Easy to earn hotel points and status – Hilton Honors Award Program Review

Hilton Honors is the rewards program of Hilton Worldwide Hotels and with more than 50 million members, it’s one of the largest hotel reward programs in the world. It has frequently been written about on travel blogs, unfortunately often because of their drastic devaluations of points. They made significant changes in 2017, making it easier to use, but less valuable for many. In 2018 Hilton Honors released four new credit cards with American Express, making it easy to earn points and perks without staying in hotels! Read my Hilton Honors review to find out if it makes sense for your travel needs!

HiltonHonors 2017 OverviewWho are they?  Hilton Worldwide is one of the largest hotel groups in the world, with 4,875 hotels in 97 countries! They are heavily focused on the Americas with almost 90% of their hotels in that region. Most of their hotels are limited-service, mid-scale hotels like Hampton, but they do have global coverage and upscale brands like Conrad, so there are opportunities for aspirational stays! You can find out more about their brands and the distribution across regions and price categories in my overview: Hilton Worldwide – Facts & Figures!

Why should I care?  4,875 hotels are hard to ignore – you’ll see them everywhere across the US and you’ll find them in most of the big cities and key business and tourist destinations around the world. Their coverage is similar to the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) or Marriott Hotels!
Hilton Honors points are also very easy to earn. You not only earn points when staying at one of their hotels, but they have countless partners to earn points with, like airlines, car rental companies and merchants. Even better, you can earn points and elite status with four credit cards from American Express, making it one of the easiest programs to get status instantly and lots of points without having even stayed at one of their hotels. They are also one of the easiest point currency to straight out buy – frequent promotions allow you to buy points for 0.5ct/pt, making it easy to top up your account for a high-value redemption!

Earning Points: Hilton Honors changed the earning structure in 2018 and eliminated the unique points & miles option. That is making it simpler, but less rewarding for lower level elite members. Base members earn 10 points per US Dollar of spend at the vast majority of hotels, Silver members earn 12p, Gold 18p and Diamond members earn 20 points per US Dollar spent.  At the new Tru brand and Home2 extended stay hotels, you earn half the number of points.

As a frequent traveler you can increase your earning by signing up for frequent promotions that might offer double points or fixed bonuses for stays. You should sign-up for email updates to stay on top of the promotions and sign up regardless of current plans.

One of the big strength of Hilton Honors is how easy it is to earn additional points with partners. You can earn points with airlines, car rental companies, merchants and an online shopping mall. The easiest way though is with a number of credit cards. Hilton offers four American Express credit cards to earn points – the basic American Express HHonors, the mid-level American Express Ascend and the premium American Express Aspire. All of those cards offer generous sign-up bonuses of up to 100,000 points and good earn rates, giving you a quick start on earning Hilton points, even if you don’t stay at hotels often. You can even get Gold (Ascend) or top level Diamond (Aspire) status with the cards, giving you all the perks the loyalty program has to offer! There is also an American Express Hilton Business card.
If all of that doesn’t get you the points you need for a planned award redemption, you can buy points to top up your account.

Redeeming Points: Like many things so easy to get, Hilton Honors points are not the most valuable currency out there. Hilton has continued to move towards a “revenue based” redemption, with the number of points closely matching the current cash rates and with a fixed value of the points. They have also introduced a cash & points slider that allows you to book any room with a mix of points and cash.
HiltonHonors MoneySliderAl these changes make it easier for infrequent travelers to use their points, but also made it harder to find great value! Since implementing these changes last year, Hilton has eliminated award categories, making it even more difficult to plan your award stays – the hotel for your dream vacation might jump from 30,000 points per night to 70,000 points without warning!

For the time being, redemptions start at 5,0000 points/night for a category 1 hotel and max out at 95,000 category 10 hotel. Hilton no longer publishes a list of hotels by category and the number of category 1 hotels has dropped to less than 50 in 2018. 

Hilton Garden Inn Bali Pool

Hilton Garden Inn Bali Pool

I value Hilton Honors points at 0.4cent/point. As Honors becomes more revenue based, I expect redemption values to hover closely between 0.3-0.5 ct/pt, with fewer terrible and great redemptions available. I see the most value in the low- and mid-range properties, like the Hilton Garden Inn Bali (5,000pts) and Doubletree Kuala Lumpur (10,000pts) and at the very top end, like at the Conrad Rangali Maldives (95,000) where the maximum points rates can still be much cheaper than seasonally high cash rates!

Conrad Rangali Pool

Conrad Rangali Pool

Another good value option are the “fifth night free awards” – so you can redeem a 5-night stay at a category 1 hotel for only 20,000 points (4×5,000), making long stays more valuable!
A welcome feature to make redemptions easier to attain is the ability to pool your points across family or friends. You can transfer up to 500,000 points and receive up to 2,000,000 points per year, without any fees, making it easier to use your points for a big trip! I’m sure there are millions of “orphaned” points out there, too little for a redemption on their own, but useful when combined!
The last and least change Hilton is introducing is “Shop with Points” – you can use your points to shop at Amazon! These partnerships tend to be terrible value and I’d recommend to stay away from it!
To define the true value of reward points, you have to look at both earning and redemption. To do that, I combine rate of points earned per USDollar of spend at a hotel, with the value of the points for redemption, resulting in a reward rate. For Hilton Honors that reward rate is at 6% for regular members and 8% for Diamond members – less than at competitors Marriott or IHG and also less than booking directly through hotels.com! That makes it one of the least attractive programs to earn points through stays! Check out the hotel reward program comparison for more details.

Elite Membership Levels & Benefits:  Similar to the other big chains, Hilton Honors offers 4 levels of elite membership, with “Blue” being available by signing up, with limited benefits. You can easily reach Silver with only 4 stays or 10 nights. You can also get Silver by signing up for the basic American Express HHonors credit card. The main benefit of Silver is a 20% earning bonus. The next level, Gold, requires 40 nights, 20 stays or 75,000 base points ($7,500 spend). That sounds a lot more difficult than it is: You can get Gold status with the American Express Ascend and even Diamond status with the American Express Aspire card!
Hilton also offers fast-track promotions to Gold and offers generous status match programs to Gold or even Diamond status! I consider Gold the “sweet spot” of the Honors elite program: You receive upgrades based on availability as well as a choice of free breakfast or welcome gift. My first stay after receiving Gold at the Conrad Macau saw me upgraded to a beautiful suite and the offer of breakfast and happy hour at the Executive Lounge. Upgrades, lounge access and breakfast are of great value to me – it makes for a better stay and you save money on breakfast, which can be a significant amount!

Conrad Macau Suite

Conrad Macau Suite

The top Diamond level gives you a higher earn bonus and a 48h room guarantee, a feature which I have never used at any chain I had it in 20+ years of frequent travel! They now also allow you to retain Diamond once for a year you don’t travel as much, for example after having a child or change of jobs! My travel experience did not change significantly after a status match to Diamond, so I don’t see much value over Gold! You can see all the benefits below:

HiltonWW Benefits TableBottomline & who should sign up? Hilton has made it easy to get status and earn points with credit cards, allows you to buy or combine points and has made it easier to redeem those points for stays with miles & money!
That makes it a good program for US Residents traveling mostly in the US, willing to sign-up for a credit card and use it to earn points for future trips! If you want to use your points just like another currency and without a lot of effort, Hilton Honors will work better for you than ever! 
The poor redemption values and low reward rate compared to other programs make it unattractive to earn points with stays and I wouldn’t direct my travel spend to Hilton for the rewards program alone – just stay whenever a Hilton property is the best fit for your travel needs.
Points enthusiasts can get status and points with credit cards and save those points for stays where Hilton Honors points still offer good value. Given the size and reach, ease of status and frequent option to purchase points, it’s a good “backup” program to participate in!
With a lower share of international hotels than IHG or Marriott, Hilton Honors is less attractive to international travelers. It might make sense to combine it with a more Europe and Asia focused program like Accor LeClub!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *