While it may not be the first major global hotel chain that you think of, Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) is in fact the world’s largest alliance of independent hotel brands.
Founded in 2004 with only four hotel chains, GHA now encompasses 38 brands and a global reach of over 800 hotels, with a focus on the luxury market.
GHA Discovery is the unified loyalty program for all hotel brands under the GHA umbrella. The program doesn’t receive as much coverage as other major programs, such as Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors, but it can also much easier to attain top-level status and start enjoying some benefits with GHA Discovery.
Let’s take a look at the GHA Discovery loyalty program, including the benefits, the status tiers, and most importantly, the best and quickest ways to elevate to their highest status.
What Is GHA and GHA Discovery?
GHA is a group of independent hotel brands that all belong to the same alliance. For simplicity, you can think of it as being similar to an airline alliance.
In the same way that Air Canada operates independently from United Airlines, but both are a part of Star Alliance, a hotel chain like Kempinski is separate from NH Hotels, but they are both a part of the GHA.
The 38 brands encompass some of the world’s finest luxury hotel groups that aren’t affiliated with the biggest chains, such as Anantara, Capella, The Leela, NH Hotels, The Sukhothai, and Viceroy.
GHA’s loyalty program is called GHA Discovery, but the independent hotel chains that make up GHA have added their own branding to the loyalty program. Whereas the whole program is referred to as GHA Discovery, Kempinski refers to its program as “Kempinski Discovery”, NH Hotels calls its program “NH Discovery”, and so on and so forth.
While this may be confusing, they’re all the same GHA Discovery program, with the same status requirements and elite benefits.
Historically, we haven’t paid much attention to GHA and its loyalty program, and for good reason.
There are only four GHA hotels in Canada, and all belong to Pan Pacific. Furthermore, the loyalty program wasn’t really worth paying any attention to until recently.
In the past year, GHA has revamped their loyalty program, and the redesign has made it more compelling if you tend to stay at GHA Hotels, and at least worth knowing about if you don’t.
There are currently over 800 hotels that fall under the alliance’s umbrella. You can view 745 of them when you search online, while the rest may be viewed on the independent hotel brand websites.
Over half of the hotels are found in Europe (350) and Asia (146), with the rest spread across Oceania (69), Africa (56), the Middle East (50), South America (36), and North America (33). The Caribbean currently has a small footprint, with only five hotels.
Not all hotels that are a part of the alliance are bookable on the GHA Discovery website. In fact, most of them may only be booked by going to the specific hotel’s website; however, it looks like this will change as GHA continues to update their website.
Participating GHA hotel brands change from time to time. For example, Alila Hotels and Resorts left GHA and joined World of Hyatt in 2019.
How Does the GHA Discovery Loyalty Program Work?
While the GHA Discovery program shares common traits with other loyalty programs, one noticeable difference is how it structures the reward system.
Members earn between 4–7% in Discovery Dollars (D$) per $1 (USD) spent on stays and other incidental purchases at the hotels. D$ can be earned on a maximum of two rooms under the member’s name for the same night.
One D$ is worth one US dollar, and can be redeemed at checkout towards future stays, room upgrades, late checkout, experiences, or other hotel purchases, such as dining or spa treatments. You must redeem at least D$10 in a single transaction, and then in increments of D$1.
After you’ve earned Discovery Dollars, you’ll only have a certain amount of time to use them before they expire, which depends on your status level.
With Discovery Dollars, the GHA Discovery program is more closely comparable to WestJet Dollars under the WestJet Rewards program. It’s much different than Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors, which both run as points-based loyalty programs.
GHA Discovery frequently runs D$ earning promotions. One such example is the recent double D$ promotion, which allowed members to earn up to 14% back in D$.
GHA Discovery also offers “Local Experiences”, which are similar to Marriott Bonvoy Moments. Local Experiences include a variety of excursions, day trips, and cultural experiences, and can be booked with cash or with Discovery Dollars.
GHA Discovery Status & Benefits
While different in many respects, the GHA Discovery program is similar to other popular hotel loyalty programs in that there are tiers of elite status given to members who meet certain criteria.
There are four tiers of GHA Discovery elite status: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Titanium.
GHA Discovery Silver
GHA markets the loyalty program as one that unlocks rewards from day one. While this may be the case, there aren’t any unique benefits provided at the base Silver tier that you wouldn’t find in entry-level elite status tiers with other hotel loyalty programs.
Members earn Silver status automatically upon registering for an account. With Silver status, you are entitled to the following benefits:
- Earn 4% back in D$ per $1 (USD) spent
- Redeem D$ on future stays or expenses
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- Exclusive member-only offers
- Local offers
- Member rates at participating hotels
- Access to member-only experiences
Earning 4% back in D$ is the main feature of the membership program; however, at the Silver tier, the D$ in your account expire after six months, making it significantly less valuable.
By far the best perk at the Silver tier seems to be the member rates. The member rate is generally advertised as being at least 10% off the regular rate; however, some Canadian Pan Pacific hotels can be booked for up to 75% cheaper than GHA’s advertised rate.
Indeed, the member rate is often the cheapest publicly-available rate, even when compared to third-party booking systems.
While member rates can mean a lot of money saved, not all GHA brands offer discounted member rates for all of their hotels or for all dates.
GHA Discovery Gold
The next level up is the Gold tier. Gold status is earned upon either completing two separate stays or by spending at least $1,000 (USD) in net eligible spend in a calendar year.
With Gold status, you receive the exact same benefits as a Silver member, but you’ll earn 5% in D$ per $1 (USD), and the D$ have a validity period of 18 months.
Further extending the expiration of Discovery Dollars by a year is a reasonable perk, but there isn’t much else to mention here.
GHA Discovery Platinum
The third-highest status, Platinum, is earned after completing one of three requirements:
- Stay at least 10 eligible nights at GHA hotels
- Stay at two separate GHA hotel brands
- Spend at least $5,000 (USD) in net eligible spend in one calendar year
As a Platinum member, your D$ earn rate becomes 6%, with an even longer validity period of 24 months.
In addition, you’ll be eligible for a room upgrade to the next higher room category from the room type originally booked. This is subject to room availability at the time of check-in, and excludes certain room types such as presidential suites, multiple bedroom suites, villas, or residences as determined by the each hotel.
It’s important to know that you won’t automatically be upgraded. Rather, you have to request this benefit upon arrival.
Along with a room upgrade, the Platinum tier is where we first see the option for late checkout. Guests are eligible to keep their room until 3pm on the date of departure, subject to availability, and you must make the request upon arrival.
Lastly, Platinum members are entitled to a welcome amenity upon check-in, which differ with each hotel brand.
Room upgrades and late checkout is why the Platinum membership is really the first tier worth caring about. Upgrades can really add to a trip, and the ability to extend your stay on your day of departure can also be incredibly useful.
Platinum is also quite easy to earn, especially by simply staying at two different GHA-branded hotels in a year.
GHA Discovery Titanium
The highest GHA status tier is Titanium. Compared to other hotel loyalty programs, reaching this top-tier status is relatively easy, and is done by fulfilling one of the following three requirements:
- Stay at least 30 eligible nights at GHA hotels
- Stay at three separate GHA hotel brands
- Spend at least $15,000 (USD) in net eligible spend in one calendar year
By far the easiest way to achieve Titanium status is to stay at three GHA hotel brands. There are a total of 38 brands, so finding three to stay at shouldn’t be too difficult – especially if you’re already travelling to Europe or Asia, where most of the GHA hotels can be found.
Along with all of the benefits offered to Platinum members, you’ll also receive the following benefits at the Titanium level:
- 7% back in D$ per $1 (USD) spent, with a 24 month validity period
- 4pm late checkout
- Room upgrades of up to two categories above the original room
- Early check-in from 11am
- Sharing Titanium status with another member
There are other ancillary benefits, such as guaranteed reservations at all GHA hotels and enhanced welcome amenities, which differ by brand.
Similar to the Platinum membership, the most enticing benefits here are room upgrades and 4pm late checkout.
One unique perk, which isn’t offered by any other hotel loyalty program, is being able to give Titanium status to one other member. The recipient will enjoy Titanium benefits for the remainder of the year and throughout the next calendar year.
(And no, the person to whom you gift Titanium status will not have the benefit of being able to give Titanium status to yet another person, nor can you extend your Titanium benefits for another year by gifting Titanium status to yourself.)
I imagine the status-sharing benefit is being offered as a way for GHA to expand their reach, allowing more people to get introduced to their loyalty program.
Noticeably missing from the above elite benefits in all tiers is free breakfast.
This is rather disappointing, as complimentary breakfast has become a staple for most loyalty program’s highest elite statuses; however, perhaps it’s also a reflection of how easy it is to earn GHA Discovery status compared to other major chains, thus resulting in a lighter set of benefits.
As GHA continues to fine-tune their loyalty program as they expand, hopefully we’ll see the benefit of free breakfast introduced at some point in the future.
Fast Tracking to GHA Discovery Elite Status
While only having to stay three nights at three different GHA hotels is about as fast as you can get for earning any hotel loyalty program’s highest status, there may actually be easier and even faster ways to reach the top.
In addition to the Titanium status gift, which requires no effort, there are several easy ways to get to GHA Discovery status.
A one-time status match may be granted if you currently have mid- or upper-tier status with an approved competitor. If you’re successful, the status match will be valid for the remainder of the calendar year, plus the full next calendar year.
To be eligible for a status match, you must have stayed at least one night with a GHA brand in the past 24 months as an active member with GHA Discovery.
You can confirm your eligibility for a status match by emailing email@example.com. Include a screenshot or image of your other brand’s member information, including your member number, the competing brand’s name, status level, and expiry date.
Business Traveller Subscription
If you don’t have elite status with a competing brand, you can automatically jump to GHA’s Platinum tier with a Business Traveller subscription. Business Traveller is an online resource with news, reviews, and useful information pertaining to business travel.
By subscribing to Business Traveller for one year, you’ll be given GHA Discovery Platinum status. A one-year membership costs only £30 ($46 CAD), which is much cheaper than staying two nights in GHA hotels.
GHA Discovery also runs promotions from time-to-time that can help with elevating your GHA status. Currently there is a double night credit promotion, that you’d need to register for.
If you’re able to complete your stays before September 30, 2022, when the promotion expires, you’ll only need to stay five nights for Platinum status or 15 nights for Titanium status.
While the many ways to easily earn Platinum or Titanium memberships with GHA may sound great, more members means more competition for some benefits, such as room upgrades.
However, with GHA Discovery being a lesser-known rewards program, I don’t necessarily view this actually being an issue at this time.
While the GHA Discovery loyalty program lags behind the major global players (especially in the free breakfast department), their growing footprint makes this loyalty program one to keep your eye on.
If you have any stays coming up with one of the GHA brands, it certainly won’t hurt to make an account and request a status match to see if you can unlock some extra benefits during your stay.
On one hand, it’s easy to earn status and gain access to some useful perks such as room upgrades and late checkout. With attractive member rates and earning as much as 14% back in Discovery Dollars during promotion periods, there are indeed some attractive upsides to pursuing GHA Discovery status.
On the other hand, without a points-based system, there won’t be any of the same sweet spots that can be found with other loyalty programs. Since one Discovery Dollar is equivalent to one US dollar, the program is simple and easy to follow, but doesn’t offer the same outsized value that can be found with aspirational stays from other points programs.
I’d love to see GHA Discovery introduce points and perhaps a North American co-branded credit card as they grow in order to truly take their loyalty program to the next level.