Do you need to physically show up at a hotel in order to check in?

Dec 24, 2019

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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG  Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

With just a few days left in 2019, it’s time to make your plan and check it twice if you hope to qualify for hotel elite status this year. If you’re short on nights and don’t have any holiday trips planned, many people might be looking at taking a “mattress run,” or booking a hotel they don’t need just to earn elite night credits. TPG reader Alex wants to know if he has to physically show up at the hotel in order to check in and earn his night credit …

I’m based in California and am one night short of qualifying for Hilton Diamond status for the year. I’m trying to find a cheap room for a mattress run and see some deals in Texas. If I use Hilton’s mobile key when I check-in, do I need to physically show up at the hotel or can I do everything remotely?

TPG READER ALEX

First of all, good for Alex for getting creative and looking for hotel deals outside his own hometown. People in high cost of living areas like D.C., New York or California might struggle to find cheap, low-category properties for mattress runs, but if you live in a cheaper area there might be more deals. Before we dive into Alex’s specific question, it’s worth noting that he could also book an award night and still earn an elite night credit. This means he wouldn’t have to spend any cash, which might be preferable for some people.

Most of the major hotel chains offer some form of mobile check-in/mobile key system at select properties, but it’s definitely not universal. Alex is lucky in that Hilton is the only chain that will issue you a mobile key without also requiring you to stop by the front desk like Hyatt, Marriott and IHG do. This means that in theory Alex should be able to get away with checking in to a hotel in Texas from his house in California, but the reality is a bit more complicated.

First of all, not every property fully utilizes the mobile key feature. If a hotel is having technical difficulties you may still be required to stop by the front desk and pick up your key manually, which of course would be a problem here. While this doesn’t apply to Alex’s specific situation, most international properties will also require you to verify your ID in person so this definitely wouldn’t work outside the U.S.

Even if everything goes well, Alex may not get the elite night credit he’s after. Some readers in the TPG Lounge were quick to point out that hotels are aware of this mattress running practice. Hilton has been known to monitor digital keys to see if they were ever actually used, and deny/clawback elite nights from guests who clearly never actually entered the room they were supposed to be staying in. This is a pretty big risk for Alex to take — the difference between Hilton Gold and Hilton Diamond status is massive (a jump of about $1,800 according to TPG editor Nick Ewen), and it would be a shame to fall short by just a night or two because of a mattress run gone wrong.

Related: What is Hilton Honors elite status worth?

Other ways to qualify for Hilton Diamond status

While it might be too late in the year for Alex to apply any of these strategies, if he knows he’s going to be a few nights short of Hilton Diamond status at the end of 2020 he should prepare in advance by leveraging Hilton’s cobranded credit card offerings.

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is one of the most popular cobranded credit cards on the market, in large part because it automatically offers top-tier Hilton Diamond status to all cardholders. All you have to do is pay the card’s $450 annual fee (see rates and fees), though you can more than recoup that expense with hundreds of dollars in annual statement credits, including a $250 annual airline incidental fee credit, a $250 annual Hilton resort credit at participating hotels, and a $100 property credit on eligible stays of two nights or more at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels. Add in a 150,000-point welcome bonus (after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months) and a free weekend night certificate on account opening and on your account anniversary each year, and you have a pretty sweet deal.

If you aren’t sold on the Aspire (even though it’s one of the few cards that can pay for itself and then some), you should consider the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card instead. The card comes with a more modest $95 annual fee (see rates and fees), and you’ll have to spend $15,000 a year to earn a weekend night certificate. Normally Surpass cardholders get automatic Hilton Gold status, but you can upgrade to Diamond by spending $40,000 a year. Since the Surpass offers a nice 6x points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets, this can be a great way for families with big grocery bills to upgrade to Diamond. The Surpass also has a great welcome offer at the moment: you can earn 130,000 bonus points after you use your card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

Related: Hilton Surpass versus Hilton Aspire: Which card is right for you?

Bottom line

Hilton is the only hotel chain where Alex might be able to get away with mattress running from a distance, but it’s a big risk to take especially with a year of Diamond status on the line. Risk tolerance is a personal question, but if I were in this situation I’d either pay up for a local hotel instead (where I could check in in person, even if I didn’t spend the night) or look to use credit cards to help me upgrade to the next rung of status.

Thanks for the question, Alex, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy.

For the rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire, please click here.

For the rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass, please click here.

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