Learn how to leverage hotel status, credit cards, and luxury hotel booking programs to get elite perks such as breakfast, early check-in, late checkout, welcome amenities and room upgrades for no additional cost.
- Understand hotel status, and how to earn it through hotel stays
- Learn how to gain elite status with many hotel chains without any stays by using the right credit card
- Learn about luxury hotel and resort programs, such as American Express Fine Hotels and Resort, and Four Seasons Preferred Partner, and how to access these programs
- Learn how to reach out to a hotel in advance with any special stay requests
- Beginners Guide
Booking hotel rooms is an important aspect of travel hacking, and not all hotel rooms are created equally. Before I knew what I was doing, I would often just book the cheapest rate I could find online using an online travel agency to compare prices, not knowing that hotels often assign rooms based on how you book. Needless to say, when you book a heavily discounted rate, you’re not likely to get a prime corner room with stunning views. Think more along the lines of bottom floor, parking lot views, near the elevators and ice machines, etc.
While booking directly with the hotel will certainly increase your chances of getting a better room, it still doesn’t guarantee it. Why? Because many hotels reserve their best rooms – the rooms that have been recently renovated, have the best views or layouts – for their top-tier status members.
How Hotel Loyalty Status Works
Like many reward programs, hotel status follows a simple premise: the more you stay, the higher your status, and the higher your status, the more perks and benefits you receive.
All the major hotel brands have different criteria for qualification, but generally you can expect at least 25-50 stays for mid-tier status. For top-tier, it’s more in the range of 50-75 stays.
Marriott Rewards, for example, requires 50 qualifying nights for Gold status (mid-tier) and a whopping 75 nights for Platinum status (top-tier). To keep your status, you must re-qualify each year.
Once qualified for mid-top tier status, you can expect some really great perks, such as:
- Early check-in
- Late check-out
- Executive Club Lounge access
- Complimentary in-room internet
- Room/suite upgrades
- Daily Breakfast
Here is Marriott’s list of published benefits for their four different status tiers:
While each program has a published list of guaranteed benefits, I find a lot of value in the unpublished benefits. Fairmont offers guaranteed 4pm late checkout and early arrival (noon is the industry standard for early arrival) for Platinum members. I was once offered a 7:30am check-in at the famed Plaza Hotel in New York after a redeye flight, and have been granted a checkout as late as 8pm. While these are certainly not published benefits, I find most hotels will go above and beyond to make sure their top status elites are accommodated.
How To Earn Hotel Loyalty Status Without Any Qualifying Stays
A whole course on how to earn status the old-fashioned way would seem a little disappointing, and I’m happy to share some ways that Canadians can earn instant (or in some cases, accelerated) hotel status without spending a quarter of the year living in hotel rooms!
Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Status
There are a few easy ways to earn SPG Gold status in Canada without staying a single night at a Starwood hotel.
- Card members receive SPG Gold status upon enrollment and keep status while they are a Platinum card member
- Card members receive SPG Gold status upon enrollment and keep status while they are a Business Platinum card member
- Gold status is maintained by spending $30,000 per year on your SPG credit card
While there is no lounge access for SPG gold members, I have received some very generous upgrades. On a recent points redemption stay at the iconic St Regis Hotel in New York, I was granted a several category upgrade to the stunning Fifth Avenue Suite!
Marriott Gold Status
Since Starwood and Marriott have merged, they now offer status matches. That is, if you have status with Starwood you can request the same level of status with Marriott. In order to qualify for Marriott status, simply follow any of the above steps for Starwood Gold status and link your account with Marriott. All done! Marriott is one of my favourite reward programs, with guaranteed lounge access at most Marriott, JW Marriott, and Renaissance hotels (resorts excluded).
Hilton Honours Gold Status
The American Express Platinum Card offers immediate Gold status with Hilton. While this status is not as rewarding as Marriott or SPG, it’s certainly worth enrolling for if you are an existing American Express Platinum cardmember, and includes benefits such as room upgrade based on availability and guaranteed late checkout.
Fairmont President’s Club Platinum Status (accelerated status)
While not immediate like the other programs, American Express Platinum and Business Platinum cardmembers have a unique opportunity to earn top-tier Platinum status in the Fairmont President’s club after only 5 nights at any Fairmont, Raffles, or Swissotel property. Normally this top-tier status is reserved for people with 30 qualifying nights, and is well worth the effort. Fairmont doesn’t have a traditional points program like many hotel brands, and thus their loyalty recognition is in a different league. Not only do you get a list of benefits on each stay, but also a set of certificates, including:
- One complimentary night certificate per year
- Two suite upgrade certificates per year
- Two room upgrade certificates per year
- $100USD dining/spa certificates per year
- Additional bonus certificates periodically, such as 3rd night free offers
As an added bonus, Fairmont recently merged with Le Club Accor, a large European based hotel group with a large footprint around Asia and Europe. Fairmont Platinum members can request a status match to Platinum with Le Club Accor, which allows for significant added benefits at other hotel brands around the world, such as Sofitel and Novotel.
Getting Added Benefits At Ultra-Luxury Hotels
Not all hotels have traditional loyalty programs, and instead choose to treat every guest as a top-tier customer. Notable hotel brands without a rewards program include:
- The Four Seasons
- Mandarin Oriental
While these hotels may not have loyalty programs to differentiate guests based on stays, I can assure you that not all customers are treated equally. They still offer perks to special guests, though their recognition is done internally rather than issuing status or reward points. While you can’t have status with any of these hotels, there are a few programs to ensure you get the VIP treatment, most notable, American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts.
American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts
An exclusive benefit for American Express Platinum and Centurion cardmembers, Fine Hotels and Resorts is a collection of luxury properties around the world that are bookable through American Express travel. Essentially, these hotels offer their best available, fully-refundable rate to Amex cardmembers, and provide a great list of added benefits that are often comparable (or better) than top-tier status, including:
- Early check-in, subject to availability
- Guaranteed 4pm late checkout
- Room upgrade, subject to availability
- Complimentary in-room internet access (which a lot of luxury hotel charge for, surprisingly)
- Daily breakfast for two adults
- A special property amenity – usually a $100USD dining or spa service credit
There are some luxury Fairmont and Starwood properties that also participate in FHR, giving you the opportunity to double down on status benefits. I’ve booked multiple FHR stays using my Platinum Card and have yet to be disappointed with the benefits, and have always been granted early check-in with at least a one-category room upgrade.
In Addition to FHR, many hotels offer special rates to travel agents for distinguished guests, such as Four Seasons Preferred Partners. This program allows travel agents to book rooms with special benefits, including:
- Priority access to room upgrades
- Late checkout
- Special property amenity
- Daily breakfast for two adults
These programs do require you go through a travel agent, but can be useful for very unique properties that maybe don’t participate in FHR, or if you don’t have an American Express card. I used Four Seasons Preferred Partner for my stay in Jakarta and had a fantastic experience!
Special Requests Can Go A Long Way
Even without status, there are some old-fashioned ways to increase your odds of scoring an upgraded room or getting a late checkout:
Be polite and just ask. Ok, this may sound obvious, but many people forget that a little bit of friendliness can go a long way. Chances are if you’re staying in luxury hotels on a regular basis you’re somewhat removed from frontline service work. Hotel work can be exhausting, and being polite can go a long way. You would be surprised to know just how empowered front desk agents are, with most having the ability to upgrade you one or two room categories, or alternatively, put you in the room facing the dumpster. This may not always work, as sometimes hotels are genuinely at capacity or unable to accommodate special requests, but it’s certainly worth the effort.
Reach out to the hotel in advance of your stay for any special requests. Celebrating an anniversary or birthday? Let them know! It’s almost guaranteed they will surprise you with a welcome amenity, and do everything possible to create a memorable stay. Hotels want you to stay for special occasions, since people spend money when they are celebrating (you’re more likely to eat at the hotel, get room service, indulge in a spa treatment). They love special occasions, and will do what they can to ensure you remember your stay! As tempting as it may be, don’t abuse this one. Good hotels keep detailed accounts of repeat customers. You don’t want to be known as the guy celebrating four birthdays a year…
Check out our trip reports and other online travel review website to see what other people are saying. Not all hotels have the same policies regarding upgrades and late checkout (even true within the same brand but in different locations), and the likelihood of getting preferential treatment will vary based on destination and time of year. Expect a noon check-in at The Four Seasons Whistler during peak season over Christmas? Probably not happening. However, the same room in October may be available early, and you might even score a suite upgrade!