The start of a new calendar year means it's time to hit the reset button on elite-status qualification with hotel loyalty programs. That means now is the time to formulate your travel strategy to rack up the necessary hotel stays to qualify for the elite-status level you want.
Perks could include late check-out, free room upgrades, better Wi-Fi or free breakfast.
To earn those perks, travelers usually need to stay a prescribed number of nights or number of times at a hotel group's properties within a calendar year.
Under plans' rules, a night is easy to define: It's a night. But a stay is one check-in and one checkout, so a stay can be for any number of nights.
Paid rates are usually the ones that count toward elite status, but some chains, such as Starwood, also count award stays — that is, those you book using the points you have acquires — toward elite status.
Just as frequent-flier plans have changed, so have many of the travel loyalty programs for major hotel chains. Here are developments to look for and how they might affect your loyalty strategy.
Marriott and Starwood: Marriott and Starwood have merged to form the world's new largest hotel group with 30 brands under this umbrella.
Although the two chains have worked to align their loyalty programs, they remain distinct for now.
Members can transfer points between their accounts with each program at a ratio of one Starpoint to three Marriott Rewards points.
For 2017, rather than being able to combine all the nights you stay at Starwood and Marriott properties to qualify for a higher elite level, travelers must qualify separately for each elite-status program.
If you do qualify for elite status with one program, the other will match it to a corresponding tier in its own program.
Hyatt: Beginning March 1, Hyatt is rebranding its Gold Passport points program as World of Hyatt.
Major changes here include the introduction of three elite tiers instead of the current two and interesting perks such as a free night at many but not all properties.
Hyatt members used to be able qualify for status based on either the number of paid nights or stays completed in a calendar year as well as stays paid with a mix of cash and points.
Going forward, members will qualify for status based only on the number of elite-qualifying nights they complete or the number of elite-qualifying base points they earn during a calendar year. Members of all elite levels earn five elite-qualifying base points per dollar spent on eligible charges such as room rates, spa charges and more.
In 2016 you could have earned platinum status after five eligible stays or 15 eligible nights.
To earn corresponding status (to be called Discoverist) in 2017, you must stay at least 10 qualifying nights or earn 25,000 base points.
Travelers who used to qualify on several short, inexpensive stays will have to change their strategy.
Fairmont is retaining its President's Club loyalty program, which does not have a points system but rewards travelers with benefits such as free nights, upgrades and on-property credits based on the number of stays they complete.
The separate Le Club AccorHotels loyalty program implemented changes as well, including reducing the number of status points needed for qualification for each tier.
Members now earn 10 to 25 status points per 10 euros ($10.40) spent with Accor. Silver status now requires earning 2,000 status points or staying 10 qualifying nights.
Gold requires earning 7,000 status points or staying 30 nights, and Platinum requires 14,000 status points or 60 nights.
Qualifying activity is now also based on the calendar year rather than a rolling 12-month period.
Credit card spending: Even if you do not plan to stay enough to earn elite status, just carrying a hotel-branded credit card can get you at least one level of elite status.
Others let you spend your way to top-tier status. Those with Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card, for example, earn Diamond status when they spend $40,000 on it in a calendar year.
Although many of these changes seem gradual, they represent a shift toward spending as the focus of elite qualification for hotels.
Thus, any successful strategy should take into account your spending habits and projections for the year as well as your travel plans.