How to Use the Hilton Honors Program to Score Free Nights, Flights and Cash Back

How to Use the Hilton Honors Program to Score Free Nights, Flights and Cash Back
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Hilton has a large global footprint, which makes the Hilton Honors program one of the most popular hotel loyalty programs out there. With brands that fit every budget, you'll likely come across Hilton in your travels. Here's how to maximize the Hilton Honors program.

A Complete Guide to the Hilton Honors Program

With almost 5,000 hotels spread across the world, Hilton Hotels and Resorts is massive. Since its birth in 1919, the hotel chain has since expanded 14 brands spread across 104 countries. Knowing each Hilton-owned brand is a key to maximizing the program, so here's a quick rundown:

Luxury brands

waldorf 2

The Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts have 29 locations across the world. They're known for superior, 5-star service, and are iconic in their own right. I've stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace in Versailles, France and it is spectacular.

The Conrad Hotels and Resorts have 36 properties, and are more geared for the luxury business traveler, though Conrad does have resorts as well. Last year, I stayed at the Conrad Dubai, and it was one of my favorite hotel stays of all time.

Full-service brands

Kyoto Gardens Bridge

Hilton Hotels and Resorts are some of the most ubiquitous properties on earth, with more than 570 worldwide locations. Here, you'll find executive lounges for elite members, full-breakfast, room service, and concierge services.

DoubleTree by Hilton has over 500 properties as well, and is perhaps most famous for their welcome of warm cookies at check-in. I recently wrapped up a stay at the DoubleTree Downtown Los Angeles, where they even had a "Kyoto Garden" to cater to their frequent Japanese travelers.

Embassy Suites by Hilton are a business travelers delight: there's a hosted open bar and appetizer hour each night at every property, as well as a free cooked-to-order breakfast each morning. Rooms are all two-room suites at a minimum (brand-wide), and come at a reasonable price.

Curio Collection spots are "independently-minded" luxury hotels from Hilton. Think Autograph Collection from Marriott or Luxury Collection from Starwood. There are roughly 30 around the world right now.

Yje Tapestry Collection is a new brand that's an independent, millennially-focused product, which has yet to open a property.

Canopy by Hilton recently opened its first property in Iceland, and is geared to envelop you in your local surroundings. Again, this brand is millennially-focused.

Select service properties

hampton

Hilton Garden InnHampton InnHomewood SuitesHome2Suites, and Tru brands are geared toward budget travelers, segmented into leisure, business, and extended stay travelers. Tru is the newest brand, and its goal is to compete with Aloft for budget-conscious Millennial travelers.

Timeshare properties

TIMESHARE

Hilton Grand Vacations are all over the world, and are what you'd typically expect from a timeshare property: large rooms, geared towards families, and lots of resort-style amenities.

How to earn Hilton Honors points

hotel room

Earning lots of points in Hilton's program is very, very easy. You can earn points a number of ways, including staying at a Hilton property, credit card spending, spending with HH partners, transferring points, and buying points.

Earning points with Hilton stays

Earning by staying at a Hilton property can be quite lucrative. You'll earn 10 base points per dollar on all eligible on-property spend. You'll earn 10 points per dollar at Hampton Inns, but only on the rate of the room (no bonus points for on-property purchases), and you'll earn five points per dollar at Tru and Home2Suite properties. In addition, you'll also receive five points per dollar by electing "Points and Points" as your earning preference, rather than "Points and Miles" which gives you the base points plus one mile in the airline program of your choice.

You'll also be able to double or triple your points with consistent promotions. For example, between May 1st and August 31st, you'll earn double points on all stays (Diamond elite members earn triple). That's in addition to a 500 point per booking mobile bonus and any elite bonuses you might receive.

That being said, under the current promotion, as a Diamond member, you would earn 40 points per dollar on all eligible spending, before any credit card bonuses! That's fantastic, and about a 20 percent return on spending. I value Hilton points at about 0.4 cents per point.

Earning points with elite status

Having elite status will get you points bonuses as well. There are  four levels of membership: Blue, Silver, Gold, and Diamond.

Blue membership is the basic membership, but it allows you to earn points in the program.

Silver membership, earned after four stays or 10 nights, gets you a 15 percent bonus on base points earned.

Gold membership, earned after 20 stays, 40 nights, or 75,000 base points, gets you a 25 percent bonus on base points, as well as a "My Way" bonus of free breakfast, room upgrades, bonus points, or snack.

Diamond membership, earned after 30 stays, 60 nights, or 120,000 base points, gets you a 50 percent bonus, as well as executive lounge access.

Earning points with credit cards

Credit cards are a major aspect of any points-earning strategy. There are several Hilton credit cards to keep your eye on, as well as a few credit card partners that can transfer points into Hilton's program.

The Citi Hilton Reserve card offers two free weekend nights at any Hilton worldwide as its sign-up bonus, when you spend $2,500 in purchases in four months. You'll earn 10 Hilton points per dollar spent at Hiltons, five points per dollar spent on airline and car rentals, and three Hilton points on everything else. You'll also receive free Hilton Gold status, and Diamond status if you spend $40,000 per year on the card.

The Citi Hilton Honors Card is the no-fee version of the above card, and offers 40,000 Hilton points at sign up after you spend $1,000 in four months.

The Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express offers 12 points per dollar on all Hilton spending, six points on restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, and three points on everything else. It also has a great sign up bonus of 100,000 points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first three months, plus a free weekend night when you hit your account anniversary. You'll also get Gold status and Diamond status for spending $40,000 in a calendar year on the card, and you will receive Priority Pass Select membership, which is a great way to save money in airports.

The Hilton Honors Card from American Express is the no-fee version of this card, currently offering 80,000 Hilton Honors points when you spend $2,000 in three months.

In addition to the co-branded cards above, the Citi Prestige card offers a 1:1.5 transfer ratio for Hilton points, and the American Express Membership Rewards program transfers at a 1:1.5 ratio as well. The Platinum Card by American Express offers Gold status for its members.

Earning points through partners

You can earn Hilton points with rental car partners like Avis, Budget, Sixt, and Europcar, and can even get upgrades based on your status tier.

If you're interested in buying a Priority Pass membership, instead of getting it for free with a credit card, you can earn up to 10,000 Hilton points with the purchase.

If you're a diner, you can earn 8 points per dollar spent dining out with Hilton Honors dining. Their partners change from time to time, so check out the Hilton Honors page for updates.

How to use Hilton Honors Points

pool chairs

Transferring points

A new feature of Hilton's program is the ability to pool points between up to 10 persons that you elect, fee-free! That's a stellar benefit, and a rare one in the loyalty program industry. You can also transfer points from airline programs, but I wouldn't recommend that as its not a good value. It is possible to buy points, which sometimes makes sense, but only in extreme circumstances.

How to spend your points

Hilton's program is a bit finicky when it comes to redeeming points. While earning lots of points is incredibly easy, using them in a valuable way takes some effort. You see, Hilton has 10 categories of properties, ranging from 5,000 points a night for Category 1 hotels, to 95,000 points a night for Category 10 hotels. Many properties charge different amounts based on the season and availability. For example, the Conrad Maldives can be as low as 70,000 points or as high as 95,000 points, depending on the season.

Complicating things further is Hilton's new "Points and Cash" redemptions, which gives you a sliding scale on how many points you'd like to use towards your redemption. Depending on the redemption, you may be able to increase (or decrease) the value of your points based on your stay dates.

You do, however, have access to "Fifth Night Free" awards if you are an elite member, which you can earn from as making as few as four stays or signing up for one of the credit cards highlighted above, and this brings down the overall cost. I recently used this benefit for a five-night stay at the Conrad Maldives.

Axon Awards, available to Amex cardholders, also allows you to save some money on Category 4-10 stays of four nights. You'll be able to pay 32,500 per night at Category 5 properties, up to 75,000 per night for Category 10 properties. Depending on your dates, this could make sense, though do be sure to check and see if you qualify for Fifth Night Free awards, which could be a better option.

Are you a fan of the Hilton Honors reward program? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!