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Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen begins a new column called The Weekly Wish, where he’ll look at flaws, shortcomings, and room for improvement in the world of travel and loyalty programs.
Each hotel chain has its own unique ways of attracting and maintaining profitable customers. These methods can include enhancing on-property benefits, expanding ways to earn and redeem points, and introducing new partnerships (like Starwood’s Crossover Rewards program with Delta and Marriott’s RewardsPlus program with United). One of the lesser-used methods is to offer lifetime elite status to travelers with long-time loyalty to the chain. This week’s wish is a simple one: for Hilton HHonors to implement such a lifetime status program.
To me, the lack of lifetime status is a glaring hole in the Hilton HHonors program, and patching that hole would incentivize members to stay both now and in the future. This is especially true for stays beyond a particular qualification threshold. I joined the Hilton HHonors program back in December 2006, and since then I’ve spent 341 stays and 436 nights at their properties (this isn’t posted anywhere, but a call to the Diamond desk gave me this information).
I used to send all of my business to Hilton, but soon realized that any stays or nights above the Diamond threshold didn’t provide additional benefits (aside from point accrual). Thus, I began sending large chunks of my business to Starwood and Hyatt, and now I qualify for top-tier status in each program. A lifetime status program would entice me to stay with Hilton more exclusively above the 30 stay/60 night threshold for hitting Diamond, since each additional stay/night would move me closer to lifetime status.
More importantly, it would provide me with an incentive to stay at Hilton properties in the future. Suppose I took a job that didn’t require travel, or (many years down the road) I retire and want to travel. I wouldn’t be able to retain Diamond status the usual way, but if I had given Hilton enough of my business to earn lifetime status, I would be much more likely to stay at one of their properties. The additional revenue from those stays would more than outweigh the additional costs of my Diamond status, like providing free internet, breakfast, and bonus points. Without lifetime status, what incentive do I have to send my business to Hilton? I would sooner choose a property from a chain that does have a lifetime status program (or choose based on price, convenience, or any other factor).
The move wouldn’t be unprecedented, as Hyatt, Starwood, and Marriott all offer ways to earn lifetime status. In fact, the last two years have seen significant positive developments on these fronts, beginning with Starwood Preferred Guest creating a new lifetime program, and Marriott lowering the thresholds needed to achieve their three tiers. Here’s a quick overview of how lifetime status works at these three chains:
Hyatt Gold Passport
Hyatt has the simplest program, but the hardest to achieve. Hyatt awards lifetime Diamond status to Gold Passport members that earn 1,000,000 base points and have been members for at least 10 years. At 5 points/$, that means a cool $200,000 in spend. It’s important to remember that these are base points, and only include points earned on hotel stays (plus any incidentals on-property); bonus points (like the 1000 point Diamond amenity) and credit card points do not count in this calculation.
Confusingly, your online Gold Passport profile lists “Lifetime Points Earned,” which do include points from all sources, but have no bearing on lifetime status. To find out your lifetime base points, you can either call Gold Passport or look in your monthly account summary e-mails:
As you can see, I’m a long way from qualifying for lifetime Diamond status at Hyatt, but with (hopefully) many more years of travel ahead, you never know!
Starwood Preferred Guest
Back in 2012, Starwood made several very positive improvements to the SPG program, including the introduction of lifetime elite status. Members who have stayed 250 nights and had at least 5 years of elite status are awarded Lifetime Gold Status, while those with 500 nights and 10 years of Platinum status (which do not need to be consecutive) are awarded Lifetime Platinum Status. They even added a simple tracking feature to the landing page of their website. Members can see their total nights and number of years of status in the program online, as shown above.
Marriott has had a lifetime status program for a while, but at the end of 2012 (on the heels of SPG’s new program, they announced some changes to qualification. These changes were initially announced on the Marriot Rewards insider blog, but they are now explicitly addressed on Marriott’s website. To qualify for lifetime status, members need to stay a certain number of nights AND earn a certain number of lifetime points, as follows:
- Silver Elite: 250 nights + 1.2 million points
- Gold Elite: 500 nights + 1.6 million points
- Platinum Elite: 750 nights + 2 million points
How this might work with Hilton
I wanted to take a stab at what it might look like if Hilton were to implement a lifetime status program. As indicated on the Hilton HHonors website, the program currently offers three ways to qualify for status each year: stays, nights, or base points (awarded at 10 points/$). Here are the current levels (which were increased at the end of 2012):
- Silver: 4 stays or 10 nights
- Gold: 20 stays, 40 nights, or 75,000 base points
- Diamond: 30 stays, 60 nights, or 120,000 base points
Given these requirements (along with the lifetime status qualification criteria already in place at other chains), here is how Hilton could implement their own lifetime program:
- Lifetime Silver: 250 nights + 500,000 base points
- Lifetime Gold: 500 nights + 750,000 base points + 5 years of Gold or Diamond
- Lifetime Diamond: 750 nights + 1,200,000 base points + 10 years of Diamond
While I’m sure we’d all love for these numbers to be lower (if in fact Hilton did implement such a program!), my rationale is based on a combination of factors:
1) Rewarding spend along with nights. Hilton HHonors is unique among the major chains in offering a way to earn status that is solely revenue-based. If you accrue 120,000 base points in a calendar year, you’re spending $12,000, and I completely agree that this person should be Diamond regardless of how many nights/stays they have. As a result, I selected lifetime earnings that reflect this; to earn lifetime status, a member needs to (in essence) have at least 10 years of Gold or Diamond-level spending. For Gold, this works out to an average of $150/night, while for Diamond, it is slightly higher at $160/night. Incidentally, I would estimate that these numbers would be close to my average spend across my 436 lifetime nights.
2) Balancing long-term and short-term loyalty. If FlyerTalk is accurate (and I know that posts there must be taken with a grain of salt), there are folks that spend 200-250 nights a year in hotels. Three to four years of devoting these stays solely to Hilton HHonors would pass both the night and (likely) the base point requirements outlined above. Is that worthy of lifetime status? Maybe, or maybe not. By adding in the 5/10 years of elite status requirement, the lifetime status program would make sure that the member has shown longer than 2-3 years of loyalty, just like the SPG requirements. Speaking of which…
3) Building on existing programs. Since Hilton wouldn’t be the first chain to implement a lifetime program, they could use those of Marriott and SPG as models (Hyatt is a bit of an outlier). The qualification model outlined above includes bits of both programs: the points-earning of Marriott, the years of elite status of SPG, and the nights of both. However, it also ghas some stricter requirements. The point requirements would be base points as opposed to overall points (like with Marriott), while the number of nights required would be higher than for SPG.
Hilton already has (somewhat) lifetime status
Anytime someone brings up lifetime status with Hilton HHonors on FlyerTalk, many immediately jump to the status currently offered by Hilton co-branded credit cards. Technically, you can get status with Hilton every year without ever setting foot in one of their hotels:
- Silver: automatic with the Hilton HHonors American Express and Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature.
- Gold: automatic with the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve and Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express; also awarded to new Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature cardholders who complete 4 stays within the first 90 days of cardmembership, and to Hilton Amex cardholders who spend $20,000 in a calendar year.
- Diamond: awarded to Citi Reserve cardholders who spend $40,000 in a calendar year, and to Surpass Amex cardholders who spend $40,000 in a calendar year.
However, these credit card benefits do not confer true lifetime status; they just grant the cardholder status for as long as the terms & conditions of the card remain the same. Up until recently, the American Express Platinum card offered access to American Airlines Admirals Clubs and US Airways Club lounges, but my how quickly that changed. So yes, you can currently obtain status in other ways. However, a lifetime status program would cost the chain very little, and would be a small step towards helping reward Hilton’s most loyal customers.
What do you think of this wish? Would a lifetime status program with Hilton HHonors make you more likely to stay at their properties in the future? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!