While I have my preferred hotel chains with which I have top tier status, for many people I think the best strategy is to just get mid-tier status with one or more hotel chains using credit cards, which can be quite easy. That way you can always choose the hotel that’s best for you in a given city, rather than being blindly loyal.
The way I see it, the easiest to earn and most useful mid-tier status is Hilton Honors Gold status. The lowest annual fee credit card that offers Hilton Honors Gold status without any sort of spend requirement is the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, which has a $95 annual fee (Rates & Fees), and offers Gold status for as long as you have the card. That annual fee should more than pay for itself after just one or two stays per year.
If you don’t want to apply for that card, The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express both offer Hilton Honors Gold status for as long as you have the card. You have to manually renew the status each year, but there are no other strings attached — as long as you have one of the above cards you can constantly renew Hilton Honors Gold status.
As a point of comparison, earning Hilton Honors Gold status would ordinarily require 20 stays, 40 nights, or 75,000 Honors base points per year (which is the equivalent of $7,500 worth of spend at most Hilton brands).
What benefits does Hilton Honors Gold status offer?
How much value should you realistically expect to get out of Hilton Honors Gold status? Below are what I consider the main benefits to be, ranked in the order in which I value them (from most important to least important):
The most basic and valuable benefit of Hilton Honors Gold status is that you get free breakfast at many Hilton family brands. I find it slightly annoying that this benefit doesn’t apply at all brands, though both Hilton and Marriott are pretty inconsistent in this regard (unlike Hyatt and Starwood).
At Conrad, Curio, DoubleTree, Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, and Tapestry Collection properties, you receive complimentary continental breakfast for you and up to one additional guest registered to the same room every morning of your stay. Technically the breakfast benefit is for continental breakfast, though in practice many hotels will offer Gold members a hot/full breakfast, especially at properties outside the US.
In lieu of free breakfast, you could instead select 750-1,000 Honors bonus points per stay if you prefer.
At other Hilton brands you don’t get free breakfast as an elite benefit. At some brands this is because they offer free breakfast to all guests (ie, Hampton), while at other brands it’s just because they’re not as generous with elite benefits (ie, Waldorf Astoria).
Executive lounge access
There’s a further wrinkle to the free breakfast benefit, as if it wasn’t complicated enough already. At Conrad, Curio, DoubleTree, Hilton, and Tapestry Collection properties, you will receive access to the executive lounge, but only if you also get an upgrade to an executive-level room.
In other words, you may be assigned a club room pending availability, in which case you get breakfast and evening drinks in the lounge, rather than in the restaurant. However, in the event that you’re not upgraded to the executive level, then you just get the standard restaurant breakfast.
In practice I’ve had pretty good luck being upgraded to the executive level as an Honors Gold member.
A Hilton club lounge
At Canopy, Conrad, Curio, DoubleTree, Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Tapestry Collection, and Waldorf Astoria properties, you receive an upgrade to a preferred room. Don’t expect an upgrade to a suite, though it may happen sometimes. Per the terms, preferred rooms may include upgrades up to an executive floor room, or otherwise the next best available room type, including rooms with desirable views or amenities. As you can see, that’s not a very specific benefit, but usually you do get somewhat of an upgrade.
Once in a while I receive a suite upgrade as an Honors Gold member
25% bonus on base points
As an Honors Gold member you receive a 25% points bonus for Hilton stays. The bonus is based on the base points you usually earn. At most Hilton properties you earn 10 base points per dollar spent, meaning you’d earn an extra 2.5 points per dollar spent. That’s not a huge bonus, but it does add up.
In general Hilton is among the best hotel chains when it comes to the ability to earn points for stays, given their excellent promotions.
Late check-out subject to availability
Hilton Honors Gold members receive complimentary late check-out, though it’s subject to availability. This unfortunately isn’t as good as the guaranteed late check-out offered with other hotel groups. As a Gold member I’ve had decent luck requesting 1-2PM check-out, but even that’s sometimes denied, and anything beyond that is pretty unlikely, in my experience.
As they say, “your mileage may vary.”
5th night free award stays
This benefit isn’t specific to Gold status, but rather is available to all Hilton Honors elite members. Elite members receive a fifth night free on award stays, the value of which can add up pretty quickly. This is an especially good value for aspirational hotels, where a free night would usually cost 95,000 points per night.
Using the fifth night free, you’d pay just 76,000 points per night, which is an excellent deal for a property like the Conrad Maldives.
While there are some other benefits to Hilton Honors Gold status, the above are what I consider to be the most valuable. Given how easy it is to earn Honors Gold status (just by having the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, etc.), I think this is an extremely useful mid-tier status that a lot of people would get value out of.
While there’s potentially some value in Hilton Diamond status, for someone who just occasionally stays at Hilton properties, it’s tough to beat the value you get out of Gold status, given how easy it is to earn. The way I see it, breakfast and/or lounge access as well as preferred rooms are the best benefits of hotel elite status, and you get that with Honors Gold status.
If you’re a Hilton Gold member, what has your experience been like?
The following links will direct you to the rates and fees for mentioned American Express Cards. These include: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (Rates & Fees).