How to Use the Hilton Honors Program to Score Free Nights, Flights and Cash Back
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:
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 Chicago, and the service was 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. This year, I honeymooned at the Conrad Maldives, which is probably my favorite resort in the world.
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 wrapped up a stay at the DoubleTree Downtown Los Angeles in 2016, 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 or Luxury Collection from Marriott. These are sprouting up everywhere, so look for them in downtown or unique locations worldwide.
The Tapestry Collection is a new brand that's an independent, millennially-focused product, which has a few properties in the US currently.
Canopy by Hilton 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
Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Home2Suites, 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.
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
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, from now until January 3rd, you'll earn double points on all stays (triple points at resorts).
That being said, under the current promotion, as a Diamond member at a resort, 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 0.5 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 American Express Aspire card offers one free weekend night at any Hilton worldwide and a 150,000 point sign-up bonus when you spend $4,000 in purchases in three months. You'll earn 14 Hilton points per dollar spent at Hiltons, 7 points per dollar spent on airlines, car rentals, and restaurants, and three Hilton points on everything else. You'll also receive free Hilton Diamond status. Furthermore, a $250 yearly airline credit, $250 property credit, and Priority Pass Select membership. The annual fee is $450.
The American Express Ascend card is $95, and offers 125,000 Hilton points at sign up after you spend $2,000 in four months. You'll get 12 points per dollar at Hiltons, 6 points per dollar on restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations, and 3 points per dollar on everything else. You'll also get complimentary Hilton Gold status.
In addition to the co-branded cards above, the Amex Platinum card offers a 1:2 transfer ratio for Hilton points. The Platinum Card by American Express offers Gold status for its members as well.
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.
How to use Hilton Honors 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 "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!
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