How I managed to get top-tier elite status with Hilton without ever paying for a hotel stay at any hotel

How I managed to get top-tier elite status with Hilton without ever paying for a hotel stay at any hotel

Even after I started getting into the points and miles game, earning “status” was never something I cared about too much. Despite it now being very easy for me to fly anywhere I want for free using frequent flyer miles (thanks to years of studying!), I don’t earn any miles on those award flights, nor do they count toward earning status on any airline (if it did, it would be very easy to earn status for free with just one or two award trips). Sadly, airlines want you to actually be paying for your flights with them to get status (which makes sense, as frustrating as it is). Given that my biggest priority has always been flying for free, this never appealed to me.

However, as I’ve recently learned, earning status with hotels is a very different ballgame, and much easier. As I mentioned in my last post, many co-branded hotel credit cards will offer you a lower to midrange level of status as long as you hold that card. But given the fierce competition for loyalty among both airlines and hotels (especially with a particularly beloved brand being recently bought out by a less beloved brand), airlines and hotels will often offer what’s called a “status match”, where, if you present proof of holding a certain level of status with one brand, they will automatically match that status to an equivalent level with their own brand, incentivizing you to switch over. (Alternatively, some will offer what’s called a “status challenge”, where they will match your status after staying a certain amount of nights with their brand).

Note: While I do not encourage forgery or deception, if you’re wondering, yes, you can sometimes be matched by photoshopping proof of status in the hopes that they don’t verify it. However, results have been mixed, and consequences can be severe if caught.

Recently, I got word that Hilton was doing a status match which required proof of elite status with another hotel program, and proof of stay with yet another program in the psat year. While I already was Gold status with Hilton (which comes automatically with the American Express Platinum card, as does Starwood Gold status), I figured it would be fun to see how high I could go.

stat

As I already held the second-highest level of status with IHG (thanks to the IHG credit card), I figured I would submit that, though in retrospect I could have also used my Platinum Hyatt status (thanks to the Hyatt credit card) or Starwood Gold status (thanks to the American Express Platinum card). For my proof of stay, I submitted the reservation I made last year at a Marriott hotel using my annual free night certificate from the Marriott credit card (which also gave me Silver status).

The next day, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Hilton informing me that I had been matched to their highest status level, Diamond. I felt a little bit like the “One Red Paperclip” guy, having gotten there without paying anything:

diam

Now, to be fair, the top-level status varies from program to program. In reality, Diamond status with Hilton doesn’t offer much more than the next-highest status, Gold, other than the fact that I earn 50% more points per reservation rather than 25% more points. My first stay as a Diamond member (at a suburban Homewood Suites) yielded only a welcome bag with two bottles of water, two Milano cookie packages, and a letter welcoming me with 250 bonus points, almost worthless:

diamond

Where this kind of elite status can come in handy is at nicer hotels with luxury suite options. For example, in the Penthouse Suite at the Conrad Bali (pictured at top), one night costs $1,377:

pent

This is more than 10 times what the cheapest room there would cost:

norm

But if you have top-tier status, you just might be able to swing this upgrade for free (and while obviously nothing is guaranteed, there have been successful reports of this happening).

Of course, I didn’t just stop once I received Diamond status with Hilton. I proceeded to email Best Western, Club Carlson, and Choice Hotels to politely ask them to match my Hilton status, attaching the email from Hilton as proof of my Diamond status. Best Western is known for having one of the most generous status matches, and they emailed me back the next day letting me know I had been upgraded to their top-tier status (which again, isn’t too different from their second-highest tier other than more points). Club Carlson is a little stingier with status matches, only matching me to Gold Elite status, though still good for upgrades. Choice Hotels matched me to Elite Platinum, which, sadly, is not good enough for an upgrade.

Regardless, as a result of smart credit card utilization as well as making other hotels compete for my business, I now have mid- to top-tier status at eight different hotel chains – despite never once paying for a hotel stay! Even though I rarely stay in hotels when traveling for personal reasons, this still is extremely useful as I travel a few weeks a year for work, not to mention often stay in hotels when attending weddings.

In short, if you’ve managed to earn elite status with a hotel or airline (regardless of if you do it the old-fashioned way or with a credit card), don’t just stop there. Make other airlines and hotels compete for you and see just how far they will match you. But no matter what status you get, don’t be this guy:

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