Hotel Status Programs Are The Best Travel Hack Australians Never Use

Don't sleep on status.

Hotel Status Programs Are The Best Travel Hack Australians Never Use

Image: Executive Traveller

If you’ve ever checked into a hotel and overheard another guest get a suite upgrade and lounge access while all you get is a fake smile and a room overlooking the car park, your (lack of) hotel loyalty status may have been why…

Status is a by-product of your membership in a hotel loyalty program. Status is generally a result of annual room nights, or spend, or a combination of both.

Australians are spoilt for choice with hotel loyalty programs, with most of the major chains having a presence here. Like airline loyalty programs, you can earn and redeem points on stays as well as tap into a range of status benefits such as free upgrades, breakfast, and lounge access. 

The big hotel loyalty programs include Accor’s ALL, Marriott’s Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG’s One Rewards, and the World of Hyatt. Unfortunately, the hotel chain with what is widely recognised as the best loyalty program, Hyatt, has a limited footprint in Australia, and the chain with the most hotels here, Accor, has the least impressive loyalty program. Such is life…

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Like airline loyalty programs, tangible perks such as breakfast don’t come with entry-level hotel status, but you can expect some basics such as free WiFi and drink vouchers. Also like airline loyalty programs, you can often get an instant hotel status hit through a status match, but then you have to do the miles —or, in this case, sleeps — to keep it.

You could use hotel loyalty membership purely as a redemption vehicle for points accrued elsewhere, say, via the Amex Membership Miles program, and transferred in for specific redemption opportunities. We’re not talking about a few nights at the Novotel in Melbourne here; we’re talking about redeeming points for stays at places that charge $3,000 plus a night for cash stays. In these cases, status doesn’t matter.

On the other hand, if you spend a lot of nights in more run-of-the-mill hotels, then status can deliver handy day-to-day benefits, like access to the lounge for evening drinks and snacks.

Marriott-Bonvoy has a handful of beautiful hotels in Sydney. Image: Marriott.

Which loyalty program is the best for you will depend on where you regularly travel to, your budget, and your personal preferences. There’s little point banging on about the benefits of Hilton Diamond if most of your work trips take you to Mackay. But hey, entry-level membership of the Rydges Priority Rewards program gets you 10% off the best online room rates and a similar discount in the hotel’s restaurant.

Suppose most of your travel takes you to regional destinations. In that case, the Accor, Rydges, and Choice Privileges programs are good options because, unlike Hilton and Marriott, those chains are strong outside Australia’s big cities.

If your room nights are mostly spent sleeping in Australia’s capital cities, the Marriot, Hilton, and IHG options are solid. All three chains have a diverse range of properties at different price points in cities like Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney. However, while IHG has recently overhauled its program for the better — in terms of straightforward benefits like breakfast and lounge access — Marriott and Hilton easily trump IHG in the Australian market.

The Intercontinental Sydney is hard to beat when it comes to views, too… Image: IHG

Aside from Melbourne, Hyatt doesn’t have a strong enough presence in Australia, ruling out its program as a go-to-option. But if you spend a week every month in Melbourne, Hyatt might make sense…

If your travels regularly take you to North America, the scenario changes. While solid options in Australia, the Bonvoy and Honors status counts for little in that market, while Hyatt, which also has a decent footprint there, is the gold standard. Accor, which is all over Europe like a rash, has a minimal presence in North America.

But Accor is everywhere in Asia while, once again, Hyatt is weak. Chains you might usually sniff at — like Best Western — have some really interesting options in Asia, and the Discovery program — used by chains such as the Pan Pacific and Parkroyal — has a high utility in Asia. In fact, across the board, hotels in Asia are generally among the world’s best at recognising and rewarding a guest’s loyalty status.

It seems that when it comes to rewarding hotel loyalty, the Wesy may not be the best… Image: T&L Asia

Most people don’t spend half their lives in high-end hotels, so don’t accrue status that way. There are opportunities to get status via credit cards, and Virgin Australia’s 12-month status match to the IHG/Hilton equivalent for its Gold and Platinum members is a sweet deal. But many people who hold hotel status do the bulk of their room nights in far from glamourous Holiday Inns or Ibis’s.

However, once or twice a year, they’ll take their accrued points and status out for a spin, taking their partner and kids somewhere nice for a break, and enjoy being the person getting the upgrade while everyone else in the reception queue looks filthy at you.

But of course, you don’t care, because you earned it…