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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card
With more than 3,900 hotels in 90 different countries, Hilton likely has a property at your destinations of choice. Due to an overhaul of award categories and the addition of seasonal hotel pricing, the hotel brand’s loyalty program, HHonors, has become less attractive to hotel loyalists over the last few years, but there are still some great reasons to keep your HHonors account balance active and accruing points. Today, I’ll move on from covering the Hyatt Gold Passport program to show you how to get the most out of your stays, rewards, elite status and more with the Hilton HHonors program.
Let’s start by looking at the benefits of being a loyal Hilton customer — first in terms of elite status and then in terms of earning and redeeming points.
Hilton offers four levels of elite status within the HHonors program: Blue, Silver, Gold, and Diamond.
Blue membership is given to anyone that signs up for the HHonors program. For being a completely free status, it actually offers a couple of decent benefits. You get free standard internet in your room and the lobby; can request late checkouts; and a second guest can stay in your room for free at hotels that charge extra for adding guests. In Japan where I live, every hotel charges for additional guests, meaning Blue membership can save me quite a bit on nightly hotel rates.
Silver membership is earned after 4 stays or 10 nights in a calendar year. In addition to Blue benefits, Silver members get a 15% point bonus on qualifying spending at Hilton properties, complimentary health club access to hotel owned/operated fitness centers, the fifth night free on standard room award stays of five nights or more and two complimentary water bottles at most Hilton properties.
Gold membership is earned after 20 stays, 40 nights or 75,000 base points earned in a calendar year. In addition to Silver benefits, Gold members receive a 25% point bonus on qualifying spending and a choice of My Way Gold Membership hotel benefits. Depending on which chain of the Hilton portfolio your stay is at, options include a room upgrade, bonus points totaling from 250-1000 points, continental breakfast, snack or non-alcoholic beverage.
Diamond membership is earned after 30 stays, 60 nights or 120,000 base points earned in a calendar year. In addition to Gold benefits, Diamond members receive a 50% point bonus on qualifying spending, a guaranteed room when making a reservation 48 hours in advance and My Way Diamond Membership Hotel benefits. All Diamond members and one additional registered guest receive Executive Lounge access at Hilton, Conrad and DoubleTree properties.
HHonors functions like most hotel loyalty programs: You earn the majority of your points by staying at Hilton properties or through credit card spending, and you redeem points for free hotel nights, with awards priced according to the desirability of a specific hotel property. Unique to Hilton are the My Way Earning Style Options. Choose Points & Points or Points & Miles if you want to earn bonus HHonors points or airline miles on top of your base Hilton HHonors points. If your choose Points & Miles, you can choose Amtrak or one of more than 30 airlines to earn miles generally at the rate of 1 mile per dollar spent at Hilton. Here’s a summary of the most prevalent options for earning HHonors points:
1. Hotel Stays — Earn 10 HHonors base points for every dollar you spend on your room, including any charges you make to your room bill. Some exceptions include earning 10 points per dollar on room rates only (not other charges) at Hampton Inns and Homewood Suites. At Home2 Suites you will only earn 5 base points per dollar spent. Elite members earn their respective 15%, 25% or 50% bonuses.
2. Credit Card Spending — There are many Hilton credit cards that can help you earn HHonors points. My favorite cards are the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card and the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express.
The Reserve Card earns 10x points on Hilton purchases; 5x on airfare and rental cars; and 3x points on all other spending. The card gives HHonors Gold Status as long as you pay the annual fee and offers two free weekend nights at select Hilton hotels after spending $2,500 in the first four months. Upgrade to Hilton Diamond status after spending $40,000 on the card in a year. The card carries a $95 annual fee.
The Surpass Card earns 12x points on Hilton spend; 6x points on restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations; and 3x points on all other spending. The card also gives you Gold status with the ability to upgrade to Diamond status after spending $40,000 on the card in a year. You get airport lounge access with Priority Pass Select membership, and the card carries a smaller $75 annual fee.
Make sure you also look at the no-annual-fee versions of the cards. The Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card is currently offering a limited-time sign-up bonus of 75,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. The Hilton HHonors Card from American Express gives you 75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three month, as well as Silver status.
3. Travel Partners — Earn points on car rentals, cruises, Priority Pass Airline lounge membership and international mobile phone service. With major rental car companies like Budget, Avis, National and Alamo, you earn between 250 – 1,500 HHonors points per rental. You can earn 4,000-10,000 points when signing up for one of three different Priority Pass airport lounge access memberships; 6,000-50,000 points when booking a cruise from CruisesOnly.com; and 1-10 points per minute on international cell service companies OneSimCard and Traveling Connect. Confirm all the details of earning with travel partners at the HHonors site.
4. Shopping and Dining — By creating an account and linking a credit card to Hilton HHonors Dining, you can earn up to 8 points per dollar at participating restaurants. There’s currently a 2,000-point welcome bonus after dining three separate times with a bill over $30.
If you often shop online and want to top up your HHonors account, check out the Hilton HHonors Shop-to-Earn mall. Compared to other shopping portals, the Hilton option doesn’t “wow” me. There is a comprehensive list of merchants, but the payouts appear to be quite low compared to other portals.
5. Direct Company Offers — Once a quarter I’ll check in with HHonors to see if any new company-specific offers have appeared. Currently, DirecTV, LifeLock, EnergyPlus and E-miles are offering bonuses to new customers. The most lucrative seems to be DirecTV’s offer of two free weekend nights at most Hilton’s worldwide after signing up for new service. That could be a bonus worth well over $1,000.
6. Exchange Miles for Points — You can turn Amtrak points or miles from one of eight airlines into HHonors points or directly book Hilton hotels with miles. This was a good deal with Hawaiian Airlines before the transfer ratio was cut from 1:2 to 1:1.5. There don’t appear to be any real winners here in transfer ratios, especially not in the direct booking arena, as the number of miles required for a free night is astronomical.
7. Buy/Receive Points — Hilton sells points for 1 cent each and you can buy a maximum of 80,000 points a year. You can also set up a registry for friends and family to contribute toward your dream vacation.
Award Chart and Redemption Options
1. Free Nights — Hilton divides its worldwide properties into 10 categories, each requiring an increasing amount of points. Categories 4-10 have a range of points due to seasonal pricing adjustments that each property can make. These prices are for standard rooms only.
Premium rooms can be booked with points without blackout dates. Anytime they are available at booking, you can use points for a free night. The catch is that these rooms require such a large amount of points per night that they border on the obscene.
In 2013, Hilton devalued the award chart by creating 10 categories of hotel, making variable zones inside 60% of the categories, and making top-tier properties cost an astounding 95,000 points a night in a standard room. This makes free nights at aspirational Hilton properties out of grasp and not worth the effort for most people. This award chart is a big reason why HHonors points hold little value.
2. Points & Money Rewards — Outside of customers seeing this redemption option in search results, Hilton does a poor job of advertising the possibility of these rewards. However, I typically try to use my Hilton points for this redemption, as it consistently gives me the highest value for my points. Instead of paying all points for a free night, pay a cash and point subsidy, both of which are typically less than half of what a revenue or free night would cost.
3. On-property Rewards — You can use your points for property amenities like all-inclusive packages at certain properties, golf tee times and carts (a free combo of both will cost you 25,000 or 35,000 points depending on the time of year), Hilton Hawaiian dollars (25,000 points can becomes $50 worth to use in Oahu or on the Big Island) and casino gaming chips (25,000 points for $50 or 40,000 points for $100, in both Las Vegas and Puerto Rico). To find out how many points an all-inclusive property stay or a vacation package will cost, you have to call the Hilton Reservations and customer care center at 1 (800) 774-1500.
4. Travel Rewards — All of HHonors’ travel rewards options should be avoided. You can transfer your points into Amtrak Rewards, airline miles at 41 different carriers, free car rentals or upgrades and cruise discounts, but typically at bad transfer ratios that hover around the 10:1 mark.
For instance, one-day car rentals will cost an average of 15,000 points, while one-class upgrades cost 4,000 points. You can also redeem for car rental gift certificates worth $25, $50, $100 or $200. These rental options require far too many points and don’t represent a good value.
Likewise, redeeming points for cruise discounts via CruisesOnly.com will only give you 0.2 cents per point in value; for example, only $250 off a cruise costs a whopping 120,000 HHonors points.
Note that HHonors points transfers are said to take about 30 days, unless you pay $25 to have the miles show up in 10 days.
5. Shopping Rewards — You can turn points directly into TVs, cameras and more via the HHonors Shopping Mall. The value here is extremely low compared to what you’ll receive for free hotel nights and should be avoided. The few products I saw gave me a value about 0.25 cents per point. A pair of Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones sells for $299 or 164,500 HHonors points, yielding a 0.18 cents per point value.
6. Redemption Experiences — In what appears to be a move to echo Starwood’s SPG Moments, you can now redeem points for music concert tickets and cultural events. The options are pretty slim as of this writing, with comedy festival tickets costing 50,000 points and Marc Antony concert tickets in Vegas costing 125,000 points. There are also occasional auctions for behind-the-scenes and VIP experiences, but nothing really caught my eye.
7. Donate — Using PointWorthy.com, you can use 4,000 points to donate $10 to a cause of your choice from thousands on the site.
Booking free nights through the HHonors website is easy. Select the Use HHonors points icon during your hotel search, and if an award night is available, the option will appear.
You can also use the flexible date search to easily view two weeks at a time.
When researching your options for point redemptions on the HHonors website, many of the non-free night awards have award codes next to them. It’s handy to write these down and then tell the phone agent the award code; it will quickly point them in the right direction and ensure you get what you want.
Given that free nights cost a ton of points, finding the value here can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. There are several strategies I take when maximizing my Hilton stays and HHonors points:
1. Be Picky with Free Nights — Every now and again I can find properties which cost a lot money for a night but are not categorized as highly for a free night. The Hilton Niseko Village is my favorite example. Located an hour and a half outside of Sapporo, Japan, this property was a perfect choice for me during the peak of Sapporo Snow festival and ski season. The hotel basically has a ski-in-and-out lobby with a gondola and slopes out the front door, and routinely goes for over $500 a night. A free night, however, will cost you only 30,000 points.
2. Points & Money — I alluded to this before, but want to emphasize the value this reward offers — often more value than Hyatt’s Points + Cash awards. Use the flexible date view to try and find nights where this option is available.
3. Best Price Guarantee — Hilton is not as generous with its Best Rate Guarantee policy as Hyatt, Marriott or IHG. You’re supposed to have the lower price matched and receive $50 off your total bill if you find your same room type, on the same night, for a cheaper rate on a third party website. In practice, I’ve often received $50 off the lowered rate per night with a successful Hilton BRG.
4. Gold Status — Hilton Gold is arguably the best mid-tier status of any hotel chain, and it’s not that difficult to achieve. Free breakfast at Hilton properties has saved me hundreds of dollars a year. Being able to skip the line of people waiting for a breakfast table at the Hilton Tokyo Bay has — no joke — saved me 30-45 minutes a day every time I go to Tokyo Disney.
While I no longer go out of my way to collect HHonors points, I actually really enjoy my stays at Hilton properties. That said, compared to SPG or Hyatt points, the limited value of HHonors points is a losing proposition to my bottom line. I do always keep an eye on my balance and look for Points & Money nights if I need a one-night stay somewhere, or if an SPG, Hyatt or Marriott property isn’t convenient.
What’s your favorite aspect of Hilton HHonors? This card’s sign-up bonus of two free nights can be worth as much as 190,000 points if you redeem them at top-tier properties like the Conrad Maldives, and it also confers automatic Gold status and the ability to earn Diamond status through spending.
This card’s sign-up bonus of two free nights can be worth as much as 190,000 points if you redeem them at top-tier properties like the Conrad Maldives, and it also confers automatic Gold status and the ability to earn Diamond status through spending.