Hilton just announced that they’ll be increasing the requirements for Gold and Diamond elite status in 2013. The requirements for Silver status remain the same.
Gold status goes from requiring 16 stays OR 36 nights OR 60,000 base points (the equivalent of $6,000 of spend) to requiring 20 stays OR 40 nights OR 75,000 base points (the equivalent of $7,500 of spend). That’s an increase of four stays OR four nights OR 15,000 base points (the equivalent of $1,500 of spend).
Meanwhile Diamond status goes from requiring 28 stays OR 60 nights OR 100,000 base points (the equivalent of $10,000 of spend) to requiring 30 stays OR 60 nights OR 120,000 base points (the equivalent of $12,000 of spend). That’s an increase of two stays or 20,000 base points (the equivalent of $2,000 of spend), while the number of nights required remains the same.
These changes only kick in for the next program year, meaning you can still earn elite status under the old requirements this year. These are pretty drastic increases, and a bit surprising.
There’s no doubt that Hilton is a bit like Delta in terms of the degree to which they’ve made their loyalty program somewhat credit card centric. While they increase the qualification requirements for guests actually staying at Hilton properties, they’re now offering Hilton HHonors Gold status to anyone that has the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa card. You get to keep the status as long as you have the card, and given that the card has only a $95 annual fee, it’s an absoute bargain.
I find this really fascinating, as it really shows just how big of a role credit cards play to loyalty programs nowadays. Look at what Hilton has basically said here — if you spend $6,000 per year at our hotels you’re not worthy of Gold status, but if you spend $95 per year on one of our co-branded products and keep it in your sock drawer, you are. Don’t get me wrong, I see why Hilton did this — at a certain point status is devalued if too many people have it, so they had to make a cut somewhere. They could have made the cut among their actual guests or their credit card members, and they made the same decision we’ve seen from many loyalty programs.
Like I said this really makes the Citi Hilton Reserve card even more attractive. Just having the card gets you Gold status for just the $95 annual fee per year, and Hilton Gold status is among the best mid-tier status levels out there. It gets you free breakfast and internet, which are easily the two most valuable hotel elite benefits.
The other thing the card offers is Diamond status if you spend $40,00o on the card in a calendar year. I have the Citi Hilton Reserve card and have been contemplating whether to go for Diamond status through spend on the card next year, and have finally decided to go for it.
The reason it’s not a no brainer is because the differences between Gold and Diamond status are in many cases minimal. Diamond status gets guaranteed club lounge access, while Gold status gets club lounge access only if you’re upgraded to a club room, or otherwise restaurant breakfast (which many prefer to club lounge access anyway). The only other major incremental benefit of Diamond status is that the terms and conditions say that Diamond members can get suite upgrades, though it’s at the hotel’s discretion. Given that discretion is more or less left to the individual hotels you have some that treat Gold and Diamond members equally, while others treat Diamond members substantially better than Gold members.
But the deciding factor for me wasn’t even a belief that Diamond status is substantially more valuable than Gold status. Instead I find the actual return in spend on the card to be pretty good for everyday spend. While I’ll continue to use cards with bonuses for specific spend categories appropriately, for everyday spend I really value the Citi Hilton Reserve card. It offers three points per dollar plus a free weekend night when you spend $10,000 on the card in a year. I value that free night at a minimum of 40,000 HHonors points. That means for me, if I make $40,000 of purchases in non-bonus categories in a calendar year I’ll essentially be earning a “base” of four points per dollar (three points per dollar plus a point per dollar to account for the free night certificate). To me that’s a really decent return, and the Diamond status is the icing on the cake. I plan on using most of my free nights at aspirational properties, and typically they do a better job of differentiating between Gold and Diamond members.
Anyway, this change only makes the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa card more valuable, and actually earning status “the hard way” less worthwhile…