In my previous article, I outlined ‘the facts’ of the Hilton Honors loyalty scheme. This article is my personal opinion, highlighting areas where I think you might want to focus.
The 10-second summary:
Strong points – best mid tier status of any scheme (free breakfast and a ‘preferred’ room of some sort with Gold), good UK coverage, strong pipeline of new openings, improving luxury portfolio, Amex Membership Rewards partner, Hilton Auctions experiences, free online transfers of points between members, long-running status match scheme, guaranteed lounge access for Diamond members
Weak points – some UK Hilton-branded hotels dated, no Hilton credit card at present, regional differences in how status members are treated, redemption rates can go up without notice
The longer version:
Let’s hit the good points first. Hilton Honors offers the best mid tier status of any of the hotel schemes. Once you have a Hilton Honors Gold card, you will receive free continental breakfast and a ‘preferred room’ of some sort at most – not all – of the Hilton brands.
Put simply …. it is easy to earn mid-tier Gold status, and the benefits are surprisingly good once you have it.
I am impressed with the way that the portfolio has been refreshed in recent years. We have seen impressive new upscale Conrad and Waldorf Astoria hotels and decent Hampton budget properties. I would rank Hampton above Holiday Inn Express and indeed most Holiday Inn properties.
There is also a deliberate attempt to bring in more upscale hotels, with the Curio brand attracting independents and the new LXR brand attracting owners who don’t want to be tied down by Conrad or Waldorf Astoria brand standards.
The core Hilton brand has seen a resurgence in the last few years with openings such as Tallinn and Paris Opera which we have reviewed, as well as London Bankside. It’s fair to say, however, that the best options will be found with other brands. Canopy – effectively a modern Hilton – has potential and is coming to London later in 2021, albeit in the wastelands of Aldgate, having just opened in Paris.
The Curio brand, which is attracting leading independent hotels to sign with Hilton, is looking promising. This biggest issue is churn. Of those we have reviewed, Gran Hotel Montesol, the boutique luxury Ibiza hotel has left, as has the Boston property which has been turned into student accommodation, and the ski hotel in Kitzbuhel. The new Curio at Lincoln Plaza at Canary Wharf is meant to be impressive, and the funky new Stratford opening, The Gantry, is coming soon.
There are still some identity issues in the portfolio. I defy anyone to explain the difference between a Conrad and a Waldorf Astoria. Why is the very nice Venice hotel branded as Hilton? Why is there no real distinction in the UK between Hilton and DoubleTree? Indeed, why are UK DoubleTree properties superior to Hilton when the opposite is meant to apply? I am also confused about the difference between Hampton and Hilton Garden Inn, both of which are being rolled out aggressively at the moment.
There are also variations in how status members are treated. Due to the huge number of people holding Gold status in the US via credit card offers and the like, you won’t get much from a property there. On the other hand, a Gold travelling in Asia can often do very well for upgrades and benefits.
I am happy to move across a slug of Amex Membership Rewards points at 1:2 when a suitable redemption opportunity comes up. When we were in Tokyo in 2017 I got almost 0.5p per Hilton point at the Conrad which meant almost 1p per Amex point, which is very good. In December 2020 I bought almost 300,000 Hilton Honors to cut the cost of a stay at Waldorf Astoria Palm Jumeirah Dubai by a ludicrous 62%.
The Hilton Auctions ‘redeem points for experiences’ scheme continues to impess although obviously suspended at present. It isn’t yet on a par with Marriott Moments but it might still get there. Hilton does a bad job of promoting this, which means that UK events often consist entirely of Head for Points readers if we choose to get behind a particular one.
If you’ve got Hilton Gold and you avoid staying at the most dated UK Hilton properties, you will probably have a decent stay.
Interestingly, top-tier Hilton Diamond status is generally seen as having only modest value. Unless you stay at hotels with a lounge, where you are guaranteed access, you get little extra at most places than a Gold. A better strategy may be to secure your Hilton Gold requalification and then focus on achieving mid-tier status with another chain.
What has changed in recent years?
Hilton Honors underwent a huge restructuring in 2017 which was generally positive. This is when the chain started reducing the cost of points nights if pricing fell below certain thresholds.
It led to something unique amongst hotel loyalty schemes – a redemption room, as long as rooms are available, was always going to be reasonable value. If cash rates are low, the redemption rate dropped in tandem. If rates went up, the reward price was capped.
A follow-on batch of 2018 changes were more substantial. Hilton decided to shift its focus to rewarding its most loyal members. Blue (no status) and Silver members saw the number of points they earn cut, at the expense of Gold and Diamond members who saw their earnings increase.
There is a trend in the airline miles sector to give more rewards to big spenders and reduce benefits for the rest. We saw this with the last set of Avios changes in 2015, where discounted economy tickets went from earning 1 x miles flown to just 0.25 x miles flown. Hilton moved the same way.
What I never understood is where this fits in with Hilton’s ‘book direct’ campaign. For a Silver or base member, who gets no real status benefits and who saw his or her points cut and their ability to earn miles removed, why should they book direct if the ‘member discount’ is very small? If the price is similar then Hotels.com Rewards – which effectively offers you 10% of your spend back in free nights as I explained here – looks more attractive.
At the same time, Hilton clearly decided that it wasn’t doing enough to keep members loyal once they had their Gold or Diamond requalification in the bag. There are now three reasons to keep going: extra bonuses for doing 40+ nights, elite rollover nights and the ability to give status to a friend.
There is still no word on the introduction of a new Hilton UK credit card. The old card, dropped in March 2018, was my favourite ‘starter card’ for newcomers to miles and points and it was a shame to see it go. I know from discussions that Hilton has not given up on the idea.
I’d also like to praise the new, free, ‘points pooling’ feature. This allows me to sweep across points earned by my (Gold) wife on her work trips into my (Diamond) account. This makes it easier to earn the points needed for a redemption and ensures that we maximise status benefits when we do so.
I have become more positive about Hilton Honors in the last few years due to:
- decent new hotel openings, both in the luxury and mid-market sectors
- the success of Curio in attracting high-end independent hotels and
- the ease with which you can now obtain Hilton Gold (via a status match or from Amex Platinum)
The removal of reward charts and the tendency to increase the points pricing ‘cap’ at specific hotels with no notice means that you need to remain vigilent, however.
How to earn Hilton Honors points and status from UK credit cards (October 2021)
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 Gold and MeliaRewards Gold status. We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.
The Platinum Card comes with a limited time bonus of 60,000 Amex points (converts to 120,000 Hilton Honors points) until 2nd November 2021.
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 American Express Gold (30,000 bonus points – special offer to 9th November 2021), the American Express Rewards Credit Card (5,000 bonus points) and – for small business owners – American Express Business Gold (20,000 bonus points) and Business Platinum (40,000 bonus 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.)