MORE PERKS FOR YOU

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY CLAIRE TSOSIE

Ho­tel ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing elite sta­tus in loy­alty pro­grams, are be­com­ing more com­mon with the right credit cards.

Ho­tel loy­alty ben­e­fits – such as ac­cess to room up­grades, late check­out and other ameni­ties – aren’t re­served only for the most faith­ful, high­est­spend­ing cus­tomers any­more. With the right credit card, you can get them, too.

That’s be­cause au­to­matic elite sta­tus in ho­tel loy­alty pro­grams is an in­creas­ingly com­mon fea­ture on credit cards as­so­ci­ated with these pro­grams. Now, some cards – such as the Star­wood Pre­ferred Guest Lux­ury Card and Hil­ton Honors Amer­i­can Ex­press Aspire card, which both carry an­nual fees of $450 – even give card­hold­ers ac­cess to the up­per ech­e­lons of elite sta­tus.

“The sta­tus does make a dif­fer­ence” for con­sumers, says John Grund, manag­ing direc­tor at Ac­cen­ture Pay­ments, a firm that pro­vides con­sult­ing ser­vices for banks and pay­ment providers. “(It has) high as­pi­ra­tional value and could cer­tainly be a de­cid­ing fac­tor” on whether to get a card.

It’s not the most pre­dictable credit card ben­e­fit; perks can vary based on avail­abil­ity. But if you travel enough, get­ting a ho­tel card with au­to­matic elite sta­tus can be a clever short­cut to more pleas­ant stays. Room up­grades: Joe Hege­dus of Or­lando, Flor­ida, isn’t par­tic­u­larly loyal to any one ho­tel brand – but his co-branded ho­tel cards still help him get room up­grades. Once, while spend­ing one night at a ho­tel in Fort Pierce, Flor­ida, with his wife, Sharon, he says he was up­graded to a three-room suite for no ex­tra charge af­ter check­ing in.

At the front desk, “they were like, ‘Oh, you’re a Plat­inum mem­ber? Thank you so much. We went ahead and up­graded you to one of our suites on the top floor,’ ” says Hege­dus, who works as a phar­ma­cist and co-founded the award travel blog Your Mileage May Vary.

Po­ten­tial room up­grades are com­mon as a midtier ho­tel elite sta­tus ben­e­fit. They aren’t a sure thing, Hege­dus notes; they de­pend on avail­abil­ity. Land­ing a ma­jor up­grade is also rare. But if the ho­tel has plenty of open rooms, you have a bet­ter chance. Flex­i­ble check-in and check­out: For weary trav­el­ers, the op­tion to check in early or check out late can be a huge re­lief. And of­ten, the elite sta­tus that comes with ho­tel cards makes this pos­si­ble.

This perk also de­pends on avail­abil­ity, Hege­dus notes. But he es­ti­mates he’s re­ceived early checkin more than half the times he’s re­quested it. Other ameni­ties and ben­e­fits: The ho­tel elite sta­tus that comes with your card might not make your trip sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper, but it can make it more com­fort­able. Some ho­tel chains, such as Hy­att and In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tels Group, prom­ise elite mem­bers a ded­i­cated check-in area or phone line. Oth­ers of­fer a free break­fast to those with sta­tus.

There’s also the po­ten­tial to rack up free ho­tel nights faster. With elite sta­tus, you gen­er­ally earn a bonus of 10% to 100% on any points earned through the ho­tel for your stay, de­pend­ing on your sta­tus and the pro­gram. Com­bined with the points you’re al­ready earn­ing on your ho­tel credit card, that could help you cover a va­ca­tion with your re­wards a lot sooner.

What about the an­nual fee?: With ho­tel cards, higher an­nual fees trans­late to more perks. But how much value you get from those perks de­pends on your travel habits. The good news: You have op­tions.

“What I would call the lad­der­ing of ben­e­fits (on ho­tel cards) has be­come more so­phis­ti­cated, more re­fined and cer­tainly tied in with an ex­panded port­fo­lio of credit card of­fer­ings,” says Grund of Ac­cen­ture Pay­ments, not­ing that sev­eral ho­tel brands have re­cently up­dated of­fers or de­buted new cards. Nowa­days, you can find ho­tel cards with an­nual fees of $0, $95 or $450, and ben­e­fits that run the gamut from free an­niver­sary nights each year to air­port lounge ac­cess.

TED S. WAR­REN AP

Em­bassy Suites by Hil­ton in Seat­tle’s Pi­o­neer Square neigh­bor­hood. Some cards, such as the Star­wood Pre­ferred Guest Lux­ury Card and Hil­ton Honors Amer­i­can Ex­press Aspire card, which both carry an­nual fees of $450, give card­hold­ers ac­cess to the up­per ech­e­lons of elite sta­tus.

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