That was the gist of a Hilton Honors mailing I recently received. But you’d not have thought that from the wording: “Congratulations on reaching VIP status” it said, without specifying which of three VIP status levels I had reached.
But there was also a Hilton Honors card attached and it identified me as a Silver VIP member. Which, according to the brochure, gives me a 15% bonus on base points. Complimentary health club access. And reduced points for select hotel rewards.
And if I achieved Gold or Diamond status, the rewards would be even better. I was reminded that “the more you stay with us, the more generous your benefits become.”
That was the problem. The last time I stayed at any Hilton Honors participating hotel was in the fall of 2007, so how the heck did I make it to Silver VIP status? Besides, I thought I was a Gold member.
So I went through 25+ cards (casinos, car rentals, hotels) I keep in the bedroom because they‘re the ones I don‘t use enough to keep in my wallet. And there it was – a Gold Hilton Honors card. I had been demoted to Silver! Very nicely, of course…
In fact, I was relieved. Since I’d not stayed with any Hilton Honors hotel for two years, I was afraid they’d terminate my membership. Inactivity for 18 months is a cause for termination from many programs. The collateral damage would be losing 76,000 points. (That’s about three free nights at a Hampton.)
So my new Silver status is a warning shot across the bow: “start staying with us more or….” And I doubt it’s a coincidence that it arrived some two weeks after I charged about $200 for a business hotel stay to my Hilton Honors VISA card. That was the first time I had used it in two years.
I figured that if I used it and put some points on my account then they’d be less likely to terminate me. I guess when they saw the activity they decided I may become active again and downgraded me so I wouldn’t earn more bonus points as a Gold member since I didn’t qualify for that.
I don’t qualify for Silver status either, since that requires at least four stays in a year. But since I have their VISA card, maybe they felt that demoting me to “peasant” might alienate me. Silver status still keeps me in a VIP category and that may entice me to “go for Gold.” But that requires 16 stays in a year and that’s not going to happen. Nor will the four nights it will take to stay at Silver.
I became a Hilton Honors member back in 2000, when Hampton Inns became part of the program. Before 2000, Hampton had been an excellent moderate rate hotel and they were my preferred hotel for business and personal travel. They had one of the best breakfasts of a moderate hotel and I rarely experienced any problems with them. Because of my history with Hampton, I immediately became a Gold member when they became part of Hilton Honors.
At the time, I was puzzled by Hampton’s entry into Hilton Honors. Why was a moderate hotel becoming part of the frequent guest program of a much more upscale brand? Was Hilton tying to diversify by entering the moderate hotel market? Or was Hampton becoming pretentious?
It soon became evident that it was the latter. Hampton pretty much stayed the same but their prices started climbing. Which is why I stopped staying with them. Now, my preferred hotels are La Quinta and the Choice hotels (Quality Inn, Comfort Inn, etc.). La Quinta reminds me of what Hampton used to be.
The only reason I signed up for the Hilton Honors VISA was because of the points they were giving. That gave me a nice boost. And I figured that if I wasn’t going to stay at Hamptons any more then I could periodically use the VISA card to earn a few points to keep my membership active until I used those points up with some free stays. But I never got around to using those points.
So now I’m planning a Hilton Honors exit strategy. Perhaps use the points up if we go to Tampa in April or to California next fall. Sign up for either a La Quinta or Choice credit card to get those bonus points. Then, cancel the Hilton Honors credit card.
I’m already resigned to giving up my Southwest Airlines VISA after I stop working full time (or completely) in three years. That’s the only one I pay an annual fee for and if I’m retired then I expect I’ll be spending less and traveling less. Which means I won’t be racking up enough points between the VISA, hotel stays and car rentals, and the flights I do take, to earn a free ticket each year as I do now. So why pay a $69 annual fee?
If I switch to a hotel credit card, which has no annual fee, and elect to earn hotel points rather than Southwest credits, then I can rack up some free nights fairly quickly. A free night is easily $65. So if I earn about 5 free nights per year, I’m breaking even compared to the Southwest card, since a free ticket has a value of about $300.
Membership has its privileges but my membership in Hilton Honors is on life support. I’ll be pulling the plug before the end of the year. Hilton will be the first program I’ve terminated.
Congratulations Hilton Honors….you’re being terminated!
(My Puerto Rico photos are now available here.)