I noticed a tweet yesterday from esteemed travel hacker Robert Dwyer, asking whether FQF thought that spending $40K to earn Hilton Honors Diamond was worth it…. I thought this a great subject to write about, but I had one real problem.
I’ve never been HHonors Diamond, so I don’t know what the heck I am talking about.
I did some googling around on the topic, and quickly found a post by Gary Leff answering this exact question, his answer was to get the Citi Reserve Visa (that wasn’t actually the question…) this whole thing got me thinking. Can you trust an honest answer from someone who has a financial incentive to present an answer in favor of a product? In theory, I believe that you can, but in practice, more often than not you see that answers tend to lend themselves towards a specific outcome, and then the facts support the decision. Here’s the post, it is more focused on presenting the Citi card, but the comments are good, and at least there seems to be no ransomwear coming in since he dropped the ads.
To put it another way, if we had a guest post here from a Citibank representative and we asked him, would you recommend getting HHonors Diamond via “MSing forty large” on the Surpass or the Reserve, what would the answer be?
From reading his post it seems Gary knows as much about the status as I do, and that’s my second point.. while the conflict of interest from compensation is apparent, there exist conflicts even when there is no visible compensation, for example, one might not be a contractor of Citibank, but they may want to score highly for SEO on such as search, or just keep up a great reputation. It’s not uncommon for people to write about something they know nothing about, for a myriad of reasons.
Is anecdotal evidence any better?
For some reason I seem to think that if I was an expert at HHonors I could write something better… by expert, perhaps 2-3 years at Gold, and 2-3 at Diamond. That would have to also include stays at multiple brands within the family, and also across the chain in general, but would that really present a better argument for Gold vs Diamond?
The reality is that everybody tends to get treated differently based on how they approach things, and I often do quite well in terms of things like upgrades and perks due to approach to booking and interacting with people. So in other words, are two Diamonds ever the same?
Is status a minimum level of expectation?
As a martial artist I constantly am reminded that a black belt is considered to be a minimum standard, therefore facing someone with one doesn’t always mean that you are in trouble, because no two people are the same. It is no different from any professional certification, or a college degree, you can scrape through a 4.0 or breeze through it. So when it comes to status, is there a minimum bar that is always offered? Could this be a differentiation between the tiers?
A look at the (pertinent) benefits of Gold and Diamond
I’m ignoring spend bonuses, because you really shouldn’t be spending any significant cash at a free hotel. As such the differences that are stated between Gold and Diamond seem to be:
- Golds may get upgraded a level or so, Diamonds may get upgraded as far as a suite. The use of the word may here precludes it from being a minimum standard, because ‘unfortunately sir, you may be SOL’
- Golds get access to the Executive Lounge only when assigned to rooms on the Executive Level. Diamonds get it all the time (including when they get laughed at for asking where their suite is). There’s a tangible value to this, though it does vary based upon properties, and frequency of visits.
- Diamonds get 1000 pts per stay (IE both get Breakfast, but Golds have to elect it)
- Diamonds can force request rooms at award rates
So if you have the social skills of a walrus, the lack of guaranteed upgrades means this is pretty much reduced to 1000pts and lounge access as your ‘guaranteed’ benefits over gold status. I don’t think I am alone in thinking that HHonors Gold is by far the best ‘free’ status levels, but their Diamond tier doesn’t really compare to other programs based solely on the concept of their wishy washy approach to upgrades.
Let’s get personal
There are some risks attached to attaining Diamond status, in that the benefits allow for an experience that is below what you might hope to be optimum (you may not get that suite) the reality is that if you book certain hotels, you are quite likely to have a pretty good time, unless you are a miserable bastard of course. In my last hurrah of HHonors hotels I stayed at the Conrad Tokyo and Maldives. These are great properties, and I’d be happy to check out (or perhaps into) the Conrad Koh Samui, among others. So if you want to go to places like this, and lord it up a little, why not go for Diamond?
What if you are wrong?
The biggest fear of all, right? Screwing up. If you go at this with the proper attitude what did you actually lose? If you spend your $40K at grocery stores on the Surpass you’d pull in 6x for 240K pts. The top tier hotels with Hilton go for 95K per night, so you’d get 2 and a bit nights. At that point, I might be tempted to push it to $63K in spend and get enough for a 5th night free award, but I digress.
You’re in Tokyo now… imagine you don’t get upgraded and get stuck with a shitty King room (they retail for about $600 or so a night) you’ve got breakfast covered, which is handy in Tokyo, and you’ve got lounge access in the evening. How pissed off at life are you right now?
Would you rather take things into your own hands?
The problem with Tokyo is that you’re not going to be at the Conrad as a Gold for any length of time (assuming you are an impoverished college student or retiree) you just wouldn’t have the points. Now, you certainly could get the Citi Reserve Visa with its two nights free.. but don’t forget the nights are limited, so you couldn’t stay more than 3 in a row in the best situation. That said, if your goal is just for 2-3 nights, its hard to argue against picking up the Visa here, and spending your money on other things.
We need to look at volume caps twice here. The first is that the Visa card offers 2 nights free, but what happens after you stay for 2 nights? You can keep meeting people on Tinder to get them to sign up for new cards <insert link> or you can start earning points. The other velocity limit applies to the amount of volume that you can create from that dreaded phrase ‘opportunity costs’.
In reality, it is fallacious to simply cite a 2% or 5% opportunity cost for everyone, because some people simply cannot spend at 5%, or even at 2%. There are both overt and covert volume limits to these transactions, and if you are exceeding them you need to think about what comes next, and 6 HHonors is certainly better than 1x Victoria Secret point.
If you are a heavy hitter who likes to travel, Diamond is a no brainer. If you are earning Diamond when your total annual spend isn’t really being optimized on higher cash return cards, its a maybe. But that’s more about how you value earning money vs gaining life experiences. And if you are miserable walrus, you might as well stay at home.