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

Sep 14, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

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.

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
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 weightIf 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 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

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Visa® credit card

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.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • 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
  • Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase
  • No limit to the points you can earn and your points don't expire
  • Redeem for cash back as a statement credit, deposit into eligible Bank of America® accounts, credit to eligible Merrill accounts, or gift cards or purchases at the Bank of America Travel Center
  • 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
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
17.74% - 24.74% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

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.