10 Things You May Not Know About Hilton Honors

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Hilton Honors Loyalty Program

Hilton Honors Loyalty Program

I’m generally a loyalty free agent, but I’ve leaned on the Hilton Honors loyalty program more than any other the past few years.  Hilton takes a lot of flak, some justified, but most programs do.  Indeed, I’m a firm believer that most everything is always devaluing.  Nonetheless, I find myself returning to Hilton brands more than any other.  Along the way, I’ve learned a few interesting things about the Hilton Honors loyalty program which you may be able to leverage.

Check Those Award Rates Again

Increasingly, I’m making speculative award reservations well in advance to partially mitigate skyrocketing award rates.  As travel gets closer, I know checking back with Hilton can work out in my favor.  For instance, in January I booked a one-night Hilton Garden Inn reservation for a June stay.  I checked the available points rate again last week.  The same room type on the same date was available for 10k less Hilton Honors points!  I immediately booked that updated rate and cancelled the old reservation.  A few minutes of effort can easily save you more than a few points.

Sharing Points Is a Snap

Many programs allow you to freely share points.  But some require you to call in, wait on hold, validate your identity, etc while talking to an occasionally-surly phone rep.  Hilton’s process is refreshingly simple.  Long story short, members can send up to 500k points to someone else and receive up to 2 million points annually.  For parties traveling together, consolidating points into the account of the member with the higher status is a no-brainer.

The Foundry Hotel, Asheville, NC.

That Free Night Certificate Is Flexible!

Well, that cert is more flexible than you may think.  While Hilton Honors doesn’t actively advertise it this way, free night certificates are essentially transferrable.  While you must call in to book the FNC (get over it), the individual with the cert can easily add the names of other individuals to the reservation.  Theoretically, this allows those others to check in as if it was their own reservation.  I’ve received various data points that this has worked out smoothly for many.  Still, I recommend calling the property in advance to confirm details to ensure a smooth stay.

Probably The Best Hotel Points-Earning Card Out There

In my view, the Hilton Honors Amex Surpass card is the most outstanding hotel points-earning card currently available.  Miles to Memories values Hilton Honors at 0.5 cents per point, on average.  For a $95 annual fee, the card earns 6x in generous categories of dining, supermarkets, and gas stations, 12x at Hilton properties, and 3x everywhere else.  On top of this, members earn a free night certificate at $15k in annual spend.  By efficiently spending in the broad bonus categories, members can easily earn a ~3% rewards return in addition to getting closer to a valuable free night certificate.  But how valuable is that free night?

Hilton Honors Loyalty Program
Waldorf Astoria, Los Cabos Pedregal.

High-Value Hilton Free Night Certificates

Unlike other chains’ free night certificates, Hilton’s are good at virtually any property.  There are only a few exceptions.  And some of those exclusions are all-inclusive and time-share properties many aren’t interested in, anyway.  There’s no need to keep track of point levels or property categories as one is required to do with Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG certs.  Having to call in to book is probably the biggest negative of Hilton’s free night certificates.  But I’ll happily accept that in return for all the positives of these certs.

Mess Around!

Tinker away while searching the Hilton site for award stays.  I’ve noticed by simply changing the order of certain redemptions, I’m able to save.  For instance, if I have a planned stay of more than five nights, I’ll search for the cheapest five-night points rate within that timeframe.  That way, I’m paying minimal points for a fifth night free stay.  If I’m adding a cert to an additional night of the stay, I’ll ensure to book that on the most expensive night on points, saving further.

If my stay is less than five nights, I may break up the stay into multiple reservations.  Why?  On occasion, I’ve noticed that, inexplicably, Hilton prices out separate award nights cheaper than booking in one reservation.  I don’t understand it, but if it works out in my favor, I don’t care!

These are just a few examples.  Your own creativity is the limit for how far this can go.  Have fun!

Hilton Honors Loyalty Program

These Other Cards Ain’t Too Shabby, Either

While I love the Surpass, I actually don’t have one currently.  I’m rocking the no-fee Hilton Honors Amex currently.  (I plan to upgrade it to the Surpass soon, but that’s a different story.)  The no-fee card earns 5x on dining, supermarket, and gas station spending, and 7x at all Hilton properties.  That’s pretty solid for a no-fee card.

Like the Surpass, the $95 annual fee Hilton Business card offers a free night at $15k annual spend.  Bonus categories are a bit more business-focused but still have some generous aspects.  Cardmembers earn:

  • 12x at Hilton properties
  • 6x at US gas stations, on US purchases for shipping, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers, flights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel, on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies, and at US restaurants
  • 3x everywhere else

And welcome offers on the no-fee, Surpass, and Business cards are currently elevated.  Check them out here.

Hilton Honors Loyalty Program

Buy Top-Tier Status

But Hilton loyalists may want to opt for the Aspire card.  Why?  Because by simply paying the $450 annual fee, a cardholder buys top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond elite status (and a bunch of other benefits).  For those who want to easily achieve Diamond status, just pick up this card and be done!  There won’t be any messing around with eligible stays, nights, mattress runs, etc.

Maximize That Elite Food and Beverage Credit

Controversially, Hilton has instituted a daily food and beverage credit to replace the complimentary breakfast benefit for members with Gold status and above.  The net value of this benefit may decrease for some but can increase for others.  Benefit value depends on the chain and room occupancy.  I’ve found this benefit favors those traveling solo or as a couple rather than families.

Regardless of its value, elite members have more flexibility in using the benefit throughout the day.  For instance, if I have an early start and would miss breakfast, I can enjoy the benefit at the bar the night before checking out.  There has been some frustration in the lack of consistency of this benefit’s application.  I recommend you spell out the nuances with each individual property upon check-in.

Hilton’s Underrated Ability – Availability!

People justifiably love Hyatt.  They provide excellent benefits to their elites and offer distinctive properties and generally-solid service.  But Hyatt is of little use for many due to a limited footprint.  In total, Hyatt has about 1,150 properties.  Meanwhile, Hilton offers approximately 6,500 properties worldwide.  Hilton’s availability, domestically and internationally, is vast and expanding.  This makes the Hilton Honors loyalty program more useful to many travelers on a routine basis.

Conclusion

Those are the primary areas I feel Hilton enthusiasts should consider these days.  Of course, many others are out there, and I welcome you to share in the comments!  I’ll continue to visit Hilton properties during my travels while also sprinkling in stays with other chains.  By keeping track of the Hilton Honors loyalty program’s nuances, I set myself up for future success.  I encourage you to do the same!

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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11 COMMENTS

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11 COMMENTS

  1. I had the basic Hilton card, and recently called to upgrade to the Aspire. I asked if I would get the 100K points currently being offered, and she told me that would probably happen if I got a new card and just kept the free one, so I did. I got the Aspire and they would not give me the points because “you only can get those if you have never had a Hilton card.” I asked for a supervisor and was told one would call me back, but they never did. I also asked for a resign bonus and they said that doesn’t apply. I travel a few months a year, mostly internationally. Thoughts?

    • Judi,
      I’m sorry this happened to you. If a rep says “probably”, I’m not confident in moving forward with anything. But that’s me. Perhaps call Amex back, but it may come down to how much time and effort you want to pursue something that may not pan out in your favor. Prior to moving forward with any future offer, I recommend reviewing terms and conditions in writing and maintaining them.

    • My understanding is that every Hilton card is a separate product, and you earn SUBs on each card, no matter which ones you already hold. But heck, never open a card via phone, print terms and apply on-line.

  2. I’m almost exclusive to Hyatt. I’d rather spend my time maxing out my 5X on multiple Chase Ink Cash and Chase Ink Plus cards than earning 3X or 6X Hilton points. Hyatt points are worth about 3 times what Hilton points are worth. In order for Hilton to match the value of earning 5X Ultimate Rewards and transferring to Hyatt, they’d have to offer 15X Hilton points. On top of that, if you have a Hyatt card, you get a free night just for paying the $95 fee. You get a second free night for $15k spend.

    • Barry,
      If Hyatts overlap with one’s goals, I agree there are some wins there. But others may have other Ultimate Rewards redemption priorities, and consequently, alternative hotel currencies are worth pursuing.

  3. Why no mention of Prioity Pass Select access ten times a year? I think this is one of the best perks for a card with a $95 annual fee.

  4. Buying top tier status is the number one reason I avoid Hilton. I’m a firm believer that when everyone has status that no one really has it…and from what most speak about Hilton, at least domestically, there’s not much to be had by way of upgrades. I previously enjoyed Hilton and only parted ways with them when they started gifting Diamond status via the Aspire card.

    I’ve since moved on to Hyatt and will tolerate Marriott on the occasional stay where I can’t get a decent Hyatt. Hyatt has been decent thus far…but like any other loyalty programs, they’ve made some changes that weren’t exactly friendly, they just haven’t made any bad enough to send me looking searching for something else…yet.

    • 2808 Heavy,
      It sounds like you had your reasons for moving on and are staying on top of it. Of course, everybody’s experiences vary, and I’ve been satisfied with the Hilton upgrades I’ve gotten most of the time.

      • Benjy, I’m sure there’ll come a time when Hyatt will do something that’ll send me packing and at that point I’ll probably just become a free agent and start booking with my Venture X through the portal for 10x…which is probably what I should be doing anyway.

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