Miles, Points, and Elite Status Save the Day!

This spring, we received an invitation to our good friends' wedding in mid-May. We had been excitedly anticipating this wedding for a long time, but also knew it could prove a challenge for our schedules and pocketbooks. The challenges were several-fold: the wedding was across the country in North Carolina, Johanna couldn't get a day off work, flights were already getting expensive by the time we had the date, and Nascar had a big race the same weekend. Here's how miles, points, and elite status allowed us to have an excellent trip celebrating our friends' marriage!

Challenge #1: Flying Cross-Country and Back in 48 Hours without Breaking the Bank (and Our Bodies!)

Johanna wasn't able to take a day off work on Friday and the wedding was Saturday at 11am, making a red-eye flight an absolute necessity. Many actually like this flight, because it wastes no day-time hours and saves a night in a hotel. Unsurprisingly, this flight combined with a return on Sunday was going for $500-$600 per-person.

Instead, I looked to use American Airlines miles to get us to Charlotte (an AA hub) from LAX. While I didn't find anything in economy, I did find availability in first class and given the need to sleep on the plane, gladly accepted those seats at 25,000 miles per-person (we slept nearly every minute of the 4.5hr flight). Instead of spending another 50,000 miles on the day-time return flights, I was able to utilize our Southwest Companion Pass and airline credits we had from Johanna's Citi Prestige card to reduce our return flight to $130 total.

Since we were flying American and had the Citi Prestige card, we were granted access to the AA Admiral's Club at LAX before our trip began and the Admiral's Club in Charlotte after our arrival. This helped us take care of dinner and breakfast for free and gave us a comfortable place to hang out while in the airports. We also visited the Korean Air Lounge at LAX with our Priority Pass Club Cards, but weren't particularly impressed. Airport lounges aren't a necessity, but they do make travel more enjoyable and came in very handy during this trip!

Challenge #2: Hotel on a Busy Weekend + Early Check-In

Since we would be at the wedding all day and have to leave fairly early the next morning, I was hoping to avoid spending too much on our night in a hotel. At the same time, it was important to be close to the wedding and after-party locations. After spending a bit of time searching for nearby hotels, I realized that it was Nascar Weekend; most of the hotels were booked and most of those that weren't were charging $150-200 per night...ouch!

Instead, we took advantage of my Hilton Honors Diamond account (top-tier elite status) to book a Hilton Garden Inn at preferred pricing. In the event that all hotels had been booked, Diamond Status means we are guaranteed a room within 48hrs of arrival, but there were a few still available anyway. 

We spent $120 after tax and earned 4,000 HH points in the process (valued at $20). Another reason I booked a Hilton is that Diamond status included free cooked-to-order breakfast (valued at $20) and early check-in (priceless!!!) as benefits. The hotel had our room ready at 8am so that we could shower and even get a little extra sleep before heading to what was a beautiful and enjoyable wedding.

The Bottom Line

  1. Instead of spending $1,000-$1,200 on flights, we used 50,000 AA miles + $130 in cash.
  2. Instead of paying exorbitant airport prices for food and drinks, we used free lounge access for dinner, drinks, and breakfast on the way to Charlotte (estimated savings: $50), while enjoying quiet, comfortable seating instead of waiting by the terminal.
  3. Instead of spending $150-$200 on a hotel room we wouldn't even be able to access before the wedding, we parlayed Hilton Honors Diamond status into a $120 - $20 (points earned) - $20 (free breakfast) = $80 hotel room that we checked into at 8am!

Utilizing miles, points, and elite status to travel hack our way to and from our friends' wedding in North Carolina, we saved between $990-$1,240. For those not yet taking advantage of the miles and points game, that's a significant sum of money to spend on a 48-hour trip, during which nearly half of those hours were spent in-transit. Utilizing our travel-hacking skills allowed us to fully appreciate the special occasion without suffering over the cost of getting there. Win!

Get Matched to Hilton Diamond Status for Free

If you've been following along at Thorpe Travel, there's a decent chance you picked up an IHG credit card from Chase (I blogged about an opportunity to earn 110,000 points and IHG Platinum status in January). In this post, I'll show you how to parlay that status into top-tier Hilton status, which will give your stays at Hilton-owned hotels some extra sparkle!

How to get matched to Hilton Diamond status

First, let's start with the offer: Hilton has just recently made a page on their HHonors Loyalty Program site, which provides the opportunity to match status from another hotel chain. Basically, you just screenshot proof of your status with the competing hotel chain and provide another screenshot showing a stay within the last 12 months with that program. Diamond usually comes after 30 stays or 60 nights in one calendar year, so getting it for free is a pretty big opportunity!

Here is the relevant conversation over at Reddit, which includes a datapoint suggesting IHG Platinums are being matched to Hilton Diamond status. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that Hilton is even accepting future stays booked with IHG as proof of a stay within the last 12 months, although this may be a YMMV situation.

UPDATE: Hilton has been inundated with requests and many are not getting a prompt response after filling out this form. Consider a follow-up email to hhonors@hilton.com if you want to move things along. More information on this available at this Reddit thread.

Why do I want Hilton Diamond Status

Hilton Diamond provides a number of benefits, some of them uninspiring, but a few are really quite useful. Here's the short story:

  • 48-hour availability guarantee - If you call the hotel two days out, even if they are fully-booked, they 100% promise to find a place for you.
  • Access to the executive lounge where available, which includes free food and beverages throughout the day.
  • 50% elite bonus on base points - Earn an additional 50% in bonus points on top of HHonors points earned from your stay.
  • 5th night free - If you book four nights with points or free-night certs, you'll get the fifth night free.
  • Guaranteed discount - When you go to book online as a Diamond, you will see a special rate only available to those with top-tier status. Think of it like a AAA discount on steroids.
  • Digital Check-In - Some hotels now have the tech upgrade to do digital room-keys and mobile check-ins for Diamonds. You can even pick your own room from a floorplan, instead of hoping the front-desk clerk gives you their best available.
  • Late Check-Out - Basically, hotel staff will accommodate an early arrival and late departure, giving you more flexibility on travel days.

In addition to these and a few other benefits of Diamond status, room upgrades are common, though not expressly a member benefit. Getting a nice room upgrade is usually one of the biggest perks to top-tier status, so you'll want to skim through this post on how to make that happen on a consistent basis.

The short story is, if there's a nicer room or even a suite available, Hilton should be looking to keep their elite members happy, which makes them likely to oblige an upgrade request. The best thing you can do is ask, followed closely by making sure to ask nicely!

The Bottom Line

If you've got the IHG credit card (or top-tier status with another major hotel chain), you've got an easy route to Hilton Diamond status all the way through March of 2018. If you think you'll need hotel stays at any point in the next two years, why not grab hold of some extra benefits?

Hilton's brands are everywhere and with the Diamond discount price, they'll be an attractive option even if you don't care about the other posted benefits and aren't counting on a room upgrade. If you stay at one with an executive lounge, you'll have free breakfast and snacks throughout the day, a great place to work, and some complimentary drinks during cocktail hour. Seems worth the two minutes it takes to fill out a form and attach some screenshots, right?

I received Diamond status through matching a few months ago and we've got a 3-night stay at the Hilton Vienna. I'll leave you with another blogger's detailed review of that hotel's rooms and executive lounge to get the ideas flowing!