I was really upset to read yesterday that Hilton had, with no announcement, raised the status qualification requirements for the HHonors programs. As View from the Wing detailed, these requirements will take effect starting with your 2013 stays, so if you’ve already qualified for status for 2013, you’re set for another year. However, if you were planning on earning status in 2013 for the remainder of that year or for 2014 onward, you’ll have a harder time making that happen.
Starting in 2013, it will take an extra 4 stays or nights to earn gold status or an additional 2 stays or nights to earn Diamond. There is no change for qualifying at the silver level.
Frankly, I think Gold status with Hilton is the best hotel status available at the mid-tier. For one thing, even with this change, it’ll be available at 20 stays, 40 nights, or 75,000 base points. That’s still lower than Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, and Starwood, all of which require 50 nights before handing out my favorite freebies (internet & breakfast). Earning status faster means you’ll enjoy those benefits 10 nights before you otherwise would. I also think Hilton Gold comes with the most tangible benefits, including free breakfast on all days at all hotels (unless you choose to forfeit this for bonus points), free in-room internet, bonus points, and in my experience, frequent opportunities for room upgrades (that’s not suite upgrades necessarily, but perhaps that preferred oceanview room), early check-in, and late check-out. You’ll also be eligible for elite-only award discounts, as you would be even at the silver level.
Additionally, Priority Club is cracking down on which points qualify as status-earning, meaning you’ll no longer be able to outright buy Priority Club status. This isn’t that big of a deal to me, since basically the only benefit to Priority Club platinum status is a 50% points bonus on your room stays. You’ll find just as many bonus points through other promotions, and you’ll still be stuck paying for your own room upgrades, breakfasts, and wifi. (Admittedly, some hotels volunteer these to status members, but in no way are they required to.)
If the new requirements mean it’ll be out of reach to earn hotel status with these programs now, there are a few workarounds to enjoying status benefits.
1. Get a Hotel-Branded Credit Card
These days, all major hotel credit cards come with low or mid-level status benefits. The Priority Club card offers platinum status and the Citi HHonors Reserve card comes with Gold status, both for the lifetime of being a cardholder. You’ll enjoy all status perks right from Day 1, rather than waiting until 20+ nights into the year to take advantage of benefits. (Relax, these aren’t referral links, just informational pages). For less than $100/year in annual fees, it might make sense for you.
2. Fast-Track to Status
Hilton has, in the past, offered options for getting Gold status easily. While these promotions come and go, keep your eye out. Limited-time offers have included free, instant status for holding a Visa infinite card or simply residing in certain regions of the world. The travel agency my employer works with offers a partnership with Hilton to earn Gold status after as few as 4 stays and Hilton MVP members have a similar option. If those don’t apply to you, call Hilton and be prepared to show proof of status with another chain (usually including proof of actual stays/nights, and not just from a credit card or promotion). Many members are eligible for a status challenge to earn Gold status quickly.
3. Stay at Hotels that Include Perks Automatically
If free breakfast and wifi are important to you, why not just book a hotel that offers these things? Most lower-end hotels, ironically, offer these things for free, so the Hampton Inn will include wi-fi when the Hilton next door does not. Additionally, many independent hotels offer these perks, so branch out a little, help a local business owner, and have a comfortable stay. Remember, you can still earn rewards on non-chain hotels to work toward free nights.
4. Use Alternate Booking Channels
There are other ways to include VIP benefits other than holding status. Often, booking rooms through Virtuoso agents, American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, or Visa Signature Hotels will come with room upgrades, late check-out, and free breakfast – at no additional cost to booking directly through the hotel. Otherwise, look at options like booking through Priceline or Hotwire. You can almost always figure out which hotel you’ll be staying at even in a “blind” bid, and saving $30-100/night means you’ll be able to pay for your internet and breakfast and still end up money ahead.
5. Look at Other Hotel Programs
If there’s one specific amenity you’re looking for in status, you might be able to get it through a different chain. For example, Hyatt offers free internet even at low-tier status, obviously achievable at fewer stays. There’s a lot to go into choosing a hotel program (if you even choose to be loyal), so one perk shouldn’t be the basis for your entire decision, but it can be a tipping point if things were otherwise equal.
I’m not quite sure what this will mean for me in 2013, but I think it’s safe to say I won’t be hopping between three hotel programs anymore. What about you?