We've all been there. You're enjoying a week-long stay at a moderately priced hotel, until the bill is slipped under your doorway on the morning of checkout. The cost of Wi-Fi, breakfast, occasional room service, resort fees -- they've all been tallied up and suddenly you've gone way past your travel budget. But there's a simple way to avoid these extra fees: obtain elite status with a hotel loyalty program.
That daily breakfast buffet on your bill? Erased. The $20 Wi-Fi charge? Gone. All of a sudden, your room looks a little nicer thanks to your complimentary upgrade, and there's even a bottle of wine and a bowl of fruit resting on your nightstand with a welcome note from the hotel's manager. These are all little perks afforded to elite members, along with club lounge access, which will help offset the cost of snacks and drinks during your stay.
If attaining elite status sounds like a difficult feat, rest assured, it's not. In the time it takes you to read this article, you could have already obtained mid-tier status without much effort at all. Here are some tips on how to hack your way to elite status.
Qualify on stays, rather than nights
There's a reason dedicated travel hackers will "hotel hop" from one property to another during a multiple-night stay: Hotel rewards programs offer members the option to earn status either by completing a certain number of stays or nights. It's always easier to qualify based on stays. For example, the Hyatt Gold Passport program's top-tier Diamond status requires members to complete 50 nights or 25 stays at Hyatt hotels. So if you have a three-night stay in San Francisco, you'll earn two nights and one stay toward elite status if you spend your entire three days at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. Head over to the Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf for your second and third night and you'll earn three stay credits instead of one, tripling your elite stay earnings and achieving status faster.
Jumping from hotel to hotel isn't convenient for most travelers, but it is the fastest and cheapest way to earn elite status. This strategy is especially popular among business travelers who want to maximize company-paid hotel stays.
Sign up for an affiliated credit card
Most major hotel rewards programs have a co-branded credit card that comes with instant elite status. Usually it's mid-tier level (i.e. Hilton HHonors Gold, Hyatt Platinum, Starwood Gold), which can take upward of 25 stays or 50 nights to achieve. Most of the time, elite status is valid for as long as the credit card holder keeps the account open. Considering that achieving mid-tier status can easily cost more than $2,000 in hotel stays, paying a $95 annual fee for the same level of status is a much cheaper alternative.
For those who aren't satisfied with mid-tier status, most hotel credit cards also offer top-tier status for meeting certain spending thresholds. The Hilton HHonors Surpass card from American Express, for example, grants top-tier Diamond status to cardholders who spend $40,000 in a year. The Hyatt Visa from Chase has a slightly different setup, offering an additional five nights and three stays toward status for the same amount spent.
While mid-tier elite status is the easiest to obtain, it isn't worth much past a point bonus on paid stays. Hilton HHonors Gold status is the exception. Members with a Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card are instantly upgraded to Gold status and awarded elite benefits, such as complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, room upgrades and club lounge access when available. What makes it so valuable, however, is that it can be parlayed into a status match with another program.
Request a status match
It's not always possible to stay with the same hotel chain everywhere you go. To ensure that you're getting the best possible deal on hotel accommodations without giving up elite status benefits, you can request a status match with another hotel rewards program. The requirements and level of status offered will vary, but StatusMatcher.com has a useful database of successful status match reports. To request a status match, you'll have to reach out to the rewards program of choice and provide a screenshot of your existing status with another program.
Complete a status challenge
In some cases, hotel rewards programs aren't willing to hand over status easily, so they'll instead offer a status challenge. Status challenges greatly reduce the number of nights typically required to achieve top-tier status. Elite status benefits are normally conferred after the challenge has been successfully completed.
Consider mattress running
Sometimes when you're just a few nights short of status, there's only one thing to do: check in to a hotel and then head back home for the night (aka mattress running). The latter part is optional, though many people do it this way. This may sound insane, but in the world of travel hacking, it's perfectly normal to book hotel stays for the rewards alone.
Sometimes hotels publish and honor ridiculously low nightly rates (i.e. $20 per night at the Hilton San Francisco). When this happens, travel hackers will use it as an opportunity to rack up stay credits toward elite status: 25 nights and $500 in out-of-pocket costs and suddenly you're a top-tier Diamond member through next year.
About the author: Ariana Arghandewal is a travel writer who enjoys helping others navigate the world of travel hacking though her blog, Pointchaser. You can follow Ariana on Twitter or connect with her on Google+.