Today we’re going over Hilton Honors. According to Google Trends, this program is the most-searched for hotel loyalty program. I find this very interesting.
I’m going to break this down into a few parts. First, we’re going to take a look at how much each point is worth, and where that value comes from. Next we’ll compare that number to the value of competing award currencies. We’ll the take a look at our best and worst hypothetical redemptions and go over the award currency’s bell curve, or, normal distribution. Next is a program structure overview, rundown of their elite status tiers and means by which to acquire points. Finally, we’ll close her on out with some alternative redemption opportunities.
|Best and Worst Redemptions||Value Distribution|
|Program Structure||Elite Status Tiers|
|Earning Hilton Honors Points||Credit Card Options|
How MUCH are Hilton Honors Points worth?
Getting right to it, I’m assigning an ACRV of just .35¢ per Hilton Honors point. Pretty terrible really. Because, I haven’t touched on it in a while, ACRV stands for Average Consumer’s Redemption Value. It’s phrase I made up with the intention of hopefully driving home the idea that my valuations aren’t meant to represent a best-case scenario. I come up with a redemption value that I believe anyone, specifically the non-points and miles game players, could reasonably expect to see
This number is derived by looking at the cash and points cost for weeklong stays in New York, Austin, Rome, Seoul, Bangkok, Toronto, London, Beijing, LA and San Juan. I look for stays booked 30 and 90 days in advance. The total cash price is divided by the amount of points required, reduced by 10% and voila, we have our presented valuation. So why 10%? It is admittedly arbitrary. I call it my reduction factor. It’s meant to offset things like the risk of future devaluations and the general hassle involved with award stays as opposed to cash.
Comparing the value of a Hilton Honors point to competitors’ offerings is like comparing a grounded 737Max to a beautiful 747 rotating into the sunset over the Pacific. In other words, it looks pretty bad. In life, 2nd place is the 1st loser. But 2nd to last is the first winner. And that’s right where Hilton Honors falls. From best to worst, we’ve got World of Hyatt at 1.38¢ per point, Marriott Bonvoy, 1.11, Choice Privileges, .71 and then Hilton Honors, at about half that, .35¢ per point. In last place, is IHG Rewards Club, their points are worth just .29 cents each. But truth being told, one can actually glean a little more value from IHG than their low valuation suggests. In that case, poor award availability meant a bunch of zeros got averaged in to some otherwise decent redemptions. The same cannot be said for Hilton.
The Best and the Worst Redemptions
Our best for the month comes from a week-long stay at the Hilton Toronto, booked 90 days in advance. This was available for $2,557 in cash or 360,000 points, giving us a relatively respectable redemption value of .71¢ per point. Let’s consider for a moment that American Express Membership Rewards transfer at a rate of 1:2, meaning 1000 Amex points nets one 2000 Hilton Honors points. At the redemption rate and ratio just mentioned, this means we’d be redeeming for 1.42¢ each.
Our worst redemption comes from the Aleph Rome, a week here was advertised at $2,072. The award price, get this, 1,122,000 points. That works out to a value of just .18¢ each! That’s a bigger rip-off than pay-per-view porn at a hotel that also has free Wi-Fi.
Seeing that made me wonder how dumb the folks managing the Hilton Honors program think the traveling public is. But then again, I have witnessed herds of people taking time out of their day to wait in line at Costco for a free sample of beef jerky about the size of one’s thumbnail. You never know what goes through people’s heads.
Hilton Honors Normal Distribution(Bell Curve)
If the two scenarios above represented the best and worst we could do, what about everything else. For that, we’ll take a look at our normal distribution, or, bell curve.
This chart represents the likelihood of a given value relative to others. In the case of Hilton Honors, it presents as a very narrow peak. This means there isn’t much variability in redemption rates. Going one standard deviation in either direction gives us an un-discounted range of .23 to .54¢. Using the empirical rule of statistics, we can then say that 68% of all hypothetical redemptions should fall within these bounds.
Unlike many other hotel loyalty programs, Hilton Honors uses dynamic pricing. In other words, award rates change with demand and cash prices. For example, looking at week-long stays at the Hilton Austin, and we saw pricing vary from a low of 360,000 points to a high of 834,000. Same hotel, same room choice, same amount of nights and the amount of points required increased 131% just by varying dates. Meanwhile, the cash price only increased 11%.
The sad part about this news is that we can’t really say, as a general rule, when to book for maximum redemption value. Normally, when talking about tier-based programs, ones that tie award pricing to hotel categories, we say that redemption values are best when cash prices are high. But we just can’t do that here. It really is just case by case.
Those willing to show loyalty to the program will be rewarded with elite tier benefits. Hilton Honors maintains 4 levels, Member, Silver, Gold and Diamond.
Common to all membership tiers are a guaranteed member discount on bookings, points on stays, waived resort fees on award bookings, digital check-in, a digital key, in-room Wi-Fi, a free additional guest, late check outs and free points transfers.
Of what we’ll call the standard benefits, I only consider 1 to be particularly valuable at the basic level, waived resort fees. I can’t think of anything that pits consumers against hoteliers more than these obnoxious, obligatory add-ons. It’s gotten so bad that a few states’ attorney generals have sued the big chains over them. Of course, I stand on the side of travelers in considering the practice of hiding resort fees until the booking process has begun to cross the line into false advertising. In any case, I’m glad to see Hilton waive these on award stays. I’d be even happier to see them lose in court.
Moving up to Silver elite, which is earned after 4 stays, 10 nights or 25,000 Hilton Honors Base Points, we’ve got a 5th night free, which is huge. In addition, one receives 2 free bottles of water at some locations, which is sad they even have to advertise. Finally, one now has access to rollover elite-tier nights and a 20% point bonus on stays.
Gold is up next, it’s earned after 20 stays, 40 nights or 75,000 points. At this tier level, one now receives an 80% points bonus on stays and has access to space-available room upgrades. After surveying myself and a friend, I can confidently say that 100% of the sample population agree this is the most important benefit offered to loyal guests.
That said, I’m not a fan of the fact that Hilton sets the price of admission so high, 20 stays or 40 nights. World of Hyatt offers this perk at the Explorist level, available after 30 nights. Marriott Bonvoy makes it even easier, upgrades are available at Gold, which is earned after 25 nights. So, I consider the 40 that Hilton requires to be a bit ridiculous. Although it is matched by fellow garbage loyalty program IHG Rewards Club, also requiring 40.
Finally, at the top is Diamond Elite, it’s earned after 30 stays, 60 nights or 120,000points. We’re now up to a 100% points bonus on stays. In addition to all benefits previously mentioned, one now gets lounge access, a 48-hour room guarantee and elite status gifting. Nothing here is exciting, except maybe the ability to extend one’s status. Basically, if you earn Diamond Elite, you can, one time only, extend it. They claim it’s to help with big life events that might interfere with one’s ability to enjoy the status. And it is nice, but, and there’s always a but, it comes with one big asterisk. One must have been a Diamond elite for at least 3 years and have stayed at least 250 nights. So, it’s not exactly a perk meant for everyone.
The final thing I wanted to touch on before continuing, is Hilton’s current status match offers. If one is elite at a competing brand, they’ll match to Gold for 4 stays or Diamond for 8. I always like the idea of status matching, it’s like the very essence of double-dipping. Multiple benefits for a single effort.
Earning Hilton Honors Points
As a basic member, you’ll earn 10 points per dollar spent. If you place any faith in my valuation of .35¢ per piece, this means you’ll be earning a 3.5% return on spend. If this stay is paid for with a Chase Sapphire Reserve, earning 3 Ultimate Rewards per dollar worth 2.19¢ a piece, our combined return on spend is now a little over 10%. Finally, if one happens to be Diamond Elite, one will earn an additional 10 points per dollar. The bottom line being, everyone, from brand new members to top-tiered elites should be netting a 10 to 13.5% return on stays.
Alternatively, Hilton Honors is a transfer partner of American Express. One receives 2 Hilton Honors points for every Membership Reward. At base valuations, this means one is gleaning .7¢ per point transferred. Pretty terrible really. Even using our best redemption, .71¢ and the 2x multiplier, a 1.42¢ redemption still falls short of the 2.26¢ value I place on each Membership Reward. The takeaway here, is that there are very few, if any reasons to move points from American Express to Hilton. You’ll get much more value by moving those points to Marriott Bonvoy. Or, even better, holding out for a 3¢ and up redemption at an airline partner.
Hilton Honors Credit Card Options
Our credit card options include the basic Hilton Honors card with no annual fee, the $95 Hilton Honors Surpass Card from Amex and the $450 Hilton Honors Aspire. I did a comparison between that last one, the Aspire, back in December and found it to compare favorably to the now-defunct SPG Luxury card, also from American Express.
Because this isn’t a card review video, I won’t go into depth here. But for me, the sweet spot is the Surpass Card for $95. This is especially true if one does not carry a premium card that gives them lounge access. This card provides a Priority Pass Select membership, one of the very few sub-$100 cards to do so. Though this perk is limited to 10 visits. Furthermore, you’ll earn instant Hilton Honors Gold status, the first tier which gives one access to room upgrades. Finally, the current signup bonus of 130,000 points plus a free weekend night is worth $705. The big caveat, is that it’s a terrible everyday spender. Earning only 3 points per dollar, a return on spend of just 1.05%. That’s exceeded by any card earning Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou Points.
There are a few other ways to earn, methods I won’t waste any time on. Things like shopping and dining partners. It’s not that they’re not useful, it’s just that those same partners are also partnered with more lucrative award programs. Let’s take Hilton Honors dining for example. With email notifications opted-in, you’ll earn 5 points per dollar, or 1.75%. Alternatively, one could make that same purchase using United’s MileagePlus dining portal for 3 points per dollar, or 3.54% at a 1.18¢ per point value.
When it comes time to turn in one’s points for something else of value, you don’t have a whole lot of options other than award stays and Hilton Gift Cards. Hilton does partner with Amazon, and one can shop with points there. But the redemption rate is horrible. It’s 500 points per dollar, or .2¢. I guess if you were really upset at someone, you could transfer 100,000 of their Membership Rewards points worth $2,260 over to Hilton, and then pay with points on Amazon, netting a value of just $400.
Hilton Honors is a reliable, but otherwise low-value loyalty program. The fact that basic members will earn 10 points per dollar on stays sounds lucrative. However, World of Hyatt members earn 5. Considering that program’s points are worth roughly 4x as much, Hilton no longer seems as generous.
The fact American Express Membership rewards only transfer at a rate of 1:2 feels overpriced. One’s Amex points are worth approximately 2.26¢ at current valuations. This means that every MR moved to Hilton destroys 1.56¢ in value. I could see very few, if any, reasons one would want to make that transaction.
Ultimately, one’s hotel choice comes down to personal choice. I certainly would prioritize location, room quality and amenities over return on spend. Thad said, if one is trying to maximize the latter, stays at World of Hyatt or Marriott Bonvoy properties will yield better results.