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How I spent a semester living at a Hilton with just 320k points

Sept. 14, 2019
9 min read
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.

Related: How to choose the best Hilton credit card for you

The garden cafe, located on the ground floor of the hotel. (Image courtesy of Hilton)
The lobby of the Ramses Hilton Cairo. (Image courtesy of Hilton)

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.

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.

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.

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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.

View from my hotel room at the Ramses Hilton Cairo. (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy)

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.

Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Museum as seen from my hotel room. Yes, that's smog. (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy)

Because I was (and still am) a Diamond member through the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, I received an upgrade to a club-level room with a view of the Pyramids.

See those teeny-tiny triangles? (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy)

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.

Lounge life at the Ramses Hilton Cairo. (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy)

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.

Poolside was the best place to be in fiery temperatures. (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy)

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.

A starving classmate and me. (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy)

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.

Thanks Cairo! (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy)

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 American Express Card: Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend a total of $5,000 in purchases on the card in the first six months; no annual fee (see rates & fees)
  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card:* Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. $95 annual fee (see rates & fees).
  • Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Earn up to 180,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points. Earn 130,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors Business Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. $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:

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

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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.

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There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees