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If you ask a hundred seasoned travel hackers “What’s the first thing I should do to get into the points and miles game and optimize my travel?” you’ll get responses like “register for all the loyalty programs” and “sign up for a Sapphire Preferred card.” But right up there with those answers should be “get yourself Gold Status with Hilton.” It’s not only the most valuable mid-tier hotel status out there, it’s also one of the easiest to get. And I can say from experience, it pays for itself and can help you out in a jam. In this post I’ll tell you the value, tell you how it’s helped me, and tell you how to secure the status as easily as possible.
- Hilton Gold is the best mid-tier status out there, and also the easiest to get and maintain.
- The breakfast benefit alone swamps all other mid-tier statuses in the industry.
- The least expensive way to maintain Hilton Gold status indefinitely is the Hilton HHonors Surpass card from Amex (and for many, it will more-than pay for itself every year).
- It’s useful for planned travel and extremely valuable for unexpected trips.
What You Get
Like most status levels, Hilton Gold comes with a long list of benefits. For starters, you get all the benefits of the lower tiers (Blue and Silver), including valuable perks like 5th Night Free on award stays and free standard internet. Some perks, like having a 2nd guest stay with you for free, are more valuable in some regions than others. Meanwhile other perks, like two free bottles of water per stay at some higher end properties, are nice touches but small enough that they shouldn’t factor significantly into any calculation of value.
On top of those benefits, Hilton Gold comes with a 25% bonus on earned base points (i.e., an extra 2.5 points per dollar spent), the potential for room upgrades at some brands (see picture below, though it can be hit or miss based on the property), and…free breakfast almost everywhere. Breakfast is really where Hilton Gold sets itself apart from the competition.
Most loyalty programs don’t offer free breakfast until you get to the highest tier (and some programs like IHG don’t even do so at any level). The only other major hotel program that offers free breakfast to mid-tier elites is Marriott, and their list of exclusions is ENORMOUS, more than a quarter of the whole portfolio, even for top-tier members.
[Brief rundown of Marriott’s benefit, feel free to skip: At Marriott, even top-tier Platinum members don’t get breakfast at resorts, which is where a lot of people would want the breakfast benefit the most. The Marriott benefit doesn’t apply to certain brands, including Courtyard, which–at over a thousand hotels–accounts for more than 1 in 5 hotels that participate in the Marriott loyalty program. Marriott elites don’t get free breakfast at a few other brands too, including Ritz-Carlton properties. And even among properties within brands that should offer you breakfast, there’s a list of specific exemptions, including some of the best city properties (like the Marriott Copley Place in Boston or the JW Marriott Essex House in New York).]
In contrast, Hilton’s list of where you do and don’t get breakfast is much more straightforward, and done at the brand-level without amorphous exclusion criteria (like resorts) or long lists of exceptions. I’ll summarize it for you: with Hilton Gold status, you get free breakfast everywhere but a Waldorf Astoria or a Hilton Grand Vacations property. That accounts for fewer than 100 properties in Hilton Worldwide’s collection of more than 4,800 hotels.
It’s Saved My (and earned me free) Bacon
How much Hilton Gold is “worth” to you varies based on your usage. The extra points earnings can add up with enough spend at Hiltons, and the sticker value of the upgrades could be substantial (though you may not value them as such), but for me the breakfast benefit alone justifies keeping it. Breakfast is one of the most valuable benefits a hotel can offer, since (a) everyone needs food, (b) it’s often expensive and/or inconvenient to get food in the morning while traveling.
For example, I’m planning an upcoming trip to Austin and looking at my hotel options. There’s a Hampton Inn and a full Hilton near where I want to be. The Hampton Inn, despite being a “lower” quality brand, is actually a little more expensive. But the Hampton Inn offers free breakfast for everyone, while the Hilton doesn’t. But with Gold status, I don’t have to worry about that difference; I can book the lower price option knowing I won’t incur any extra costs for doing so.
One nice thing about the Gold breakfast benefit is that it can sometimes be even better than the Diamond benefit. Hear me out: as a Diamond member, you get access to executive lounges (if available) no matter what. But as a Gold member, you only get access to the lounge if you’re upgraded. If the lounge floor is all booked up, a Diamond member may be going to the lounge while the Gold member gets free breakfast in the hotel restaurant, which is often better.
Personally, though, the breakfast benefit is worth its weight in gold (yeah, OK, pun intended, I’m so sorry) for the times you DON’T plan for. Unexpected travel can be the most expensive and stressful kind of travel, and having an easy, free, convenient breakfast can be just enough to lighten the load a little. (It also helps that Hilton has enough hotels to offer options near most places to which you might unexpectedly travel.)
One time I had to be in New York for a family emergency, and I was booking the cheapest last minute flights and hotels I could find, but without much flexibility in my dates. I wound up at the Hilton Manhattan East, where my status got not only me, but also my brothers a fantastic, FREE breakfast buffet every morning (including great bacon and eggs). At NYC prices, that wound up being well over $200 of value on a single trip. And on top of the monetary savings, it was really nice to have one fewer thing to worry about. In fact, even if that had been my only Hilton stay of the entire year, I’d still consider the status to have paid for itself several times over, because…
Hilton Gold Status is Inexpensive
There are a number of ways to get Hilton Gold status. 20 stays in a year, 40 nights in a year, or $7,500 in Hilton spend in a year will all earn you Gold status “the hard way.” But there are multiple credit cards which come with Gold status as a perk! That’s fantastic, because it means you don’t have to be a road warrior to get great elite perks.
A lot of bloggers will recommend one of three different cards to get Gold status. The Amex Platinum, the Amex Platinum Business, or the Citi Hilton Reserve card. Those have big signup bonuses, but they have annual fees of $450, $450, and $95 respectively. They may not be cards you want to keep indefinitely, especially if there’s a cheaper way to get the status, which there is.
What I do (and what I humbly suggest may be the right move for a lot of people out there) is spend a mere $75 per year to keep the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express. And if you apply now, you’re in luck, because the signup bonus (after 3k in spend over 3 months) is a highest-ever 100,000 points (but ONLY through the link provided; the public offer is only 75,000 points as of this writing). At $75 annually, the at-least-hundreds of dollars in value I get out of it every year is one of the best bargains in travel.
Worth noting: of all the Hilton-affiliated credit cards and all the cards that offer Hilton Gold status, the Surpass card is also the best at earning points. You get 12 points/$ at Hilton properties (compared to 10 and under for the rest), 6 points/$ in very useful other bonus categories (compared to 5 or lower in usually less useful categories), and 3 points/$ everywhere else (compared to 1-3 for the rest of the field). This is a nice feature if you ever need to top off your account to reach an award.
Good luck with your travel hacking!