The major changes to the Hilton Honors programme (which included the new spelling of Honors) kicked in yesterday. There were some IT wobbles initially, but by the time the USA was waking up things seemed to be running more smoothly.
As I outlined in this article here, here are the key changes.
The main one is the scrapping of the old ‘points and money’ scheme, which offered excellent value on the occasions – few in my experience – when hotels chose to offer it. It is replaced by a radical version of ‘points and money’ which is unlike anything else we’ve seen.
There are two elements to this and it is easier to explain if I look at them separately.
Firstly, for every standard room redemption, you can now pick a combination of cash and points. This will be driven by the points value and the Hilton HHonors member cash rate.
Let’s assume that a particular hotel is selling for 50,000 points or £200. You can now pick any combination of the two as long as you use at least 5,000 points. You can pay 50,000 points or £200 or 25,000 points + £100 or 5,000 points + £180 etc.
Here is the second part.
The maximum points price for a room will be the top end of its old reward category. However, off peak points prices will fall sharply. This effectively puts a floor under the value you will get for a Hilton point.
You will remember in our review of the Gran Hotel Montesol that it was selling for 95,000 points or €600 in August but 95,000 points or €270 in May. Under the new system, it remains 95,000 points in August but the May price is now (picking 8th May at random) 55,000 points. The cash price on that date – fully flexible member rate – is €291 so you’re getting 0.45p per point. Not too shabby.
There are other changes coming too:
free points pooling amongst friends and family
the option for selected Diamond members to pause their membership for a year for any reason, possibly during a period of redundancy, changed travel patterns, maternity leave etc
for US members, the option to redeem points for merchandise from amazon.com
These changes are further down the line, however.
So, what has happened in reality?
The emails I received from readers yesterday were split between positive and negative. Some of the negative ones were from people who had been fooled by Hilton’s IT mistakes – the ‘monthly view’ page, for example, was showing Premium Room prices instead of Standard Room prices. You had to click through to get the correct rate.
Here are a couple of genuine examples from my own travels:
Conrad New York
I have the Conrad New York, photo below, booked for three nights in June. It is a great hotel, not least because it is ‘all suite’. The room I had booked was 70,000 points. Today, the hotel is 80,000 points.
Why? Because, whilst Hilton promised not to increase any redemption prices, what they actually said was ‘we will not change any redemption prices beyond the caps of their old category’.
I think Conrad New York was Category 9 which meant anything between 50,000 and 80,000 points. Hilton moved the cap from the old June price of 70,000 points to 80,000 points. If you were planning to redeem here, you’re worse off – at least in June.
However ….. look at this in context. Based on the refundable member cash rate of £415 for my dates, you are still getting over 0.5p per point of value which is far better than usual with Hilton.
On the other hand, I need two nights in Beijing next month. I think the Waldorf-Astoria in Beijing was 80,000 points although I can’t be sure. Now, however, it has dropped to 56,000 points per night.
Given that the hotel is selling for over £300 per night on my dates, this is a great result. I will be getting over 0.5p per point. If I transfer over Amex Membership Rewards points in order to book this, I will be getting over 1p per Amex point which is excellent.
I am also doing three nights at the Conrad Tokyo next month. It is now sold out for my dates, which are booked at 95,000 points per night. If you want to book a room for next week, however, it is available for as little as 59,000 points. That is great value for what can be a hugely expensive city.
Regular readers will know I often use the Hilton in Sheffield as an example of a mid-tier hotel as I’m familiar with the property. This used to be 30,000 points. On a random date this month it is coming up as 26,000 points – a decrease – or £96 for Best Flexible Member Rate. You’re getting 0.37p per point here.
Note that none of the ‘pence per point’ figures factor in the points earned if you paid cash for the stay instead of using points. You should make an adjustment for that, especially given the current generous ‘2000 bonus points per night’ offer – see here.
In general ……
For ‘all points’ redemptions, you may well be better off. Check any existing Hilton redemption bookings in case you need to rebook.
It might make sense to use points now when it didn’t in the past. In a few cases you will be worse off where a hotel has moved its cap to the top of the previous redemption category.
However, if you were previously a fan of ‘points and money’ then you will undoubtedly be worse off. I wasn’t, to be honest, but that is because my kids generally oblige me to travel at peak times to peak cities where ‘points and money’ was never an option.
PS. Here’s a little secret
Using any amount of points (the minimum is 5,000) appears to make the booking act like a redemption.
What does this mean? It means NO SERVICE CHARGES.
Let’s take Conrad Tokyo as an example. On the 13th March it looks like this:
Cash rate (Member Best Flex): Yen 34,300 + 9% tax + 15% service charge
Points: 59,000 points
Smallest ‘points and money’ option: Yen 31,375 + 5,000 points + 9% tax + NO service charge
In this example, I redeem 5,000 points and I save Yen 3,188 including tax on the rate PLUS I save Yen 5,145 because I don’t pay any service charge! This means a total saving of Yen 8,333 (£59) for spending 5,000 points. This is an excellent return.
It will take a while for the Hilton Honors changes to bed down. For now, unless you were a big ‘points and money’ user, you will usually be better off or at least no worse off. ‘Points and Money’ fans are in a bad state, I admit.
The real risk is if / when Hilton starts to increase the redemption caps on the properties. If they go, or are increased sharply, you have moved by a stealth to a pure ‘revenue based redemption’ programme.
I don’t think Hilton wants this, if I’m honest, because when you remove the lure of outsized redemptions Hilton points become a lot less interesting. Look at the attention given to Le Club AccorHotels for example.
With a pure revenue scheme you would know the exact value of a point and it is easy to compare that with, unfavourably, the value you’d get from booking on hotels.com instead and taking Hotels.com Rewards credit. And that isn’t a place Hilton wants to go.