New Hilton HHonors AXON Awards Announced – Another Devaluation

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Hilton’s new AXON award levels were announced over the weekend (hat tip to Mr. Pickles) so we asked TPG Hilton contributor Nick Ewen to take a look at the new options and discuss what they will mean for travelers once they go into effect.

In the wake of last month’s massive Hilton devaluation, one of the bright spots to emerge was the fact that reduced-price AXON awards for Hilton Amex cardholders were sticking around. Through June 15, 2013, these rewards would remain at current levels for Category 5-7 properties. However, a new AXON program would be forthcoming with modified levels and the addition of AXON rewards for Categories 8-10.

Speculation was rampant. How would the levels be changing? Would they take into account the program’s new seasonality? And how would the new options compare with the new 5th night free benefit?

Well, it appears that the wait is now over. American Express has begun sending existing cardholders details of the new program, and on the whole, it is a serious blow to anyone wanting to redeem an AXON award. Here’s a quick summary of the changes and how the effective points/night for AXON rewards compare to the standard nightly rates.

Hotel Category

Old AXON Levels

New Axon Levels

AXON Nightly Rate

Standard Nightly Rate

5

125,000

130,000

32,500

30,000 – 40,000

6

125,000

160,000

40,000

30,000 – 50,000

7

145,000

190,000

47,500

30,000 – 60,000

8

n/a

220,000

55,000

40,000 – 70,000

9

n/a

260,000

65,000

50,000 – 80,000

10

n/a

300,000

75,000

70,000 – 95,000

Just like the current program, these rewards cannot be booked online. Instead, you must call 1-800-920-5649 to make your booking.

So what does this all mean for those of us still wanting to redeem Hilton points for an AXON reward?

Well, first and foremost, this adds additional complexity to the award booking process, and I would be that there will be many confused phone agents come June 15.

It also puts much more of a burden on us to really evaluate which option will provide a better bang for the buck (or payoff for the point!). To help you decide, I have put together a spreadsheet that will allow you to identify the best option for a specific stay. Simply enter in the hotel’s category, the standard rate in points during your stay dates, which you can find here, and how many nights you are staying. The spreadsheet will then automatically calculate the points needed for a standard reward versus an AXON (plus additional nights, if needed).

You can download it here: Hilton HHonors New Axon Comparisons

To make sure you are still getting the most out of your redemptions, here are my recommendations.

Be sure to check the standard points required at your desired hotel before even thinking about booking an AXON reward. The new rates (unfortunately) do not take into account the new seasonality of the Hiton HHonors program. As a result, AXON rewards really only make sense during a hotel’s high season. At some properties, you should always use AXON rewards for a four-night stay, while at others, you should never use AXON.

Many others are somewhere in between, depending on how their rates vary during the year. This is all due to the fact that the seasonal ranges posted online are not black and white for every property. Some properties do have lower rates during certain months, but they do not always get to the lowest (or highest) end of the range. Some don’t even have any variation! For example, the Hilton in Moorea is a Category 9 property. However, they don’t have a “low” season and thus require 80,000 points/night throughout the year. A four-night stay using the standard rates would set you back 320,000 points, so you’re much better off redeeming an AXON reward (260,000 points) throughout the year at this property.

At the Hilton in Moorea, an AXON award will offer better value than booking a standard four-night stay, regardless of when you are staying.
At the Hilton in Moorea, an AXON award will offer better value than booking a standard four-night stay, regardless of when you are staying.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you plan to stay at the Hilton in Auckland, a Category 9 property, you would never redeem an AXON award. Their “high” season only requires 60,000 points, while rooms can be had for just 50,000 points during their “low” season. In either one of those scenarios, a four-night AXON reward (260,000 points) will always be higher than a four-night standard reward (200,000 or 240,000 points).

A four-night stay in July at the Hilton Auckland only requires 200,000 points, while an AXON reward would be a whopping 260,000 points! At this property, you should never book an AXON.
A four-night stay in July at the Hilton Auckland only requires 200,000 points, while an AXON reward would be a whopping 260,000 points! At this property, you should never book an AXON.

The Waldorf Astoria Park City, another Category 9 property, is one that falls in between. From December to March, the 80,000 points/night make an AXON reward worthwhile (260,000 points rather than 320,000 points). However, from April to November, standard rates drop to 50,000 points/night, making a four-night standard redemption (200,000 points) a better deal.

At the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, an AXON reward offers better value during ski season, while a standard four-night reward is preferred from April through November.
At the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, an AXON reward offers better value during ski season, while a standard four-night reward is preferred from April through November.

The standard pricing tool is actually very easy to use and can be found here, while a PDF with the new categories for all Hilton properties worldwide can be found here. Always compare to the standard nightly rates to the AXON nightly rates (using the above table or aforementioned spreadsheet) to see which one is a better deal.

Be sure to keep the new fifth-night free benefit in mind when making your travel plans. AXON rewards are not eligible for this new option (meaning you can’t book an AXON reward and then have another night for free). Instead, you would need to book a standard room for five nights (and you would only pay for four of those nights). Remember that this option is only available for Hilton HHonors elite members, though you automatically are given Silver for just holding a Hilton American Express or Hilton HHonors Surpass card from Amex. This benefit should be automatically reflected in your online search for reward rooms when you are signed in. However, as I was writing this post, the Hilton HHonors website was not showing any reward rooms for me as a Diamond member, though they were available when I wasn’t signed in. This is simply a glitch and will hopefully be resolved by the time this post goes up.

As a result of this new benefit and the seasonal rates at most properties, there are now some cases (especially during a hotel’s low season) where booking a five-night stay with the fifth night free will actually be cheaper than a four-night AXON stay. For example, the DoubleTree Suites in Times Square (a Category 10 property) drops to 70,000 points/night from January – March and again in July & August. If you wanted to book a five-night stay during one of those months, it will set you back 280,000 points (4 nights at 70k plus the fifth night free). However, a four-night AXON stay would actually be more: 300,000 points to be exact.

DoubleTree NYC
The DoubleTree Suites in Times Square would benefit from an AXON during high season, but the fifth night free benefit is actually cheaper than a four-night AXON during low season!

Again, be sure to check the various seasonal rates at your desired property to make sure an AXON award is the best deal out there.

Make sure that you are checking all options if you are planning on staying at a property for 9 nights. This might actually be a new “sweet spot” in the Hilton HHonors program, especially at properties during high season. Let’s say that you wanted to spend nine nights at the Hilton in Sydney, Australia in the month of February. Normal redemption rates that month are 70,000 points/night. Using the above spreadsheet, you may be inclined to book two AXON rewards plus one additional standard night for 510,000 points. However, you could actually book one AXON and tag on another five-night standard stay for a total of 500,000 points. This would allow you to take advantage of both the fifth night free and AXON benefit. However, if your stay fell during the month of May, when standard rooms are only 60,000 points/night, the AXON rates wind up being more than the standard rates, so you’d be better off booking nine nights online and avoiding AXON altogether.

A nine-night stay at the Hilton Sydney can be booked using a combination of AXON and the fifth night free benefit to save yourself 10,000 points.
A nine-night stay at the Hilton Sydney can be booked using a combination of AXON and the fifth night free benefit to save yourself 10,000 points.

I included a little pop-up in the spreadsheet to remind you of this as you are evaluating your options. I’m guessing that many of us aren’t booking nine-night stays, but if you are, just make sure that you consider the different combinations out there.

Finally, be sure to make all of your AXON reservations for Category 5-7 properties before June 15, since any reservations made on or after that date will be subject to the new point levels. It appears that you will not be able to book AXON rewards at Category 8-10 properties until after that date, so if you have plans to travel to one of those properties between now and then, it sounds like you are out of luck!

At the end of the day, it is still nice to have the option of booking these rewards, especially if your stay absolutely has to be four nights and happens to fall during a hotel’s high season. Again, though, be sure to carefully consider all of your options to make sure that you doing waste any of your hard-earned points.

What do you all think of this new offering? Please feel free to share your thoughts or ask any questions in the comments section below!

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