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5 ways Hilton Honors should improve its loyalty program

Sept. 15, 2020
13 min read
Hilton Doubletree Fiji Review
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I know many Hilton Honors loyalists who think that Hilton is best. Some love that you can gain top-tier Diamond elite status as a credit card benefit. Others are thrilled that the program waives resort fees on reward stays. And, everyone is happy that elites get a fifth night free when booking with points.

Although I have Hilton Gold status and my husband has Hilton Diamond status, I can't say we're loyal to Hilton Honors. After all, we spend most nights with other hotel loyalty programs. And, we often choose Marriott Bonvoy over Hilton Honors due to one specific elite perk. So, there's certainly room for the Hilton Honors program to improve and capture more of my hotel nights.

Today I'll consider how the Hilton Honors program could improve. I'll start this article by describing what I love about the Hilton Honors program. And, then I'll discuss five ways in which the program should improve its loyalty offering.

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What I love about Hilton Honors

The DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

What I love most about the Hilton Honors program is that it provides a solid offering regardless of your status level. Besides the entry-level Member tier, there are three elite tiers: Silver, Gold and Diamond. So, let's first examine the highlights and requirements of each Hilton Honors elite status tier.

Tiered elite perks

The base Member tier provides a few perks. These perks include waived resort fees on award stays, free Wi-Fi and choosing your room. My sister-in-law was thrilled to find she could choose a high-level room when she stayed as a Member at a Tru hotel in downtown Denver. And, Members can earn and redeem with Hilton Honors partners as well as book Hilton Honors Experiences.

You can earn Silver status with four stays, ten nights or 25,000 base points in a calendar year. Or, you can snag Silver status as a perk of the Hilton Honors American Express Card. Either way, Silver status provides a fifth night free when you book with points. And, Hilton provides Silver members a 20% bonus on base points earned from stays.

You can earn mid-tier Gold status with 20 stays, 40 nights or 75,000 base points in a calendar year. But, you can also get Gold status as a cardholder of the following Hilton Honors cards:

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  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express (enrollment required)
  • The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (enrollment required)

And, Gold status provides the following extra perks:

  • Free continental breakfast for you and a guest
  • 80% bonus on base points earned on stays
  • Space-available room upgrades up to the executive level

Finally, you can earn top-tier Hilton Diamond status with 30 stays, 60 nights or 120,000 base points in a calendar year. But, you can also get Diamond status as a perk of the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. And, Diamond status improves upon Gold status with:

  • Executive lounge access
  • Space-available upgrades up to one-bedroom suites
  • 100% bonus on base points earned from stays

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Does elite status from a credit card get you less recognition?

My favorite parts of Hilton Honors

As you can see, there's a lot of value to be found in the Hilton Honors program. In particular, I love that:

  • Even Gold members get free breakfast
  • Lounge access for Diamond members
  • Silver, Gold and Diamond members get a fifth night free when booking a standard room with points
  • Relatively consistent upgrades that often appear before check-in for Gold and Diamond members
  • Hilton Honors credit cards that provide status and solid earning rates
  • Good earning rates for members when booking directly with Hilton
  • No resort fees on award stays

But, although the Hilton Honors program has a lot of positives, it can still improve. So, now I'll describe five ways in which the program should improve.

Related: Battle of the hotels: Why I think Hilton is the best

1. Offer complimentary upgrades at all brands

Sitting area in a one-bedroom suite at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Hilton Honors gives Gold members space-available upgrades up to the executive level. And, Diamond members can get space-available upgrades up to one-bedroom suites. Hilton says, "if we have a better room available, it's yours."

My husband and I have received some great upgrades due to his Hilton Diamond status and my Gold status. For example, the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang upgraded us to a one-bedroom suite. Meanwhile, the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Fiji upgraded us to the property's best room category: a premium ocean-view bure.

But, there have been some notable Hilton stays in which we weren't upgraded. And, in most cases, the hotel didn't upgrade us due to an exclusion in the Hilton Honors terms. According to the terms, the following Hilton Honors brands don't offer complimentary upgrades:

  • Embassy Suites
  • Hilton Garden Inn
  • Hampton by Hilton
  • Tru by Hilton
  • Homewood Suites by Hilton
  • Home2 Suites by Hilton
  • Hilton Grand Vacations

Interestingly, these brands are mostly Hilton's budget-friendly and extended-stay brands. But, especially if you are working from the hotel or traveling with family, an upgrade can make a big difference at these brands.

Granted, you may still be given an upgrade when staying at these excluded brands. But, the Hilton Honors program doesn't require these brands to upgrade members. So, I generally book at a hotel offering better upgrade chances. As such, Hilton Honors would get more of my stays if it offered space-available upgrades at these brands.

Related: How to redeem Hilton points for upgraded rooms

2. Provide compelling promotions

Conrad Bora Bora (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

A successful hotel promotion is generally one that changes consumer behavior or increases loyalty. Currently, Hilton has the following offers:

  • Double rewards promotion: Earn double Hilton Honors points and elite night credits. Register here.
  • Earn up to 7,500 points after two stays: Earn 2,500 Hilton Honors points after your first stay and 5,000 after the second. Register here.
  • Best deal to dream: Get up to 20% off in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa and up to 30% off in Asia
  • Save up to 50% off Sundays: Make it a 3-day weekend and save up to 50% off Sunday nights

But, none of these promotions push me to stay with Hilton instead of another hotel loyalty program. After all, elite night credits aren't useful since the Hilton Aspire Card provides Diamond status as a perk. And, 2x base points on the double rewards promotion isn't compelling. The promotion that allows you to earn up to 7,500 points after two stays could be useful when stacked with the other promotions. But, even this promotion doesn't motivate me to go out of my way to satisfy it.

So, Hilton could improve its loyalty offering and attract more stays from its members with compelling promotions. For example, I was historically a fan of IHG's Accelerate promotion. Although Accelerate nudged me to book more expensive brands or rates in some cases, it was also lucrative. Hilton Honors could offer a similar promotion that encourages its members to try new brands, stay longer or book packages by providing large, tiered point bounties.

Related: Earn easy Hilton points by eating at your favorite restaurants

3. Make the Points Explorer tool real-time

Waldorf Astoria Maldives (Photo by Brian Kelly / The Points Guy)
Waldorf Astoria Maldives (Photo by Brian Kelly/The Points Guy)

I'm always looking for ways to stretch my Hilton points. It's possible to find Hilton hotels for 20,000 points or less in the U.S. You can also find some great Hilton hotels for 10,000 points or less overseas. But, Hilton Honors uses dynamic award pricing. So, the points cost for a stay varies based on the hotel, when you book and your stay dates.

If you know where you want to stay, you can use the flexible dates search function to find inexpensive dates. But, if you are looking for a good deal, you may want to use Hilton's Points Explorer tool. This tool allows you to select your points budget and region. The tool then returns the lowest and highest points per night for which travelers have booked as of a particular date. But, this date is in the past. So, there may not be any nights currently bookable for the minimum points cost shown by the Points Explorer.

Hilton's Points Explorer tool is a good start. But, the tool would be more useful if it returned the minimum and maximum award night cost currently bookable. Although adding this feature wouldn't directly improve my loyalty, it would help me maximize redemptions with Hilton Honors. So, improving the Points Explorer tool could indirectly improve member loyalty.

Related: These are the best Hilton hotels for a local getaway

4. Expand the fifth-night free perk

Waldorf Astoria La Quinta (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)
Waldorf Astoria La Quinta (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

When redeeming Hilton points for a standard room reward stay of five or more nights, Silver, Gold and Diamond members get every fifth night free. However, Hilton doesn't waive the actual cost of every fifth night. Instead, Hilton will subtract the average number of points per night for each fifth night.

You can use the fifth-night free benefit on unlimited stays each year. But, you must pay for your stay entirely with points and you can only get four free nights per stay. Additionally, you can't use this perk on the following:

Although most of these restrictions are understandable, I believe removing two exclusions would improve traveler loyalty. First off, Hilton should remove the cap of four free nights per stay. Especially as travelers are booking stays for a month or more, removing this cap would help Hilton members looking to redeem points for longer stays. Second, some Hilton loyalists prefer to book premium room rewards that provide more room or a unique experience. So, it would be a customer-friendly move to allow the fifth-night free benefit on premium room reward stays.

Related: These are the top properties to be saving your Hilton points for right now

5. Offer guaranteed late check-out

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz / The Points Guy)
A room at the Conrad Washington, DC (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Finally, several other top hotel loyalty programs offer elite members guaranteed late check-out until a set time. For example, World of Hyatt offers Discoverists and Explorists 2 p.m. check out and Globalists 4 p.m. check out. Meanwhile, Marriott Bonvoy offers Platinum Elite, Titanium Elite and Ambassador Elite members 4 p.m. check-out. Granted, these late check-out perks aren't provided at select hotels and must be requested. But, elites with these programs can rely on set late-check out times when staying at most hotels.

Hilton Honors, on the other hand, does offer a late-check out perk for all members. But, this benefit must be requested and is subject to availability. And, the program's terms don't state that higher-tier members get better late check-out benefits than members with no elite tier.

One Hilton hotel gave us a 4 p.m. late check-out upon request. But, it's more common to only be given a couple hours after the stated check-out time. As such, you can't plan on getting a late check-out when booking your stay. So, my husband and I book stays with Marriott or Amex's Fine Hotels and Resorts program when we want to be guaranteed 4 p.m. late check out. But, if Hilton Honors offered guaranteed late check-out until a set time for elites, we'd stay with Hilton more.

Related: Why you shouldn't ignore hotel check-out times

Bottom line

It's easy to maintain Hilton elite status through Hilton credit cards and Amex Platinum cards that provide hotel status. Specifically, even if you only stay with Hilton Honors a few times each year, you can reap top-tier status perks. And, Hilton has some other gems such as high earning rates and waived resort fees on award nights. But, the Hilton Honors program could do more to encourage elites to be loyal and spend more nights with Hilton.

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