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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 and status from UK credit cards

How to earn Hilton Honors points and status from UK credit cards (August 2022)

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.

EDIT: Until 25th October 2022, there is an exceptionally generous sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card. You will receive 60,000 Membership Rewards points – double the usual amount – and £200 to spend at Amex Travel. You need to spend £6,000 within six months to earn the bonus.

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points, £200 travel credit 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 with:

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 (58)

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

  • Ian says:

    I still earn very nicely from the Hilton Visa. Long may it continue.

    • Bob says:

      Me too I just hope they don’t drop it 🥴

    • Wally1976 says:

      +1

    • Ian M says:

      Yes it’s a great card. Long may it continue

    • Ali M says:

      +1

    • Stephen says:

      Long may it continue as well. One question, can I use it to get bonus Hilton points on stays abroad without getting whacked by the FX conversion by linking it to my bendy thing and using that? As a general thing I think its very short sighted for this/the Marriott Amex etc. to incentivise you to only use in the UK when they are global brands

  • Ian says:

    My biggest concern is the removal of the free breakfast in the USA.

    This isn’t good news.

    Many Americans might not have an issue, but I like my breakfast in the USA and so I will have to look carefully at my choices.

    • Lou says:

      Whilst the free breakfast lasts… How does one get it? Do you ask for it a check in?

      • Peter K says:

        You set it in your “myway” benefits in your account. You need to choose your preferred options for each brand.

        • Lou says:

          Ah ha! Thanks! And for requesting an upgrade?

          • Peter K says:

            You do that politely at reception at check-in. Or sometimes you get before you will be auto-upgraded when you look at online check in.
            There is no automatic way to get a free upgrade.

    • Littlefish says:

      Agreed. Most especially HGIs where, in the US, I do quite enjoy the HGI breakfasts and losing them as a benefit will swap me more to Hamptons or Hotels.com/Choice at a slightly lower price point.
      I have found, for longer stays, again in the US, the Homewood and Home2 brands pretty decent compared to the IHG and Marriott alternatives … although the pricing can take them out of range sometimes. The status benefits are not that great though (nor at Hampton).

      • Bagoly says:

        Is this the answer to the question of the difference between Hampton Inn and HGI – the former offers free breakfast?

        • John says:

          Hampton breakfasts in the US (before covid) are not worth eating in the first place.

          Some HGIs offer free breakfast to everyone, some offer both 750 points and breakfast to diamonds.

  • Tom says:

    “I defy anyone to explain the difference between a Conrad and a Waldorf Astoria” – I’d say the distinction between these brands is pretty clear, actually. Waldorf Astoria is meant to be a full-on luxury hotel competing with Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons, Conrad is typically 4.5-5 star but more of a business hotel and not as high end (e.g. it’s a competitor for Intercontinental and JW Marriott). In places where there is both a WA and a Conrad the WA will probably be 2x the price.

    • Tom says:

      The Hilton and DoubleTree brands are much more muddled, IMO, particularly in the U.K.

      • Wally1976 says:

        Surely the distinction between Hilton and DoubleTree is the cookies 😉

        • Peter K says:

          And guaranteed aircon in a full Hilton.

          • Tom says:

            Sadly not, I think a lot of the older U.K. Hiltons don’t have this (e.g. Hilton Nottingham), whilst the newer DoubleTrees do. The cookie I’ll accept as a defining brand difference!

          • James says:

            Yes, Nottingham Hilton is a disgrace. Needs closing and gutting/full refurb.

          • Economist_Nearby1 says:

            A lot of UK Hiltons don’t have air conditioning.

          • Rob says:

            The reason that it took so long to get Principal Manchester turned into Kimpton Manchester was the requirement to install aircon. Heaven knows how many days a year it will be used …

  • Lou says:

    On my 2nd Hilton today, off to the 3rd one (and the start of the holiday!) Later on today… So nice to be out of the house!

    • Harrier25 says:

      We’re off to the Crowne Plaza Chester in an hour. It’s great to be out using points & Credit Card free stays again!

  • mark2 says:

    I immediately recognised the Stucky Molino in Venice with their boat outside. A superb hotel which I would like to visit again.
    The breakfast was particularly memorable and the stunning receptionists.

  • Doug M says:

    As a solo traveller I care little for breakfast, sooner pay for what I want, but the removal in the US must be a game changer for families. But my biggest issue with brand loyalty schemes is inconsistency, and identification of brand. I agree entirely with Rob’s point about this, too many brands, too little identifiable difference. I’ve stayed in some pretty dingy Hilton’s, and some rather nice Hampton’s and HGI’s. I get the lower end places don’t have the facilities of a Hilton, but if the room feels grim then anything else doesn’t matter.

    • Peter K says:

      This ⬆️

    • Anna says:

      +1 – Homewood Suites is also a great choice in the US (and offers free breakfast to everyone), especially if you need plenty of room for a family.

      • Doug M says:

        Isn’t that the one with a particularly poor breakfast? Wrapped sugarfest pastries that will probably taste no different in 100 years.

      • Chris Heyes says:

        Anna I Agree Homewood Suites is great in the US especially if 3 Adults
        Ok breakfast not the best but certainly not the worst !
        If in the US Homewood Suites is one we look for
        Although we like stopping at really old property’s around 1900s
        Like El Tovar Grand Canyon South, Log Cabin edge of Grand Canyon North Rim
        of which you have to book 18/24 months in advance if you want a Suite
        even “The Windmill” Santorini and yes a tent Middle East lol
        Looking forward to our stay Hotel Boulderardo Boulder later this year
        We like to be differant than “the norm”

    • Tom says:

      You have a very good point and this is why budget hotel chains which are not just cheap but are clean/newish have been eating a lot of the big chains’ lunch over the last couple of decades. I’d certainly take a newish HGI over a very dated Hilton and will always look at photos of the room to see whether the room furnishings look like they were put in place multiple decades ago. I don’t want to sleep in a bed that’s been in use since 1995, thanks…

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      Absolutely.
      Ultimately the entire point of a brand is to give the customer a consistent experience, whichmakes them return to said brand wherever they are. The experience doesn’t even have to be all that good – provided it matches the set of expectations that go with the brand, the customer will be satisfied and return.
      In the UK look at Premier Inn which does this very well, with remarkably few exceptions given the size of its portfolio, driving high customer satisfaction and success. McDonalds would be another classic international example in terms of visiting experience and service, albeit with local menu variations to suit the population’s cultural and religious food preferences.

      The main Hilton brand is absolutely abysmal at it, varying from luxury palaces to motorway service dumps and so not really a brand at all. You’d think with so many different brands within their portfolio to bung hotels into and swap them between if necessary, Hilton could manage this a hell of a lot better!

      • Bagoly says:

        It looks to me as though the point is that hotel groups have got themselves in a position where they cannot manage their brands in the way you suggest.
        They set brand standards, and the companies that own/manage the individual hotels decide which brand fits what they want to do.
        E.g. “We think we will get more room nights by offering free breakfast to all guests, so we want a brand that tells people that.”
        So long as the hotel is matching the contractual standards (and I don’t know what happens if they were in a brand before standards changed) I doubt that Hilton/Marriott/IHG have any power to move a hotel from one brand to another.
        In fact grandfathering may be a reason for so many brands – if they want to change a particular standard but cannot enforce that on existing hotels, one can understand why they would create a new brand with the new standard.

  • Nigel says:

    Hilton has earned a lot of goodwill and future custom from me – they really stood out with how promptly they dealt with refunds/changes during this past year of disruption.

  • Gavin says:

    I also find the Hilton brands confusing. I was under the impression that Doubletree is supposed to be “below” a standard Hilton, however I stayed at the new Doubletree in Trieste last year and it was a fantastic hotel all round, in a very nicely renovated imposing historic building. much better than other standard Hilton branded hotels I’ve stayed at.

    • Rob says:

      That’s because no-one is building new Hilton properties these days, so a new DoubleTree will look better than a dated Hilton. A new Hilton should beat a new DoubleTree but a new DoubleTree may still have stuff in it (power shower, perhaps coffee machine, TV that streams from your phone) that an old Hilton won’t.

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