How I spent a semester living at a Hilton with just 320k points
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Oh, university. The carefree, stay-up-late-sleep-all-day bonanza of our youth. Where you can sleep on the floor, in a cot or inside somebody’s trunk and never be the worse for wear.
Or, if you’re me, you go back to college in your late 20s with achy knees and an ID no one bothers to check. So it was that I found myself student-broke but snobby, with no money in the bank but hundreds of thousands of points in my pocket. And, so it was that when my university sent my class for a study abroad at the American University in Cairo in Egypt, with no housing but the vague instructions to “work it out,” I knew what I needed to do.
Unlike my fellow classmates, who enjoyed the $12/night special at the Pension Roma, a cute but rundown hostel in the heart of Cairo, I found myself looking for a higher-class option during my studies abroad. Enter the Ramses Hilton. Built in the ’70s and completely original, the hotel decor features mirrored walls, gilt trim and an incredible amount of hookah smoke. It’s a throwback in all the best ways.
Even better, it cost a mere 10,000 points a night. I took full advantage and spent an entire month and a half living there, with zero out-of-pocket cost, free breakfast and unlimited drinks at the lounge. Unfortunately, the Ramses has since doubled in (points) cost, but there are still amazing redemption opportunities for hotels in Egypt. I had acquired my hefty Hilton balance through a combination of hotel stays (points rack up quickly as a Diamond elite member), a sign-up bonus (courtesy of the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express) and good old-fashioned generosity from my parents, who couldn’t stand to see their beloved daughter living in a shack in the heart of Cairo.
Here’s the cash rate for a single night in March:
At that rate, I was redeeming my Hilton points for a fantastic 1.7 cents per point, nearly triple TPG’s valuation of 0.6 cents each. Of course, the ratio gets even better when you factor in Hilton’s fifth-night-free policy on award bookings, which dropped my effective nightly rate to just 8,333 Hilton points.
So, what did I get for all 320,000 of my Hilton points? For starters, I managed to stay for a full 40 nights in a Hilton as a cash-broke student. This is especially important when you consider that my rate included both a full breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres, which meant that I was only responsible for feeding myself once a day. I managed the task heroically with a variety of Egyptian specialties, but that’s a story for another day.
The Ramses Hilton is well located, hugging the Nile River and a mere five minutes from the Egyptian Museum, home of the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world.
It’s also right off Tahrir Square, where the Arab Spring uprising took place in 2011, and very near the university where I was studying.
The Hilton is, of course, a full-service hotel. This meant that every evening, drinks and dinner were served in the executive lounge. I spent much of my time there already, completing homework and sneaking snacks for my starving classmates, but the addition of red wine in a notoriously dry (alcohol-free) society was awesome.
Far surpassing the lounge, however, was the breakfast spread at this hotel. Because of my status, breakfast was always free — and it was a struggle not to put on weight. If any of you have been to a breakfast buffet in the Middle East, you know what I’m talking about. The food ranged from an omelet bar to a chocolate fountain to an entire wall of doughnuts. A harpist provided music each day at breakfast. My favorite part of breakfast, however, was practicing my Arabic with Said, who operated the juice bar and taught me all I needed to know about the Egyptian dialect.
Since we were there in April and May, when temperatures were soaring, the pool served as a welcome respite in a city where showing off my arms was scandalous.
Perhaps my favorite part of living at the hotel, however, was the weekly “Manager’s Reception” at Opia Bar, Ramses’ rooftop lounge, in which elite members schmoozed with hotel staff and ate tiny snacks off even tinier plates.
All told, I had an awesome time living at the Ramses Hilton. Was it extravagant? Yes. but it was a blast, cost less than anywhere else I could’ve stayed and I met some awesome Egyptian friends. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
How to earn Hilton Honors points
Right now, Hilton’s cobranded credit cards are offering hefty welcome bonuses. Opening one of these cards can be a good way to jump-start your Hilton points balance.
- Hilton Honors Card from American Express: Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors welcome points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of opening an account; no annual fee (see rates & fees)
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card:* Earn 150,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership, plus a $100 Statement Credit after your first purchase on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 12/31/2019; $95 annual fee (see rates & fees)
- Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $3,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership; $95 annual fee (see rates & fees)
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership; $450 annual fee (see rates & fees)
*Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card formerly known as the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express
Want to learn more about leveraging the Hilton Honors program? Read these stories:
- The best Hilton resorts for family vacations
- The best international Hilton properties for 10k or Less
- Best ways to earn points with the Hilton Honors Program
- How to redeem points with the Hilton Honors Program
- 7 great ways to use 15,000 Hilton Honors points
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Amex, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Surpass Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Business Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Aspire Amex, click here.
Feature photo courtesy of TheDigitalArtist/Pixabay
This card from Bank of America gets really interesting if you have a BofA checking, savings or investment account. Depending on the value of your combined accounts you can potentially get as much as 3.5x points on travel/dining and 2.625x points on other purchases making it the richest consumer banking bonus out there.
- Receive 50,000 bonus points – a $500 value – after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
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- Get up to $200 in combined airline incidental and airport expedited screening statement credits + valuable travel insurance protections
- No Foreign Transaction Fees
- Low $95 annual fee