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Update: The Hilton American Express Ascend Card is now the Hilton Surpass® Card from American Express and is offering a limited-time bonus of 130,000 bonus points + a free weekend night through August 28, 2019.
If you’ve ever been a road warrior, chances are you’ve experienced first-hand how valuable hotel elite status is thanks to the variety of on-property perks it conveys to frequent guests. However, it can be challenging to peg a specific dollar amount to these benefits. Today I’ll kick off the 2019 update of my series that evaluates each of the major hotel programs and attempts to quantify the value of each tier of elite status. My first subject: the Hilton Honors program.
Before getting into the numbers, I want to stress that these calculations are just one way of deciding which program is best for you. You may disagree with my valuations for specific perks, or you may have a preferred hotel for work that makes Hilton a less-than-viable option. Feel free to adjust the numbers at which I arrived to reflect your typical travel patterns or preferences.
Like my past analyses, this post also provides valuations for each status level after meeting the requirements and continuing to qualify each subsequent year. I understand that some readers may be shopping for a new hotel chain to earn their loyalty or may be looking to travel more in 2019, in which case you might be starting from scratch with no status. If that’s you, check out the spreadsheet I’ve included toward the end of the post to estimate the value you’d get as you climb the ranks of the Hilton elites.
Finally, for this post and future entries in the series, I’ll be using a handful of assumptions to ensure consistency across the various programs:
- You complete 20% more stays/nights than the minimum required for the given level.
- You spend an average of $150 per night.
- Your average stay is 2 nights (though I’ll round up as needed).
In addition, I’m making the following assumptions specifically related to the Hilton Honors program:
- Your stays are split evenly between full-service properties (like Hilton and DoubleTree) and limited-service properties (like Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites).
- None of your stays take place at Home2 Suites and Tru by Hilton properties.
As always, be sure to modify these assumptions if your travel patterns differ during a typical year.
Two final reminders… like my airline guides, I’m using TPG’s most recent valuations for any bonus points you’d earn, with Hilton points pegged at 0.6 cents apiece. In addition, I’ve rounded all of the numbers to the nearest $5 to simplify the final calculations.
So, all that being said, how much value can you get out of the Hilton Honors elite status program? Here’s my analysis:
Hilton Honors Silver ($55)
The lowest tier in the Hilton Honors program is Silver status, which is typically earned after 4 stays or 10 nights. It’s also included as an automatic benefit on the Hilton Honors American Express Card. For this analysis, I’ll assume that you complete 5 stays covering 10 nights, split evenly between full-service and limited-service properties.
- 15% point bonus ($20): As a Silver member of Hilton Honors, you’ll earn 20% more points than a regular member, which works out to an additional 2 points per dollar spent at most properties (1 extra point at Home2 Suites). With 10 nights at $150 per night, you’re spending $1,500 each year, taking home 3,000 bonus points, worth $18.
- Fifth night free on award stays ($30): Whenever you redeem your Hilton Honors points as an elite member for stays of up to 20 nights, you’ll receive every fifth night for free (up to four free nights). This could save you anywhere from 5,000 points for a five-night stay at a low-category hotel to 95,000 points for a five-night, high season stay at a top-tier hotel. This savings is worth anywhere from $30 up to $570 based on TPG’s most recent valuations and gets even higher if you book a 10-, 15- or 20-night stay. However, you probably won’t earn enough points as a Silver member to utilize this very frequently, so I’ll assume a conservative value at the low end of that spectrum.
- Two complimentary bottles of water per stay ($5): The final perk granted to Silver members is a pair of free bottles of water for each stay at most properties (Hampton, Homewood and Home2 Suites are notably excluded). I’ll peg this at $5.
Hilton Honors Gold ($1,260)
The second tier in the Hilton Honors program is Gold status, which is typically earned after 20 stays or 40 nights or by earning 75,000 base points in a calendar year (which equates to $7,500 in spending). It’s also included as an automatic benefit on the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card, and it’s also granted to holders of The Platinum Card® from American Express. For this analysis, I’ll assume that you complete 24 stays covering 48 nights, split evenly between full-service and limited-service properties.
- 80% point bonus ($345): Gold members will earn an 80% point bonus on paid stays, resulting in an additional 8 points per dollar spent (4 extra points at Home2 Suites). With 48 nights at $150 per night, you’d spend a total of $7,200, giving you an additional 57,600 Hilton points, worth $345.60.
- Milestone Bonus ($60): One of the newest updates to the Hilton Honors program was the addition of milestone bonuses in 2018. Once you reach 40 eligible nights, you’ll take home 10,000 bonus points for every tenth night you stay, so with 48 nights, you’ll take home one such bonus.
- Fifth night free on award stays ($75): Like Silver members, you’ll also be able to get the fifth night free on all award redemptions during the year as a Gold member, but since you’re earning many more points, you’d probably be able to use it more frequently (or at least at higher-category properties). As a result, I’m bumping my valuation up to $75.
- Two complimentary bottles of water per stay ($25): Same benefit, more frequent utilization.
- Room upgrades ($480): As a Gold member, you’re eligible for space-available upgrades to preferred rooms at most brands, including Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Curio, DoubleTree and Canopy. The published policy indicates that this is “up to Executive Floor room types” and thus excludes standard suites, though I have been upgraded to suites before with just Gold status. Unfortunately, this perk is the only way to gain access to the Executive Lounge as a Gold member at applicable properties, as you’d need to be upgraded to a room with lounge access to enter. This perk is also limited to just one room (even if you’ve booked two or more on the same reservation), and each individual brand or property can determine which rooms to classify as “preferred” accommodations. I’ll assume a conservative valuation of $20 per night at the full-service properties.
- Breakfast ($240): Even if you don’t gain access to the Executive Lounge via an upgrade (or if you’re staying at a property without a lounge), you and one additional registered guest will enjoy complimentary breakfast at most brands that don’t provide it for all guests. This provides free continental breakfast at Waldorf-Astoria (the most recent addition in early 2018), LXR, Conrad, Curio, Hilton, DoubleTree and Tapestry collection; and then hot, cooked-to-order breakfast at Hilton Garden Inn. Just note that for many of these brands, it’s part of the program’s “My Way” benefits and must be selected in lieu of bonus points. I’ll peg this perk at $10 per night across the full-service stays.
- Bonus points or other welcome amenity ($35): Of course, if breakfast isn’t your thing, you can always select bonus points at any of the aforementioned brands. However, you’ll also enjoy other small perks at the other hotels under the Hilton umbrella, including 500 points at Canopy properties, 1,000 points at Hilton Grand Vacations properties and bonus points or snacks/drinks at Embassy Suites, Hampton, Tru, Homewood and Home2 Suites. I’ll peg these at $3 per stay at the limited-service locations.
Hilton Honors Diamond ($3,025)
The top tier in the Hilton Honors program is Diamond status, which is typically earned after 30 stays or 60 nights or by earning 120,000 base points in a calendar year (which equates to $12,000 in spending). You’ll also be upgraded to Diamond status by spending $40,000 in a calendar year on the Hilton Amex Ascend or Hilton Amex Business cards, but it is also included as an automatic benefit on the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express. For this analysis, I’ll assume that you complete 36 stays covering 72 nights, split evenly between full-service and limited-service properties.
- 100% point bonus ($650): Diamond members earn the highest bonus on base points for stays, taking home 10 extra points per dollar spent (or 5 additional points at Home2 Suites). With 72 nights at $150 per night, that works out to $10,800 in spending, giving you 108,000 bonus points, worth $648.
- Milestone bonuses ($420): As noted above, milestone bonuses of 10,000 points kick in starting at 40 eligible nights and then continue for every subsequent 10 nights you stay. Diamond members will earn another 30,000 points after reaching 60 nights in a year. Given the above assumed stays and nights, you’d take home four 10,000-point bonuses plus the 30,000 point bonus, a total haul of 70,000 points (worth $420).
- 48-hour room guarantee ($25): Hilton Honors also provides guaranteed availability for top-tier Diamond members with 48 hours’ notice. This sounds like a great perk, but the policy is filled with exceptions and loopholes (not to mention carrying exorbitant prices). As a result, the actual usefulness of this perk is quite minimal, so I’ll peg it at a conservative $25.
- Fifth night free on award stays ($125): Same benefit, more frequent (or valuable) utilization.
- Two complimentary bottles of water per stay ($50): Same benefit, more frequent utilization.
- Complimentary premium internet ($70): Hilton Honors provides complimentary internet to all members of its loyalty program, but Diamond members can access premium networks during stays. I haven’t noticed much of a difference in speeds whenever I’ve connected to these services, so I’ll peg the value of this at just $1 per night.
- Room upgrades ($1,080): Diamond members enjoy similar upgrade perks as Gold members, but the terms & conditions explicitly includes suites (“junior,” “standard” or “one-bedroom”). However, this same section also includes the qualifier “may include”, so there’s no guarantee. This is a definite improvement over Gold though, so I’ll bump the value to $30 per night at the full-service locations.
- Breakfast ($360): Same benefit, more frequent utilization.
- Executive Lounge access ($100): Another key difference between Diamond and Gold status is that Diamond members are guaranteed Executive Lounge access at applicable properties, even when you aren’t upgraded to an Executive Level room. In addition to providing breakfast, most lounges put out an evening spread of hors d’oeuvres, and many international ones include complimentary alcohol as well. Since this only applies to select properties, and since I’ve already captured breakfast in its own category, I’ll peg this at an extra $100.
- Bonus points and other welcome amenities ($145): Diamond members will have either additional welcome amenities or a wider selection of amenities from which to choose. Across brands like Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Curio, Hilton and DoubleTree properties (for example), this includes 1,000 bonus points per stay in addition to breakfast and upgrades, though the benefit is comparable to Gold members for limited-service brands. As a result, I’ll bump this value up to $4 per stay across all stays.
What if I’m starting from scratch?
Of course, as I mentioned above, all of these numbers represent values for those of you who reached these levels in 2018 and are currently enjoying the benefits. However, you may be starting from square one without any Hilton status at all. If this is the case, you won’t enjoy any benefits until you have completed 4 stays (or 10 nights) and earned Silver status. After that, you won’t enjoy additional perks until you reach the thresholds for Gold and then Diamond status. How can you quantify this climb up the ranks?
Just like I did for my airline elite status series, I’ve attempted to answer this by converting the above calculations into a value per night and per stay, as follows:
- Hilton Honors Silver: $55 / 10 nights = $5.50 per night, $55 / 5 stays = $11 per stay
- Hilton Honors Gold: $1,200 / 48 nights = $25 per night, $1,200 / 24 stays = $50 per stay
- Hilton Honors Diamond: $2,605 / 72 nights = $36.18 per night, $2,605 / 36 stays = $72.36 per stay
(NOTE: Both the Gold and Diamond numbers above remove the milestone bonuses, since those are earned in their entirety at specific night levels. However, those are included separately in the below calculations.)
I then created an Excel spreadsheet that uses these numbers to calculate the value you’d get from the program as you move up the Hilton elite status ladder. Since the program allows you to qualify on both nights and stays, I’ve created sections for each. Simply input the number of nights and stays you expect to complete in 2019 in the corresponding boxes. If your average stay is typically at or below my average above (2 nights), pay attention to the section labeled “STAYS.” If, on the other hand, you typically stay for 2 or more nights at every hotel, use the top portion labeled “NIGHTS.”
For example, you’ll see that I have pre-loaded 75 nights and 25 stays into the spreadsheet. With these numbers, you’d want to use the top portion (“NIGHTS”) to quantify your path to Diamond. As the spreadsheet indicates, you’d get no benefits for the first 10 nights, enjoy Silver benefits for the next 30 nights (at a rate of $5.50 per night), then enjoy Gold benefits for the next 20 nights (at a rate of $25 per night) and finally enjoy Diamond benefits for the final 10 nights (at a rate of $36.18 per night). You’d also take home several milestone bonuses: 30,000 points for reaching 60 nights and four 10,000-point bonuses for reaching 40, 50, 60 and 70 nights.
In other words, if you currently hold no status with Hilton and plan on spending 75 nights in 2019, you’d get approximately $1,207.71 of value out of the program.
Again, feel free to update the numbers in the “Base Data” tab of the spreadsheet to include your own valuations of the perks.
Make Your Own Calculations
Of course, the above assumptions may not fit your typical travel patterns at all. As a result, I’ve set up a second Excel spreadsheet to help you come to your own determination of how much Hilton Honors elite status is worth. The document is easy to use; just input the number of nights and stays you plan to make in 2019. You can also adjust how much you expect to spend per night as well as your expected break-down between full- and limited-service properties. Be sure to leave the “STATUS” box alone, as that will populate automatically based on your night/stay information.
Once you have all of those details set, look at the total value calculation (Cell D8) to see just how much value you can get out of the program this year.
Is it worth it?
So given these values, is it worth pursuing elite status (or the next tier of elite status) with Hilton Honors? Just like with any analysis we undertake here at TPG, there isn’t an easy answer to this, as it depends entirely on your individual situation. However, here are a few over-arching questions that can help you arrive at a decision:
- How much will you travel in the future? When you’re pursuing elite status, it’s critical to think about how much you’ll be traveling in the future. If you push hard to earn Diamond, for example, the valuable perks outlined above only apply when you actually travel.
- What’s the incremental value of one tier over another? Many of you may wind up within striking distance of the next tier, so be sure to consider whether the benefits are worth pushing for it. There’s no sense in going out of your way for perks that don’t matter to you.
- How well does Hilton’s geographical coverage match your typical travel patterns? There’s really no point in pursuing elite status with a hotel chain if you can’t feasibly stay at one (or more) of its properties on a regular basis. Fortunately Hilton is one of the larger chains out there, but be sure to consider Hilton’s hotels in and around your common destinations.
- How sensitive are you to price and convenience? There are many tradeoffs in this hobby, and one of the most common is deciding whether to use your preferred airline or hotel chain when it’s not the most convenient or cheapest. Would you stay at a DoubleTree if there was another brand that was cheaper and/or more convenient to where you need to be? If the answer is no, it may not be worth going out of your way to earn elite status with Hilton (or elite status with any hotel chain, for that matter).
- Is a credit card a better option? As mentioned above, all three of Hilton Honors’ status levels are available through credit cards, either as an automatic benefit or through spending. As a result, you may be better off simply opening one of those and utilizing the benefits without worrying about qualifying (or requalifying) the hard way.
These questions are also not easy to answer, as there are many different factors that come into play with each of them. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile exercise to evaluate your own situation as you decide to determine if Hilton elite status is for you!
Earning elite status with a hotel program is a great way to maximize your stays, and the Hilton Honors program offers some nice perks for its loyal customers. However, it also hands out mid-tier status simply for carrying a credit card with a minimal annual fee (under $100) and even started handing out top-tier status via the Hilton Honors Aspire Card in early 2018. Nevertheless, the chain does have very wide geographical coverage and many different brands from which to choose, making it an attractive option for many travelers. If you’re considering shifting some (or all) of your business to Hilton Honors in 2019, I hope this post has given you a framework to help make that decision!
Featured photo courtesy of the Conrad Maldives.
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