This is the second post in my series on the Hilton HHonors program. In a previous post, I discussed the basics of the program and how to maximize earnings with Hilton. In this post, we will discuss how to earn elite status with HHonors. In future posts, we will look at the benefits of elite status, by level, and how to maximize point/award redemptions. Earning Status through Hotel Stays The “traditional” and most common route to earning status is through hotel stays. Hilton gives three different criteria for earning status through stays: Number of nights Number of stays Number of base points For HHonors elite status, here are the requirements for each level using the three different criteria: Silver = 4 stays or 10 nights; (there is no base point option for this level) Gold = 16 stays or 36 nights or 60,000 base points Diamond = 28 stays or 60 nights or 100,000 base points In all cases, these achievements must be made within the calendar year. It is very important to note that there are exclusions which determine whether a stay is eligible for tier status qualifications. Some of the common exclusions: wholesale/tour operator packages contracted airline crew rates travel agency discount rates stays secured utilizing Hilton Grand Vacations Club and Hilton Club timeshare programs Hilton Grand Vacations marketing packages with a sales presentation requirement Stays that are booked via third party websites such as Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, or Priceline “No show” situations when a member has made a reservation guaranteed with a credit card but then does not check in to the hotel–irrespective of whether or not the member’s credit card is charged Additionally, it has been my experience that rooms that are booked at a negotiated corporate rate are often excluded from elite tier qualification. On a positive note, reward stays do count towards elite status qualification. The Cost of Earning Status through Hotel Stays To figure out the cost of earning status, we can do a little math that will help you understand the best ways for you to achieve status based on your travel pattern. The easiest cost to figure is for base points, so let’s start there. Since we know that 10 base points are awarded for every eligible dollar spent at a Hilton property, we know that the 60,000 base points required for Gold status is equal to $6,000 in eligible spending and the 100,000 base points required for Diamond status is equal to $10,000 in eligible spending. Keep in mind, that your actual spend would be higher due to taxes, parking fees, etc. since they do not count towards eligible spend for base points. When figuring the cost of achieving the various status levels through nights or stays, we have to make some assumptions. In my case, I’m going to use a “low cost” assumption that the average nightly rate paid per stay is $150. While there are certainly fair arguments to be made that one could find weekend stays at Hampton Inns and other lower-end properties as low as the high $90’s, you can also argue that there are many properties and nights that could cost over $300. Even on a low fare, you must remember to factor in all the taxes that go with a normal hotel bill. If we use $150 per night as the average rate, we can figure out the cost of achieving elite tier levels based on the number of nights. Therefore, Silver status, which requires 10 nights, would cost $1,500. Gold requires 36 nights that would work out to $5,400 and Diamond, which requires 60 nights, would cost $9,000. By far, the ability to earn status levels based on number of “stays” is much more economical. Silver would cost only $600, Gold only $2,400, and Diamond $4,200. Here is a summary: Silver Status Stays = 4 = $600 Nights = 1 = $1,500 Base Points = N/A Gold Status Stays = 16 = $2,400 Nights = 36 = $5,400 Base Points = 60,000 = $6,000 Diamond Status Stays = 28 = $4,200 Nights = 60 = $9,000 Base Points = 100,000 = $10,000 In every case, the most economical way to achieve status is by hitting the number of required “stays.” As a result, many have tried to take a two night stay and convert it to two, one-night stays by checking out after the first night and then checking back in the next day for the second night. It is generally accepted that most hotel chains caught on to this practice a long time ago and now have rules that recognize this pattern and only grant the credit for one stay. Instead, many travelers create multiple stays on one trip by checking out of one property after the first night and then checking into a separate property, even if it is next door, for the second night. These nights will count as two separate stays towards elite status. As an example, I travel to the Portland, Oregon area on business a few times a year. My client is located in Beaverton which is about 8 miles west of Portland and about 20 miles west of the airport. I’m usually there for two nights so I will stay the first night in the Beaverton area since I’m likely going out to dinner with the client. However, I will check out on the second day, do the rest of my business with the client, and then drive over to the PDX airport and stay at a Hilton property there since my flight home the next morning is in the 6:00 a.m. range. As a result, I get two nights credit towards elite status but I also get credit for two “stays” since they were two separate properties. And, the airport properties are usually have a little lower rate so I save some dollars, too. Earning Status through Reasonable Request All frequent traveler programs that I’m familiar with have the same aim – they want to increase your loyalty and the amount of money you spend with them each year. All elite status programs have a similar goal – they want to keep their best customers loyal to their program and encourage them to spend their travel dollars with them, not another company. Therefore, if you are a frequent traveler with a demonstrated track record of generating revenue for the company in question, they will sometimes work with you to give you incentives to patronize their chain. However, most hotel chains have become more selective in awarding elite status to travelers where it is unclear that there is a benefit to the hotel chain. We will look at that issue in a little more detail when we get to status matches and challenges. Assuming you are in the first category of customers, I have had personal experience and heard of many examples of Hilton HHonors making discretionary decisions to award elite status in certain circumstances. For instance, I have been a Hilton HHonors Diamond member for several years. But, last year I was just short of re-qualifying for Diamond primarily due to taking advantage of some special rates that my clients had negotiated with local Hilton properties around their corporate office. Additionally, I had shoulder surgery in November and was off the road for the last six weeks of the year. At the end of December, I simply wrote a simple note explaining this to Hilton and pointing out that I already had 15 nights booked for the January/February period and asking if they could extend any consideration to me. They immediately responded that they valued my loyalty and were extending my Diamond membership into the new year. Posts on popular message boards indicate that others have had similar experiences where they were given early elevation to status based on a combination of history and future bookings. This does not mean, however, that anyone can write into them and request special consideration with no track record to support the request. Hotel chains (I suspect Starwood, Hyatt, and Marriott are of a like mind) have become more savvy in separating the individual who simply wants status because it is free versus those who will generate revenue as a result. Earning Status through Fast Track or Status Challenge It used to be common practice for hotel chains to do “status matches” for elite status based on a traveler’s track record with another company. The thinking behind this was that it would encourage a frequent traveler to try another program. For example, I’m a Hilton HHonors Diamond so I am use to certain amenities and benefits when I stay at one of their properties. If I want to try Hyatt properties, for instance, I will be comparing apples to oranges, potentially to Hyatt’s detriment, as I will not have any status with them whatsoever if they don’t give me some type of incentive. However, with the rise of travel hacking and social media promotions (see next section), hotels, including Hilton, started to realize that they were sometimes matching “status” for travelers that had done nothing to achieve that status with their competitor. Therefore, they were giving away status to travelers who were not generating significant revenue to Hilton or, for that matter, the original hotel chain who had granted status. This resulted in the rise of status “challenges” where Hilton would grant certain levels of status, on a fast track basis, for a specified number of hotel nights within a specified timeframe. I do not have any experience with a status challenge with Hilton but there have been many reports on message boards of challenges that required 21 nights of stays within a 90 day period to achieve Diamond status. If you think about it, this is equivalent of 82 nights in a year which is much higher than the normal qualification criteria. But, it does give one an opportunity to show loyalty quickly and be awarded with the attendant amenities that status affords. Earning Status through a Promotion/Hack I group these two together because fast track status is occasionally made available to certain populations but, in the age of social media, it seems that these promotions often become a travel hack. For example, there was a promotion last year where Visa Infinite cardholders had the opportunity to register for instant HHonors Gold status. To make this happen, these cardholders needed to go to a specific website and register their Visa Infinite card by entering the first six digits of the card number and their HHonors number. This offer was posted on popular blogs and message boards along with the notice that acceptable six digit numbers were available via the internet. Therefore, what was a targeted offer become a “come one, come all” way to get instant Gold status. Many would view this as an example of the power of the internet and social media and place responsibility for controlling the process at the feet of Hilton/Visa. As a traveler who earns status through my loyalty and my spend, I am not a fan of these types of promos as it makes every amenity more competitive. But, these hacks exist and regular monitoring of popular points/miles blogs and message boards will yield many opportunities such as this one. A couple of other notable examples from the past year include opportunities to earn Gold status for as few as four stays in a 90 day period for patrons of Carlson Wagonlit Travel and a similar offer for Hilton MVP participants. Earning Status through Affiliate Credit Cards HiltonHonors also offers opportunities to achieve elite status through their affiliate credit cards. Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card from Citibank HHonors Silver Status as long as you remain a Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature cardmember. Hilton HHonors Card from American Express You will automatically be upgraded to HHonors Silver status for the duration of your cardmembership. Additionally, you can upgrade to HHonors Gold status when you make eligible charges of $20k or more annually on the card. Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express You will automatically be upgraded to HHonors Gold status for the first year your cardmembership. After that, you can maintain Gold status by spending at least $20k in a calendar year on the card. Additionally, you will be earn HHonors Diamond status if you make eligible charges of $40k or more annually on the card. However, I am unaware of any options for combining credit card spend with nights stayed to achieve status. For instance, it has been asked if one could spend $20k on the HHonors Surpass card and have 14 stays (each of these numbers representing 50% of the stated threshold for each method) and earn Diamond status. The answer is “no.” You cannot mix and match qualification criteria to between methodologies.