8 ways to maximize redemptions with the Hilton Honors program

Sep 25, 2020

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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

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The Hilton Honors program has become quite formidable in recent years. While the program doesn’t publish award charts and causes frequent heartburn with its seasonal pricing, there are plenty of ways to extract substantial value.

One of Hilton’s strong suits is its breadth. It’s been doubling-down on luxurious Conrad and Waldorf-Astoria properties in recent years, opening up a broader portfolio for those who adore aspirational stays. On the other end of the spectrum, Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn allow road-trippers to cash in points on satisfactory stays where the property itself takes a back seat to the journey. Whether you’re planning a close-to-home vacation or a post-pandemic getaway to the other side of the world, Hilton’s portfolio of over 6,200 properties spread across more than 100 countries has you covered.

While we’ve covered the basics of earning Hilton points and how to redeem them, today we’ll get a bit more strategic and highlight our favorite ways to make the most of awards with the Hilton Honors program.

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Get automatic Diamond elite status

As with any loyalty program, maximization comes easier to those with elite status. That’s true at Hilton as well, where Diamond members earn more on stays and receive added perks like complimentary breakfast and room upgrades.

Hilton offers an incredible shortcut to its highest elite tier, Diamond. By simply signing up for and holding the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, you’ll keep Diamond status for as long as you retain the card. Said another way, you can come into the Hilton Honors program, having never spent a single night in a participating property, and this card will rocket you to its highest elite tier.

Related: What is Hilton elite status worth?

Not only does this card roll out the red carpet for anyone interested in maximizing their stays with Hilton, but it also nets you 14x Hilton bonus points at participating hotels or resorts within the Hilton portfolio. Stack that with the 100% point bonus for Hilton stays as a Diamond member (20 points per dollar spent at most Hilton brands) and you’ll be earning a total of 34 points per dollar on most Hilton stays — a whopping 20.4% return based on TPG valuations. It also unlocks the fifth night free on award stays (more on that later), a perk that is only extended to members with elite status in the Hilton Honors program.

While the $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees) may seem steep, we value Diamond status at over $3,000. The card also comes with annual free night certificates, airline fee credits and Hilton resort statement credits. If that’s not enough, here are 7 more reasons why you should have the Amex Hilton Aspire in your wallet.

In light of the pandemic, unexpired free weekend night certificates — plus those issued through Dec. 31, 2020 — can be used on any night of the week. Those issued through Dec. 31, 2020 will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance (rather than the usual 12 months). Additionally, bonus points that post to the card member’s Hilton Honors account through Dec. 31, 2020, will be considered base points and will count towards elite tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status.

Big welcome bonuses

If you’re thinking about your next redemption, there are several solid offers on Amex’s cobranded Hilton Honors cards.

For instance, with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, you’ll earn 130,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. This offer is worth up to $780, according to TPG valuations.

What can 125,000 Hilton points get you? Well, if you’re thinking about visiting South Florida, a three-night stay at the Conrad Miami will only set you back 120,000 points.

There are many other outstanding redemptions to consider around the world, including luxury stays at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa, which starts at 80,000 Hilton Honors points per night. For a more budget-friendly redemption, you could enjoy a tropical escape at the Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo Doubletree on the Big Island in Hawaii, which starts at 35,000 points per night or the DoubleTree by Hilton Williamsburg, which is typically priced at 30,000 points per night.

Related: The best hotel credit cards

Standard room rewards

Standard (base-level) room rewards are generally capped at specific amounts – in most cases between 5,000 and 120,000 points per night. When you see these in multiples of 5,000 or 10,000 points, that generally means revenue rates are high, like in this example of the Millennium Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

With taxes and fees, your Honors Discount rate comes to $857.

However, award rates are variable as paid rates drop. This same room falls to 35,000 points a few nights later ($169 with taxes and fees).

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

What’s important to note here is that fewer points for a room isn’t always the best value for a room. In the above example, it’s not difficult to see that 80,000 points are higher than the 35,000 points charged later in the week. However, due to the cash rate being so high on New Year’s Eve, you could easily yield over one cent per Hilton point by paying for that room with points rather than cash. TPG values Hilton Honors points at 0.6 cents apiece, so you’d be getting nearly double the value compared to what we typically see from Hilton redemptions.

In the cheaper example, it’s a worse value to use points compared to cash. Redeeming 54,000 Honors points for a $198 room nets you just 0.48 cents per point in value. In that scenario, you’re better off paying cash, earning points on the stay and pocketing those points for a later date when cash rates are through the roof.

Long story short: Try to look for award stays where the Standard Room Rewards are in an increment of 10,000 points. That’s a likely indicator that you’ll be getting substantial value for your points. Even if you’re paying the peak rate, you could be getting terrific value.

Related: How to redeem points with the Hilton Honors program

Premium room rewards

Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa - canonball from porch
Not too many rooms where jumping from the back porch is encouraged (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy.)

While some hotel chains reserve premium rooms for cash purchasers, Hilton opens up its premium rooms and suites for redemption via Honors points. You’ll find premium room rewards at virtually any Hilton property, even the ultra-luxe Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi.

The only issue? Hilton charges accordingly. Given that there’s no award chart, this allows Hilton to price its premium room rewards dynamically (and indeed, stratospherically).

Related: You can now book Hyatt suites with points online and save big

Looking to use points to secure a king deluxe overwater villa Conrad Bora Bora Nui? You can do it, but you may want to have a seat before parting ways with 309,000 Honors points per night.

Still, you can find deals during off-peak times, and it’s useful to have the option when you need to confirm a special room or spacious suite. This can be an especially appealing option for families when a standard hotel room just won’t cut it.

Related: The best Hilton resorts for families

Fifth night free

As previously noted, Hilton allows all of its elite members to get the fifth night free on award stays. This isn’t just available to upper-tier elite members; Silver, Gold and Diamond Hilton Honors travelers can utilize this perk. Remember that you can achieve Hilton’s lowest status tier, Silver, by merely holding the no-annual-fee Hilton Honors American Express Card (See Rates & Fees).

Related: How to maximize longer hotel stays by using a free night benefit

And if you don’t have a Hilton cobranded card, see below for all the welcome offers currently available, all of which come with varying levels of elite status:

Bear in mind that you can also snag Hilton Gold status by adding The Platinum Card® from American Express to your wallet. In contrast, Hilton Diamond status is issued with the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express. Also, remember that Hilton is extending all elite status earned in 2019 through March 31, 2021.

Related: Choosing the best Hilton credit card for you

When you have this status and are logged into your account, you’ll see this discount automatically reflected in the reservation.

Waldorf Astoria La Quinta (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)
What’s better than four nights at the Waldorf Astoria La Quinta? A fifth one for free. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

The fifth-night-free perk applies to every fifth night on up to a 20-night stay, and it can be used an unlimited number of times per year. Unfortunately, the perk only applies to Standard Room Rewards.

Given this information, you should do your best never to book four-night, standard award stays with Hilton Honors. After all, since the fifth night is free, you can extend your trip by 25% for no additional points.

Points & Money awards

If you’re an infrequent traveler and won’t earn enough points for multiple free nights, consider Points & Money. When booking online, you can use a slider to select any combination of points (in increments of 1,000) and cash. For comparison, most other programs aren’t as flexible and use a fixed number of points and cash for this award option.

Just be aware that a Points & Money selection is final once booked. You can’t go back and create partial cash refunds by applying newly-earned points later on. You’ll also need to redeem a minimum of 5,000 points, though any cash amount will earn you Hilton points.

The program generally gives you around 0.5 cents per Honors point when factoring your Points & Money discount. That’s not a great value, but it’s better than letting your points collect dust indefinitely.

Buying points can actually make sense

If you’re short on points, it can sometimes make more sense to buy the remaining points you need for a reward than to use the Points & Money feature. While Hilton usually sells points for one cent apiece, it sometimes runs promotions that let you buy points for just 0.5 apiece. That’s slightly below TPG’s valuation for Hilton points.

We usually don’t recommend buying points to fund a stay fully, but it can be a good deal with a promotion like this, especially if you’re booking expensive high-end hotels. Just ensure that the amount you spend on buying points comes out lower than the price of a standard stay.

To stay up-to-date on the latest points sale, bookmark our permanent page for Hilton buy-points promotions. We write about these deals as soon as they go live.

How NOT to redeem your Hilton points

Besides hotel stays, Hilton allows you to redeem your points for event credits, Amazon purchases, Lyft rides and airline miles. However, we typically never recommend these types of redemptions. The airline transfer ratios are less-than-ideal transfer ratios and event credits and Amazon purchases yield a flat 0.2 cents per point, which is well under our benchmark of 0.6 cents per point.

Related: Please, whatever you do, don’t use your points on Amazon or Seamless

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Loved the suite, @conradnymidtown

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Bottom line

Now that we’ve spent the past few months building up our points balances, it’s time to start thinking about how to redeem them. Hilton Honors isn’t as easy to maximize as programs like World of Hyatt. However, its incredible range of properties makes it one worth checking out. You can redeem for simple Hampton Inn stays as well as aspirational holidays at a Waldorf-Astoria, and the fifth-night-free perk is ideal for those able to unplug for long weekends.

Perhaps the best use of Honors points is to redeem when cash rates are through the roof. If there’s a convention or major sporting event in town, Hilton tends to jack up the cash rates. Award stays usually tick higher, but rarely in proportion, thereby creating a better value for exchanging points for a stay.

Those seeking to truly maximize the program would be wise to check out one of its cobranded American Express cards. The ability to secure top-tier Diamond status by merely holding the Aspire Amex is tremendous, and it allows those new to the brand to enter as if they were a seasoned VIP.

Related video:

Darren Murph and Jasmin Baron contributed to this post.

Screenshots courtesy of Hilton.

Featured photo of the Conrad Maldives by Hilton.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex Card, please click here.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

This card offers 130,000 bonus points after you use your card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors after you spend $15,000 on purchases on your Card in a calendar year.
  • Earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio.
  • Earn 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
  • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • Spend $40,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
  • $95 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Good, Excellent
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.

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