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Maximizing Hilton HHonors For Family Travel

by on July 11, 2014 · 11 comments

in American Express, Citi, Family Travel, Hilton, Hyatt, Starwood, TPG Contributors

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Today, TPG contributor Jason Steele continues his series on family travel options in the most prevalent hotel brands with a look at Hilton HHonors.

Previously, we looked at the family friendly aspects of two popular hotel loyalty programs, Starwood Preferred Guest and Hyatt Gold Passport. Today, I want to examine Hilton HHonors and see how it stacks up in accommodating family travelers.

How HHonors can work for family travelers

1. Hilton HHonors points are very easy to get. Singles, couples, and family travelers alike can appreciate how easy it is to acquire HHonors points. There are no fewer than four different HHonors credit cards issued by two different banks, including the Hilton HHonors Visa Signature and HHonors Reserve cards from Citi, and the HHonors and HHonors Surpass cards from American Express. Furthermore, those who hold a Citi ThankYou Premier, Citi ThankYou Prestige, Citi Prestige or Chairman credit card can transfer Thank You points to HHonors at a rate of 2:3. Finally, Virgin Atlantic miles can be transferred to Hilton HHonors also at a rate of 2:3, and they’re a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and the Starwood Preferred Guest program. For families, this means that parents don’t have to be frequent business travelers in order to earn enough points for an award.

Hilton offers four different credit cards from two different banks.

Hilton offers four different c0-branded credit cards from two different banks.

2. HHonors status is widely available. The standard Citi HHonors card comes with Silver status and a fast track to Gold status (after just four stays within 90 days of opening an account). The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve and American Express HHonors Surpass cards confer Gold status to all cardmembers, while the Hilton HHonors card from American Express grants it to those who spend $20,000 in a calendar year. Diamond status is given to HHonors Surpass cardholders who spend $40,000, even before their first night’s stay. In the past, HHonors Gold status has also been offered as a perk of a MilePoint Premium membership, and as a benefit of the American Express Platinum card. Again, this means parents don’t have to be dedicated road warriors in order for families to enjoy elite status.

3. There are a huge number of Hilton properties around the world. Hilton’s web site boasts 4,100 hotels, including ten brands in 92 countries. In contrast, Starwood has 1,200 properties, while Hyatt offers only 549. This means there are Hilton properties in plenty of locations without Starwood or Hyatt options, and in a city that might offer only one or two properties in those other programs, you might find several Hiltons to choose from.

4. No blackout dates. Like Hyatt and Starwood, the Hilton HHonors program also claims to have no blackout dates or capacity restrictions. This is a help to families who must travel during peak seasons when children are on break from school.

The Hilton Hawaiian Village features a highly acclaimed kids camp.

The Hilton Hawaiian Village features a highly acclaimed kids camp.

5. Family friendly programs. Some Hilton properties have family friendly camps and other themes. Here is a list of their top resorts that offer family amenities. In addition, the Hilton Hawaiian Village also has its Camp Penguin kids club that appears to be highly regarded and reasonably priced at $90 per day including lunch, an excursion, and a t-shirt. That said, there doesn’t seem to be a coordinated Hilton program like Camp Hyatt or the Westin Kids Club.

Hilton's Club Penguin at their Hawaiian Village resort looks pretty fun.

Hilton’s Club Penguin at their Hawaiian Village resort.

Ways that the HHonors program fails families

1. No suite awards. Hyatt charges about 66% more for a suite award, while Starwood charges double. Hilton will charge you a rate based on the price of the larger room. So when you add a child to your reservation, the price might jump from a round number like 40,000 points to an odd figure like 126,512 points.  This is especially a problem at properties overseas, but can show up here in the US as well. To get around this, I have left my kids out of bookings once I learned that they had standard rooms that would accommodate a crib or cot. During our most recent stay at the Hilton Tel Aviv, having Gold status enabled me to receive a larger room that easily accommodated a rollaway.

Getting a larger room can involve spending a lot of points.

Getting a larger room can involve spending a lot of points.

2. Charging for rollaways. While Starwood takes the approach of charging as much as possible for a rollaway bed, all of the Hyatt properties I looked at offered them for free when available. Sadly, Hilton seems to take the Starwood approach, and isn’t very consistent. For example, the Hilton in Madison, Wisconsin charges $20 per night for a rollaway, the Hilton Millennium in New York charges $25 per stay, while one traveler reported being charged $64 at the Hilton Niseko in Japan. The problem is not just the fee, but the lack of disclosure. At most Hilton hotels, fees for rollaways and cots are not listed.

3. Elite benefits do not extend to families. Hilton HHonors Gold is the only mid-tier status that offers free breakfast, but it only applies to the member and one guest. This is similar to Starwood’s policy, but falls far short of Hyatt’s, which extends free breakfast for Diamond members to four guests staying in one room. For this reason, we often stay in Hampton Inns, which is a Hilton brand that offers free breakfast to all guests. In our experience, this rule is not applied consistently when the breakfast benefit is available at a club level lounge.

4. Massively devalued award chart. Sure, Hilton points are easy to get, but award nights cost far more than those at Hyatt or Starwood, even when you factor in that you get three points per dollar from most of the Hilton credit cards (2 points per dollar with the standard Citi Hilton card). For example, Looking at hotels in Denver, I was lucky to get a half of a cent in value for each point redeemed, and sometimes less than a third of a cent.

As you can see, it can cost tens of thousands of Hilton points per night, just for a mid-range hotel.

As you can see, even a mid-range hotel can cost tens of thousands of Hilton points per night.

 Conclusions

Unfortunately, the HHonors program can sometimes sell families short by not extending benefits to all guests, or offering reasonably priced suite awards. When you can find good value from their award chart, Hilton properties can make for excellent family stays, and the sheer number of properties makes this program useful for families who like to travel a little off the beaten path.

If you’re interested in learning more about family travel strategies, Jason Steele and other gurus will be speaking at the Family Travel for Real Life seminar on August 23, 2014 in Sterling, VA (near IAD). Check the link for more details.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Adam

    Totally agree with the varying point issue. We are planning a trip to tel-aviv next summer and they want 70k for a std room, 180k for 2 queens.

    Recent horrible stay at HGI VA Beach. Checked out after 1 night in a 3 night stay. HH returned my points but would not offer anything additional for a wasted 4th of July weekend. Can I expect the same at most family hilton locations in the US? Should I expect more than a return of points? I have 2 weekend night crest and 180k points to use. Maybe I should transfer them to something else?

  • SL

    Great timing as we have the CITI HH Reserve Card and have a month left to use the 2 weekend night sign-up bonus certificates (thanks PTS Guy for the tip last year). Trying to see what the best value / biggest bang for these Certificates while traveling WITH 2 kids. (All-inclusive properties not included)
    BTW agree with your experiences with the inconsistences via the Gold “free” breakfast benefit. Hilton Boston Airport very generous. (but they charged for roll-away) Hilton Times Square not free for kids. Hilton Garden Inn Gainesville FL again very accommodating wanted to make sure we were aware not only the adults were free b/c with HH Gold AND kids were free anyway. Have not had the opportunity for Club Lounge access as we have found most clubs are closed on the weekends. Would love if all the Gold complimentary breakfast rules were consistent for all Hilton Properties.

  • adam

    the a list of their top resorts that offer family amenities. takes you to a funky login windows page?

  • LukeTech

    Lately, HHonors isn’t very generous with the offerings. I will no longer be loyal to Hilton when booking rooms in the future.

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    Fixed.

  • PB

    Been Diamond for many years and agree with many of the points made in the post and comments. While you mentioned Hamptons as having free breakfast for all, there are actually 2 other brands within the Hilton portfolio that also provide free breakfast for all staying in the room-Embassy Suites and Homewood Suites. We find a lot of bang for the buck at both of these due to the larger suite rooms along with the evening dinner (Homewoods Monday-Thursday) or appetizers (weekdays at Embassy).

  • J

    we’ve done 3 years on points at Kingston Plantation Embassy Suites, N Myrtle Beach, SC, during peak. Family of 4. This year, as diamond, we stayed a full week on award stay and had another suite for our family on award stay. We really enjoy it. Cons: It is busy, lots of people at the breakfast and its is just o.k. Pro: great for families with kids, my girls love the kids club and it is a welcome respite, free drinks in evening. Small Waterpark on site. Great location, easy drive to central myrtle or Cherry Grove, great flat beach. at 40k points a night, plus the amex 5th night free, its our go to.

  • mpkomo

    how did you get the suites on award stay? did you book a standard and got upgraded or book the suite directly? if direct, how many points did it require?

  • Darren

    Have had great success with Hilton as a gold and our family of 6. Paid (only $169/night) for stay at Doubletree Jersey City and received upgraded suite with Manhattan skyline view that allowed 6 and breakfast for 6, reward stay at Hilton Miami Downtown, standard room is 50,000, suite with room for 6 was 47,000(!) and breakfast for all 6 was free (with enough points from the 4 night stay at Jersey City), Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace at Versailles on reward certs from Citi, two triple upgrades and one 6 level upgrade, and breakfast for all 8 of us (inc parents in law) free as well, and breakfast isn’t even a feature of Gold level at Waldorf Astoria brand. Have tried pretty much every major hotel chain and Hilton has treated us, by far, the best.

  • jjflysalot

    HH “No blackout dates” Really? If I can’t use my points for any particular date WHEN A ROOM IS AVAILABLE–that is a defacto blackout. And that happens a lot.

  • fam5

    The “No suite awards” failure point is just wrong. Many Hilton properties–Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, and some Doubletrees are ALL suite properties, with rooms available as standard awards. As a family of 5 with now teen children, we have enjoyed staying at these properties for many years. Much better than dealing with a rollaway. We have found the Hilton brand works best. Some of the competitors – Marriott Residence Inns and Staybridge Suites, for example – often don’t have the appropriate bedding configuration for a family of 5.

    I have been Diamond for a number of years and have enjoyed the benefits of that status. I do agree the upgrades and other benefits are somewhat unpredictable, and seemed to be declining. I’ll stick with Hilton for now, though.

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