Is Hilton considering new elite benefits?

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Hilton is without a doubt the easiest hotel chain with which to snag elite status: simply holding the right credit card will get you either Gold or Diamond status, the top two tiers in its loyalty program. That’s pretty awesome if you want to get the benefits of loyalty without….y’know, being loyal. But the fact that status is so easy to get leads some to say, “If everyone is a Diamond member, no one is a Diamond member.” I’d argue that’s only a half-truth under the current Hilton program since most of the current benefits aren’t affected (much) by quantity of elite guests. However, is Hilton considering some changes to its status benefits? A survey I took last week suggests it might be, and some of the possibilities could make Hilton status more desirable. But can Hilton offer these benefits to the quantity of elite members on hand? It will be interesting to see.

Current Elite benefits

Here are the current benefits for Hilton Gold & Diamond members in addition to heightened point earnings:

  • Free Wi-Fi
  • No Resort Fees on Reward Stays
  • Late Checkout
  • 2 water bottles per stay
  • 5th night free on reward nights
  • Elite rollover nights
  • Unlimited milestone bonuses
  • Space-available room upgrades
  • Continental breakfast

Diamond members alone enjoy these benefits:

  • Executive lounge access (even if not upgraded to Executive floor)
  • Space-available room upgrades include standard suites
  • Elite status gifting
  • 48-hour room guarantee

Most of the benefits in the first category are available to all members. Really, the key benefits that added for Gold members are:

  • Free breakfast
  • Unlimited milestone benefits (only useful if you make a lot of paid stays)

And the key benefits available only to Diamond members include:

  • Upgrades can include suites
  • Executive lounge access (Diamond members are guaranteed access, though Golds can be upgraded to executive level)

Those who have had status with Hyatt or SPG in the past are probably thinking, “That’s it?”. Those who have had status with IHG are probably thinking, “I can get free breakfast without staying at a Holiday Inn Express?”.

How to pick up status easily

As a reminder, Gold status is a benefit that comes with the Hilton Ascend card or the various Amex Platinum cards.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

FM Mini Review: This card is absolutely loaded with high end perks. Depending upon your situation, those perks may be worth the annual fee or much more.


Annual Fee: $595

Card Type: Amex Charge Card

Base
Travel
Other

Earning rate: 5X flights and prepaid hotels at AmexTravel.com ⚬ 1.5X points per dollar on eligible purchases of $5000 or more (up to 1 million additional Membership Rewards points per year) ⚬ 1X elsewhere

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Up to $200 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees ⚬ Up to $200 a year in statement credits for Dell purchases ($100 Jan-June; $100 July-Dec) ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement.⚬ Airport lounge benefits ⚬ Rental car elite status ⚬ Marriott Gold status ⚬ Hilton Gold status ⚬ Terms Apply. (Rates & Fees)

See also: Maximizing value from Amex Platinum Cards

The Platinum Card® from American Express

FM Mini Review: This card is absolutely loaded with high end perks. Depending upon your situation, those perks may be worth the annual fee or much more.


Annual Fee: $550

Card Type: Amex Charge Card

Base
Travel

Earning rate: 5X points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel ⚬ 5X points for prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ $200 Airline Fee Credit. Up to $200 a year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline ⚬ Up to $200 for Uber rides annually. Credit and Uber VIP status for Basic Member only ⚬ Up to $100 in credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue (up to $50 in credits semi-annually, enrollment required) ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement ⚬ Airport lounge benefits ⚬ Rental car elite status ⚬ Marriott Gold status ⚬ Hilton HHonors Gold status ⚬ Free Gold card AUs. Terms Apply.

See also: Maximizing value from Amex Platinum Cards

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card

FM Mini Review: Easy way to secure Hilton Gold status (which offers free breakfast among other perks). Those who want Diamond status may be better off with the Aspire card.


Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Dine
Gas
Grocery
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 12X Hilton spend ⚬ 6X U.S. restaurants, US Supermarkets, and US gas stations ⚬ 3X on all other eligible purchases

Big spend bonus:
⚬ Free weekend night after $15K spend in calendar year ⚬ Diamond elite status with $40K calendar year spend ⚬ Terms apply

Noteworthy perks: Free Gold status. Diamond status w/ $40K spend. ⚬ 10 free Priority Pass lounge visits per calendar year ⚬ Terms Apply. (Rates & Fees)

See also: Hilton Amex Cards. Everything you need to know.

Hilton Diamond status can be picked up as a benefit of the Hilton Aspire card.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

FM Mini Review: This card is loaded with valuable perks that are more than worth the card's annual fee if you stay in Hilton resorts at least once per year, and other Hilton properties a few times a year..


Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Travel
Dine
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 14X Hilton spend ⚬ 7X US restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, select car rental companies ⚬ 3X on all other eligible purchases ⚬ Terms & Limitations Apply.

Big spend bonus: Second free weekend night after $60K spend in calendar year

Noteworthy perks: ⚬Annual Weekend Night Reward upon approval and every year upon renewal ⚬ Free Diamond Status ⚬ Priority Pass w/ 2 free guests ⚬ $250 Hilton Resort Credit per membership year ⚬ $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit per calendar year ⚬ $100 on-property credit w/ Aspire Card package ⚬ Terms Apply. See Rates & Fees

See also: Amex Hilton Aspire In-Depth Review

Why the current glut of Gold & Diamond members isn’t a big deal to me

In all seriousness, the benefits for Gold & Diamond members basically include free breakfast, with the addition of lounge access for Diamond members. Things like late checkout are listed as benefits at all levels. That means “subject to availability” in many instances. In my experience, late checkout is almost always possible “subject to availability” if you ask for it – so it’s not much of a benefit in Hilton’s program.

I’d argue that since breakfast can be given to a large percentage of the guests in the hotel without really diminishing its effectiveness, it’s not really a big deal if there are a lot of elite members present. Sure, there are times when a lounge or restaurant might get overcrowded with a large number of Diamond members. But in general, the hotel could offer breakfast to a large percentage of guests and lounge access to Diamond members without anyone losing out. So I’m not too upset with a glut of elite members. The other Diamond members aren’t likely to eat the Hilton Garden Inn out of French toast on me in the morning.

Is Hilton exploring benefits that might make a difference?

Last week, I completed a survey I received via email about elite benefits at Hilton, and I found the questions pretty interesting in terms of what they say about Hilton’s eye toward the future. There were three main takeaways I got from the survey questions:

  1. Hilton is exploring whether people prefer a consistency of benefits across all brands or would be happy to have different benefits based on hotel brand/tier.
  2. Hilton is toying with the idea of adding additional elite benefits
  3. Hilton is thinking about offering a reward for early check-out

First, I should note that companies do surveys all the time. I certainly don’t know that Hilton is going to make changes based on the outcome. However, with major changes on the horizon with Marriott/Ritz/SPG, it seemed like timing could be meaningful on some of these.

I didn’t think to take screen shots at the very beginning of the survey, but there were a few questions getting preferences for #1 above. I was clear via my answers that I prefer standardized benefits at all brands, but it was equally clear that Hilton wanted to know how I’d react if benefits varied based on brand/tier. Eventually, they went through a couple of Hilton brands and asked about preferences for benefits at each.

Personally, I’m a big fan of consistency, so I was sure to answer questions in a way so as to make it clear that I didn’t want to keep track of different benefits at different brands/tiers. Marriott’s new breakfast policy requires a chart to figure it out. I value Hilton’s simplicity.

That said, the next step of the survey involved showing benefits packages at different Hilton brands and asking me whether each package of benefits would make me more or less likely to choose that brand. I received questions about a lower-end brand, a mid-scale brand, and an upscale brand looking for my reactions to various benefits packages.

Some of the benefits packages weren’t too compelling and didn’t represent a sizable increase in value over the current benefits available for elite members.

As you can see above, this package of benefits would offer my choice of either 1,000 Hilton points (worth about $5) or free breakfast, free upgraded Wi-Fi (people still pay for wi-fi?), late checkout and early check-in based on availability (as noted above, these things are more or less always possible “subject to availability”), and a $5 Uber/Lyft or Starbucks credit on check-in (finally, a benefit with some measurable real-world value). Basically, this package offers the ability to choose 1,000 points in lieu of breakfast and gives a $5 credit for Starbucks/Uber/Lyft. It’s a rare day indeed when I’d value $5 in Hilton points over breakfast in the hotel, so the only real addition here is the $5 credit for coffee or ride sharing. I could see that benefit being somewhat popular, especially among those who are able to rack up some $5 credits from business trips (when the company is paying the tab, yet the guest is able to accumulate credit to use on their own time). We can debate the ethics of that another time — it’s at least a creative strategy (and one that I think beats the strategy of adding a “destination fee” and then giving you a “dining credit” like some Marriott properties).

However, I rated that package as not being very attractive since I was clearly hoping for a more substantial improvement in benefits. And I was pleasantly surprised at some of the packages being floated…

Now that looked interesting. The two bottles of water are a current benefit, as is free breakfast (again, I wouldn’t choose points in lieu of breakfast unless I knew I couldn’t have breakfast for some reason) and free wi-fi. But those last few bullet points caught my eye:

  • Guaranteed late check-out
  • Guaranteed early check-in
  • 500 points in exchange for early check-out
  • $5 Starbucks credit when you check in

Benefits like guaranteed late check-out and early check-in are things I do highly value. In fact, guaranteed 4pm late checkout has specifically caused me to choose Hyatt (when I was a Diamond/Globalist member) or SPG/Marriott over other options a number of times. It often enables me to do something with my final day without having to be packed up before breakfast. Having a room in which to shower / freshen up on the way out is nice. I’ve gotten late check-outs at Hilton hotels plenty of times by asking — in fact, I once asked for a 2pm late checkout at the Conrad Dubai due to a late flight. When the lounge attendant found out my flight wasn’t until 9pm, he insisted on a 6pm complimentary late check-out (which was huge as I was under the weather and much preferred sleeping in bed to waiting it out at the airport). It’s nice that it’s sometimes offered, but I would definitely be more likely to choose Hilton over other options if I knew I could count on it. As it is today, I don’t choose Hilton if I know I need late check-out.

Guaranteed early check-in would be a very exciting benefit as well. This is a benefit previously offered to SPG Platinum 75 members (called “Your 24”), but I’m unaware of another status level that has previously offered a guaranteed early check-in benefit. It would be pretty nice if you could get that kind of benefit just from holding the right credit card.

Of course, that circles us around to the beginning: If everyone has Diamond status….guaranteeing both early check-in and late check-out seems ambitious.

That said, it certainly seemed they were trying to gauge the importance of these benefits in relation to other things. For instance, one package of benefits only included free breakfast for one day (the morning after you check in), but guaranteed early and late checkout.

I think they were really trying to determine how important late check-out / early check-in are to me compared to free breakfast. In hindsight, I realized that a number of packages did not necessarily include breakfast every day, but rather “a” free breakfast, which is something I wish I’d noticed during the survey as I won’t be too happy if breakfast turns into a once-during-the-stay benefit.

That said, I do like the idea of incentivizing members for early check out. There are times when I know I’ll have to leave early anyway or when I don’t really need to return to my room and could instead store my bags with the hotel (and might if there are points in it for me). That might go a long way in vacating rooms for those early check-ins.

Will that be enough to counteract the effect of making Gold and Diamond status so readily available? I’m skeptical. Nonetheless, it would be pretty cool to get one or the other guaranteed.

Would any of these changes make me more or less loyal to Hilton?

This is of course the million dollar question. In my case, I’d say that free breakfast and guaranteed late checkout are the two most important program benefits that would encourage my business on any particular stay.  Early check-in and chances to pick up extra points (whether in lieu of breakfast or for early check-out) certainly wouldn’t push my business away.

Overall, I’m kind of excited to see that Hilton might be looking to make some positive changes.

What is most disappointing when reading between the lines?

I find there to be a tie in disappointments that came from reading between the lines of the survey:

  1. There were no questions about guaranteed suite upgrades
  2. Hilton appears to be focused on the possibility of benefits that vary by brand

Clearly, Hilton has no interest in guaranteeing any sort of room upgrade as that didn’t appear as a benefit/question in any way apart from some bundles including a room upgrade “based on availability”. That’s too bad as both Hyatt and Marriott offer some sort of suite upgrade program. I don’t need a suite for 90% of my stays, but if I were actually going to invest 60 nights a year in Hilton properties (as opposed to getting status from the credit card), that would be a nice benefit to have.

More importantly, I’m not at all happy to see an exploration of limits to the breakfast benefit / variance from one brand to the next. Earlier this year, Hilton finally expanded free breakfast for Gold & Diamond members to include Waldorf-Astoria hotels. It would be a shame to need to consult a chart when booking hotels in the future. It would be equally (or perhaps even more) confusing if breakfast is a once-per-stay benefit. That seems like an unnecessary complication.

In fairness, my perspective is limited to the guest experience. From Hilton’s end, they need to find a way to keep hotel owners happy, which means making them as profitable as possible. I have to imagine that part of the impetus behind Marriott’s complicated breakfast chart is the need to have different brands to offer owners. Some owners won’t want to incur the expense of free breakfast for everyone — providing them with an “Unbound Luxurious Tribute Collection” brand that does not offer free breakfast enables the chain to offer its customers (hotel owners) different banners to fit their needs. Still, it would be a major disappointment to see a change in breakfast policy.

Bottom line

Overall, I’m glad to see Hilton asking about the importance of key loyalty benefits like guaranteed late checkout. With Marriott maintaining that aspect of the SPG program and Hyatt continuing to offer guaranteed late checkout for both Explorists and Globalists, that represents an area where Hilton needs to catch up to the competition to gain actual loyalty as opposed to credit card holders. Of course, if they pick up additional loyalty from the many members with credit card status, it seems like it could be hard to deliver on a benefit like late checkout consistently. Still, they’re thinking outside the box with points for early check out and a rideshare or Starbucks credit, so I’m hopeful that they’ll continue to apply out-of-the-box thinking. Overall, I’m encouraged that they are looking to improve. Hilton gets a bad rap in the blogosphere, but I’ve been consistently impressed with the service I’ve received at Hilton properties over the past couple of years. Guaranteed late checkout would go a long way in earning my loyalty more consistently.

That said, it’s not all roses and sunshine. Stay tuned for the sneaky thing I caught Hilton doing this past week that left a bad taste…

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