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How to get free hotel elite status from UK credit and charge cards

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This article looks at the different ways you can get elite status with hotel chains via UK credit and charge cards.

If you are just getting started with miles and points, you have probably realised by now that your travel life could be improved if you had airline or hotel elite status.

If you want fast-track airline status, you’re out of luck.  There are no credit cards or other schemes which offer instant airline status.

Your best option if you want British Airways Silver status, which gets you lounge access and free seat selection at the time of booking, is to book yourself a Qatar Airways business class flight to Asia in their next sale.

If you start your trip in mainland Europe, you should be able to pick up a return flight to Asia for £1200 or less in a Qatar Airways sale.  You will earn 560 tier points which is almost the full 600 needed for British Airways Executive Club Silver status – although you still need to fly four BA segments to be promoted.  And you get a great holiday out of it and you get to try the best business class product out there.

Hotel elite status is a lot easier to get.  It can also be more beneficial.  After all, if you are flying in Business Class or First Class anyway then status doesn’t get you much on top, except for free British Airways Club World seat selection and possibly a better choice of lounges.

Hotel status can get you an upgrade to a room you would never consider booking for cash.  It can also be valuable – getting free breakfast for two for seven nights can represent a chunky saving.

How can you get free hotel elite status from credit and charge cards?

Not all hotel statuses are equal.  The benefits vary but, importantly, so does the willingness of chains to deliver them.  In general, I value a benefit which is ‘guaranteed’ substantially higher than a benefit which is ‘subject to availability’ – especially as ‘subject to availability’ tends to mean ‘if we feel like it’ rather than ‘if it is physically possible’.

Let’s have a look at the different UK credit and charge cards which offer hotel elite status:

SPG Amex

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (£75 annual fee, click here for review)

Key brands covered: AC Hotels, Aloft, Autograph, Courtyard, Delta Hotels, Design Hotels, Edition, Element, Four Points, Le Meridien, Marriott, Renaissance, St Regis, Sheraton, The Luxury Collection, The Ritz-Carlton, W and Westin

Sign-up bonus:  30,000 Marriott points, which I would value at £150+, for spending £1,000 within three months

Marriott Bonvoy gives Silver Elite status to holders of its UK Starwood credit card.   This benefit is NOT advertised on the American Express website so you’ll need to trust us that it exists.

The benefits of Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite are not huge.  You can see the different Marriott tier levels here.

The key benefits of Silver Elite status, which usually requires 10 nights in a calendar year, are:

  • 10% bonus on base points earned
  • ‘Priority’ for late check-out requests

…. and that’s it, at least in terms of stuff you will find genuinely useful.  It isn’t a lot but it should stop you getting the room overlooking the bins.

Here’s one important point: you get Silver Elite status and not 10 elite status nights which automatically gets you Silver Elite status.  There is a big difference in this, because the latter puts you 15 nights closer to Gold, Platinum or Titanium Elite.

If you spend £15,000 per year on the card you will be upgraded to Gold status in Marriott Bonvoy.  You can see the full list of Marriott Bonvoy Gold benefits here.

The 2pm late check-out is guaranteed except at resort and conference centre hotels.  This is the main benefit – the only other things offered will be an ‘enhanced’ room (in the category you booked) and 25% bonus points.

If you are looking for Marriott Bonvoy Gold status, you should remember that you can also get Marriott Gold for free with American Express Platinum just for holding the card.

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card has a representative APR of 41.7% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

IHG Rewards Club Mastercard and IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard  (free and £99 respectively, click here and here for reviews)

Key brands covered:  Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza, EVEN, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, HUALUXE, Indigo, InterContinental, Kimpton, Staybridge Suites

Sign-up bonus:  10,000 IHG points, which I would value at £40+, on the free card and 20,000 IHG points, which I would value at £80+, on the Premium card

The free IHG Rewards Club Mastercard gives you Gold status in IHG Rewards Club, the Holiday Inn / Crowne Plaza / InterContinental loyalty programme. This is not worth much, frankly, but hotels in Europe do give you a welcome drink or some points as a welcome gift.

The £99 Premium version of the card gives you IHG Rewards Club Platinum status.  The guaranteed benefits are slim, apart from a 50% bonus on base points, but a lot of hotels do offer decent upgrades at this level, especially from the Crowne Plaza brand.  You will also receive bonus points at check-in or a free drink and snack on stays in Europe.

It is worth noting that the £99 Premium card also gives you a free night – in any IHG hotel – when you spend £10,000 in your card year.  This benefit repeats every year.  If you would not have a problem putting £10,000 through this Mastercard then the annual £99 fee is £99 well spent if you are getting Platinum status and a free night.

It is also possible to get IHG’s top-tier status, Spire Elite, via their credit card.  You need to be a big spender, however.  This is because the IHG Rewards Club points you earn from the credit card count towards elite status – something only IHG offers to its credit card customers.  As Spire Elite requires you to earn 75,000 base points annually, you can achieve this with £75,000 of spending on the free IHG credit card (1 point per £1) or £37,500 of spending on the Premium card (2 points per £1).

Unfortunately, Spire Elite status also has very little in the way of guaranteed benefits.  (IHG Rewards Club is not the programme for you if guaranteed benefits are important.)  Many Crowne Plaza hotels are now offering club lounge upgrades to Spire Elite members which is the key reason for having it.

You can see the full benefits of Gold Elite, Platinum Elite and Spire Elite status in IHG Rewards Club on this page of the IHG website.

The representative APR on the IHG Rewards Club Mastercard is 18.9% variable.  The representative on the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard is APR 41.5% variable including the £99 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

American Express Platinum (£450, click here for review)

This is the most complex and most debatable card here.

The Platinum card comes with a £450 annual fee.  Because you can get a very generous 30,000 Membership Rewards points sign-up bonus (converts into 30,000 Avios or 30,000 Virgin Flying Club miles amongst other things) it may be worth giving the card a try to see if it works for you.

Note that, if you later cancel your Platinum card and get a fee refund, you will retain the hotel status cards until they naturally expire at the end of the year.  The definition of ‘year’ varies by programme – all Hilton status cards run until March, for example.

Our full Amex Platinum review covers the full list of card benefits.  I just want to focus here on the hotel status cards offered:

Marriot Bonvoy (Sheraton, Renaissance, Moxy, Westin, W etc) hotels Gold status

Hilton Honors (Hilton, Conrad, DoubleTree, Waldorf Astoria, Hampton) Gold status

Melia Rewards (Melia, INNSIDE, Tryp, ME) Gold status

Shangri-La Golden Circle (Shangri-La, Traders) Jade status, which allows you to instantly match yourself to Taj InnerCircle Gold status

Radisson Rewards (Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn) Gold status

We have looked at the benefits of Marriott Bonvoy Gold status already.  This is what the other Amex Platinum hotel cards get you:

Hilton Honors Gold offers you:

  • free breakfast (this is the best perk of any card on the list)
  • an upgrade to a ‘preferred’ room (may be a better view rather than a bigger room)
  • 80% bonus points
  • no resort fees on reward nights
  • late check-out if available

The inclusion of free breakfast as a Hilton Gold benefit makes it, for most people, the most attractive mid-tier hotel status.

Melia Rewards Gold offers the following benefits:

  • 30% bonus points
  • free breakfast for a companion (so basically 2-4-1)
  • free wi-fi
  • 3 x 20% off vouchers for room bookings
  • 4pm late check-out at city hotels, 2pm at resorts

Late check-out IS guaranteed as long as the hotel is not 100% full.  You will also receive free wi-fi.  There is no upgrade benefit.

Shangri-La Golden Circle Jade status will get you:

  • 25% bonus base points
  • “Priority upgrade to the next available best room category, if the reserved room type is not available at check-in” (I have no idea what this is meant to mean – it appears to mean you are guaranteed not to be downgraded!)
  • 11am check-in and 4pm check-out (not guaranteed, and many hotels including London and Paris do not offer it at all)
  • choice of welcome amenity
  • free breakfast
  • partner stays free, in hotels which charge more for double occupancy

This could work out well for anyone planning to travel in Asia.  The 4pm check-out, if ‘available’ and as long as your hotel is not on the excluded list, is handy.  All you are guaranteed is the free breakfast and a welcome amenity but overall I think you could do quite well from the benefits above if your hotel was playing ball.

Radisson Rewards Gold status will get you:

  • 20% off food and drink
  • room upgrade “when available”
  • 35% bonus on base points
  • early check-in and late check-out “on request”
  • welcome gift

Nothing is guaranteed – there is no free breakfast.  However, in my experience, you can do well as a Radisson Rewards Gold.  Whilst Gold is not technically their top tier, hotels take it more seriously than they take, say, Hilton Honors Gold.

You can match your Shangri-La Golden Circle Jade status to Taj InnerCircle Gold status via this websiteTaj InnerCircle Gold status is not hugely valuable.  The benefits are

  • late Check Out
  • early Check In
  • two Upgrade Vouchers
  • 15% discount on room redemption rate

Conclusion

It is very easy to add a couple of hotel elite status cards to your wallet purely by applying for the right payment cards and, where necessary, putting a certain level of spend through them.

The most valuable is probably the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard.  You are effectively paying £99 to buy yourself mid-tier Platinum status at Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo etc properties, as well as getting yourself a free night each year if you can spend £10,000.

For bigger spenders, especially heavy travellers, American Express Platinum is worth a look. The generous sign-up bonus (30,000 Amex points is worth 30,000 Avios or other airline miles when transferred), airport lounge access via Priority Pass and the free hotel status cards mean that you don’t have much to lose by giving it a try.

PS.  Whilst it isn’t a credit card benefit, you can get Gold status in Le Club AccorHotels by signing up to the ibis Business Card for £65 (£119 for two years).

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history.  By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker.  Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

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Comments

  1. Victor says:

    I find maintaining hotel status whilst churning Amex Plat to be troublesome.

    I usually find I have to let my status get downgraded before I can ‘re-apply’ for status with a new Plat account.

    Am I doing something wrong?

    • Louise says:

      My Starwood – now Marriot and Jade status seems to have stayed fine with Amex Plat churns, just the Club Carlson (Radisson) that lapsed for me

    • It depends on partner. Sometimes, some years, some of them fall away and need reapplying. Sometimes they don’t. There seems no logic behind it to be honest.

  2. Dave Barron says:

    I currently have Hilton Gold status which will expire March 2020. Im imminently going to upgrade to Platinum Amex from PRGC (charge card) and will also qualify for Hilton Gold via that. More than likely I will then be cancelling the Platinum Amex after 2 or 3 months. Via Amex when would my Hilton Gold status expire? Would it simply run to March 2020 matching what I already have or would it extend this date into the following year??? Thanks in advance.

    • I have a very similar question, so any insight into this would be appreciated.

      Currently planning on applying for an Amex Plat in August this year (we’ve done a spreadsheet of what we’re applying for when so that we can run the numbers and fees!). This would give me Hilton Gold status. Would it only run until March 2020, or would it be March 2021? It’s a little unclear from various things I’ve read.

    • It’s best to contact Hilton via their online help form and they will email you confirming the expiry date. You then have something in writing should anything go wrong.

      • This is good advice, but not foolproof. I have a Diamond Card to Mar’19 and a Hilton e-mail confirming Diamond to Mar’20. Despite this Honors IT says I’m Silver and my evidence supplied to the contary has moved nothing in six weeks.
        The waves from Honors’ IT issues are still impacting the program and support.
        This article very timely as I assess alternative Hotel programs 🙂

  3. oscarchase says:

    “If you want fast-track airline status, you’re out of luck. There are no credit cards or other schemes which offer instant airline status.”

    Unless you happen to have access to French cards like the Iberia Premium card that offers Silver status (Oneworld ruby) as a standard perk. 🙂

  4. Scottydogg says:

    If you book a Marriott stay (on Points) whilst you have no status , and then take out a Amex Platinum , upgrade to Gold , does this still work ?
    Or is it registerd as ‘no status’ because you had no status when you booked ?

    Also ,can the hotel staff see that you have no stays to get that gold status, as appose to earning it the proper way . I always feel that hotel stay would not be as kind to someone who has just taken out the right credit card to get the status ?

    • You’ll get the benefits on the stay.

      Hotel staff can see your points and I think your stays in the year to date. I don’t think they see how you got the status.

    • Hilton don’t seem to treat you any differently according to how you earned your status – so very good in the UK and Europe and pretty much “meh” in the US!

  5. Scottydogg says:

    Will Marriott Status Match from IHG Platinum ? has anyone tried this or know how to go about it ?

  6. I paid for Intercontinental Ambassador, and on some places of IHG’s website it shows that I am “Platinum Elite” and others it says “Platinum Ambassador”. Will IHG fully recognise my Platinum status? I know that Intercontinental don’t recognise IHG status unless you have pair for Intercontinental, but don’t know if this issue works both ways.

    Trying to determine whether it is worth taking out the paid version of the IHG card, or whether to continue putting all my MasterCard spend through my Virgin+ card.

    • There will be no problem regarding this. These are essentially same things.

  7. Qwerty Bertie says:

    Rob, you said no credit card scheme that allows fast track airline status, but don’t forget the plat — Shangri-la — Krisflyer instant silver with fast track gold option. (It is a one-time route though, and you then have to earn/naturally maintain it in successive years.)

    Speaking of the above though, which I’ve been contemplating/waiting for the right time to strike ever since I got the plat card, has anybody on here actually successfully done it? I’ve only seen one report on here, and it was somebody who was struggling with it being recognised by Krisflyer…

    • I achieved it when SQ had flights from Manchester to Munich. It’s a little harder now unless you are travelling to Asia as the target was 3 sectors I believe. I got several upgrades once I achieved that status as well but this was 3/4 years ago

    • Dwadda says:

      I did the flights to get gold and they never recognized even Silver. I gave up arguing with the SQ call centre who had never heard of the link with Shangri La. Dont rely on this.

    • Mixed luck here but all sorted in the end – I got the silver status very easily after getting SL Jade and filling in the online GC form to link up my SQ account. My wife with a supplementary plat got caught in their IT and it took several calls and manual intervention to sort it out. We both had a silver SK card in the post shortly afterwards. Took 2 flights and received extra miles for status bonus. Unfortunately couldn’t get a third in so no experience getting gold!

      • Chabuddy geezy says:

        I took the 3 flights in January. My girlfriend got upgraded to gold instantly but krisflyer have told me my account may take up to 8 weeks to upgrade. This seems pretty standard if you read the flyertalk thread. I would contact krisflyer using the online form rather than the call centre if you have any issues regarding this as they seek more knowledgeable.

  8. Chris says:

    Sort of OT: Amex Plat Medical Insurance.
    My wife is having a minor op a couple of weeks before travel soon, for a condition (hernia) diagnosed AFTER she applied for and received her Amex Plat card. Is she covered or is this pre-existing?
    The T’s & C’s are slightly ambiguous as they state:

    “Pre-existing Medical Condition(s)” means any past or current
    Medical Condition that, during the 2 years prior to You applying
    for Your Card and any Cards on Your Account, or prior to any Trip
    (whichever is the most recent)….”

    It’s the last bit that confuses me, and seems different to other travel insurances.

  9. Barry M says:

    I used my IHG Platinum status (received thorough my IHG Rewards Club Premium Card) to status match to Diamond with Hilton. This was for a limited period (I think 3 months) but came with an extension of a full year if I stayed 8 times within that period.

  10. I’ve just applied for Amex Platinum charge card. Still awaiting its arrival in the post but can anyone confirm how I upgrade my existing (entry level) Hilton status to gold? Do I need to apply and if so is this done via Hilton or Amex or do Amex share data with Hilton and it happens automatically?

    I have a Hilton stay next week and am hoping to have the gold status by then!

    Thanks in advance

  11. Chrisasaurus says:

    You fill out a form on the Amex site when you’re all set up, very esay to do

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