Hilton – Beijing Wangfujing

Hotel Review

This is my second stay at this hotel right in the heart of Beijing and a 10 minute walk from the Forbidden City and Tianamen Square.  It is located right off a major shopping area that includes shopping malls and a food market just down the street.

On this stay, I was upgraded to a corner suite that was absolutey gorgeous and probably the size of my first apartment.  I don’t often post pictures of rooms but this one warrants at least a few looks..

 

The staff at this hotel are extremely customer focused and their English speaking skills are very high.  The fitness center and spa had very good Precor equipment, including some weight training equipment, and really nice pool.  I had a massage in their spa and it was done very well and very professionally.  The executive lounge here is excellent and offers breakfast, afternoon tea, and happy hour with free drinks and canapes and hors d’ouevres.

I was able to arrange a sightseeing tour in advance of my arrival via the concierge desk and they were very prompt in their communications and options.  TripAdvisor consistently has this property rated as one of their top hotels in Beijing and I could not imagine any reason I would go anywhere else unless it would be the Waldorf-Astoria they are currently in the process of building directly across the street from this property.  Even then, it would be hard to imagine getting a better experience and I’m sure the pricing will be much higher so I suspect this will continue to be my “go to” hotel in Beijing.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

I booked this room with advance payment to take advantage of the Any Weekend, Anywhere promo combined with the Facebook 24 hour promo event.  My total bill was $1,331 for the three night stay and this earned me 13,108 base points, a 50% MyWay bonus, and a 50% Diamond bonus.  In addition, I will earn 1,000 per night for the Q1 promo plus the 2,500 bonus points from the FB promo.  I also earn 1,000 MyWay points since this is a mainline Hilton and 500 points for booking on-line with my HHonors AMEX.  This bring my total to, before spend partners, to 33,216 HHonors points.

I will also earn 2,012 Delta Skymiles as part of that promo for a 2 night stay and I will earn 9 points per dollar since this was all charged to my HHonors Surpass AMEX card.  This will bring my HHonors points haul to a total of 45,195.

China Eastern / Shanghai Airlines – SHA – PEK

Flight Review

For my trip from Shanghai to Beijing, I booked one-way on China Eastern, a Sky Team carrier.  Most domestic flights from Shanghai fly out Hongqiao, but you always need to check and make sure as Pudong also carries some domestic traffic.  As a Sky Team Elite, I was offered expedited check-in, I was able to change to an earlier flight with no charge, and had use of the China Eastern lounge (shared with other carriers) before my flight.

The two hour flight was actually operated by Shanghai Airlines, who was acquired by China Eastern in 2010, on a Boeing 767 aircraft.  Departure and arrival were on-time and we had a lunch service on the flight that was fine.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

My ticket cost $208.  For this, I earned 667 MQM’s.  Flying on this partner airline does not earn bonus miles for my Diamond status.  I don’t believe I will get double miles on my DL Platinum AMEX for this purchase so my total miles comes only to 875.

Hilton – Shanghai, China

Hotel Review

This is my second stay at this hotel in the old French Concession area of Shanghai.  While many people focus on The Bund area or over in Pudong district, if they are on business, I would be hard pressed to stay anywhere other than this location.  It is just down the street from a major subway station at Jing’an and has close access to many of the major tourist areas including the Shanghai Musuem, Jing’an Temple, the Xintiandi area, and, one of my favorite areas, Tianzifang (Taikang Lu).

As a Diamond member, the staff has treated me like royalty and their Executive Lounge is one of the nicest I have experienced at Hilton.  Their is complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, and extended happy hour – generally from 6:00 -8:00 p.m. – with free drinks and a nice selection of canapes and hors d’ouerves that can easily serve as dinner.  The level of English speaking from the staff is very good.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

I booked this room with advance payment to take advantage of the Any Weekend, Anywhere promo combined with the Facebook 24 hour promo event.  My total bill was $753 and this earned me 6,564 base points, a 50% MyWay bonus, and a 50% Diamond bonus.  In addition, I will earn 1,000 per night and 5,000 for the weekend for the Q1 promo plus the 2,500 bonus points from the FB promo.  I also earn 1,000 MyWay points since this is a mainline Hilton and 500 points for booking on-line with my HHonors AMEX.  I also continue to get a 1,000 point bonus as a residual to the 2011 Anywhere, Any Weekend promo.  This bring my total to, before spend partners, to 26,128 HHonors points.

I will also earn 2,012 Delta Skymiles as part of that promo for a 2 night stay and I will earn 9 points per dollar since this was all charged to my HHonors Surpass AMEX card.  This will bring my HHonors points haul to a total of 32,905.

Delta Airlines – China Roundtrip

Flight Review

For this trip, I basically inverted my flights from last Fall with a flight into Shanghai’s Pudong Airport through Detroit and a return from Beijing coming home through Detroit.  My CRJ flights back and forth to Detroit were unremarkable.  Both of my long-haul flights were on Boeing 777 aircraft in Delta’s Economy Comfort product.

The Ecomony Comfort product does offer a bit more leg room and are definitely better than normal coach but the same width and certainly don’t come close to reclining enough for a good sleep experience.  These aircraft featured the slim-line seats Delta is using which can feel a bit hard after a few hours.

I would have loved to be in the Business Elite cabin that features the lie flat seat in a herringbone pattern but the price differential was steep and the back of the plane was not oversold which is the only way that even a Diamond can get bumped to the front.

Service was competent on all flights and every flight was on-time.  On return through DTW, the showers that are available in the Sky Club are a great way to get freshened up if you have time between connections.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

My ticket cost $1163.  For this, I earned 14,769 MQM’s plus my Diamond bonus miles of 18,461.  Add in the 2,326 miles I’ll get from charging it to my DL Platinum AMEX and my total comes to 35,556.

Hyatt Regency – New Orleans

Hotel Review

A trip to New Orleans for a business conference brought me to the Hyatt Regency hotel right next to the Superdome and ground zero in the days after Katrina.  In fact, this hotel only opened last October after nearly six years since the storm.  By chance, I actually arrived the day of a spectacular fund-raising event at the hotel headlined by such stars as Brad Pitt, Ellen DeGeneres, Drew Brees, Sheryl Crow and several other luminaries.

The hotel is obviously huge and was hosting the benefit, the SEC basketball tournament, the professional conference I was in town for, and some type of pharmacy convention.  It was understandable that there were no suites available when I tried to use one of my Diamond upgrade certificates.  My room was on one of the executive floors but nothing fancy.  I did not have a lot of opportunity to use the executive lounge but it seemed nice.

While the stay was fine, housekeeping was not typically to my room before 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon which I found a bit surprising.  But, my major complaint had to do with the business service for the conference – specifically, the in-house Audio-Visual support.  The sound system was inadequete, there were problems with playing audio in almost every session, I got 20-25 seconds of unanticipated random music when I was on-stage, and my mike was not on for the first 3 minutes of my presentation.

I know the conference organizer was very displeased with the service and I would imagine he would be hard-pressed to bring his group back to this location unless serious improvements are made to this important aspect of a hotel such as this one.

Final Grade: C

Points and Dollars

This stay marked two milestones for me with the Hyatt chain this year.  It completed my 12 nights within 90 days Diamond Status challenge (based on my HHonors Diamond status) and put me pass the 8 nights mark for the Q1 promo.  My room costs were $830 and I netted 3,500 base Passport points, 2,050 bonus points for Diamond status and 8,000 for my threshold achievement in the Q1 promo for  a total of 13,550 plus the 1,660 Ultimate Rewards points I will earn for charging my expense to my new Chase Ink Bold MasterCard.

Hilton HHonors Elite Status

This is the second post in my series on the Hilton HHonors program.  In a previous post, I discussed the basics of the program and how to maximize earnings with Hilton.  In this post, we will discuss how to earn elite status with HHonors.  In future posts, we will look at the benefits of elite status, by level, and how to maximize point/award redemptions.

Earning Status through Hotel Stays

The “traditional” and most common route to earning status is through hotel stays.  Hilton gives three different criteria for earning status through stays:

  • Number of nights
  • Number of stays
  • Number of base points

For HHonors elite status, here are the requirements for each level using the three different criteria: 

Elite Tier Stays Nights Base Points
Silver 4 10 N/A
Gold 16 36 60,000
Diamond 28 60 100,000

In all cases, these achievements must be made within the calendar year.  It is very important to note that there are exclusions which determine whether a stay is eligible for tier status qualifications.  Some of the common exclusions:

  • wholesale/tour operator packages
  • contracted airline crew rates
  • travel agency discount rates
  • stays secured utilizing Hilton Grand Vacations Club and Hilton Club timeshare programs
  • Hilton Grand Vacations marketing packages with a sales presentation requirement
  • Stays that are booked via third party websites such as Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, or Priceline
  • “No show” situations when a member has made a reservation guaranteed with a credit card but then does not check in to the hotel–irrespective of whether or not the member’s credit card is charged

Additionally, it has been my experience that rooms that are booked at a negotiated corporate rate are often excluded from elite tier qualification.

On a positive note, reward stays do count towards elite status qualification.

The Cost of Earning Status through Hotel Stays

To figure out the cost of earning status, we can do a little math that will help you understand the best ways for you to achieve status based on your travel pattern.

The easiest cost to figure is for base points, so let’s start there.  Since we know that 10 base points are awarded for every eligible dollar spent at a Hilton property, we know that the 60,000 base points required for Gold status is equal to $6,000 in eligible spending and the 100,000 base points required for Diamond status is equal to $10,000 in eligible spending.  Keep in mind, that your actual spend would be higher due to taxes, parking fees, etc. since they do not count towards eligible spend for base points.

When figuring the cost of achieving the various status levels through nights or stays, we have to make some assumptions.  In my case, I’m going to use a “low cost” assumption that the average nightly rate paid per stay is $150.  While there are certainly fair arguments to be made that one could find weekend stays at Hampton Inns and other lower-end properties as low as the high $90’s, you can also argue that there are many properties and nights that could cost over $300.  Even on a low fare, you must remember to factor in all the taxes that go with a normal hotel bill.

If we use $150 per night as the average rate, we can figure out the cost of achieving elite tier levels based on the number of nights.  Therefore, Silver status, which requires 10 nights, would cost $1,500.  Gold requires 36 nights that would work out to $5,400 and Diamond, which requires 60 nights, would cost $9,000.

By far, the ability to earn status levels based on number of “stays” is much more economical.  Silver would cost only $600, Gold only $2,400, and Diamond $4,200.

Here is a summary: 

 

Silver

Gold

Diamond

Stays

4

$600

16

$2,400

28

$4,200

Nights

10

$1,500

36

$5,400

60

$9,000

Base Points

N/A

N/A

         60,000

$6,000

         100,000

$10,000

In every case, the most economical way to achieve status is by hitting the number of required “stays.”  As a result, many have tried to take a two night stay and convert it to two, one-night stays by checking out after the first night and then checking back in the next day for the second night.  It is generally accepted that most hotel chains caught on to this practice a long time ago and now have rules that recognize this pattern and only grant the credit for one stay.

Instead, many travelers create multiple stays on one trip by checking out of one property after the first night and then checking into a separate property, even if it is next door, for the second night.  These nights will count as two separate stays towards elite status.

As an example, I travel to the Portland, Oregon area on business a few times a year.  My client is located in Beaverton which is about 8 miles west of Portland and about 20 miles west of the airport.  I’m usually there for two nights so I will stay the first night in the Beaverton area since I’m likely going out to dinner with the client.  However, I will check out on the second day, do the rest of my business with the client, and then drive over to the PDX airport and stay at a Hilton property there since my flight home the next morning is in the 6:00 a.m. range.

As a result, I get two nights credit towards elite status but I also get credit for two “stays” since they were two separate properties.  And, the airport properties are usually have a little lower rate so I save some dollars, too.

Earning Status through Reasonable Request

All frequent traveler programs that I’m familiar with have the same aim – they want to increase your loyalty and the amount of money you spend with them each year.  All elite status programs have a similar goal – they want to keep their best customers loyal to their program and encourage them to spend their travel dollars with them, not another company.  Therefore, if you are a frequent traveler with a demonstrated track record of generating revenue for the company in question, they will sometimes work with you to give you incentives to patronize their chain.  However, most hotel chains have become more selective in awarding elite status to travelers where it is unclear that there is a benefit to the hotel chain.  We will look at that issue in a little more detail when we get to status matches and challenges.

Assuming you are in the first category of customers, I have had personal experience and heard of many examples of Hilton HHonors making discretionary decisions to award elite status in certain circumstances.  For instance, I have been a Hilton HHonors Diamond member for several years.  But, last year I was just short of re-qualifying for Diamond primarily due to taking advantage of some special rates that my clients had negotiated with local Hilton properties around their corporate office.  Additionally, I had shoulder surgery in November and was off the road for the last six weeks of the year.

At the end of December, I simply wrote a simple note explaining this to Hilton and pointing out that I already had 15 nights booked for the January/February period and asking if they could extend any consideration to me.  They immediately responded that they valued my loyalty and were extending my Diamond membership into the new year.  Posts on popular message boards indicate that others have had similar experiences where they were given early elevation to status based on a combination of history and future bookings.

This does not mean, however, that anyone can write into them and request special consideration with no track record to support the request.  Hotel chains (I suspect Starwood, Hyatt, and Marriott are of a like mind) have become more savvy in separating the individual who simply wants status because it is free versus those who will generate revenue as a result.

Earning Status through Fast Track or Status Challenge

It used to be common practice for hotel chains to do “status matches” for elite status based on a traveler’s track record with another company.  The thinking behind this was that it would encourage a frequent traveler to try another program.  For example, I’m a Hilton HHonors Diamond so I am use to certain amenities and benefits when I stay at one of their properties.  If I want to try Hyatt properties, for instance, I will be comparing apples to oranges, potentially to Hyatt’s detriment, as I will not have any status with them whatsoever if they don’t give me some type of incentive.

However, with the rise of travel hacking and social media promotions (see next section), hotels, including Hilton, started to realize that they were sometimes matching “status” for travelers that had done nothing to achieve that status with their competitor.  Therefore, they were giving away status to travelers who were not generating significant revenue to Hilton or, for that matter, the original hotel chain who had granted status.

This resulted in the rise of status “challenges” where Hilton would grant certain levels of status, on a fast track basis, for a specified number of hotel nights within a specified timeframe.  I do not have any experience with a status challenge with Hilton but there have been many reports on message boards of challenges that required 21 nights of stays within a 90 day period to achieve Diamond status.  If you think about it, this is equivalent of 82 nights in a year which is much higher than the normal qualification criteria.  But, it does give one an opportunity to show loyalty quickly and be awarded with the attendant amenities that status affords.

Earning Status through a Promotion/Hack

I group these two together because fast track status is occasionally made available to certain populations but, in the age of social media, it seems that these promotions often become a travel hack.  For example, there was a promotion last year where Visa Infinite cardholders had the opportunity to register for instant HHonors Gold status.  To make this happen, these cardholders needed to go to a specific website and register their Visa Infinite card by entering the first six digits of the card number and their HHonors number.  This offer was posted on popular blogs and message boards along with the notice that acceptable six digit numbers were available via the internet.  Therefore, what was a targeted offer become a “come one, come all” way to get instant Gold status.   

Many would view this as an example of the power of the internet and social media and place responsibility for controlling the process at the feet of Hilton/Visa.  As a traveler who earns status through my loyalty and my spend, I am not a fan of these types of promos as it makes every amenity more competitive.  But, these hacks exist and regular monitoring of popular points/miles blogs and message boards will yield many opportunities such as this one.

A couple of other notable examples from the past year include opportunities to earn Gold status for as few as four stays in a 90 day period for patrons of Carlson Wagonlit Travel and a similar offer for Hilton MVP participants.

Earning Status through Affiliate Credit Cards

HiltonHonors also offers opportunities to achieve elite status through their affiliate credit cards.

Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card from Citibank

  • HHonors Silver Status as long as you remain a Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature cardmember.

Hilton HHonors Card from American Express

  • You will automatically be upgraded to HHonors Silver status for the duration of your cardmembership.  Additionally, you can upgrade to HHonors Gold status when you make eligible charges of $20k or more annually on the card.

Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express

  • You will automatically be upgraded to HHonors Gold status for the first year your cardmembership.  After that, you can maintain Gold status by spending at least $20k in a calendar year on the card.  Additionally, you will be earn HHonors Diamond status if you make eligible charges of $40k or more annually on the card.

However, I am unaware of any options for combining credit card spend with nights stayed to achieve status.  For instance, it has been asked if one could spend $20k on the HHonors Surpass card and have 14 stays (each of these numbers representing 50% of the stated threshold for each method) and earn Diamond status.  The answer is “no.”  You cannot mix and match qualification criteria to between methodologies.

Hilton – DFW Lakes Excecutive Conference Ctr.

Hotel Review

One of my clients held a major meeting event recently at this property and I was there for a one-night stay related to a presentation I was making at their conference.  This property couldn’t be more conveniently located to the DFW airport and has free shuttle service that takes only about 10-15 minutes from door to door.  This is a premier property with great facilities – both leisure and event wise.  They have an excellent fitness center, tennis complex, outdoor and indoor pools, and a nice lounge and restaurant.

My presentation was in their large “Val Verde” amphitheatre meeting room with a nice hi-tech set-up and supremely comfortable seating for the audience.  It can accomodate audiences up to 250 people and, of course, they have a huge selection of other conference and meeting rooms, as well.  Their executive floor has a nice lounge, the Tuscan Lounge, that serves breakfast and heavy hors d’ouevres and drinks at night.

All the staff I interacted with were top-notch and my client, who was having a week long meeting there with about 150 attendees, was very pleased.

Final Grade: A

Points and Dollars

The best part of this stay was that it was paid for by my client.  Actually, I did not expect to earn any Hhonors points as the charge was made directly to their group account and I did not think that was eligible for points to me.  However, when I checked my account on-line, my Hhonors points were there!  I earned 2,710 base points plus my two 50% bonuses (Diamond and MyWay) of 1,355 each plus 1,000 bonus points for the Q1 promo and 1,000 bonus points as my Diamond on-property benefit for a total of 7,420 Hhonors points.