earning bonus from base
Elite Hertz car rental status

The earning structure and bonuses are quite complicated and can be seen here
(scroll all the way down for both)

There is no lifetime status, multiple rooms booked are not rewarded, events earning is abysmal, benefits are sub standard and rarely delivered without issues. Maintaining status used to be very easy due to the types of promotions they ran and the ability to earn lots of bonus points (you could reach Gold in 3 stays or nights). This has now been changed and without these bonus points counting from the promos, it is very hard to maintain status and even if you do, very hard to explain ‘why’ to yourself.

They have lowered the points qualification requirements for next year but the elimination of status bonus and promo bonus eligibility means this is actually a massive stealth increase. I’d crunch the hard math but under no circumstances would it make sense relative to the US chains.

Do not attempt to chase Accor status as your primary status unless you live in Australia where their portfolio is the absolute best. If you are Australian, then you are hardcore enough and have been dealing with everything in the wild wanting to kill you anyway.


GHA Discovery

Profile: Approximately 600 unique hotels in the luxury, independent and boutique segments. Especially strong in Scandinavia (yay!), Middle East and SE Asia.

Discovery has 2 elite levels.

Platinum (10 nights):

One level room upgrade subject to availability
3 pm late check out subject to availability
One platinum local experience + one more each time you stay at a new brand

Black (30 nights):

Two level room upgrade subject to availability
9 am early check in/6 pm late checkout subject to availability
One black local experience + one more each time you stay at a new brand

The properties are not very numerous but if you stay in the Middle East, Australia or Europe, it should be relatively easy to maintain Platinum status and I’d rate maintaining Black status as being only somewhat difficult.

Discovery includes the Scandinavian/Nordic First and Thon group of hotels which are two of the Scandinavian big 4 groups (other 2 being Nordic Choice and Scandic which are not affiliated with any large program). Since Scandinavia has little to no international chain presence, this is a very strong choice there (stronger than everyone else combined). It also has a very unique portfolio in other places like the Middle East where it has a near monopoly on desirable resorts/luxury hotels that are a class above the other international chains.

There is no lifetime status and no concept of points or free reward stays.


Depending on your personal situation, Hilton Gold (‘mid’ tier)/SPG Platinum (top tier)/Hyatt Diamond (top tier)/Marriott Gold (mid but actually top tier equivalent) could each be easier or more worthwhile to maintain.

If you have a shortcut to Hilton Gold and cannot sustain high night counts, get HHonors Gold and call it a day. It is the easiest meaningful status available from any of the chains. The benefits are limited relative to the other chains status’ with similar stay requirements but the effort required for Hilton Gold is virtually nil due to the many avenues of obtaining it via shortcuts.

If your shortcut only allows a temporary bump up to Hilton Gold (rather than a renewal every year) or you need to earn your status through stays, I would aim for SPG Platinum (25 nights), SPG Platinum is the most rewarding top tier status in my opinion. You could aim for Hyatt if suites on every stay are not your primary concern and you only really want them during vacations and also if your stay locations happen to have an adequate Hyatt footprint.

Marriott is trivially easy to maintain and becomes the obvious choice if you fall into the many special scenarios outlined above under its category heading.

Accor should be ignored unless you hunt crocodiles or killer Koala…..dropbears.

GHA Discovery Platinum (10 nights) and Black (30 nights) are both extremely worthwhile as a secondary status to one of the major US chains for the business traveller or by themselves for the discerning leisure traveller.