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Is Hilton Honors the best hotel loyalty scheme? (Part 2)

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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

Hilton Honors review

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.

You can status match your existing mid-tier hotel card and get upgraded for 90 days, with an extension if you hit a stay target.  Hilton Gold is also free if you hold an Amex Platinum charge card.

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.

Is Hilton Honors worth joining?

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.

Conclusion

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 from UK credit cards (June 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.

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel 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 via American Express Gold, the American Express Rewards Credit Card and – for small business owners – American Express Business Gold and Business Platinum.

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 (58)

  • Ian M says:

    The DoubleTree here in Minsk is better than almost all of the Hilton’s I’ve stayed in. It’s extremely rare for me to swim in a hotel pool, so the fact it doesn’t have one is not an issue.

    You’re right about some of the UK Hilton’s, dreadful!

    • fivebobbill says:

      The DoubleTree Minsk breakfast is one of the best I can recall, piped jazz, bubbly et all, an old style touch of class experience,
      The free cocktails in the top floor lounge were pretty good too mind… 🙂

      • fivebobbill says:

        … just a pity they “got the arm in” at checkout with their own ridiculous exchange rate, didn’t spoil the trip completely, but left a very sour taste.

        • John says:

          That’s why I only use points at Hiltons which don’t have rates in their local currency, unless I have stayed before and know how they work this.

  • Lady London says:

    I always feel in any level of Hilton hotel that it’s being professionally managed by professional hotel management team.

    Whereas in mid-range IHG’s I sometimes feel they’ve just pulled people off the street, they may be good but you don’t get the feeling they are dedicated to a professional hotel career.

  • Chris H says:

    I wonder how much of your article was cut and paste from elsewhere. I was looking for the mid tier GOLD benefit to berate the loss of breakfast in the states, as this was one of the main differences between Hilton mid level, and a lot of others. Most of my holidays are in the states and my next is with my Grandchildren, so it may no longer be one of the best mid level status benefits.
    I also wonder if it is the start of something that will spread to other countries like a virus.

    • Chris Heyes says:

      Chris H The Hilton variant virus ?
      Started in the US brought over to the UK by over zealous Management
      Should be in the red list

    • Rob says:

      It was cut and pasted from the 2019 version, with updates where required (which was virtually ever paragraph). The 2019 version was cut and pasted and updated from the 2018 version etc 🙂

      I didn’t start on the Gold breakfast changes because it is, theoretically, just temporary in the US until Christmas which will impact almost no-one who reads it.

      • Aston100 says:

        You say that, but ironically I’m staying in a Hilton in the US at Christmas.
        The hotel offered me a hot breakfast when I queried gold benefits a few weeks ago.
        Can’t imagine they’ll be honouring that now.

        • Chris Heyes says:

          Aston100 if you’ve already booked and the Hotel has offered you a “hot breakfast”
          They have to honour it, but it will depend on how persistent you are ?
          I Can tell you “we” would get it !

          • Aston100 says:

            Hi Chris, I’ve got an email confirming the hot breakfast from someone with a very important sounding job title, something like “Deputy Assistant Director of Executive Sales” or something. Probably the “booking clerk” in any other country.

  • Aston100 says:

    I had a choice between Hilton Olympia and Hilton Kensington.
    Both look really bad.
    I’ve gone for ‘Kensington’ (Actually Shepherds Bush) on the basis of it being next to a tube station that has trains running all day.

    Hoping it isn’t as grim as the pictures suggest 🙁

    • AJA says:

      You may find it easier to use the bus at that “Kensington” Hilton. The walk to Shepherd’s Bush Tube is not pleasant, it being a case of negotiating the enormous roundabout that has the water tower. You may find it easier to walk up the hill towards Holland Park tube. Or catch the bus from the stop across the road – the 94 bus will take you all the way to Piccadilly Circus via Oxford Street and Regent Street.

      • Tariq says:

        Not a bad hotel, a bit dated but not as bad as some. I prefer the walk up to Holland Park for the tube. Shepherd’s Bush (Westfield) is handy for reasonably priced parking.

    • Rob says:

      Olympia isn’t great – did a chunk of day rooms there last year – but being a few mins walk from Kensington High Street and its tube station has some value – if it’s cheap enough.

      • Mark Peterborough says:

        I’ve just had a day room at Olympia today , its a bit dated inside but I’ve managed to get good sleep and the area its in is pleasant. Just about 10 minutes walk to High Street Kensington tube , a few minutes from Olympia tube (which is only really of use at weekends)

    • Alba says:

      I worked in the area for a long time. I’d recommend the Kensington over the Olympia. The rooms at the Kensington were a bit nicer than the Olympia. The Kensington is much quieter at night – you’d get a lot of sirens and traffic noise at the Olympia.

      Have you considered the DoubleTree Chelsea? It’s directly across from the Imperial Wharf (Jubilee Line) station. It’s a very short ride to Kensington / Shepherds Bush and the hotel is significantly better than the other two options.

  • Stephen says:

    Bit of Hilton-related advice if possible. If all goes to plan I was going to get Diamond status for first time before I go (hopefully) on my honeymoon in late Sept to Seychelles with a view to hopefully getting a rather tasty upgrade at the new Mango House. However, the Doubletree Warwick which was going to be my wedding stay hotel is very helpfully (not) in the process of rebranding to Marriott. This means Seychelles will get me Diamond rather than be Diamond before. Am I likely to therefore be out of luck there? Given that, I have identified that I can get a 3 nt stay at the mighty Garden Inn Luton North for £33pn which would mean I would still get there. Seems like that is a bit of a no brainer – do people agree? I think I have seen people mention it elsewhere but given I dont actually want to stay at the mighty Luton North if I contact the hotel am I likely to still be able to get the stay credited without checking in physically? If I can get away without turning up does anyone know of any Hilton in the UK that might undercut £33pn? Thanks very much in advance for any advice

    • Rob says:

      No, you need to check in.

      Can you do some day rooms near where you live? Search for same day check-in and check-in. Will be close to £33 in some areas. I was paying £30 at Hilton Olympia last Autumn after cutting a deal with them.

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