Why I’m Quitting Hotel Elite Status…Sort of

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For the last few years I have been enjoying the perks of hotel and airline elite status.  As I have mentioned with some regularity, having the various elite statuses that I hold results in real savings for my family on waived award/change fees, complimentary breakfasts, increased miles and points earning, etc.  It also provides for an improved travel experiences with occasional suites, lounge access, first class upgrades, priority lines, etc.  It’s been pretty nice having those perks, and this year I will even be attaining top tier 1K status with United as well as re-qualifying for top-tier Hyatt Diamond status.  I will be able to leverage both of those in 2014 for some real travel perks and savings for my family on planned trips (yes, even with the United devaluation).


Suite at the new Andaz Maui

However, it all comes at a cost.  I mentioned some of this in a post a few weeks ago, but while I am glad to have the elite status levels that I have, or will soon attain, I’m pretty sure that my strategy next year will look quite different.  In other words, I quit top tier hotel elite status.  I think elite status can be extremely valuable and easy to leverage for family travel, but I think it is very important to be realistic about how much it costs to attain.  This is more or less irrelevant if you easily and naturally hit elite status thanks to mandatory work travel, or actual vacation travel, however when you are having to stretch on top of that to get where you want to be, it is important to do an honest assessment every now and then to weigh the costs/benefits.


Japanese breakfast included at Park Hyatt Tokyo


Club Lounge at Grand Hyatt Kauai

Just as everyone should, I have been doing that analysis for my 2013 travel, and anticipated 2014 travel, and the numbers speak for themselves.  Since I didn’t have a regular “day job” that picked up the bill for any travel in 2013, I ended up farther away from Hyatt Diamond than I wanted to be.  I am making up the difference with “mattress runs” at relatively low cost because I know I will get the value back out of that with planned 2014 trips, but when looking at 2014 it is pretty clear that I again won’t easily and naturally re-qualify for Hyatt Diamond.  And frankly, will likely be too far off for mattress runs to make sense.  Many of my planned trips are going to be award stays to some amazing properties that I otherwise couldn’t afford, but that means that those days won’t be counting toward re-qualifying for elite status.  It’s just a guess at this point, but my bet is that I won’t have more than 10 paid Hyatt stays next year.

Especially when combining paid and award stays, I will be spending a fair amount of time at Hyatt hotels next year, but coming up 15 stays short of the 25 needed to re-qualify for elite status is just too far to make up the difference.  Even if I could justify the money, there is no way I could justify the time and hassle of doing that many extra check-ins (though a new Hyatt Place will be opening much closer to my house next year).  It is important for me to identify this reality now before I start doing things in 2014 like paying more than I want just to stay at a Hyatt over another brand just to get the stay credit, or hold off on redeeming points so that I instead pay for the stay and earn an elite stay credit.  I’ve certainly done both of those things at times this year, but I want a different strategy in 2014…as much as it stinks to think I will likely lose this elite status that I very much have enjoyed having.

If I get into 2014 and realize I am ending up with more paid Hyatt stays than I anticipated (or award stays start counting) then I would re-evaluate my strategy, but given what I know now, I’m not going to be pushing for Hyatt Diamond re-qualification next year.  In fact, I won’t be pushing for elite status earned via stays with any hotel chain next year.  I can get some mid-tier hotel elite status pretty easily via credit cards or Milepoint Premium.  That isn’t at all the same as what I have gotten out of Hyatt Diamond, but sometimes you just gotta face the facts.  My travel patterns right now, even though I do travel pretty frequently, just don’t line up with earning Hyatt Diamond status in an easy or inexpensive way, so I need to be realistic about that and let it go after next year.  Hopefully my husband’s work travel will be enough for him to earn it, which will at least help on trips that we all go on together.

I don’t really like the outcome of doing this exercise, but I’m glad I did the numbers and know this before 2014 starts.  I share all of this to encourage you to do the same evaluations for your own travel patterns.  I know people that are flying 200,000 miles of paid travel annually to keep top tier status in two airlines, when all the paid travel they really need a year is perhaps 50,000 miles.  That type of extra time and money may make sense if this is truly your hobby and you enjoy doing it, but I know in my shoes I have to know when to say when, and at least for hotel status, that time seems to be now.  My situation with airline status is slightly, though not entirely, different, but that’s a post for another day.  I’ll also do a separate post on what I plan to do it get some hotel elite status without having to have tons of actual stays.

Have you done a similar assessment for your 2013/2014 travel?  If so, how is it looking?

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  1. I think the same way. I don’t go out of my way for any hotel status anymore. T found I was spending money to get free stuff that I could have easily paid for and come out ahead if I was using Priceline for the hotels. So that is more what I do now. It also makes travel less complicated if I am not trying to force myself into a particular hotel chain. I can go for the cheapest price at the location that puts me where I want to be for what I want to do.

  2. Jack, sounds like a good strategy!
    Grant, unless the economy turns the opposite direction, that would surprise me. We certainly haven’t seen that in a while. However, it would change my math if something like that did appear. 😉

  3. This was very helpful to me for a related reason–I’ve done the numbers and I’ve decided to stop pursuing elite status with UAL for the same reasons. For the last 4 years, I’ve been flying UAL to attain elite status, but have only managed to get Silver the last 2 years. From a work standpoint, that won’t change in 2014. For the last 2 years, I have purchased more pricey flights on UAL when other airlines are sometimes several hundred dollars cheaper–just because I was chasing elite status. It has not been worth it. I have been upgraded only once since I fly out of DCA/IAD. I rarely wait to the day of purchase to pick up Econ+ because I want to know that my child/husband will be seated beside me ahead of time so I purchase Econ+ when I might not need to if I waited and in purchasing Econ+, I get the benefits with the bags/security lines that I would have gotten as an elite anyway. When UAL devalued their awards for 2014, it was the last straw. While I have enjoyed the “game” of pursuing elite status, I have also referred to it (jokingly) as “the tyranny of the miles” and yet that joke has become a reality for me. At the end of the day, I need to feel that an airline (or hotel) cares about all levels of its elites–not just the higher tiers. Otherwise, it doesn’t make financial sense for me and worse, I feel like I’m being taken by playing into the game when the return is minimal. Thanks for writing a blog that resonates for everyday folks who don’t travel much for business.

  4. I share your pain. I am 10 stays away from Platinum status on SPG. I travel 90 pleasure/10 work. I am just not sure if doing mattress runs will be worth the free breakfast and other perks you get as platinum. 10 stays *75 =750… that’s a lot for free breakfast!

  5. Maybe shifting some business to SPG next year makes sense? With your level of travel the basic Platinum is pretty easy to hit, but I think you’ve mentioned before that your husband already has top status with them so maybe it doesn’t make much sense?

  6. I got into this game to travel for FREE…or as close to it as possible. The idea of paying for extra hotel nights to earn any sort of status just makes no sense to me. Notice I said “to me”. If it makes sense for you, by all means, go for it. But I have a 5 year old so lounge access, and club passes mean very little to me. I really don’t even care that much about room upgrades. As long as I have a clean, comfortable room, (for free!) I’m happy. I don’t spend that much time IN the room to really care. I would rather be out and about enjoying the city or beach or ski slopes I came to see!!

    I do not work and my husband travels a small amount for work, but not enough to qualify for any sort of status. We have silver status with Marriott and Diamond or Platinum (whatever it is) with Holiday Inn thanks to their credit cards…..and that’s good enough for me. 🙂

  7. Kestie, agree that pushing for UA silver usually isn’t worth it unless you are right on the line anyway. Congrats on making a good decision for you!
    Lisa, I have not been overly impressed with most aspects of SPG Plat, so probably would not go for 10 extra stays.
    FTG, he does have SPG Plat and will keep it for 2014, but likely will lose it next year in preference for Hyatt Diamond. It is nice to have SPG, but I don’t think it is usually as valuable as Hyatt Diamond (other than the surprise suite upgrades).
    Laura, free travel is the best, but I am also a supporter of leveraging some cash to big returns, but only if it is some cash for big rewards. When it is big cash for small or medium returns then I’m not as interested. For what it’s worth, I love lounge and club access more with a kid, but there comes a line when it’s too much for not enough. Hope to see you on the slopes!

  8. One Mile at a Time’s numbers never pencil out. But he justifies it by saying “I’m a blogger so this makes sense so I can have blog content for my readers.” but its actually not interesting as a reader to read about a lifestyle that makes NO FINANCIAL sense. Priceline and Hotwire are just WAY too cheap.

  9. I’ve never seen the point of chasing unless 1 or 2 days away. Often none chain hotels offer better options for less money. Hyatt, looks like can upgrade to a suite for just 6000 points for a four night stay. That seems a really good deal. Would like High status with SPG or Hyatt but dont really miss not having it if only stay 10 nights per year. A hotel breakfast is nice, a breakfast at home is nicer.

  10. I don’t go out of my way for hotel status. I’ve found not one hotel chain has everything I need. When I did stay at chain hotels where I had mid-tier status (Hilton Gold, Hyatt Plat), I didn’t feel like it was anything particularly special.

  11. MP, if your husband has Hyatt whatever-status, can you get any benefits if he books your stays for you — either on the up-and-up by having him say he’s booking for his wife or on the down low by adding you as the famous other-person-staying who will check in first?

  12. MP: How rational! Have you been hanging out with Seth too much? 🙂

    Are you aware of any good blogs that cover VRBO? More of my friends are using this, and for family travel (especially if you join up with another family) it seems hard to beat!


  13. We’re in redemption mode for early 2014 starting with a month in Europe before the Olympics. We’ve got a variety of hotel status levels that may or may not survive after Dec 31, but more important to me will be rebuilding points. I plan to consolidate and concentrate on fewer programs (SPG on the high end, Choice and Carlson in mid-range) where the points we do have will mean more in terms of our plans. It seems as though it’s a two-year cycle for us, which makes achieving calendar tiers more difficult.

  14. I’m a student so pretty much 100% of my travel is leasure and I can’t get reach top status for any of he hotel brands. But I do get mid tier status from Hilton and hyatt with credit cards and spg by using points that I earned from cc spend since they give stay credit for award stays. The biggest reason I want status is for the free wifi. Even if I only had one device, I’ve saved $600 this year alone and usually my girlfriend and I each have multiple devices so it’s probably over $2000. I don’t spend a lot of time online on vacation but it’s nice to be able to do some research of call home on Skype. Thats a lot of money saved for a few credit cards.

  15. Just picking on something you mentioned. 1K is “top tier” with a big pinch of salt. Jeff will still sell those upgrades out from under you, and unless you are flying non-peak hours, your CPU domestic upgrades may be as low as 20%. Then there is that $10K requirement…

  16. I think this is a smart strategy on your behalf.
    I decided some time ago that I would not make any effort to pursue status and it has been very freeing. I now choose my accommodation based on price. This year I did a lot of my hotel bookings thru Pointshound and I got to stay at more interesting hotels for cheaper than the chains and normally breakfast and internet was included without any status needed.

    Lark made the comment re VRBO. I think it would be a good posting if you covered the VRBO/AirBNB options. This year has been a big travel year for us (8 months on the road) and we have gravitated more towards VRBO and the like. Prices are better than hotels and the ability to come home to a bigger space is priceless. At the moment we are staying in San Diego for $130 a night in a 2 bedroom condo with ocean view. Internet included, free parking, can make all our own meals. This set up is much better for any family rather than staying in a hotel and going to the club. An added bonus is many of the properties you can pay via credit card so you can still earn points.

  17. I learn a lot from travel bloggers about getting good deals, strategies to leverage my cc spend, etc… but hotel and airline elite status never tempt me. Though I admit it is hard to fly more than 10 hours in coach. The ability to live and work overseas is much more fascinating and appealing to me than traveling because I can learn more about different cultures, religions, cuisines and citizens of the world. It is easy to stray in spending more time and money more than you need to achieve elite status. It is beyond comprehension to me that all bloggers rave about elite status when nobody is consumer debt free. Few are not even interested in home ownership in this once a lifetime home buyer friendly environment. I once got blasted by a commenter on MMS for having a mind-set to become debt free because of my unrealistic goals. I am sure to get a few more criticisms here too. I have been consumer debt free since I turned 41 and my residence is free and clear. However, my financial status will change next year, namely my child will enroll in college.We lived in Kuwait a few years that enabled us to accumulate huge savings, due to tax free, no medical/dental/ prescriptions costs, nominal rent and no children at the time. We used the savings to travel to neighboring countries in the region, SE Asia and Europe for weeks or months, 20% down-payment for an investment property and relocation costs in southern CA. However, a big disadvantage was NOT to have pension, retirement account, property ownership, investment opportunity because money did not multiply exponentially. I believe job security is non-existent and good times do not last. My greatest fear in life is to be at anybody’s mercy– be it the lender, employer, family member, the society or a man. My life choices and philosophy are opposite to today’s conventional wisdom.

  18. I like the rationale here. I have never had top-tier elite status in any hotel chain, so maybe I just don’t see the added value of having it at all. Where there is a very real comfort difference on airlines between being wedged into a middle seat and being upgraded to 1st or getting economy comfort for free, to me hotels are always the difference between sleeping in a comfy bed in a regular room or sleeping in a comfy bed in a bigger suite. I sleep fine either way.

    But, as I say, have never had top-tier hotel status. Best I’ve done is Gold with SPG and Gold with Hilton. So far, those benefits haven’t been worth retaining status for.

  19. @MP I’m headed for Hyatt Diamond status thanks to living in Las Vegas, where I can get what has to be the cheapest HGP eligible room (Excalibur, around $45 including taxes and resort fees). Besides that all my other hotel elite statuses are due to airline or credit cards.

  20. Lark, ha ha. We’re all in trouble if Seth’s travel patterns are the baseline for rational! 🙂
    As for VRBO, I use them about once a year on large family trips, but don’t need that much space on a routine basis for a family of 3. I don’t know of a blog specifically devoted to that though I have written about it some, and have another post coming up.
    Betsy, I hear you on cycles, 2014 is a big redemption year for us as well!
    Mwwalk, midtier status can be very good for free wifi!
    Nick, I’m a Platinum now and have much better than a 20% upgrade percentage, but I hear what you are saying.
    Vicky, VRBO can be very good – especially for families.
    globetrotter, I don’t think that having elite status and being debt-free are mutually exclusive, but agree with most of what you see anyway.
    Cory, don’t get me wrong, I find value in some hotel top tier elite status, but the math just doesn’t work in my favor when I am 10ish stays off. I agree that mid-tier status isn’t worth it unless it was free or almost free via a credit card.
    Mark, nice! I am in Vegas this week and the cheapest hotel room is north of $400, so no easy mattress this week!

  21. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    This year, I actually sat down and put down the numbers and costs to maintain my diamond for the perks I get.

    When many of my stays could have been Priceline or Hotwire types that would have saved me probably $1000-$2000 dollars. Then I look at the added costs (I just did a couple of mattress run stays which ended up getting me an extra 1K woo-hoo bonus points)

    So what did the $2000 get me… sure some excellent regency clubs in Europe (which I could have purchased for 50euro if I wasn’t diamond)

    I have booked a few 4* hotels when needed on Priceline and Hotwire, and was perfectly happy, especially when they come in at $100 compare to my average Hyatt prices coming in closer to $200-$300.

  22. I think it’s about being realistic and picking the right program. I stick with Marriott and get a great return doing the 3 Megabonus offers. Yes their Platinum benefits are weaker than the other chains. I do the 2 X stay 2 get 1 free night. 6 free nights and the usual points.
    I tried switching to Starwood about a year ago, and got some good value before they degraded cash and points.
    But I still revert to Priceline if I can’t get a deal. I almost never go over $200 for personal stays and prefer to stay in the < $150 range.

  23. You know, when I travelled for a major company, it was obligatory to stay at Hiltons where I quickly attained top status. So I got access to the lounge, free wifi and breakfast. I also got more flexibility with early check-ins and late check-outs. But I never felt I got anyway near the value I got from AA Exec Plat.

    When I started my own business, with mostly domestic travel, I quickly found that Choice Hotels and Best Westerns offered Free WiFi and breakfast and are surprisingly well located. Since what I need in a hotel is clean, safe and near, and now I’m on my own, I switched and I’ve not looked back. I quickly had “Diamond” status which really just gets you more flexibility on checkouts and sometimes a free water, but still it saves me thousands.

    I use Trip Advisor and common sense to make sure the hotel is not a dive and feel like my spend to value ratio is way up.

  24. Leveraging and maximizing value is the goal.

    SPG Gold comes with an Amex Plat
    Hilton Gold comes with MP Premium or a Citi Reserve Card
    Marriott Gold comes with UA Gold Status
    IHG Plat comes with a 49$ a year card with a free hotel night as well.
    CC Visa gives Gold as well and a free night with points

    Of these Hilton and Marriott give free food and IHG in non IC hotels on paid stays.
    I have found the most value in Hilton in Beijing, in Hong Kong and even in Tokyo.
    They may not be the Park Hyatt, but when I close my eyes after a free dinner after a full day of sightseeing, I can’t tell the difference anyway.
    For a 95$ card that gave about 1000$ of free food and internet.

    Airline status is best with AA lifetime, DL easy with CC spend leveraged and US also with CC spend. If US and AA merge I can use the CC spend saved to go higher on DL.

  25. Maybe next year is a good time to switch loyalties and status challenge at another chain. I agree Hyatt has great perks, but at least you could retain top tier at some major chain through 2015, and keep Diamond Status when you travel with your husband.

  26. I have the Hilton Citi Reserve and that is a keeper for me. I have enjoyed the 2 night certificate, am on my way to a new certificate next year and free breakfast. That is all I need. But I am not committed to Hilton at all. As SVR says, priceline and hotwire provide excellent prices and in my experience I get very good rooms most with a good view ( last one at Ohare facing the tarmac which was spectacular for plain spotting).

    I am a destination kind of person and most of families do not dwell on the room. They get to Disney, get a good breakfast and Mickey Mouse here I come! And quite frankly some of the hotel catering is not as good as offsite restaurants.

    I also carry the Amex Platinum card which is a true winner in benefits and the FHR program can get you very competitive rates with extra benefits like 4pm check out and some sort of food or bar credit.

    Mattress runs made some sense in 2008 thru 2010, but are not worth it anymore in imho. Personally I never transfer any of my UR points to Hyatt. Any four star hotel is perfect for my travel plans.

  27. For hotels, I am a free agent and have never pursued status. I book hotels using a vacation package, Hotwire, Priceline, hotels.com, or take advantage of a hotel’s special offer. By doing so I have literally saved thousands on hotels over the last 5 years, and I can use the savings to book a luxury hotel room or suite. I find being a free agent simplifies my travel planning – just look for a 3+ star hotel in the best location for the best price.

    • WA, my views on elite status haven’t changed…it is pretty great in some situations. However, I am just too far away from naturally earning it to push for the difference.

  28. I agree with FEV7, it is about the journey. You can also have a great holiday in cheaper hotels. They don’t necessarily have to look bad. Try checking out HotelsCheap.org for example. Might find something suitable there.

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