Maximizing Hilton HHonors For Family Travel

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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.

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