Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel contests, tips, series, or news.
Today (August 11, 2017): Travel Tip: How to get VIP hotel benefits without loyalty elite status?
Starwood’s SPG, World of Hyatt, Marriott Rewards, Jumeirah Sirius, InterContinental’s IHG Rewards Club and Hilton Honors represent some of the few loyalty programs in the world that are managed by hotel chains with true luxury properties in their portfolio. Their members earn points towards free hotel nights and those with elite status are awarded for their loyalty with free VIP hotel perks, such as an upgrade, breakfast, and flexible check-in and check-out time. However, elite status often requires very high, sometimes insane thresholds of tens of hotels nights per year, which is difficult to reach when you are not a business traveler. To my own surprise, during a vacation in Hawaii, I learned that it is also possible to get those same VIP perks (and even some valuable extras such as spa and food credits) at some of the world’s best hotels without having elite status with a loyalty program and while still earning hotel points towards elite status and free nights.
A few weeks ago, I stayed at some of Starwood’s and Hyatt’s top properties in Hawaii, such as the Royal Hawaiian, the Andaz Maui, the Grand Hyatt Kauai, and the St Regis Kauai (I will publish my reviews in autumn). These properties were my first choice because they rank among the very best in Hawaii, although I did not expect to be treated particularly well, since I don’t hold any elite status anymore with Hyatt or Starwood’s loyalty schemes. For your information, I used to be a top-tier Starwood Platinum member and a Hyatt Diamond member for years, but I felt that loyalty was dictating my travel plans instead of the other way around and that I was missing out so much, so I decided to explore the world beyond these otherwise excellent hotel brands, and accepted the loss of my elite status last year, albeit not without any regret since I did enjoy the elite benefits. However, I was utmost surprised that I received at Starwood’s and Hyatt’s Hawaiian properties amenities and service that far exceeded the ones I received as a loyalty elite member two years ago when I visited the archipelago for the very first time. To give you an idea:
- At the Royal Hawaiian, part of Starwood’s The Luxury Collection brand, I had booked the lowest room category, but I got the highest suite category upon check-in, in addition to full buffet and à la carte breakfast, early check-in (10 am), late check-out (3 pm) and $100 USD food beverage to be used in the hotel’s restaurant. In comparison: my friend who accompanied me on this trip and who holds SPG Platinum status only received an upgrade to a room on a higher floor (with nicer view) and a complimentary continental breakfast.
- At the Andaz Maui, part of the Hyatt hotel group, I had – again – booked the lowest room category, but was given an extremely nice corner suite for the duration of my stay (although no suite availability was shown on the Andaz website the day before I checked in), in addition to full buffet breakfast, early check-in (1 pm), late check-out (8 pm) and $100 spa credit. In comparison: I stayed at this resort two years ago as a Hyatt Diamond member but I did not get a suite upgrade (although suites were available online at that time, to my disappointment) and I dit not get any spa credit.
After completing my stays at these properties, I was also awarded with the regular Starwood and World of Hyatt points for these bookings. So how did I get VIP amenities without having elite status and while still earning hotel points and credits toward free nights and loyalty status?
The answer is simple: I booked through Virtuoso. I have recently published an article why Virtuoso is the best way to book luxury hotels, but I now share with you some additional information regarding Virtuoso bookings of luxury hotels that are part of the big hotel chains with loyalty schemes. Booking those properties via Virtuoso will not only earn you hotel points and credits towards free nights and elite status (as would be the case when you book them via the official hotel website), but also gets you free VIP hotel benefits that you would not receive as a non-elite member when booking via the hotel website and that often exceed those you would get as a top-tier elite member. For that reason, you’re leaving money on the table if you book a paid stay at the best available rate (BAR) via the official hotel website and not via Virtuoso.
What is Virtuoso?
Virtuoso is not your classic hotel booking engine website. It’s the industry’s leading network of luxury travel advisors, spanning over 26 countries and 9,000 travel advisors. They are the best travel agents in the world.
How to make a booking via Virtuoso?
When you book your holiday with Virtuoso, most of the time, you will be in touch with a Virtuoso travel agent and not make the booking online yourself. There are some Virtuoso travel agencies though that offer an online booking tool, such as Classic Travel, which has an excellent website and is my overall preferred Virtuoso travel agency.
How do I know if a hotel is a member of Virtuoso?
You can easily check if a hotel is a member of Virtuoso on the Virtuoso website. When it comes to luxury hotels that are part of a hotel chain with a loyalty schedule, Virtuoso includes most St Regis, Park Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, and Jumeirah hotels in addition to a few The Luxury Collection, Grand Hyatt, JW Marriott, and W hotels.
Do bookings made via Virtuoso earn hotel points and elite status?
The answer is an absolute YES: all reservations made via Virtuoso will earn you hotel points towards free nights and credits towards elite status with your preferred loyalty programs. If you have elite status, you will also enjoy elite benefits in addition to Virtuoso benefits, although in almost cases the Virtuoso benefits far exceed those of the loyalty scheme.
Why make a booking via Virtuoso and not via the official hotel website?
The answer is very simple: because booking via Virtuoso will get you VIP benefits that mostly exceed those that you would get when booking via the hotel website, even in case you hold elite status with a hotel’s loyalty scheme. These benefits include:
- Upgrade (including suites, as I experienced myself)
- Daily full breakfast for 2 people (instead of the continental breakfast you get as a loyalty elite member)
- Early check-in and late check-out
- Resort, spa, shopping, or food credit, mostly around $100 USD per stay (something you will never get when booking directly via the hotel website).
For that reason, once again, you’re leaving money on the table if you book a paid stay at a hotel that is a Virtuoso member via the hotel website and not via Virtuoso, because you can’t receive Virtuoso benefits by booking directly with the hotel.
Do all rates qualify for Virtuoso benefits?
In most cases, the Virtuoso rate is identical to the Best Available Rate (BAR) found on the hotel website, which is a flexible rate that can be cancelled without penalty. Early booking discount rates, special promotional packages, corporate rates, group rates, and other discounted rates do not qualify for Virtuoso benefits.
Do I Need to have elite status to enjoy Virtuoso benefits?
No: anyone who books with via Virtuoso can enjoy complimentary VIP benefits, such as upgrades, breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and a resort, food, dining or spa credit.
Don’t elite members already receive all the Virtuoso benefits?
No: while top-tier elites typically receive upgrades and complimentary breakfast, they do not receive the hotel or resort credit that comes with Virtuoso bookings, or some of the other property-specific benefits (such as full breakfast buffet instead of continental buffet).
Does It cost anything to book via Virtuoso?
No: it will cost you the same as booking the best available rate (BAR) directly on the hotel website. All hotel bookings need to be secured with a credit card though and sometimes a deposit is required.
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You can also enjoy VIP status booking through Visa Infinite’s luxury hotels and Chase’s luxury hotels websites. For example, at your Andaz property the following is available:
$75 USD dining credit (not available for Morimoto)
$25 USD food or beverage credit (not available for Morimoto)
Complimentary buffet breakfast daily
Best available rate guarantee
Automatic room upgrade upon arrival, when available
Complimentary in-room Wi-Fi, when available
VIP Guest status
3PM check-out upon request, when available