It’s been a big few years for the hotel industry, but one thing remains constant: loyalty. Travellers are returning to the road – and with Hilton, incentives like status extensions are keeping members’ elite perks primed and ready.

But will we keep seeing status extensions, now that most borders are open? Speaking of status, does Hilton have plans for Lifetime Silver or Lifetime Gold, to complement its Lifetime Diamond offering? And how about a new Hilton Honors co-branded credit card for the Australian market?

To dive into all of this, and more, I caught up with Sarah Somerville – Hilton’s Senior Director of Loyalty and Partnerships for Asia Pacific. Based in Singapore, Somerville has her finger on the pulse when it comes to all things points and perks.

‘I’m very passionate about loyalty,’ she says as we settle in for a chat. ‘I was reading your blog yesterday – very informative articles. I learned a lot. It’s great, and I’ll definitely go back more often.’

Thanks for reading, Sarah! Let’s get started.

Hilton Honors hits a milestone of its own

While Hilton Honors members have been busy chasing their own Milestone Bonuses, the program has kicked a goal of its own.

‘We’ve just surpassed 150 million members … which means we are the fastest growing hotel loyalty program,’ Somerville shares. ‘But we still have great opportunity to attract new members.’

‘Free Wi-Fi is a big one,’ as it’s given to all Hilton Honors members regardless of their tier. Many members sign up at the hotel front desk – and this perk provides the perfect incentive. After all, when a guest asks for the Wi-Fi code, it’s an easy way to introduce the program.

‘If you look at Q4, Hilton Honors members accounted for 64% of our (total) occupancy,’ Somerville continues. ‘So two thirds of our occupancy came from Hilton Honors members – really showing the value (of the program).’

As to which tier has the most members, Somerville wouldn’t be drawn on the specifics. But it’s understood that the status held by most members is the base level (formerly named Blue). Many reach Silver, given its ease of earning – but fewer would be among the ranks of Gold, with Diamonds aptly rarer.

‘As any program, you would have a bigger base population … and then as you go up the tiers, the numbers would be smaller. Your leisure travellers – family – would take maybe one or two holidays in the year, and would typically be a Silver member.’

Except when earned via other means, Gold and Diamond status is more easily obtained by business travellers than leisure guests. When achieved by the calendar, Diamond takes 60 nights to reach each year. That’d be impossible for a holidaymaker… unless they were taking two months of leave every 12 months.

When I point that out, Somerville laughs. ‘I wish I could do that!’ Don’t we all.

DoubleTree Noumea bungalows
Two months a year kicking back in bungalows, such as at the DoubleTree by Hilton Nouméa Îlot Maître Resort? Sounds great.

Is Hilton’s Tier Last Call promotion really the last status extension?

Following the impacts of COVID-19, just about every travel-related loyalty program has been generous with status extensions. At first, this gave relief for those who genuinely couldn’t travel. For instance, due to border restrictions, quarantine requirements or company travel policies.

But even with most international borders no longer a barrier, the extensions keep on coming. It seems loyalty programs don’t want to lose those who’ve previously proven their worth.

Case in point. Hilton Honors structures its membership year to mirror the calendar year. But come January 2023, some elite members hadn’t retained their tier. Due to a previous extension, they’d still enjoy the benefits of their status until the end of March 2023 – but would lose it after that.

Rather than seeing these travellers topple from the top, Hilton rolled out another deal. It’s something of a last chance offer: Tier Last Call. By staying just once before March 31, the member can keep their Hilton Honors level for yet another year.

Of course, one stay to retain Diamond is a lot easier than the usual 30 stays or 60 nights…

‘We want to make sure that we take care of our loyal members, and we make it as easy as possible through this transition,’ Somerville says. But ‘the last one … is Tier Last Call. As with most (other) companies, we are going back to pre-pandemic requalification criteria.’

Elite tiers of the Hilton Honors program.
Get used to retaining your Hilton Honors status in the usual way, going forward.

‘This is the last promotion that we have,’ Somerville reiterates. Yet, ‘I think we will continue to evaluate how we are doing, and what we need to do to engage our members.’

Hint: If you haven’t already retained your Hilton Honors status from last year, don’t miss this opportunity.

Read more: Retain Hilton Honors elite status with just one stay

Earning Hilton status not for a year, but for a lifetime

For those in the know, elite status with airlines and hotels can make the travel experience a whole lot smoother. And while most status is earned year-on-year, some companies recognise their most frequent clients in a very special way. That’s by bestowing elite status not just for 12 months, but for the rest of somebody’s life.

Many programs set lifetime thresholds across multiple tiers. This allows a traveller to be recognised for their efforts sooner, by securing a lower tier level for life. But it also encourages them to keep travelling, because the next tier could be theirs for life… and so on.

Hilton Honors is one such program with lifetime recognition. Lifetime Diamond awaits those who’ve held regular Diamond status for 10 non-consecutive years. The member must have also accrued either 1,000 nights over the course of their membership (paid and reward), or earned two million Hilton Honors Base Points.

But at the lower ranks, Gold and Silver can only be earned on a yearly basis, not forever.

When asked whether lifetime recognition could be rolled out to these other levels, Somerville shares her view on both annual and lifetime status.

‘Not everyone is going to become Diamond (each year), and we completely recognise that. I think a lot of members would be trying to rise to the next tier as quickly as possible. But we recognise that some members may remain at other tiers just because of their travel patterns.’

‘Lifetime (status) for other tiers isn’t something that we offer today. We’re really focusing our Lifetime proposition on Diamond, which are our most loyal members. I think it’s a great way to recognise our members who’ve been with us for so long, so this is really our focus now.’

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Making the benefits of status better

It’s one thing to have status, but status is ultimately about the benefits you’ll receive in return for your loyalty. For Hilton Honors members, one of the key perks of Gold and Diamond is a space-available room upgrade. As frequent travellers can attest though, what constitutes an ‘upgrade’ can vary considerably from one hotel to the next.

With Hilton Honors Gold, for instance, members could book an entry-level room and be upgraded as far as the Executive Floor, with Executive Lounge access included. Or they might be upgraded only to the next-best category beyond what they booked, likely with no lounge access.

View from the Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza.
On a recent (paid) stay at the Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza, I received quite the upgrade courtesy of my Hilton Honors Gold status.

When asked about consistency, Somerville highlights that ‘we’ve got a standard brand offering that hotels need to follow.’ In terms of upgrades, it’s understood that the next-best room category ticks the box – as does no upgrade at all, if there’s no availability.

Despite this, many hotels still choose to go above and beyond. And because of this, Gold-level guests may choose to stay there much more regularly. (Diamond members, of course, always receive Executive Lounge access where available, regardless of the room booked or received).

‘Every property is empowered to provide those personalised touches to the guest experience,’ Somerville says.

‘This is the hospitality business, and it’s a business of people serving people. Our guests are really at the heart of everything that we do. So yeah, some hotels tend to go a long way … or a bit more than (other) hotels. But the base standards should be the same.’

In a recent tweak, elite members are now notified of upgrades by email before arriving at the hotel. ‘It’s like a surprise and delight, but in advance,’ Somerville quips.

Free breakfast vs a daily food and beverage credit

For many years, free continental breakfast was a global staple of both Hilton Honors Gold and Diamond status. But more recently, when staying in the United States, the benefit has switched to a daily food and beverage allowance.

In most American cities, this is US$15 per guest, per night – or US$30 per night with two registered guests. In selected cities – New York and Chicago among them – the allowance is a little more generous, at US$18 per guest per night.

Effectively, guests charge food and beverages to their room, and only actually ‘pay’ for any amounts exceeding the daily cap. Those preferring breakfast could still use their credit towards this. But guests who’d rather sleep in might use their credit towards lunch, dinner or even drinks at the bar.

Elsewhere though, daily continental breakfast remains the norm at most brands. The only exception is at the newer Motto by Hilton brand, where the daily F&B credit is a global benefit in place of ‘free breakfast’.

Opinions on ‘free breakfast’ vs ‘F&B credit’ are split. On the one hand, those always preferring breakfast may sometimes find that the F&B credit system puts them slightly out of pocket, when their meal cost exceeds the allowance. Alternatively, other travellers appreciate the freedom associated with the credit, such as using it towards dinner.

Wherever you stand, one question remains. Will Hilton ditch daily breakfast entirely, and roll the credit out beyond the USA?

‘That’s a very good question,’ says Somerville. ‘The daily F&B credit is going to remain valid in the selected markets that you’ve just mentioned (the United States), plus Motto by Hilton outside of the US.’

‘We will not be rolling this out across Asia Pacific,’ affirms the Asia Pacific loyalty boss.

Hilton eyes more markets for direct-earn Honors credit cards

It’s been a while since Australians have seen a direct-earn Hilton Honors credit card. Up until May 2019, the Macquarie Hilton Honors Visa had been a speedier path to Gold and Diamond status. Today, Hilton’s co-brand efforts are largely centred in the USA: but with international expansion also on the agenda.

‘In the US, we have a very longstanding partnership with American Express,’ Somerville acknowledges. But ‘we did launch our first American Express Hilton co-brand credit card in Asia in 2021, in Japan.’

‘So we work with Amex now in Japan, and we have two products. We have a base product and a premium product. And we have, of course, points earning on your everyday spend – as well as accelerated earning at Hilton, tier status of Gold for the base product and Diamond (for) the premium product.’

‘I think co-brand … is the best way to accelerate your earning, and to have the most engaged members. So there are definitely opportunities to look at – where we should have co-brand. That’s something we are evaluating, always looking for new opportunities,’ Somerville hints.

For now though, some Australian Amex cards offer Hilton Honors status, as well as the ability to transfer points from Membership Rewards to Hilton Honors.

‘Globally, we offer (Hilton Honors) Gold to American Express Platinum charge card members, and we offer Diamond to the Centurion American Express.’

In Australia, Hilton Honors Silver is also a benefit of the Amex Explorer Card.

On earning status via credit cards, Somerville says, ‘I think travellers and consumers are always very discerning and they’re always looking for value. (These partnerships are) trying to create a win-win collaboration, or I would say win-win-win for the customer and then the two partners,’ being Amex and Hilton, in this case.

One last thing…

With all this talk of status, there’s another type of shiny card that we haven’t yet spoken about. But for good reason.

Hilton may be known for the Executive Lounge, but it doesn’t have anything equivalent to the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge. That is, a ‘secret’ level granted by invitation only, for VIP-types and the company’s most loyal guests.

Today, Hilton’s highest tiers are Diamond and Lifetime Diamond. But many rival hotel chains do now have a loyalty level above the best public tier. Most recently, luxury hotel chain Shangri-La unveiled Polaris. Among its suite of perks, members can visit hotel gyms, pools and Horizon Club lounges at any time – even when not staying in-house.

When it comes to an invitation-only tier, ‘we don’t have it currently,’ Somerville acknowledges. But ‘maybe, it’s something we look at. We’re always evaluating our opportunities…’

We’d best let Sarah get to it!

Also read: Hilton Singapore Orchard Executive Lounge review

Chris Chamberlin travelled to Singapore as a guest of Hilton. Feature image courtesy of Hilton. All other photography by Chris Chamberlin.

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Hilton’s Sarah Somerville talks points, status and more with Point Hacks was last modified: August 24th, 2023 by Chris Chamberlin