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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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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:
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!
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!