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.
This article was updated on 19th October 2020, and all of the information is correct as of that date. Ignore the original publication date shown.
There is no easy route to airline 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, history shows that 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 for this. This year, you only need 450 tier points for British Airways Executive Club Silver status – although you still need to fly four BA segments to be promoted – so you are sorted. You get a great holiday out of it and you get to try the best business class product out there.
Free hotel status is a lot easier to get
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. British Airways gives Silver and Gold members free seat selection, and a Gold can access better lounges, but that’s about it.
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:
Marriott Bonvoy American Express:
Sign-up bonus and earnings rate:
- Get 20,000 Marriott Bonvoy points when you spend £3,000 within 90 days
- Earn 2 Marriott Bonvoy points per £1 spent
- Earn 6 points per £1 spent at Marriott hotels
- Points convert at 3:1 into Avios or other airline miles
- 15 elite night credits per year which gets Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status
- Free night, up to 25,000 points, when you spend £25,000 per year.
- Upgrade to Gold Elite status when you spend £15,000 in a card year
- Annual fee: £75
Representative 38.8% APR variable based on a notional £1,200 credit limit and £75 annual fee. Interest rate on purchases 22.2% APR variable.
You will receive 20,000 points as a sign-up bonus on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card if you spend £3,000 within 90 days of signing up.
To qualify for the bonus, you must NOT, currently or in the previous 24 months, have held any other personal American Express card.
You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s American Express account.
You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held a Business American Express card.
For clarity, you can still apply for the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card even if you do not qualify for the bonus. You would still benefit from the 15 elite night credits per year, the free night (up to 25,000 points) for spending £25,000 and Gold Elite status for spending £15,000.
You will receive 15 elite night credits per year in Marriott Bonvoy. The first batch will arrive within 60 days on applying and then in Spring in each subsequent year.
15 elite nights will automatically get you Silver Elite status in Marriott Bonvoy and put you nearer to Gold Elite and higher tiers.
If you spend £15,000 per card year, you will be upgraded to Gold Elite status in Marriott Bonvoy.
If you spend £25,000 per card year, you will receive a free night voucher, valid at any hotel where reward nights cost up to 25,000 points.
Marriott Bonvoy covers 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.
Marriott Bonvoy gives you 15 elite status nights each year when you hold the American Express card. This is enough to give you Silver Elite status and also puts you nearer to Gold Elite.
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.
If you spend £15,000 per year on the card you will be upgraded to Gold Elite 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.
IHG Rewards Club Mastercard:
Sign-up bonus and earnings rate:
- Get 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points when you spend £200 within 90 days
- Earn 1 IHG Rewards Club point per £1 spent
- Points convert at 5:1 into Avios or other airline miles
- Receive Gold Elite status in IHG Rewards Club
- Points from spend count towards elite status
- Annual fee: Free
Representative 22.9% APR variable
You receive 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points as a sign-up bonus when you spend £200 within 90 days.
There are no restrictions on receiving the bonus if you have previously held this card or the (no longer available) IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard.
All IHG Rewards Club cardholders receive Gold Elite status in IHG Rewards Club for as long as they hold the card.
This is the only UK travel card where the points you earn from spending count towards elite status. The 10,000 points you receive as a sign-up bonus do not count towards elite status, however.
IHG Rewards Club covers Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza, EVEN, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, HUALUXE, Indigo, InterContinental, Kimpton, Regent, Six Senses and Staybridge Suites.
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.
It is also possible to get IHG’s top-tier statuses, Platinum Elite and Spire Elite, via the 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. No other UK hotel credit card lets the points you earn from card spend count towards status.
As Spire Elite requires you to earn 75,000 base points annually, you can achieve this with £75,000 of spending on the IHG credit card at 1 point per £1.
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 Platinum Card from American Express:
Sign-up bonus and earnings rate:
- Get 30,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend £4,000 within 90 days
- Earn 1 Membership Rewards point per £1 spent
- Points transfer at 1:1 into Avios, Virgin and other airline schemes
- Two Priority Pass cards, each allowing two people into 1,300 airport lounges
- Elite status in five major hotel loyalty programmes
- Comprehensive travel insurance
- Annual fee: £575
This is a charge card, not a credit card. You must clear your balance in full each month. Annual fee £575.
You will receive 30,000 American Express Membership Rewards points as a sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card if you spend £4,000 within 90 days of signing up.
Membership Rewards points are hugely flexible. You can transfer them into Avios, Virgin Flying Club or other airlines (at 1:1) or into various hotels schemes, into Club Eurostar or use them for shopping vouchers.
To qualify for the bonus, you must NOT, currently or in the previous 24 months, have held any other personal American Express card which earns Membership Rewards points. This includes The Platinum Card and Preferred Rewards Gold.
You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s American Express account.
You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held any other American Express card, including the British Airways, Marriott and Nectar cards. Holding a British Airways American Express card does not disqualify from the Platinum bonus.
If you cancel The Platinum Card at any point, you will receive a pro-rata refund of your membership fee. You will not lose your sign-up bonus.
For clarity, you can still apply for The Platinum Card even if you do not qualify for the bonus. You would still benefit from the long list of other benefits.
The Platinum Card from American Express comes with an unrivalled list of benefits for the keen traveller.
Your personal travel patterns will determine which of these is the most valuable. The key benefits are:
Full comprehensive travel insurance for you, your family and the family of up to five supplementary cardholders, subject to enrolment
Two Priority Pass cards, each of which allows the holder and a guest unlimited free access to 1,300 airport lounges
Elite status in five major hotel loyalty schemes: Marriott Bonvoy (Gold Elite), Hilton Honors (Gold), Radisson Rewards (Gold Elite), Shangri-La Golden Circle (Jade), MeliaRewards (Gold)
Access to Eurostar lounges, irrespective of travel class
£10 per month of Addison Lee taxi credit
This is the most complex and most debatable card here.
The Platinum card comes with a £575 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 comprehensive 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 Elite status
Hilton Honors (Hilton, Conrad, DoubleTree, Waldorf Astoria, Hampton) Gold status
MeliaRewards (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 Elite 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.
MeliaRewards 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 website. Taj 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
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.
For bigger spenders, especially heavy travellers, American Express Platinum is well 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.
You can learn more about the cards mentioned above in our reviews:
Marriott Bonvoy American Express
20,000 points sign-up bonus and 15 elite night credits Read our full review
IHG Rewards Club Mastercard
Free, and comes with free IHG Rewards Club Gold Elite status Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review
PS. Whilst it isn’t a credit card benefit, you can get Gold status in Accor Live Limitless by signing up to the ibis Business Card for £65 (£119 for two years).
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.