Hilton Changes Elite Qualification Requirements, Declares Gold and Diamond Benefits (Almost) the Same!

Last weekend I wrote that changing the qualification requirements for Gold and Diamond elite status that’s earned in 2013 for the 2014 member year.

  • Gold goes from 16 stays, 36 nights, or 60,000 base points to 20 stays, 40 nights, or 75,000 base points. Each qualification method increases.
  • Diamond goes from 28 stays, 60 nights, or 100,000 base point to 30 stays, 60 nights, or 120,000 base points. Stays and base points increase, albeit less dramatically in percentage terms than they do for Gold, and the number of nights required doesn’t change.

It’s fascinating to me that you can now just get a credit card and have Gold status as long as you keep that card (the Citi Hilton Reserve Visa), or put $40,000 in spend on a credit card and have Diamond (both the Hilton Reserve and the American Express Surpass). Or you can spend a whole lot more time and money at their hotels than ever before to reach those levels.

It just reinforces my notion that the thing to do is concentrate your nights in a program like Hyatt or Starwood, and get the Citi Hilton Reserve card so that you have Gold status for a $95 annual fee. That way you’re covered when you stay in cities without a Hyatt or Starwood property. And I’m hardly the only one that thinks Hilton’s Gold level is close enough to Diamond that the extra spend or nights probably aren’t worth the incremental benefit.

HHonors has begun sending out emails to members explaining the change. And the email seems to offer interesting insight into how they think about the program.

The email begins by citing the benefits of Gold and Diamond status — benefits which they describe in exactly the same way.

Now there are some differences between the two levels.

  • Bonus points: 25% for Golds, 50% for Diamonds
  • Lounge access: Golds get Executive floor upgrades when available, Diamonds get access to the club even if no upgrade (but Golds still get breakfast if no club upgrade)
  • Breakfast: When there’s no Executive lounge, or Golds don’t have access, both sets of elites get (technically continental) breakfast
  • Upgrades: Language for both Golds and Diamonds are murky, even Diamond upgrades aren’t guaranteed but no longer exclude suites in the terms and conditions (but suites aren’t an entitlement, either). Upgrades apply only at Conrads, Hiltons, and Doubletrees.
  • Points amenity: Diamonds get 1000 bonus points per stay, Golds would have to give up breakfast to get the points

In some cases there’s a stone’s throw of difference between the two levels. And in practice some hotels will treat Diamond members more generously than Golds but it’s at their discretion whether or not to do so.

But seeing HHonors essentially talk about the two levels in terms of the same benefits — that’s a new level of rhetorical collapsing of Gold with Diamond.

I found it equally interested the way that they framed their decision as well,

Periodically, we need to adapt our program based on industry trends. For the past ten years, we have not changed the qualifications for Gold and Diamond status.

I haven’t seen other programs increasingly their night, stay, or spend requirements to earn status. So I’m not sure what industry trends they’re talking about, unless it’s the trend that status should be earned through credit card membership instead of head in bed.

And the notion that they haven’t changed qualification requirements in many years wouldn’t seem to imply it’s time to do so now.

Programs often trumpet how they’ve kept redemption pricing the same for many years as justification for increasing the number of points an award costs — because members have become accustomed to inflation (whether they should be accustomed and willing to accept it or not).

But inflation in status-earning requirements is a rather novel concept.

One accepts that easy printing of points, making them easy to collect and offering huge bonuses, implies that the number of points for an award will go up.

But Hilton hasn’t been manufacturing more nights in a calendar year. They’re not saying, “the calendar is getting longer, you used to earn Gold after 36 nights back when the calendar only had 365 days. But now that a year is 400 days we’re increasing the requirement to 40 nights.”

I suspect that status-earning through credit cards has swelled the elite ranks, and they’ve decided they need to cull those a bit. So they’re culling them from the hotel staying portion of their membership. But they don’t want to say that.

Hilton HHonors’ Jeff Diskin has also talked about the need to keep members on the treadmill with ever increasing goals just beyond reach so that they strive to provide Hilton with more business. Perhaps upping stay requirements for status does that.

And making Diamond a bit tougher to achieve perhaps makes it a little less likely that they’ll introduce a tier higher than Diaomond in the near-term, something that’s been speculated for at least the past three years but a possibility that Diskin downplayed when I spoke to him over the summer.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. They’re also saving money in that those who get status through the card aren’t staying that much in their properties anyway. So, the cost to them for providing benefits to those elites will be cheaper than providing benefits to the guests who are frequent guests.

  2. I’ve seen this mentioned and written about a handful of times over the past couple days. It just doesn’t make sense. As a Hhonors Diamond for the past 8 years, I think I’ll concentrate my stays in 2013 on Hyatt. It’s just too easy for me keep m Diamond status through CC spend. Sure seems like Hilton is shooting themselves in the foot this to around – although I suppose it can work out better for me.

  3. Man… SPG needs to beef up gold (free brekkie!) and drop this $30k on the SPG amex nonsense. $30k for gold at SPG when $40k gets you diamond at Hilton? No brainer. SPG gold is pretty much worthless anyway.

  4. Seems to me that the economics must be that Hilton prioritizes the CC because they get all or most of the revenue from fees, wheras with hotel stays, most of the revenue goes to the owner, not Hilton. You would think the owners would start to catch on to this.

  5. So if this is correct – “But inflation in status-earning requirements is a rather novel concept.” can you predict when Gold will require more than 365 stays per year?

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