While Hyatt and Starwood do a lot to differentiate between mid-tier and top-tier status, Hilton and Marriott are kind of the opposite — they don’t do enough to differentiate between mid-tier and top-tier status.
One benefit of the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express, is that you get Hilton Honors Gold status for as long as you have the card. That’s a huge benefit for a $95 annual fee (Rates & Fees), given that Gold status gets you complimentary internet and breakfast/lounge access. As far as I’m concerned those are the single most valuable hotel benefits, and justify the annual fee after just one or two stays.
But the card also offers Diamond status after spending $40,000 on the card in a year. While having the card for Gold status is a no brainer, for the better part of a year I’ve been pondering whether it makes sense to put $40,000 of spend on the card for Diamond status. As far as I’m concerned the two most valuable benefits of Diamond status are as follows:
- Gold members only get access to the club lounge if they get upgraded to a club room, while Diamond members are guaranteed lounge access (though it’s worth noting that if you don’t get upgraded to the club level as a Gold member you get restaurant breakfast, which many would consider superior).
- The terms & conditions of the program give Diamond members suite upgrades at the hotel’s discretion. This is different than Starwood where Platinum members get guaranteed suite upgrades based on availability at arrival, but instead with Hilton it’s entirely at the hotel’s discretion. I don’t think there are many Hilton Diamond members getting suite upgrades anywhere close to a majority of the time, though.
In retrospect I should have probably just been happy with Gold status, though I had started working towards the $40,000 of spend before the HHonors devaluation was announced, and at that point figured I might as well go all the way, and now I’m a Diamond member. If it proves worthwhile, great. If it doesn’t, at least I can report back and suggest others don’t go for Diamond status.
I’ve actually had very good luck as an HHonors Gold member. I’ve never been denied lounge access. That being said, I can appreciate the peace of mind of knowing it’s guaranteed. But the suite upgrade benefit is what confuses me, and what I’d love to hear from existing Diamond members about. I also have top tier status with Hyatt and Starwood, and their room upgrade policies are straightforward. Hyatt upgrades you to the best available non-suite, though also gives you four confirmed suite upgrades annually that can be used to lock in a suite at the time of booking. Meanwhile Starwood upgrades you to the best available standard suite at check-in, meaning if a suite is available you’re entitled to it (not saying it always goes that smoothly, but that’s the policy). If you get 50 elite night credits with them, they also give you 10 suite night awards, which can confirm a suite upgrade five days out.
Then you have Hilton, which has this confusing benefit (bolding mine):
Complimentary room upgrades for Gold and Diamond Honors members may include the next-best available room from the room type booked. Upgrades may also be rooms with desirable views, corner rooms, rooms on high floors, rooms with special amenities, or rooms on Executive Floors, as identified by each property. Room upgrades, for Diamond members only, may also include suites.
The suite upgrade benefit is actually new as of 2014. So if my interpretation is correct you receive suite upgrades at the hotel’s discretion. It doesn’t matter whether there are 100 suites available, what matters is the mood of the front desk agent. So, Diamond members, how do you approach suite upgrades at Hilton hotels. Do you:
a) Not care and let them assign you whatever they want?
b) Ask nicely at check-in whether they might have any suite upgrades available?
c) Be a bit more suggestive and say “I noticed online that you’re still selling suites for tonight, do you have any suite upgrades available?”
d) Pull out your Diamond card and pet giraffe, and refuse to move until they give you the presidential suite and waive the pet cleanup fee?
And how often do you actually get suite upgrades?
Staying at my first Hilton abroad as a Diamond member next week, so I want to be sure I’m using the right approach.
The following links will direct you to the rates and fees for mentioned American Express Cards. These include: Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card (Rates & Fees).