Zagreb – Croatia’s Charming Capital

Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city, is often overshadowed by its stunning Dalmatian coast with the likes of Split, Hvar, Korcula, and Dubrovnik. I’m a good case in point as I have been to Croatia on two occasions and did not spend any more time in Zagreb than it took to change planes.

The trip down from Budapest via train was about six hours. The train certainly offered better leg room than a bus and it was easier to get up and down but the wi-fi was glacially slow with regular drops in service and the fact that there was a dining car was greatly diminished by the fact that the server in it obviously did not want to be working there. He was even slower than the internet connection.

On arrival into Zagreb, I found the tram network to be very simple. Budapest was a bit intimidating because there were buses and trams and a Metro system – so many options. But, smaller Zagreb has just a few lines and one of the main stops is just outside the train station. But, it is also a very easy city to walk as the distances are not that great.

Zagreb's Tram Network was easy to navigate

Zagreb’s Tram Network was easy to navigate

 

For me, tram line 2, which I caught right outside the station, deposited me almost directly in front of my hotel, the DoubleTree by Hilton. For 30,000 HHonors points a night, I got a very nice room, a great staff, and a wonderful restaurant. From the hotel, I could simply take the #2 tram back to the train station (it also has a stop in between for the Bus station) and connect to one of about three different lines to the main square in Zagreb.

Jelacic Square - the Heart of Old Town

Jelacic Square – the Heart of Old Town

 

I did not have real high expectations for Zagreb and it far exceeded the low bar. I like Zagreb. It is compact but with lots of eating options and a strong street market and cafe culture. There are a few sights to see – not that many, really – but just as enjoyable to do some strolling around the Old Town and stopping in at the Zagreb Cathedral. A day and half is about the right amount of time barring any specific reason to be in Zagreb. 

 

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Hilton HHonors Marketing Strategy

I’ve been impressed recently with Hilton’s print advertising marketing strategy.  As someone who gets a lot of magazines, I’m seeing them take advantage of their large footprint around the globe and segment their messaging.

For instance, in the current issue of The Economist, a U.K. based. magazine with a high income demographic, they carried a full page ad for DoubleTree focusing on “royal treatment” and upscale properties.

In a recent issue of Outside Magazine, they had a full page ad focused on their DoubleTree property in Costa Rica and its access to bike, surf, raft, and zip line activities.

In newspaper ads, the focus seems to be more on discounts, family getaways, and weekends.  I just have the sense that this strategy is a good one for Hilton and leverages their number of locations around the world.

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.

Maximizing the HiltonHonors Program

As a regular Hilton guest, I sometimes take for granted how the program works and how to maximize my points.  In posts about my hotel stays, I often make reference to different aspects of their program and how I earned points through various bonuses, spends, etc.  But, the reality is that I continue to learn new aspects of the program and have only recently taken advantage of points earning opportunities that I have missed for a long time. 

So, it should not surprise me when one of my friends asks me about the program and I find out they are missing out on lots of points.  While there are occasional posts about Hilton on some of the popular points and miles blogs, it doesn’t tend to get as much attention as programs such as Starwood’s Preferred Guest program or the Hyatt Gold Passport program.

For this reason, I have put this post together to walk you through some of the basics of the program and examples of point earning opportunities.

Program Basics

HiltonHonors is like every other frequent traveler program – it’s free, you can manage it on-line, and, even if you are only an occasional traveler, you will eventually earn some perks.  If you don’t have an account, you go to www.hhonors.com and click on the “Join HHonors” button to register.  Once this is complete, you will immediately be assigned a HHonors number and pin and will receive a confirmation email from them.

The first thing you will want to do is set up your profile and sign up for notices of special promotions and bonus opportunities.  I can’t stress this enough.  Hilton is constantly running promotions and I have talked to far too many friends who are staying at their properties and missing out on thousands of points.  I will give you some examples later in this post.

Earning Miles

The most basic way to earn points is to stay at their properties.  For every eligible dollar of spend on your hotel room (excluding things such as taxes, valet parking, and gift shop purchases), you will earn 10 HHonors points. 

You will also have to make a decision about your earnings preference with Hilton’s “Double Dip” program.  You can earn hotel points or a combination of points and air miles with partner airline companies.  For many years, my selection was HHonors points plus Delta Skymiles until I realized I was earning so many Skymiles through my flights and my Delta Platinum Skymiles AMEX, that I really needed the hotel points more.  If you choose to earn only hotel points, you will earn a 50% bonus on your base points every stay.

For example, you have a two night stay with eligible folio charges of $257.  You will earn 2,570 base points plus a 50% “Double Dip” bonus of 1,285 points.

Membership Levels and Bonus Points

You win you first join the HHonors program, you will have a “Blue” level membership.  However, as you stay at Hilton properties you have the opportunity to earn status that provdes bonus points with each stay and other benefits.  The elite levels, their qualification requirements, and their bonus earning rate are:

  • Silver – 4 stays or 10 nights in a calendar year – 15% bonus points
  • Gold – 16 stays or 36 nights or 60,000 base points in calendar year – 25% bonus points
  • Diamond – 28 stays or 60 nights or 100,000 base points in calendar year – 50% bonus points

For example, if I had Gold status and earned 2,570 base points (as we used in the previous example), I would earn a bonus of 642 points.  This would be in addition to the 50% bonus if I have selected “Points and Points” as my reward preference.

Diamond members also receive bonus points (in addition to the 50% on base points) as part of their on-property benefits. It varies by hotel chain as follows:

  • Waldorf-Astoria – up to 2,000 points based on your selection of benefits
  • Hilton, Conrad, Doubletree – 1,000 points
  • Hilton Garden Inn – 750 points
  • Hampton, Homewood Suites – 250 points

It is possible to achieve elite status through other qualification criteria such as a status challenge from another hotel program, use of specific credit cards, etc.  We will cover that aspect of the program in a future post.

Hilton and Partner Promotions

Hilton regularly runs special promotions that might apply to specific properties, certain time frames, or use of certain programs.  This is why it is critical to sign-up for email alerts of these deals.  Once you receive an email, it will give you a link to register for the promotion.  Once you register, every eligible stay for the promo will automatically receive credit.  To illustrate, I will give you some current examples of promotions that Hilton has run during the first quarter of 2012 that have earned me thousands of extra miles.

  • More Points Promo – This is Hilton’s primary promotion during Q1.  For every night stayed in a Hilton property, you will receive 1,000 bonus points.  In addition, for every 2 night, weekend stay, you will receive an additional 5,000 points.  So, a two night weekend stay would earn your base points, your 50% “Points and Points” bonus, 1,000 points for each of the two nights, and 5,000 weekend bonus points.
  • Facebook 24 Hr. Promo – Back in January, there was a 24 hour bonus event where a weekend stay at an advance purchase rate could earn an additional 2,500 points when enrolled via Hilton’s Facebook page.  Up to four different stays could be enrolled for a maximum bonus opportunity of 10,000 points.
  • Delta 2,012 Bonus – With this promo, register and then receive 2,012 Delta Skymiles for every two night stay at a Hilton property during the promo period.  This bonus is earned even if you have selected “Points and Points” as your earning style as long as Delta is in your profile as your preferred air partner.
  • Visa Card Text Bonus – In this deal, you simply registered your mobile phone and Visa card agreeing to receive up to 2 promotional texts a week and you earned 1,000 points upon registration and another 4,000 points after spending $100 at a Hilton property on the enrolled Visa.  Plus, you could opt out at any point.
  • Get Points Back Promo – After registering, you can receive a 30% point rebate for any award bookings made within the specified period.  I had booked some awards totalling 60,000 HHonors points, so I enrolled in this promo, rebooked the award stays, and cancelled the original bookings.  After my stay is complete, I will get 18,000 of those HHonors points back into my account.

You probably get the point – there are thousands upon thousands of bonus points available and all you have to do is register your HHonors number once for each promo.

Earning Points on Multiple Rooms

If you have occassion to book multiple rooms, you have the opportunity to increase your HHonors earnings. The program allows you to earn base points for eligible charges for up to two rooms provided that you are staying in one of them.  However, you cannot simply put your HHonors number on the second room and expect to get credit.  Instead, the charges from the second room have to be transferred to your room and paid under that folio.  You may have to be very specific with the front desk clerk or, if necessary, the manager on duty as they sometimes do not understand this process.

Since any bonus points are calculated from your base points, the additional points from your second room can dramatically increase your earnings total as it will affect almost every bonus.

HHonors Affiliate Credit Cards

There are a few credit cards that are affiliated with the HHonors program and provide additional bonus opportunites.  Here is an area where I have missed the boat for many years and just recently realized the opportunity to be smarter about how I pay for my stays.  For U.S. residents, there are three cards to choose from – two from American Express and one from Citibank.  In addition to earning HHonors points for spending with these cards, they often offer bonus points oppportunities.

Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express

  • This card earns 9 HHonors points for every dollar spent at Hilton properties, 6 points per dollar in certain catergories such as grocery, gas stations, wireless phone, drugstores, and a few others, and 3 points for all other purchases. 
  • You can achieve HHonors Gold status with an annual spend of $20k or Diamond status with an annual spend of $40k.
  • Earn 500 HHonors bonus points everytime you book a reservation on-line with this card.
  • Recent bonuses included 40,000 points for signing up for the card, 20,000 points for $3k in spending in first 3 months, and 20,000 points for referring another person who gets approved for this card.
  • The annual fee for this card is $75.

Hilton HHonors Card from American Express

  • This card is very similar to the Surpass card above but earns points at a slightly lower rate in exchange for no annual fee.
  • This card earns 6 HHonors points for every dollar spent at Hilton properties and the same earnings rates as the Surpass card on all other categories.

Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card from Citibank

  • This card earns points at the same rate as the non-Surpass AMEX card.
  • You automatically earn HHonors Silver status.
  • There is no annual fee.
  • Like the American Express cards, Citibank offers bonus points.  Recently, they offered 40,000 points for $1k in spend in first four months.

Earning Points by Purchase

HHonors allows members to purchase points up to a maximum of 40,000 points in a calendar year.

  • If you purchase under 10,000 points in any one transaction, your price will be $.0125 per point.
  • Purchase at least 10,000 HHonors points at a time at only $.01 per point.

When purchasing points, HHonors advises the points should be available in approximately 30 minutes.

Earning Points by Transfer from Other HHonors Member

Hilton HHonors allows members to transfer or receive an unlimited number of points between member accounts.

HHonors points can be transferred to any other HHonors member in increments of 10,000 points, at a cost of $25.00 per 10,000 points. This rate applies to all points transferred up to 200,000. After 200,000 points have been transferred in one calendar year, all additional transfers are free of charge.

Earning Points by Transfer from AMEX Membership Rewards Program

HHonors is a transfer partner of American Express’ Membership Rewards program.  For U.S. residents, 1,000 Membership Reward points will transfer into HHonors for 1,500 points.

Earning Points by Transfer from Airline Miles

HHonors allows members to transfer airline miles from designated airline partners and convert them to HHonors points.  The airlines and applicable information is below:

 

Airline # Miles =HHonors Pts. Fee Phone # Web
American Airlines 6,000 10,000 $30 1-800-882-8880 Exchange Online
Amtrak 5,000 10,000   1-800-307-500  
CSA Czech Airlines 5,000 5,000   +420 239 007 500 Exchange Online
Hawaiian Airlines 5,000 10,000   1-877-426-4537  
Icelandair 5,000 10,000   +354 5050 100 Exchange Online
Mexicana Airlines 5,000 10,000   1-800-531-7901  
Olympic Air 5,000 10,000   +302103550500  
8018010101 (Greece)
Virgin Atlantic 10,000 20,000   US: 1-800-365-9500  
+44 1293 538 888

 

These types of exchanges can take up to 30 days but there are also options to request express processing, for a fee, by contacting HHonors Customer Care.  Express requests can still take up to 10 business days.  Also, transfers of more than 100,000 require contact with Customer Care.

Other Earning Opportunities

Like many frequent traveler programs, Hilton has established affiliate programs with a wide range of partners from major rental car companies to dining programs to FTD to Amtrak.  While you are not likely to earn major points through these programs, they are worth knowing about and can be found on this page at the HHonors web site.

This should give you a good overview of how you go about earning points. For an example of how this all comes together, check out my recent post about how I earned over 16,000 HHonors points for a $212, two night stay.

In upcoming posts, we will look at Elite Status benefits and maximizing award redemptions.