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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Hilton Honors Card from American Express, Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express

With more than 5,000 hotels in 100 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, Honors, has become less attractive to hotel loyalists over the last few years, but there are still some great reasons to keep your Honors account balance active and accruing points. Let’s look at the benefits of being a loyal Hilton customer — first in terms of elite status and then in terms of earning and redeeming points.

Elite Status

Hilton offers four levels of elite status within the Honors program: Member, Silver, Gold, and Diamond.

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Base membership is given to anyone who signs up for the Honors 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 lived, every hotel charges for additional guests, meaning base 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, 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.

Did you know HHonors points can get you free golf at top courses?
Did you know Honors points can get you free golf at top courses in Arizona?

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.

Earn Points

Honors 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 Honors points or airline miles on top of your base Hilton Honors points. If you 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 Honors points:

1. Hotel Stays — Earn 10 Honors 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 and Tru by Hilton, you’ll 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 Honors points, though the Citi-issued options are no longer open to new applicants. One of my favorite cards is the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express.

The Surpass Card earns 12x points on Hilton spend; 6x points at US 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 $75 annual fee.

Make sure you also look at the no-annual-fee card. The Hilton Honors Card from American Express earns 7x points at Hilton properties; 5x points at US restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations; and 3x points on everything else. It also offers complimentary Silver status.

Currently, the Surpass Card is offering a sign-up bonus of 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months, while the no-fee Hilton Honors Card from American Express is offering 50,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months and another 25,000 points after you spend an additional $1,000 in the first six months.

You can also use transferable points like American Express Membership Rewards and move them to Hilton at a 1:1.5 ratio and Citi ThankYou points at the same 1:1.5 ratio.

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 Honors 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 Honors site.

4. Shopping and Dining — By creating an account and linking a credit card to Hilton Honors Dining, you can earn up to 8 points per dollar at participating restaurants. There’s currently a 1,000-point welcome bonus after dining once with a bill over $25.

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If you often shop online and want to top up your Honors account, check out the Hilton Honors 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 Honors to see if any new company-specific offers have appeared. Currently, LifeLock, E-miles and NRG Home are offering bonuses to new customers.

6. Exchange Miles for Points — You can turn Amtrak points or miles from one of 10 airlines into Honors 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.

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.

Premium rooms can be booked with points without blackout dates. Whenever they’re 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.

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A $702 suite at the Hilton Tokyo will cost you 207,000 points a night.

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 Honors points hold little value.

2. Points & Money Rewards —  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. You can adjust the ratio of points to money using a sliding tool.

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Instead of paying $412 per night for a room at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, pay 34,000 points and $201.64.

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) and Hilton Hawaii dollars (25,000 points can become $50 to use in Oahu or on the Big Island). 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 Honors’ travel rewards options should be avoided. You can transfer your points into Amtrak Rewards, airline miles with more than 40 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 Honors points.

Note that Honors 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 Honors 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 Honors 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 Coca-Cola ESPN College Gameday VIP tickets costing 50,000 points and U2 concert tickets in Brazil costing 121,000 points.

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.

Award-Booking Process

Booking free nights through the Honors website is easy. Select Pay With 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.

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I always select the flexible date option to view multiple weeks of availability at once.

When researching your options for point redemptions on the Honors 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.

Leverage Honors

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 Honors points:

1. 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, and remember that you can adjust the ratio of points to cash.

2. 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 an additional 25% off your total bill if you find your same room type, on the same night, for a cheaper rate on a third-party website.

3. Gold Status — Hilton Gold is arguably one of the best mid-tier statuses 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.

Bottom Line

While I no longer go out of my way to collect Honors points, I actually really enjoy my stays at Hilton properties. That said, compared to SPG or Hyatt points, the limited value of Honors 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 Honors?

Featured image courtesy of the Hilton Paris Opera.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.