Best hotel loyalty program for suite upgrades?
I recently wrote an article comparing the major hotel loyalty programs, sharing what I consider to be the pros and cons of each. There are several factors to consider, ranging from a hotel group’s global footprint, to elite recognition, to point earning structure.
For many people, the most valuable perk of hotel elite status is upgrades to suites. In this article, I wanted to compare the suite upgrade policies of the “big four” hotel loyalty programs, to see which is the best.
Hotel Loyalty Program Suite Upgrade Policies Comparison
Who doesn’t love a suite upgrade? I mean, it might not be necessary during an overnight stay at an airport hotel when traveling alone, but it certainly comes in handy when traveling as a family for a special vacation.
Fortunately, hotel loyalty programs can offer suite upgrades to their most loyal members. In this article, I wanted to compare the suite upgrade policies of the four most lucrative hotel loyalty programs: Hilton Honors, IHG One Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, and World of Hyatt.
Let’s look at each program’s free upgrade policies, and then we’ll also look at the opportunities available through each program to secure suite upgrades in advance.
Below is my ranking of the benefits of the Hotel Loyalty Program Suite Upgrade, starting with the best.
The world of Hyatt
World of Hyatt Globalist status sets the standard for suite upgrade policies, both in regards to available space upgrades, as well as the ability to confirm upgrades in advance.
Hyatt Globalist members receive unlimited suite upgrades available upon check-in, subject to availability. If a standard suite is available, you should receive an upgrade to it as a Globalist member.
Additionally, with the World of Hyatt Milestone Rewards program, Globalist members who accumulate 60 Elite nights in one year earn four confirmed suite upgrade awards, each of which can be used to confirm an upgrade to a standard suite at the time of booking for up to seven nights, without capacity check – as long as a standard suite is available for sale, you can confirm it.
You can earn other Suite Upgrade Rewards if you are more qualified for status (you can choose a Suite Upgrade Reward at 70, 80, 90, or 100 Elite Nights), or if you are a Lifetime Globalist Member . Note that even elite nights earned with credit cards count for these hotels.
You can’t beat the combination of unlimited suite upgrades subject to availability, plus easy-to-earn confirmable suite upgrades that can be used at time of booking.
Marriott Bonvoy Platinum, Titanium, and Ambassador statuses offer a fairly comprehensive suite upgrade benefit.
Marriott Platinum members and above receive unlimited suite upgrades available upon arrival, subject to availability. If a standard suite is available, you should receive an upgrade to a Platinum member and above. Note that at Ritz-Carlton properties, suite upgrades are only offered to Titanium members and above.
Plus, with the Marriott Bonvoy Choice Benefits program, members can select other benefits when they spend 50 or 75 Elite nights per year (even Elite nights earned with credit cards count towards this). At each threshold, you can select five suite night rewards, each of which can be used to confirm an upgrade to a suite up to five days prior to arrival.
I end up getting quite a bit of value out of them, but they have limitations – there are capacity checks on these, each is only good for one night, and five days in advance n is not that far to be able to confirm an upgrade.
I’d say Marriott has a pretty comprehensive policy, between what’s tied to the best available suite upgrade policy and the confirmed suite upgrade policy (even though it’s the weakest of the three that exist).
IHG One Awards
With the recent launch of the IHG One Rewards program, IHG has significantly enhanced its suite upgrade offering. While the available space suite upgrade perk isn’t particularly large, I appreciate the new confirmed suite upgrade opportunities.
IHG One Rewards Diamond members receive room upgrades subject to availability, and these upgrades may include standard suites. However, upgrades are offered at the discretion of the hotel, which means that a hotel does not have to make a suite available for an upgrade, even if it is empty.
Although the space available suite upgrade offer is low, IHG now has an impressive confirmed suite upgrade option. With the IHG One Rewards Milestone Rewards program, members can earn up to three confirmed suite upgrades per year (which would require earning 70 Elite Nights).
Each confirmed suite upgrade can be used to confirm a suite upgrade between one day and 14 days prior to arrival, for a stay of up to five nights. These can only be used on cash stays, not when redeeming points.
Although IHG’s available space upgrade advantage is quite small, at least the confirmed upgrade advantage is a great opportunity. It’s just a pity that it is not valid when redeeming points.
Even though I’ve become a big fan of Hilton Honors in general, the program’s suite upgrade benefit is the weakest of the “big four.” Not only is the available suite upgrade space not particularly beneficial, but Hilton also does not offer any pre-confirmed suite upgrade opportunities.
Hilton Honors Diamond members receive room upgrades subject to availability, and these upgrades may include standard suites. However, upgrades are offered at the discretion of the hotel, which means that a hotel does not have to make a suite available for an upgrade, even if it is empty.
As mentioned above, Hilton Honors also does not have suite upgrade certificates that can be used to confirm an upgrade in advance.
A significant upgrade to the reality of the sequel…
As anyone with hotel elite status can attest, just because you’re eligible for a suite upgrade subject to availability doesn’t mean you’re going to get one:
- Even when hotels fully comply with the rules, there will often be more Elite members eligible for suite upgrades than available suites (much like airlines offer Elite members free upgrades, but that doesn’t mean there are will have seats available)
- This ignores the fact that many hotels do not follow the rules and will go out of their way to avoid providing a suite upgrade; it boils down to the fact that most hotels are privately owned and only have a management or franchise agreement with the large hotel group
As is the case with many aspects of elite recognition, I generally find the further away from the United States the better the elite recognition. With that in mind, what has been my experience with major hotel groups regarding available suite upgrades?
- I find Hyatts to be the best at trying to provide free suite upgrades when available, and I tend to get them pretty regularly, especially outside of the US
- With Marriott, I very rarely get proactive suite upgrades in the US; there is tons of competition for upgrades, and i find i have the best luck internationally, and also when using suite night awards
- With Hilton, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a suite upgrade in the US, though I get them fairly regularly overseas; I would say that in Asia and the Middle East my suite upgrade percentage is about the same with Marriott and Hilton
- I unfortunately don’t yet have first-hand experience with IHG’s new top tier status, although historically I haven’t found IHG too good at proactive upgrades
Well, that’s just my experience…
At the end of the line
Suite upgrades are one of the best perks of the hotel’s elite status, though not all suite upgrade policies are created equal. First you have the difference in how hotel loyalty programs offer free space upgrades – some offer suite upgrades subject to availability, while others offer them at the discretion of the hotel. . Then, some hotels offer confirmed suite upgrades, but even these policies differ significantly between hotel groups.
When it comes to suite upgrades, I personally think World of Hyatt wins, followed by Marriott Bonvoy, followed by IHG One Rewards, followed by Hilton Honors. Admittedly, people will have different outlets, depending on their hotel-stay habits.
What has been your experience with elite status suite upgrades at hotels? Which program is your favorite?