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 full series of articles can be found here:
- Review: Is Accor Live Limitless the best hotel loyalty scheme?
- Review: Is IHG One Rewards the best hotel loyalty scheme?
- Review: Is Marriott Bonvoy the best hotel loyalty scheme?
- Review: Is Radisson Rewards the best hotel loyalty scheme?
- Review: Is World of Hyatt the best hotel loyalty scheme?
The 10-second summary:
Strong points – best mid tier status of any scheme (free breakfast outside the US and a ‘preferred’ room of some sort with Gold), good UK coverage, strong pipeline of new openings, improved 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, no resort fees on redemptions
Weak points – some UK Hilton-branded hotels dated, US ‘free breakfast’ now a small F&B credit, 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 at non-US hotels and a ‘preferred room’ of some sort at most of the Hilton brands.
(Breakfast at US hotels has been replaced by a F&B credit. This is rarely enough to pay for breakfast, but is more flexible as it can be used at the bar or for other meals. Opinions on this change vary.)
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 smart 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 now in London and Paris.
The Curio brand, which attracts leading independent hotels, has grown impressively. 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 and the ski hotel in Kitzbuhel. The new Lost Property St Paul’s in London is an example of a new-build hotel joining Curio, which confirms the growing strength of the brand.
There are still some identity issues in the portfolio. I defy anyone to explain the difference between a Conrad, a Waldorf Astoria and a LXR. Why is the smart 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 – note that Garden Inn doesn’t offer free breakfast.
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 cards, 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. Even Diamond status is now being diluted as one of Hilton’s US credit cards gives it away as a benefit.
I am happy to move across a slug of Amex Membership Rewards points at 1:2 when a suitable redemption opportunity comes up. Even buying points can prove to be excellent value – 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 impress. 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! A new partnership with Chelsea football club will see more options appearing in 2024. I like to keep 100,000 points in my Hilton Honors account in case a good ‘buy it now’ event pops up.
If you’ve got Hilton Gold and you avoid staying at the most dated UK Hilton properties, you will probably have a decent stay. This is especially true at Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, Curio, Canopy and Hampton branded hotels where it’s hard to go very wrong.
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 – if cash rates are low, the redemption rate dropped in tandem. If rates went up, the reward price was capped. It was a win-win for members.
(Other chains have tried to copy this model but with a fatal flaw – no firm price cap. This removes the ability to get outsized value on peak nights.)
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.
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, albeit this deal will be cut to 2% during 2024.
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’d also like to praise the 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.
Hilton also doesn’t get enough credit for not charging resort fees on redemption bookings. This makes no difference in Europe, where such fees are banned, but does save you money in the United States.
I have a soft spot for Hilton Honors, possible because I have been a member of it and its predecessor schemes for 30 years. What impresses me is:
- decent new hotel openings, both in the luxury and mid-market sectors
- the success of Curio in attracting high-end independent hotels which often have a spark missing from ‘mainstream’ Hilton properties, and
- the ease with which you can 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. I’d also expect Hilton to keep chipping away at the Gold ‘free breakfast’ benefit.
Diamond is under more pressure now that IHG One Rewards has relaunched its own scheme with meaningful benefits, including pre-bookable suite upgrade vouchers, free breakfast and free lounge access. When you look at the small print, Hilton Honors doesn’t guarantee much – no late check-out, no upgrade. Only breakfast and lounge access (if Diamond) are benefits you can rely on.
If forced to choose, I think that Marriott Bonvoy Platinum status still has the edge on Hilton Diamond. You have the guaranteed 4pm late check-out, lounge access, the five annual Suite Night Award vouchers, a more pro-active approach to upgrades and the lower nights target (50 v 60, with 15 of those 50 elite nights available for free via the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card).
Hilton’s saving grace remains the cap on individual hotel reward night prices. This creates genuine value in peak cities on peak nights that IHG and Marriott can no longer match.
How to earn Hilton Honors points and status from UK credit cards (February 2024)
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.
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.
Virgin Money is offering double points on spending until 14th April (£5,000 cap) to new customers when you apply for the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard. Click here to learn more.
You can also earn Hilton Honors points indirectly with:
- American Express Gold (20,000 bonus Amex points)
- American Express Rewards Credit Card (10,000 bonus Amex points)
and for small business owners:
- American Express Business Gold (20,000 bonus Amex points)
- American Express Business Platinum (40,000 bonus Amex points)
The conversion rate from American Express to Hilton points is 1:2.
(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.)