Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc. is one of the largest multinational hotel conglomerates in the world, comprised of 5,200 properties across 14 hotel brands. Brands owned by Hilton include Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Canopy, Curio, Hilton, DoubleTree, Embassy suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton, Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites, Hilton Grand Vacations, Waldorf Astoria, Tru, and Tapestry.
In 2017, Hilton’s guest loyalty program was renamed to Hilton Honors (previously Hilton HHonors). Beyond the name change, the Honors program has undergone some massive overhauls over the past five years or so and generally gets a lot of slack from the travel hacking community for largely taking away the ability for huge redemption value on a cash-per-point basis (revenue rate of a room divided by the number of points you need). This post reflects the changes that were announced announced at the beginning of 2018, to be implemented in April 2018. While Hilton points aren’t as easy to earn as they used to be (thanks for the memories, Citi!), I still believe the Honors program provides plenty of value if you know to find it.
Hilton Honors Basics
The Hilton Honors program is similar to other rewards programs. Membership in the program is divided into 4 “elite” tiers, and you can earn points by either staying at and spending money in a Hilton-owned hotel, or by spending money on a Hilton co-branded credit card.
There are four “elite” membership tiers within the Honors program: base member, silver, gold, and diamond. A description of each tier is presented below.
The base Member is the lowest level of the Honors program and free to anyone who registers. Benefits of this tier include late checkout requests, free second guests worldwide, and free in-room internet. Base members earn 10 points per dollar spent on stays at all Hilton brands except Tru and Home2, as indicated on the figure above.
The Silver tier is achieved by completing 4 stays or 10 nights throughout a calendar year. Silver members earn 12 points per dollar, a 15% point bonus on spend at Hilton hotels and a fifth night free benefit on standard room award stays of five nights or more.
The Gold tier is achieved by completing 20 stays, 40 nights, or earning 75,000 base points in a calendar year. Gold members earn 18 points per dollar spent and eligibility for “My Way” benefits. These benefits vary based on the Hilton brand where you stay and may include room upgrades, up to 1,000 bonus points per stay, free breakfast, and a welcome package comprised of a snack and bottled water. As of April 2018, all Gold members will receive free breakfast at Waldorf Astoria Hotels.
The Diamond tier is achieved by completing 30 stays, 60 nights, or earning 120,000 base points in a calendar year. Diamond members earn 20 points per dollar, guaranteed room availability when reserving a room at least 48 hours in advance, access for member and one guest to Executive Lounges at DoubleTree, Conrad, and Hilton properties (where available), and all the additional benefits of Gold membership.
Aside from the increased points earning potential of Diamond membership, which may be beneficial for road warriors and business travelers with lots of nights per year, there are not a lot of benefits to the Diamond tier over Gold. That said, as a Diamond member I have been upgraded at hotels in South Korea, Japan, and throughout the United States. Access to the Executive Lounge can be downright awesome (such as the Hilton Seoul). I have been a Diamond member for many years, so I can’t speak to the upgrade availability for Gold members.
Note that the stays/nights posted above are for eligible stays, which include reservations made at Hilton.com or on the Hilton App. If you reserve a hotel through a third party, such as Priceline, Booking.com, or Hotels.com, your stay will not count towards your Honors tier requirement.
Shortcuts to Elite Status
The information above is great for people who will have a ton of hotel stays. That’s the hard way. If you’re reading this blog, you probably aren’t into the hard way. Two main shortcuts for achieving elite status exist for the Hilton Honors program: through benefits that come with certain credit cards or completing a status match.
Hilton Status Match
Hilton has a relatively straight forward status match process for anyone who has status with another hotel chain. All you have to do is submit proof of your elite status with another chain and complete 4 stays within 90 days for a match to Gold status, or 8 stays in 90 days for a match to Diamond. Once matched, the status is good for the remainder of the current calendar year through the end of March the following year. I stay in a LOT of Hampton Inn’s throughout the year for work, and this status match is how I’ve maintained Diamond status for years. I simply submit proof of my IHG Platinum/Spire status acquired through the Chase IHG credit card, then complete my business stays.
The current status match link is here. Simply submit your application and you will hear back from Hilton within a few days.
Hilton Cobranded Credit Cards
Hilton cobranded credit cards offer the opportunity to earn lots of Hilton points while also being a shortcut to elite status.
The Hilton co-branded credit card portfolio recently underwent an overhaul after American Express became the sole-issuer of Hilton-branded plastic. There are currently four available Hilton co-branded credit cards from AmEx. Each card, along with select benefits and the current signup offer, are presented below.
- AmEx Hilton – no annual fee. Earn 65,000 Honors points after spending $1000 in first 3 months. Earn 7 Hilton Honors points per $1 spent on hotel stays within Hilton Portfolio; 5 points on US restaurants, US supermarkets, and US gas stations; 3 points on other purchases. Receive complimentary Hilton Silver status for the cardholder. Upgrade to Hilton Gold status when you make $20,000 or more in purchases each calendar year.
- AmEx Hilton Ascend – $95 annual fee. Earn 75,000 Honors points after you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months, and an additional 25,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you make an additional $1,000 in purchases within your first 6 months. Earn 12 Hilton Honors points per $1 spent on hotel stays within Hilton Portfolio; 6 points per $1 spent on US restaurants, US supermarkets, and US gas stations; 3 points on other purchases. Earn complimentary Hilton Gold status for cardholder. Upgrade to Hilton Diamond status when you make $40,000 or more in purchases each calendar year. One Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $15,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year.
- AmEx Hilton Aspire – $450 annual fee. Earn 100,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months. Earn 14x Hilton Honors points per $1 spent on hotel stays within Hilton Portfolio; 7x points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants; 3x points on other purchases. Earn one Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new card and each subsequent year of card membership. Earn a second weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $60,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year. Earns complimentary Hilton Diamond status for cardholder. $250 Hilton resort statement credit per card membership year.
- AmEx Hilton Business $95 annual fee. Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months, and an additional 25,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you make an additional $1,000 in purchases within your first 6 months. Earn 12 Hilton Honors points per $1 spent on hotel stays within Hilton Portfolio; 6 points on U.S. restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service producers and U.S. purchases for shipping; 3 points on other purchases. Complimentary Hilton Gold status for cardholder. Upgrade to Hilton Diamond status when you make $40,000 or more in purchases each calendar year. One Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $15,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year.
Additional Ways to Earn Hilton Points
Like many hotels and airlines, Hilton offers a dining rewards program where you can earn bonus Honors point by using a linked credit card at participating restaurants. More information can be found here.
You can also earn Hilton Honors points by shopping online through a portal (use Cashback Monitor to check for recent rates).
Hilton is also a transfer partner of the American Express Membership Rewards and Citi Thank You programs. Note that both of these programs often have bonus transfers, which is really the only time I would advocate transferring points to Hilton as opposed to other hotels or airlines (unless you need to top off your account for a specific redemption).
Redeeming Hilton Points
Hilton ranks its properties from Category 1 to Category 10. Category 1 to 3 hotels have a fixed-point redemption, whereas Category 4 to 10 hotels span a range of point values depending on the time of year. A good basic rule of thumb is that Hilton points can be redeemed at $0.005 cents per point. For example, a room that costs $200 per night
Some people view variable-rate rewards program (similar to a revenue-based program) in a poor light because it can be hard to obtain outstretched value through them. In this case, I wholeheartedly disagree. Hilton has the largest footprint of any major hotel chain throughout the world. By knowing a rough dollar-based value I can get out of my points, I can more easily plan. Hilton points saved us over $1,500 in out-of-pocket expenses during our Seattle to Tampa Relocation/Road Trip. I also travel a lot for work, and the biggest thing I look for in a hotel brand is consistency. In general, Hilton has done a good job of standardizing their lower tier hotels (Hampton, Hilton Garden Inn) in the US and making their luxury properties abroad (Waldorf Astoria, some Hiltons) world class.
A positive change to the Honors program in 2016 was the added ability to book cash + points reward stays, which can be a great option for people who want to prolong the life of their points. You are able to select the number of points you would like to spend in order to offset the out-of-pocket cash cost by moving the slider bar during checkout (shown below).
Booking Reward Nights
Booking reward nights through Hilton is simple: go to Hilton.com, search for your stay, and in the top right corner above the hotel options change the “USD($)” to “Points.” Click on the hotel you want, then all of the room types that are available to book by points will appear. Note that while you are able to book suites with Hilton points, they more often than not cost an exorbitant amount of points.
While the Hilton Honors program has evolved over the years, I still get a great deal of value out of Hilton points. This is partly because there are so many ways to earn a boat load of Honors points, particularly if you have status and at least one of the co-branded credit cards.