Guestwriter Hotels

How much is Hilton Gold and Diamond status worth?

I feel I've benefited from my past year as a Hilton elite member. Does this feeling hold up to scrutiny, though?

Slightly over a year ago I shared about why I thought Hilton Honors Gold was a solid mid-tier hotel status. I still think so, but even back then we had commenters asking why go the chain route instead of the cheaper OTA route. Similar sentiments arose more recently in response to Jon’s article comparing OTAs with direct hotel bookings.

The number one reason I’m currently concentrating on Hilton properties is really to maximise the use of my Diamond status obtained through the insanely generous but now-defunct status match offer.

Given that I’d admitted to going ‘full Hilton’ mainly because I’d managed to rather effortlessly launch myself to the top tier, I figured that I owed it to myself to do a stock take and evaluate if the perks I’d gained were actually worthwhile.

I sure hope I’m this happy by the end of this exercise.

What I’ve done is to reflect on the benefits I’d enjoyed in 2017 as a Hilton Diamond member (also considering what a Gold member would receive, since that’s the tier that’s more easily accessible by the average mile hacker), attempt to quantify them somehow, and finally evaluate if I’m really okay foregoing the potential savings of booking via OTAs.

(Spoiler alert: Yes, I very much am.)

Methodology

I found it pretty difficult to meaningfully quantify all the benefits I’d received over the course of the year in a manner that would also mean something to a large audience, each of whom would have different spending behaviour on hotels. What I’ve endeavoured to do is to consider what I think I’ll be willing to pay out of pocket for each of them, expressing this as a percentage of the room price so that the value of this benefit can be applied to a wide range of room types.

There’ve been a  number of assumptions and generalisations made in this article, and you may disagree (greatly) with the exact valuations I’ve assigned, but I’ve also attempted to show the reasoning behind all of this so you can swap in your own figures as well.

One figure I’d needed before embarking on this review – based on my records, the average price of my stays at Hilton properties was about S$280/night (including taxes).

The Perks

The Hilton website gives a nice lengthy list of benefits for each tier of elite membership. For simplicity, I’ll focus on the three I really value – complimentary breakfast, executive lounge access, and room upgrades.

Complimentary breakfast (7% value)

Depending on where you stay, complimentary breakfast might look something like this…

Hampton Merced breakfast
Hot food at Hampton Merced, complimentary for all guests

…but hopefully you get something more like this:

Conrad Tokyo breakfast
Some of the offerings from Cerise at Conrad Tokyo, retailing at ¥3,800

Now I know that hotel breakfasts are typically crazily overpriced (satisfying as it was, I highly doubt I’d cough up S$45 for a breakfast buffet even at Conrad Tokyo),  but when made available to you for no additional cost they can truly be a delight to have.

I’d assign this the conservative value of $10/person (that’s a figure I can imagine paying out of pocket across the board). You get complimentary breakfast for up to two guests as a Gold/Diamond, so that represents an approximate 2x$10/280 -> 7% value to me.

Executive lounge access (5%/1% value)

This is another property-dependent benefit – the bulk of the Hilton properties don’t actually have a lounge, but most higher-end properties (e.g. Conrads and city Hiltons/DoubleTrees) will have an exclusive space that are accessible only to Diamond members and guests staying on executive floors.

Conrad London St James lounge
Take a seat by the (empty) fireplace at Conrad London St James‘s executive lounge

Other than providing a separate (often beautiful) space for you to lounge at, these spaces usually serve afternoon tea and evening cocktails.

Conrad Macao evening drinks
Take your pick of drinks at the Conrad Macao executive lounge

Depending on the property, the food served could sometimes even suffice for dinner (or at least supplement it). I think $20 per person is a fair price to pay for this benefit, so I’ll value this at approximately 2x$20/280 -> 14% for properties with a lounge. Only about 39% of my nights were spent at such a property, so that brings it down to about a 5% value.

This is probably the one perk of Diamond membership that I’ll miss when I finally lapse back to Gold status. Gold members usually only enjoy lounge access if upgraded to an executive room with lounge benefits. Since Gold members often receive only a one-class room upgrade, they usually will not enjoy lounge access if booking the cheapest available room at a property. This varies from property to property, though – some are more generous than others. I’ll estimate myself getting lounge access in about 10% of my stays previously, which would bring this benefit down to about a 1% value for Gold members.

Room upgrades (12% / 1% value)

Room upgrades can come in different forms. Sometimes, upgraded rooms come in the form of the exact same room type on a higher floor. Other times, you might be upgraded to a suite, an immensely larger room that typically comes with its own living room space.


Conrad Bangkok executive corner room
Sure, the executive corner room at Conrad Bangkok does look nice…
Conrad Bangkok deluxe suite
But wouldn’t you rather add an additional living room by being upgraded to a Conrad Bangkok deluxe suite?

This is an area where Hilton pales in comparison to other chains like SPG which offer a more consistent upgrade experience, sometimes even guaranteeing suite upgrades. For a Hilton member, it’s more usual to get upgraded to a deluxe room (higher floor, slightly larger space) or an executive room (with executive lounge access – I already consider this a win) than an actual suite.

In my experience I’ve been more successful netting suite upgrades by trying my luck and asking (nicely) during check in if a better room is available (you need a thick skin to maximise your benefits).

If asked to pay out of wallet for a suite, I might top up 50% of the basic room cost. I was upgraded to a suite at about 25% of my nights stayed in 2017; I don’t think I’ve ever received a suite upgrade as a Gold. That makes about 12% value for Diamonds and 1% for Golds (I’ve assigned a token value there in recognition of the nicer views and extra space I sometimes get).

The Points (18% / 12% value)

The points earning structure for Hilton members will soon be adjusted; in essence, starting Apr 2018 Diamond members get 20 points (and Gold 18) for every USD spent at a Hilton property (excluding taxes).

You can also buy points directly from Hilton at US 1¢ each, though you could sometimes buy them on discount at as low as US 0.5¢ each. The Points Guy currently values Hilton points at US 0.6¢ each, which would make it 0.8¢ in SGD, but I prefer to value them conservatively at SGD 0.6¢ as well.

I’d gained a rather substantial amount of Hilton Honors points this year – using the 0.6¢ valuation I’d managed to net about 18% returns in value. As a Gold member I estimate the gains would have been closer to 12%.

So what can you do with these points? They can be used to redeem award nights at hotels, typically at rates close to the 0.6¢ value. At certain properties like Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, seen as the crown jewel of the Hilton points redemption scene, redemption value can be considerably higher (in this case, 95,000 points for one night that might retail for upwards of US$1000).

Conrad Maldives
(Image from Conrad Maldives Rangali Island website)

I’d managed to accumulate a fair chunk of Hilton points in 2017, so I guess the Milelion’s going to be getting a Conrad Maldives review sometime later this year…

Promotions

The mathematically-minded among you might have noticed that 20 points per USD doesn’t quite add up to the 18% value I’d quoted earlier – it’s probably just half of that, actually. The reason for this is that throughout the whole of last year (also continuing this year), Hilton has been running promotions that allowed you to double/triple your point earn – a number of these were even able to be used simultaneously and stacked. I won’t go into too much detail of past promos here, but as you can imagine how that allowed points to have been accrued very much faster than the advertised rate.

This could also be chained with some other offers like using the Citi Prestige 4th night free feature, where the discount comes in the form of reimbursement and you still get the points earned for the 4th night, since the reimbursement is invisible to the property.

Peace of Mind (5%)

I have 2 issues with OTAs.
No walk policy and no upgrades.
That is not worth the savings.
One of friends had a booking at a hotel that went on strike, the OTA simply refunded the money and had my friend rebooked at another hotel, lower tier and at the higher prices.

-Fred, 2016 comment

I won’t belabour this point too much since I’m sure that OTA screwups are statistically not that common, and that similar screwups do happen at chain hotels as well. That said, being an elite member of a chain would offer you some protection in that you can raise feedback directly to the chain’s help desk – I’ve found this to be rather helpful since many properties don’t seem to man their email addresses particularly religiously.

If paying even 5% more for a hotel booking acts as a sort of hotel insurance, I’ll take it.

The Verdict

Even just counting the less subjective benefits (namely breakfast and points), I gained 25% extra value as a Diamond member (I estimate 19% for Gold) in 2017.

After including the more subjective benefits such as lounge access, room upgrades and peace of mind as an elite member, I find that I gained 47% extra value as a Diamond (I estimate 26% for Gold). This is actually way more than I’d initially expected.

Sticking to a single chain is probably not going to get you the cheapest stays (AirBNB, OTAs and other avenues of finding discounted hotels exist), but for travel hackers who’re willing to endure other opportunity costs to enjoy flying in premium cabins, I’m surprised not more are exploring leveraging on hotel chain loyalty as well!

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13 Comments on "How much is Hilton Gold and Diamond status worth?"

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I hv ever considered status but in the end they are just not worth it for me. Most of the times, the destination is one which I want to explore so we end up leaving early and returning very late. There’s little to no time to enjoy the hotel food, amenities, facilities and privileges. On flights its another matter since I have no where else to go but trapped on the plane so might as well do it in style especially when the classes are so differentiated. Plus earning points is so much more difficult in SG since there are… Read more »

Agree on the perspective about hotel stays and plane experience. I’d be keen about hotel loyalty ONLY if the barriers to these things were lower than just stays (*cough*card perks*cough).

I had the same perspective when I was a bachelor and had (sadly) a sense of adventure and trying new things everyday with friends.
But with a family, everything changes – Airbnb is not just risky, but impractical if u need urgent food or get some shopping done or go somewhere urgently.
Obviously value differs for every person, but just saying It is easier to quantify cost, but difficult to value intangibles.

Thanks for the comprehensive and well illustrated writeup. For me what jumped out was the 280 dollars. Maybe I am too stingy but that’s quite a lot of outlay. Personally I am in the OTA camp because generally, there is a price premium for international hotel chains. If one isn’t locked in by loyalty, one can pick according to value for money ( not necessarily the lowest price). Also depends on individual taste. For me, I don’t usually eat breakfast and I dislike patronising the same F&B outlet twice in a row. I also find extra space has diminishing returns.… Read more »

Get the new American Express Hilton Honors Ascend card ($95 Annual Fee) and get:
– free Gold status
– free weekend night when spend $15,000 per year
– 10 free Priority Pass visits.
Even better: get American Express Hilton Honors Aspire card ($450 annual fee) and get:
– free Diamond status
– free weekend night every year
– free second weekend night when spend $60,000 per year
– $250 airline incidental fee
– $250 resort statement credit
– unlimited free Priority Pass visits.

you must be new here.

Great article! By putting some numbers to the comforts, we get a sense of value, however subjective they might be. In addition, i’d like to highlight that late checkout is one of the benefits I love the most. Can’t count the number of times we were able to relax in the room until evening and leaving only when we actually head to the airport. Also the quick check in and instant checkout. Above all just some basic courtesy and smile from the reception desk / concierge keeps you in vacation mode – rarely shown when one doesn’t have even the… Read more »

I find this benefit can be supplanted by lounge access if we fly in a premium cabin. The safety of being at the airport, all the booze, food that can be accessed plus a nice warm bath and boarding priority gives more comfort and peace of mind. But I guess this may itself be a limitation if lounge options are limited in the airport of call.

For low budget travelers, ibis business and ihg’s (holiday inns) loyalty programs are something one can look at.

At the other end, would be great if someone can do a review of IC ambassador. Sounds like a good option for a less frequent traveler, but would like to hear some first hand experience.

Hi Louis, comparing Diamond and Gold status can I say in term of benefit the only difference is the Elite status bonus 50% vs 25%?
So if I hold a Diamond and already clocked 4 stays (Gold confirmed going forward), doesn’t really make sense to intentionally book another 4 stays to maintain the Diamond status?