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Travel Tuesday Top 10: Ways You Can Still Get Value Out of Hilton HHonors Post-Devaluation

by on April 2, 2013 · 31 comments

in Hilton, Top 10, TPG Contributors

With the trauma of Hilton’s HHonors devaluation still fresh in our memories, we turned to TPG Hilton contributor Nick Ewen to find ways that all of us can still reap value out of the brand’s gutted loyalty program. The bad news is, it’s going to be harder than ever to find value in your Hilton points. The good news is, there are still plenty of ways to rack up enough and smart ways for you to book the award stay you want.

No one can deny that Hilton HHonors points are worth less today than they were a week ago- at least for most people who redeem at mid and upper tier hotels. Hopefully, all you savvy TPG readers were able to grab some free nights at high-end properties before their prices shot through the roof. However, despite the scale and scope of the recent devaluation, I do still believe that the program has value. Today’s Travel Tuesday Top 10 post will highlight the best ways to maximize your Hilton HHonors points post-devaluation.

The Citi Hilton Reserve card gives two free nights.

The Citi Hilton Reserve card gives two free weekend nights.

1. Carefully plan your length of stay: In the past, virtually any stay over three nights offered a somewhat standardized discount. With the fifth night free “enhancement” to the program, this is no longer the case. Be sure to consider this when making travel arrangements. Obviously a stay with a multiple of four (AXON) or five (fifth night free) nights is ideal, but the free-night certificates from the Citi Reserve Visa can change this equation a bit.

2. Find properties that didn’t increase their redemption rates. While this devaluation was almost across the board, there were several that did not change and some that even dropped. I (personally) just booked a three-night stay at the DoubleTree in Kuala Lumpur for next January. Before March 28th, the room would’ve set me back 25,000 points/night. Now, that same room is only 10,000 points/night. There’s a great FlyerTalk thread that highlights these new “sweet spots” post devaluation, so be sure to check that out for some ideas of properties that still offer great value.

3. Get the Citi Hilton Reserve credit card: As of now, the free night certificates (two as a sign-up bonus and another when spending over $10,000 in a calendar year) can still be used at any property worldwide, so with the devaluation, the value of these potentially shot through the roof. Sure, 95,000 points/night for a hotel like the Hilton Bora Bora is hard to stomach, but getting at two or three nights there without a tremendous point or cash outlay is a significant benefit. The card also offers 10 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, meaning that regular members can earn up to 25 points/dollar if selecting “Points + Points” as their earning style, so you only have to spend $2,000 at Hilton to earn the 50,000 points necessary for possible award nights at Category 6-9 hotels (though likely you’ll only be able to find this low rate at Category 6-7). No foreign transaction fees also make this a keeper in my wallet.

4. Consider the other Hilton credit cards: As we reported last week, AXON rewards are here to stay, though some unspecified “adjustments” will be made going forward. This helps bring the American Express Hilton cards back into the fray. The American Express Surpass currently offers the best earning rate at Hilton properties at 12 points/dollar, while the regular American Express offers just 6 points/dollar (albeit without an annual fee). A Hilton HHonors member who selects “Points + Points” as his/her earning style and uses the Surpass to pay for Hilton stays would still earn free nights relatively quickly. As an example, consider a stay at the Rome Cavalieri over New Year’s Eve. Revenue rates are 500 euros ($645), yet that same room can be booked for 70,000 points.

Rome Cavalieri

The Rome Cavalieri is a Hilton category 9 property requiring 70,000 points per night.

Since a Surpass cardholder is at least a Silver Hilton HHonors member (28.5 points/dollar), they’d need to spend less than $2,500 at Hilton properties to earn enough points for an award night. Gold (30 points/dollar) and Diamond (32 points/dollar) Surpass cardholders would see that lowered to $2,333.33 and $2187.50, respectively- not including any promotions. Not nearly as lucrative as before, but for rooms that can be well over $600/night, that’s not a bad return. Both cards still offer substantial sign-up bonuses, which are more necessary than ever with the new program changes. I’d even encourage you to consider the regular Citi Hilton HHonors card which offers 40,000 bonus points after just $1,000 spend in the first four months. This card still appears to be churnable, so as of now, you can still get bonus multiple times! However, I still prefer the benefits offered by the American Express ones. Speaking of which…

5. Book AXON rewards now before the rates increase: As I covered in an earlier post, we have received official word from Hilton’s PR company that AXON awards will be changing as of June 15th. The official language indicated that current AXON awards for Category 6-7 will be “adjusted” and new AXON awards will be added for Categories 8-10. I am willing to bet a fair amount of money that the “adjustment” to Category 6-7 will not be in our favor, so if you have been planning a four-night stay at one of those locations, be sure to lock in those plans ASAP while they’re still around.

6. Select “Points + Points” as your earning style: I covered these options in an earlier post, but with the new redemption structure, I think this decision has become increasingly important. Given the fact that most properties now require more points for a free night, selecting Points + Points is likely the best decision, as it will allow you to accrue more points at a faster rate of 15 points per $1 at the base level. This is especially true at Hampton Inns, Homewood Suites, and Home2Suites. On the other hand, if you do want to keep earning miles…

Choose your Points + Miles double dip partner carefully to get the most value.

Choose your Points + Miles double dip partner carefully to get the most value.

7. Carefully choose your double-dip partner: Giving up the additional bonus points you’d earn by selecting “Points + Points” to focus on airline miles instead should be a deliberate, well-informed decision, and there are some good “Points + Miles” options still out there. Virgin Atlantic obviously doesn’t have the same allure as it did when transferring miles to Hilton at a 1:2 rate actually meant something, but they still offer 1,000 miles per stay at full-service Hilton properties with the Fixed Miles option. Virgin partners with numerous other airlines with different redemption options (such as 15,000 miles for round-trip intra-Hawaii flights on Hawaiian Airlines, which could be possible after just 15 stays). You can also use the miles to upgrade paid tickets on Virgin Atlantic (20 stays, or 20,000 miles, would get you a one-way upgrade from coach to Upper Class from Boston, New York, Washington and Chicago to London), and I’m also interested to see if their new partnership with Delta will increase the value of their miles. Another would be double-dipping with British Airways, especially for short-haul travel. Just 9 stays would net you 4,500 Avios – enough for a one-way flight from New York to Toronto. Although you’d need 30 stays to have enough for a round-trip flight on one of TPG’s most frequent routes: Miami-New York.

8. Pay close attention to Points + Money Rewards (if you are lucky enough to find them): In an earlier post, I discussed this option and indicated that I didn’t think it was a great value. In certain cases, the devaluation may have changed that. In the past, these rewards required half of the points needed for a one-night stay plus a small cash copay. It appears that even Hilton realized that their new rates were astronomical, so now, they only require 40% of the necessary points. This can be especially helpful at the high-end properties. For example, at the Conrad Tokyo, a one-night stay in November could be 95,000 points, $310-$441 (depending on the date), or 38,000 points + $190 (all dollar amounts approximate given the current exchange rate). The $190 copay is basically purchasing the 57,000 additional points needed for a free night at just 0.33 cents/point.

Conrad Tokyo 1

The rate at the Conrad Tokyo just for a regular award night.

Conrad Tokyo 2

The Points + Money rate.

Conrad Tokyo 3

How much the rooms would cost you normally.

Notice that the copay doesn’t change when the revenue rates are higher, so this can be a nice option when you are planning a stay during a pricey time (again, if you can find availability). Keep in mind that you do not earn any points on the cash portion of a “Points & Money” reward, though the stay/night(s) will count towards elite status.

9. Pay close attention to the Premium Room Reward options: With the new program and (mostly) higher redemption rates, I would bet that there are many examples of premium rooms falling close to the standard rate or even less. For example, at one of my favorite properties, the Conrad Bali, a standard room (“Deluxe Garden King/Twin”) in January would be 50,000 points/night. However, I see several dates where a Deluxe Resort room is 47,600 points/night, while Deluxe Ocean rooms are 55,600 points/night.

Conrad Bali

You’d actually be getting an extra $20 in “value” by spending 2,400 fewer points, while the additional 5,600 points for the Deluxe Ocean rooms would give you an additional $60 in value. Unfortunately, these premium rooms are not available with the new “Fifth Night Free” benefit, so this is best used for short stays of 2-3 nights. I’d also be willing to bet that some of these “deals” will disappear once the properties have data on the new program and realize that they offer too much value.

10. Consider taking advantage of Room Upgrade Rewards: Whenever I make a reward reservation, I will always check the revenue rates during the booking process. If it’s close to breakeven for me, I will sometimes make a refundable paid reservation and see what types of upgrade “offers” I get using points. Sadly, this won’t show up until the confirmation page (if at all), but this can be a good way to confirm yourself into a higher room category ahead of time. As an example, I tried booking a one-night stay at the Conrad in Hong Kong (now a Category 10 property) in November. A standard room (“King or Twin Bed Superior Room”) could be booked for $495, 32,000 points + $149, or 80,000 points. You could also secure an upgraded room with peak or harbor views for significantly more points:

Conrad Hong Kong

None of these represent a great redemption outright, but if you go through the booking process for the standard room, it actually gives you the ability to use points to confirm these upgraded rooms:

In both cases, each extra point is getting you approximately 0.5 cents of value. Not great, but to confirm a room like that at a top-notch property for such a small outlay of points could be a nice use of points, especially on stays being paid for by an employer.

Bonus: Plan trips during a hotel’s published “low” season or consider “alternate” locations that don’t have higher rates. One of my biggest issues with the new Hilton HHonors program is the seasonal rate structure, which basically grants the hotel a license to require more points just because they want to. You can see this phenomenon in action by going to http://hhonorspointssearchtool.com/ and searching for properties in New Orleans. You’ll see that some properties up their rates in January and February, others in March and April, and others in some combination of those months. This lack of consistency is maddening but also an opportunity for us points enthusiasts. Be sure you consider the different options and try to plan your stays during the period with lower rates; as illustrated above, the lower rates don’t necessarily indicate a less desirable time to visit!

Check the seasonal rates in your destinations - some hotels might be better bargains in certain months.

Check the seasonal rates in your destinations – some hotels might be better bargains in certain months.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, what are your plans for Hilton HHonors? Any specific post-devaluation success stories to share? Please feel free to comment below!

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Matt C

    Where did you see on the T&C that the Reserve card is good for Category 8-10? It was still reading Categories 1-7 on my landing page.

  • Matt B

    TPG, regarding the Hilton Reserve card mentioned in #3, are you confident the free nights can still be used at any property? The latest 5 comments in MommyPoints post on this suggest the Hilton reps have said that post 3/28, they still cap you at category 7s so you wouldn’t be able to book anything that moved up to a cat 8-10.

    http://boardingarea.com/blogs/mommypoints/2013/02/21/what-happens-to-citi-hhonors-reserve-card-sign-up-bonus-now/#comments

  • worldtraveler1

    “regular members can earn up to 25 points/dollar if
    selecting “Points + Points” as their earning style”
    Did you mean 25 or 15?

  • JohnTaylor

    The Waldorf Astoria Maui (Grand Wailea), Waldorf Park City Utah and Hilton Phuket also dropped redemption rates. A good summary here. I kept my points based on this article: http://tinyurl.com/cy7ljyq

  • FU MAN CHEW

    THE CONRAD BALI IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PLACES TOO!

  • Matt B

    I thought Waldorf Park City went from 50k-60k in the old chart to 50k-80k in the new chart?

  • Stephanie

    Matt, I think you are correct. In the ads for the card it says “select hotels”… fine print says category 1-7.

  • Cliff

    Isn’t it still a better strategy to bank Points & Miles to Virgin Atlantic, then transfer back to Hilton? I thought that was better than “Points and Points.”

  • john

    I think the 5th nt free only applies to Silver, gold, and diamond elites. In a previous post you said it now applies to everyone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Ewen/7201791 Nick Ewen

    Matt and Stephanie, that is what the T&C say, but I just got off the phone with Hilton HHonors, and the rep unequivocally confirmed that with the new program, the certificates CAN be used at Category 1-10 properties. This is posted in their internal policies, and she said that they would be updating the T&C of the card/certificates at some point (but had no idea when).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Ewen/7201791 Nick Ewen

    Yes, that is correct. Another reason to have at least the fee-free Hilton Amex or Citi Hilton Reserve card.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Ewen/7201791 Nick Ewen

    Well, it really depends on where you are staying and how much eligible spend you have. Crediting to Virgin Atlantic and transferring back to Hilton is only a better option when you spend less than $400 at full-service properties and less than $80 at Hampton/Homewood properties. Remember too that in order to transfer back to Hilton, you must transfer at least 10,000 miles (and only in 5,000-mile increments after that). If you only have a handful of Hilton stays, those miles could sit there for quite some time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Ewen/7201791 Nick Ewen

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it as much as me and my wife did! Such a fantastic property and one of the best values pre-devaluation (though still a relative bargain in my book, especially if you can swing an upgrade to the all-suites section!).

  • Stephanie

    I hope that is true. That would be great. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Ewen/7201791 Nick Ewen

    I know the Waldorf in Park City would’ve been 60,000 points this past February (I used certificates), and it’s now 80,000 for next February. I can’t remember how it was priced at other times of the year pre-devaluation, but it has definitely increased for the prime ski season.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Ewen/7201791 Nick Ewen

    15 points/dollar + 10 bonus points/dollar for using their Citi Hilton Reserve credit card. Of course, that doesn’t factor in the fact that Citi Hilton Reserve cardholders are automatically Gold, so it really should be 27.5 points/dollar.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Ewen/7201791 Nick Ewen

    They haven’t updated the T&C, but our contacts at Hilton have confirmed that the certificates can now be used at Category 1-10 properties (excluding certain ones that don’t have “standard” rooms, mainly Hilton Grand Vacation, all-inclusive, and a few Waldorf properties).

  • http://www.facebook.com/jolly.brown.9 Jolly Brown

    Category 1-7……it’s in the fine print……you can’t believe Hilton or Citibank is going to cut anyone a break…..c’mon………….

  • Amanda

    I’m new to this and am working my first apporama for a trip to China this summer. I just went on the Hilton Honors website and did a search for ‘China’. I found lots of hotels for minimal points. I only have 80k points so far and am glad to see that will get me more than one night

  • Clint C

    This Diamond honors member is VERY angry at this backhanded devaluation and gutting of their program. Goodbye Hilton- Whoever made this decision to retroactively devalue our pints will be responsible for your decline in stays and from your soon to be former diamond/gold. Hilton will look back one year from now and wonder, “what happened”?. Im burning my points and Starwood is status matching… See ya Hilton.

  • Clint C

    This Diamond honors member is VERY angry at this backhanded devaluation and gutting of their program. Goodbye Hilton- Whoever made this decision to retroactively devalue our pints will be responsible for your decline in stays and from your soon to be former diamond/gold. Hilton will look back one year from now and wonder, “what happened”?. Im burning my points and Starwood is status matching… See ya Hilton.

  • Clint C

    This Diamond honors member is VERY angry at this backhanded devaluation and gutting of their program. Goodbye Hilton- Whoever made this decision to retroactively devalue our pints will be responsible for your decline in stays and from your soon to be former diamond/gold. Hilton will look back one year from now and wonder, “what happened”?. Im burning my points and Starwood is status matching… See ya Hilton.

  • Clint C

    This Diamond honors member is VERY angry at this backhanded devaluation and gutting of their program. Goodbye Hilton- Whoever made this decision to retroactively devalue our pints will be responsible for your decline in stays and from your soon to be former diamond/gold. Hilton will look back one year from now and wonder, “what happened”?. Im burning my points and Starwood is status matching… See ya Hilton.

  • Clint C

    This Diamond honors member is VERY angry at this backhanded devaluation and gutting of their program. Goodbye Hilton- Whoever made this decision to retroactively devalue our pints will be responsible for your decline in stays and from your soon to be former diamond/gold. Hilton will look back one year from now and wonder, “what happened”?. Im burning my points and Starwood is status matching… See ya Hilton.

  • Clint C

    This Diamond honors member is VERY angry at this backhanded devaluation and gutting of their program. Goodbye Hilton- Whoever made this decision to retroactively devalue our pints will be responsible for your decline in stays and from your soon to be former diamond/gold. Hilton will look back one year from now and wonder, “what happened”?. Im burning my points and Starwood is status matching… See ya Hilton.

  • Clint C

    This Diamond honors member is VERY angry at this backhanded devaluation and gutting of their program. Goodbye Hilton- Whoever made this decision to retroactively devalue our pints will be responsible for your decline in stays and from your soon to be former diamond/gold. Hilton will look back one year from now and wonder, “what happened”?. Im burning my points and Starwood is status matching… See ya Hilton.

  • Clint C

    This Diamond honors member is VERY angry at this backhanded devaluation and gutting of their program. Goodbye Hilton- Whoever made this decision to retroactively devalue our pints will be responsible for your decline in stays and from your soon to be former diamond/gold. Hilton will look back one year from now and wonder, “what happened”?. Im burning my points and Starwood is status matching… See ya Hilton.

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  • Mari

    I just started a petition at Change.org called: Hilton Honors: Stop the “restructuring” of Hilton Honors Points

    I encourage everyone who shares my outrage at this corporate theft to sign on!

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  • Brian

    The loyalty has been one way and after accumulating 800,000 points they devalued them by more than half. I will not pay for another Hilton, stopped using my Hilton Amex, am looking at selling my two HGVC timeshares and think it is better to not have a program than to royally mistreat the members you entice to join. I know they reserve the right to change their points but why not just make them 500,000 per night at this point….I just wish someone would class action against them already.

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