This is the second of our overview series of the main hotel loyalty schemes. Each scheme will be covered over two posts on consecutive days. One will list the basic facts of the scheme, the other will be my subjective view of what is of particular merit.
Hilton Honors covers 4,600 hotels globally under 14 brands – Waldorf-Astoria, Conrad, Hilton, Hilton Grand Vacation, Embassy Suites, Doubletree, Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites, Hampton Inn, Canopy, Curio, Tru, Tapestry Collection and Home2Suites brands. The Hilton Honors website is here.
What is the geographic spread? The European properties are mainly branded Hilton with a growing number of Doubletree, Hampton and Waldorf-Astoria sites. In general, many UK Hilton branded hotels in the regions are tired and in need of refurbishment. Doubletree, especially the ex-Mint brand hotels in London, is well regarded. After a few years of stagnation, there have been a number of high-profile hotel openings recently – Hampton (a budget brand with free breakfast and free internet) is seen as having most potential and they are now popping up across the UK.
Do I use them? I do. I have visited the Conrad New York (photo below) twice in the last few years on a redemption – it has HUGE rooms as it is ‘all suite’. We also visit the Waldorf-Astoria (now Hilton) Syon Park outside London occasionally with our children – they also went to the impressive Hilton St Georges Park at the National Football Centre in Burton-upon-Trent. I visited the Hampton Inn in Berlin a few years ago and was VERY impressed by the value for money given the quality of the room and the breakfast. We also like the Hampton at Gatwick Airport which is directly at the North Terminal as well as Hilton Heathrow Terminal 4.
Over the next couple of weeks I will be trying out the Conrad Tokyo and Waldorf-Astoria Beijing. We reviewed, via free stays arranged by Hilton, the impressive Hilton Tallinn Park and Hilton Paris Opera last year.
Elite membership levels
Silver – requires 4 stays or 10 nights. Benefits are 15% bonus on base points, free bottled water at most brands.
Gold – requires 20 stays or 40 nights or 75,000 base points. Benefits are 25% bonus on base points, guaranteed upgrade of some sort – often to the ‘best’ room in the same category, free continental breakfast (most brands)
Diamond – requires 30 stays or 60 nights or 120,000 base points. Benefits are 50% bonus on base points, guaranteed upgrade of some sort, free continental breakfast (most brands), free high-speed internet, guaranteed lounge access.
Hilton has been running regular status match promotions over the last couple of years. The current version is here. You get a match for 90 days and will retain the status if you complete four (for Gold) or eight (for Diamond) stays in that time.
Reward stays DO count towards earning status. They even count towards the status match promotions mentioned above.
All elite members receive ‘fifth night free’ when booking reward nights, effectively a 20% discount on a 5-night stay. As you get Silver status free with the UK Hilton Visa card, it is worth applying for this if you are planning a 5-night redemption.
Suite upgrades are NOT an elite benefit.
British Airways offers free Diamond status to Gold Guest List members of British Airways Executive Club which requires you to earn 5,000 tier points in one year.
The full table of elite benefits is here. Hilton was well regarded for providing elite status benefits even if you have booked your room via a site such as Expedia – this is no longer the case.
There have been two recent developments of note at Hilton regarding benefits – free internet is now offered to all guests (which devalues Gold status as it was previously a Gold benefit) and lifetime Diamond status was introduced. Long-term Diamond members can also now request a one-off rollover of their status without the need to formally requalify which is handy if changing jobs, taking maternity leave etc.
Hilton Honors is the only programme to allow you to earn hotel points AND airline miles on the same stay. The points structure is outlined here. You can choose between earning:
10 Hilton HHonors points + 5 bonus Hilton HHonors points per $1 spent, or
10 Hilton HHonors points + 1 to 2 airline miles per $1 spent
The Avios rate (to BA) is 1 per $1 and to Iberia Plus Avios is 1.5 per $1. Note that there is a cap on the number of Iberia Avios you can earn which means that you should NOT choose it for expensive stays – go with BA instead. Virgin Atlantic is even better at 2 miles per $1.
Hilton Honors is always running a major promotion so your average number of points earned per stay will always be higher than the numbers quoted above. See our ‘Hotel Promos‘ page for any current offers. They have been focussing on double points for the last few months.
If you work for the public sector in the UK, Hilton offers an aggressive discount scheme which offers room discounts of up to 33%.
Hilton Honors launched a major reorganisation of redemptions in February 2017.
There are now NO redemption categories. Previously, redemption rates for hotels run from 5,000 points in Category 1 to 95,000 points in Category 10.
Under the new structure, the number of points required is based on the cash cost of that particular night. The ‘pence per point’ value varies by hotel but is usually within the range of 0.33p to 0.45p.
Importantly, you can pay with ANY combination of cash and points. If you have 80% of the points for a free night, you can use those and pay 20% of the cash price on top – or vice versa.
The number of points charged per night is capped, based on the nightly redemption price under the old Hilton scheme. This means that you will never pay more than 95,000 points for a standard room at the top Conrad or Waldorf-Astoria hotels irrespective of the cash rate that night.
Elite members receive the 5th night free on standard room redemptions.
Hilton has also ‘Premium Room’ redemptions. In general, you should ignore these. They usually involve Hilton effectively buying your room for you from the hotel, at a fixed exchange rate of around 0.2p to 0.3p per Hilton point. This is poor.
A typical 4 to 5-star 70,000 point redemption would typically require a Gold member to spend $4,500. This is more than double what Club Carlson would require. However, the regular Hilton Honors promotions will, in reality, drive down this figure.
Hilton @Play is a new initiative which allows you to redeem your points for concert tickets. It is not as well developed as Starwood’ SPG Moments although the odd good event does appear. This month there is a private concert by OneRepublic at Abbey Road Studios for example.
Points expire after 12 months of no activity on the account – see point 13 here. This is quite tough. You could reset the counter by transferring some Amex Membership Rewards points across or buying 1,000 points. Use a tool like Award Wallet to keep track of expiry dates.
Can you upgrade using points?
Under the new structure, you can book any room category you want and use whatever combination of cash and points you prefer.
Are ‘cash and points’ redemptions available?
Under the new structure, you can book any room category you want and use whatever combination of cash and points you prefer. However, the old-style ‘cash and points’ rewards, which were rarely available but offered great value when they were, were withdrawn in February 2017.
Airline redemption options
Hilton Honors points can be transferred to a large number of airlines including British Airways and Virgin. The ratio is a pathetic 10:1, however (6.7:1 for Virgin). You cannot transfer existing points to Iberia, which is a little odd as you CAN earn Iberia Avios on a stay-by-stay basis.
Can I earn Avios directly without collecting points?
No, as ba.com explains here. You must be a member of Hilton Honors and then select ‘points and variable miles’ as your earning style with British Airways as your airline partner. You will earn 1 Avios per $1 spent at most brands and, whether you want them or not, you will also receive some Hilton Honors points.
A more lucrative option is to credit your stay to Iberia Plus as that earns 1.5 Avios per $1. You can transfer Iberia Avios to BA via ‘Combine My Avios’ online.
Credit card partnerships
Can you get elite status with a UK credit card? Yes, via two routes. The free Hilton Honors Visa credit card (see my review) gives you Silver status for as long as you hold the card. If you spend £10,000 on the card within a year, you will be upgraded to Gold. The credit card also comes with a free weekend night at any Hilton property for spending £750. American Express Platinum offers you free Hilton Gold for as long as you hold Platinum, whilst the invite-only Amex Centurion card gives Hilton Diamond status.
Is Hilton Honors an Amex Membership Rewards partner? Yes, at a 1:2 transfer rate.
Hilton Honors is also a Virgin Atlantic Flying Club partner – you can move Virgin miles to Hilton at the rate of 1 to 1.5, with a 10,000 miles minimum. As Virgin is a Tesco Clubcard partner, you can therefore convert Tesco Clubcard point to Hilton Honors by routing through Virgin Flying Club, although this is not hugely attractive.
Purchasing and transferring points
You can buy Hilton Honors points for $12.50 per 1,000 (less for larger quantities) via this link. Regular sales offer bonuses of up to 100%.
Points can be transferred to other members for a payment of $25 per 10,000 points. This is not a bad price and I have done it in the past to move points from my wife to myself. It is less necessary under the new structure, however, as you can use as few as 5,000 points to get a discount on your next booking.
Points pooling is due to be introduced soon as a new Hilton Honors feature but this will work slightly differently and is not a straight transfer from person A to person B.