- Elite status (Tiers, ease of earning, lifetime)
- Room upgrades (suites!)
- Breakfast and lounge access
- Late checkout
- Miscellaneous (Customer service, Tech/IT, BRG, promos, partnerships)
- Points earning rates and redemption values
- Global footprint analysis
The goal here is to obtain meaningful upgrades. Suite upgrades (even junior suites) are considered excellent. Club/Executive room upgrades often mean nothing (since it can be the same room as a base room but with Club/Executive lounge privileges which you would have anyway as an elite member).
The discussion here is about likely and average expected outcomes. Anecdotal instances of better or worse upgrade outcomes are not statistically significant. Every hotel has granted insane upgrades to some guests at some points of time (or have failed to upgrade at all) and hotels will frequently upgrade in excess of their policy when inventory issues require them to. Once again, none of that has a bearing on what one should expect on an average.
Likely upgrade for top tiers: Suites (for Platinum 50+, repeat guest Platinums or best non suite room (Platinum 25)
Likely upgrade upon request: Suites for all platinums if available.
SPG is the only chain that promises suite upgrades subject to availability each stay. In reality, you often have to ask/remind them especially if you are a base Platinum. Generally, without asking, you are likely to get their best non-suite room most of the time unless you are a repeat guest or higher tier Platinum. Once you start to ask and/or gently remind them, the suite upgrade rate shoots up to basically whenever possible.
There are valid reasons for why you might see availability online but are not offered a suite. The Room might be marked for sale for *later* today but isn’t ready *now* at time of check-in. The rule is to check availability at time of check in, not wait till later when housekeeping might be able to turn it over. The room might be pre-blocked for a ‘heavier’ Platinum. 25 night Plats can expect this to happen frequently, 100/75/50 night heavy Plats will/should be prioritised ahead of them. However these pre-assigned rooms (for heavier Platinums) will still show up for sale online but are not available as an upgrade for a Platinum 25. You could see all suites in a hotel empty (say 15) but if the day’s arrivals include more than 30 heavier Platinums in base rooms (not unusual for many SPG properties), then you will still fail to clear the suite upgrade.
Despite the above caveats, I consider this the strongest general suite benefit although Hyatt has a stronger instrument (DSU voucher) that works better for a particular pattern of stay. Infact SPG is the *only* program to consistently try and place you in suites as a top tier member without any limits.
They also have the option of 10 SNA (suite night awards) every year when you touch 50 nights. These are vouchers that can be applied to a stay to confirm a suite upto 5 days in advance. While not as strong as Hyatt’s 4 Diamond Suite Upgrade instruments, the combination of 10 SNAs worth 10 nights (vs 4 Hyatt DSUs worth between 4-28 nights) with the policy of trying to provide suite upgrades each stay without any instrument, makes SPG the clear number 1 for upgrades especially if you have a lot of short stays and love suites.
SPG has a lot of lifestyle/boutique/independent brands so the quality of suites in these hotels is outstanding.
The upgrade rules do not apply to Aloft and Element hotels, however Alofts frequently try and upgrade you to their best rooms regardless.
Hyatt will place you in the best available non suite room subject to availability each time. However, this comes with its own caveats since staff are used to simply upgrading to club rooms and calling it a day. Many then remember this as policy and forget the actual rule which states best non-suite room because there are non-suite rooms better than club level rooms in many properties. A quick chat with the manager on duty ought to fix this.
Hyatt is considered the most consistent with its upgrades because it does exactly what it claims most of the times. However, their strong implementation of a weaker promise (vs SPG) only comes close to matching SPG’s weaker implementation of a stronger promise. So while Hyatt will give you the best non suite room most of the time, so will SPG. However, if you ask for more, SPG wins easily as your suite % shoots through the roof relatives to others. The problem with Hyatt’s policy is it doesn’t break the “suite barrier”. With SPG, you are entitled to suites from base room bookings. With Hilton/Marriott/Ritz, you could (but probably won’t) get a suite from base room but should get the suite if you book the room category right below the suite. With Hyatt if you book the highest non-suite room, they don’t necessarily try to upgrade you any further. So there is a wall between their non suite and suite rooms that I refer to as the suite barrier.
As such, the suite benefit is the weakest of all major US chains without use of special instruments (DSUs).
Hyatt’s trump card are its 4 annual DSU (Diamond Suite Upgrade) vouchers. Each one can be used to confirm a suite subject to availability at the time of booking and is valid for upto a maximum of 7 days stay on a paid rate (including Cash+Points). This is the strongest suite upgrade instrument of any chain (potentially 28 days of confirmed nights in suites). Conversely, if you waste it on single night stays, you would only get 4 nights worth of suites! The average would be somewhere in between. Nevertheless, for a pattern of stays where you don’t care about suites for nights spent in hotels for business but want to take your family on vacation and have guaranteed suites without paying for it, this is the instrument to do it with and Hyatt is your chain. However, you must pay the elevated base room rates if you are redeeming this in popular vacations spots during busy times. Its existence is a also double edged sword, since Hyatts pretty much never do suite upgrades unless you use a DSU.
I must add that I find a lot of Hyatt’s suites to be quite plain/understated and while excellent in isolation, pale in comparison to the wow factor of SPG’s suites.
Hyatt’s upgrade rules do not apply to Hyatt Place and Hyatt House (similar to SPG), however these tend to try and place you in the best rooms regardless.
Marriott’s policy allows it to upgrade within same category all the way up to a suite. This policy applies to both Golds *and* Platinums.
Gold is not to be confused with a mid-tier status since it’s requirements exceed those of SPG/Hyatt top tiers and are higher than Hilton’s corresponding tiers, in return they also offer better stated benefits than Hilton Gold (lounge access not subject to upgraded room and better chance at suites) but fewer than Hyatt or SPG top tiers. There is virtually no difference in the upgrades offered to Gold’s and Platinum’s and both generally get upgraded by one category. Do not expect suites consistently. Usually it’s only the properties whose next proper category is a suite anyway (with only view and executive/club rooms in between) or those that have a lot of suite inventory that grant suite upgrades consistently. As is always the case, being a repeat guest or having a short stay also helps in getting suites without having to push for them.
I see more suites through Marriott than with Hyatt (without DSU) on a normalised basis. However, I still rate Hyatt much higher because of the existence of confirmable Diamond Suite Upgrades.
At Ritz Carlton properties, only Platinums will be considered for suites, Golds will not be considered. However this is a very recent change and it still puts no obligation on the hotel to upgrade to suites and it remains to be seen how it is implemented. Until now, Ritz did not even consider club rooms or suites for Platinums.
Marriott has a lot of lifestyle/boutique/independent brands so if you manage a suite in one of those, the decor is usually great.
The current T&C for Ritz Carlton hotels state that rooms on executive floors may be given however in the very next sentence it precludes rooms with direct club lounge access from being given out as upgrades….
Hilton’s policy allows hotels to upgrade anywhere from same category (could be same room on other side of building or on a higher floor) all the way up to a suite for a top tier Diamond. There is a big difference between the policy for Gold and Diamonds since Suites are almost never offered to Golds. However, they are rarely offered to Diamonds either.
Hilton’s upgrade policy for Diamond’s is very similar to Marriott’s policy with Gold and Platinum members. Usually it’s only those properties whose next proper category is a suite anyway (with only view and executive/club rooms in between) or those that have a lot of suite inventory that grant suite upgrades consistently. As is always the case, being a repeat guest and having a short stay also helps in getting suites without having to push for them.
Different hotels have their own policies (within the limits set by HHonors but frequently aiming for the minimum). Getting better upgrades can be a real hassle requiring extended negotiation at the front desk since they are well within their rights to offer merely a one category upgrade and that is frequently the official policy of most hotels in the chain. In general, you should be getting more suite upgrades than Hyatt (without DSU), slightly better than Marriott (however only Diamond tier is eligible for suites with Hilton as opposed to Gold and Platinum with Marriott) and far less than SPG.
Unfortunately, as a Gold, even your lounge access depends on securing a room with Executive Club privileges marking another point of differentiation between Golds and Diamonds (who are granted access regardless of upgrade).
Crucially, you are not entitled to upgrades at Garden Inn, Hampton and lower brands. Some might grant an upgrade anyway but I find this to be the exception, not the norm. Being a repeat guest might help but again, in that case it’s because you are top tier *and* a regular.
This is a big difference from Marriott and means that Hilton has the weakest overall upgrade benefit amongst the major US programs. Also, I find the quality of Hilton suites in general to be the worst out of all major programs (on a relative basis because of the level and quality exhibited by their competition). Frequently, it is just a suite version of a standard room i.e a living room attached to standard bedroom with no attempts at fancier decor.
Accor Le Club
You are lucky to get any meaningful upgrade as a Gold member. You will likely get a one category upgrade as a Platinum member but one category frequently feels like nothing since it could be just a view variant of the base room or a club/executive room version of the base room (as a platinum, you get club lounge access anyway….though actually, not really with Accor, there are caveats there too).
They generally stick to their guns and do not upgrade further.
This is the worst upgrade benefit of the chains evaluated in this review.
However, if you book the room just below the first suite, Accor will likely cross the suite barrier for you and upgrade you one category into the suite, something Hyatt is unlikely to do!
Platinum members will get a one level upgrade subject to availability
Black members will get a two level upgrade subject to availability.
Benefits are generally delivered based on my experiences and count for a lot in value because of the nature of the properties. Example: I have received the top suite upgrade at Emirates Palace, the most expensive hotel (to build) in the world and suite upgrades at other Anantara resorts as well.
On an average, the chains closest to the program (Kempinski and Anantara) seem quite diligent about granting the stated benefits. There is potential for disaster since this is an independent alliance and there is precious little in the way of negative consequences for program violations but in my experience, they have always tried to deliver what they promise. Crucially they promise specific outcomes subject only to availability rather than an ambiguous range. Since the hotels are not overrun with elite status members, I have found them to exceed stated policies more frequently. It helps that most of the hotels in the portfolio are either luxury hotels or intimate boutiques that do not have ‘fake’ or meaningless room categories just to ‘manage’ upgrades.
If you manage a suite at a luxury GHA property, the quality of the furnishing and decor is generally extra-ordinary, on par with SPG.
There are only two contenders for the top spot, depending on volume of stay.
If you want a lot of suites consistently for a lot of stays: SPG, for quantity and quality of suites provided on average.
If you don’t care about suites for short stays at all but suites can be very important for family/special occasions/getaways and you need them confirmed for those few times: Hyatt, if you can find one, and if you can afford the paid rates for base rooms on those dates in those locations.
For other short stays without DSU, Hyatt would be the weakest at offering suites but will generally exceed Hilton/Marriott’s upgrades if the base room is booked. Basically Hyatt is least likely to offer a suite and not cross the “suite barrier”, even from a category immediately below unless there is a DSU involved. Hilton/Marriott will usually provide worse upgrades than Hyatt but can exceed it at times without any special instruments involved.
Accor has the worst all round upgrade policy but still manages to break the suite barrier more often than Hyatt!
GHA Discovery upgrades are worth quite a lot due to the nature of the properties and quality of upgrades.