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Hilton sells $1 billion of Hilton Honors points to American Express to raise funds

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The major international hotel groups – Hilton, IHG, Marriott and the like – have all moved to ‘asset lite’ models over the last 20 years.  In plain English, this means that they are hotel groups which don’t actually own any hotels.

In theory, this should be an exceptionally recession proof business model.  The chains receive a percentage of the revenue generated in all of the thousands of hotels which carry their brands, but do not actually own 99% of them.

What could go wrong?  If properly managed, not much.  However, two things happened:

Hilton sells $1 billion of Hilton Honors points to American Express

the hotel groups grew a bit fat, as tends to happen when you have so much money sloshing around

they thought it was a smart idea to borrow huge amounts of money – because that franchise fee income was never going to dry up – and then immediately pay the money out to shareholders as special dividends

It’s a great idea, until it isn’t.  And that time is now.  The hotel groups have debts to service and overheads to pay, and the money has dried up.

Hilton revealed some of the pain in a new SEC filing to the US stock market.

On 14th April, 16% of Hilton properties globally were closed.  (To be honest, I would have guessed the number as being higher.)  This comprises:

  • 12% of hotels in the Americas
  • 60% of hotels in Europe, Middle East and Africa
  • 15% of hotels in Asia Pacific

Of course, the 84% of hotels which remain open have seen tumbling occupancy.  Occupancy currently stands at:

  • 17% in the Americas
  • 13% in EMEA
  • 22% in Asia Pacific

This means that fees to Hilton are in freefall.

Hilton had a cunning plan

To quote:

In April 2020, we pre-sold Hilton Honors points to American Express for $1.0 billion in cash. American Express and their respective designees may use the points in connection with the Hilton Honors co-branded credit cards and for promotions, rewards and incentive programs or certain other activities as they may establish or engage in from time to time. We will use the proceeds from the Hilton Honors points sale for working capital, general corporate and other purposes.

We have seen this sort of behaviour before in times of economic crisis, although it is usually airlines who do it.  This is the first time I can remember that hotel groups have taken part.

$1 billion is a lot of money even for American Express.  However, American Express has a huge deal with Hilton in the United States with a ludicrously large number of personal and small business cards available.

Amex clearly believed that it expected to be paying Hilton a substantial amount over its current contract.  The opportunity to get its bill down by, at a  guess, 30% was too good to miss.

We don’t know what American Express is paying per point.

In a sale, like the current 100% Hilton Honors buy points bonus, you are paying 0.5 cents per point.

If I was buying $1.0 billion-worth, I’d be expecting a bit of a discount, to be honest 🙂 so let’s assume that Amex is paying around 0.25 cents per point.

Does this mean that Hilton Honors will devalue?

Not necessarily, although it cuts both ways.

American Express is likely to have secured warranties from Hilton that it will not make major changes to Hilton Honors which would make it less attractive, and so make people less likely to want credit cards which earn Hilton points.

On the other hand, Hilton has to pay its hotel owners when points are redeemed.  If this is more than 0.25 cents per point on average then Hilton will be losing money whenever the $1.0 billion of points are redeemed.

You can find out more on Bloomberg here.  The SEC filing is here (click on ‘Other Events’).

How to earn Hilton Honors points and status from UK credit cards

How to earn Hilton Honors points and status from UK credit cards (December 2023)

There are various ways of earning Hilton Honors points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.

Do you know that holders of The Platinum Card from American Express receive FREE Hilton Honors Gold status for as long as they hold the card?  It also comes with Marriott Bonvoy Gold, Radisson Rewards Premium and MeliaRewards Gold status.  We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.

SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive a huge 100,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 100,000 Avios) with The Platinum Card. You receive 75,000 points if you spend £10,000 in six months and a further 25,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.

The Platinum Card from American Express

Crazy 100,000 points (TO 9th JANUARY) and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Did you know that the Virgin Atlantic credit cards are a great way of earning Hilton Honors points? Two Virgin Points can be converted into three Hilton Honors points. The Virgin Atlantic cards are the only Visa or Mastercard products in the UK which can indirectly earn Hilton Honors points. You can apply here.

You can also earn Hilton Honors points indirectly with:

SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive 30,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 30,000 Avios) with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold. You receive 25,000 points if you spend £3,000 in three months and a further 5,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.

and for small business owners:

The conversion rate from American Express to Hilton points is 1:2.

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which can be used to earn Hilton Honors points

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Comments (73)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Asoka Wijegunaratne says:

    Hilton standards globally appauling drastically. Wheter you are a Diamond, Platinum, gold or any other its only a name tag. As presently I occupy a Apartment in Hilton Residence in Colombo Srilanka. The way they handle their guests are so pathetic and disgusting. Making absolute advantage of Pandemic and go through a severe Cost cutting scenario. It came to a point room cleaning was done on 5 days a time. Until it was reported to GM of the hotel. Most pathetic state of Breakfast Not even a basic Youghurt is offered mentioning that due to the LOCK DOWN SITUATION REQUIREMENTS ARE NOT AVAILABLE. WHEN ITS NOT THE CASE. As this property is next to one of the oldest Largest supermarkets. Which is full of plenty of stuff, that they say is not available. Also i had a severe issue with Millenium Seoul. HILTON, Where I was attacked by bed bugs and treated indoors in Samsung hospital for 3 days. So i am a Hilton honors Diamond member. What is the Honor or the Privilege.
    Hilton Honors is a big HOAX.

    • Henry says:

      Im Hilton Diamond and love it.
      Got a free top floor suite upgrade in the Waldorf RAK
      Free Top floor upgrade in the Conrad Dubai along with multiple others all including lounge access and free breakfast.
      For me its been an absolute pleasure and when booking the cheapest room with points to get upgraded to a suite it offers amazing value and i would take Hilton Diamond status over a free first-class flight any day of the week.

      • James says:

        I agree.
        I am LIFETIME DIAMOND and every room is a suite, regardless of what type of room I reserve. Should I ever have a problem, i am awarded Extra bonus points, or the room is complemented.
        I cannot say the same for IHG, or any of the other Hotel Loyalty programs.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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