By Eric Rosen
June 04, 2019
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Courtesy of Hilton

Mastering a hotel loyalty program can be the key to earning and redeeming points for fabulous trips all over the world. Travelers can rack up hotel points not only for stays, but on many other types of purchases as well, and then use them to book award nights at associated properties. In addition to free nights, hotel points can often be converted into airline miles or redeemed for experiences like concert tickets and sporting events.

Hilton Honors is one of the world’s largest travel rewards programs with over 89 million members, and more than 5,700 properties around the globe where those members can both earn and redeem their hard-earned points. Here’s how to make the most of it.

What is Hilton Honors?

Hilton Honors is the loyalty program of Hilton, obviously. But in these days of acquisitions and consolidations, Hilton now comprises 14 distinct hotel brands. Those include Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts on the luxury side, Hilton Hotels & Resorts and Curio Collection by Hilton for mid-range travelers, and solid budget brands like DoubleTree by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, and Hampton by Hilton.

There are also some brands you might not have heard of, like the Tapestry Collection and Tru by Hilton, as well as soon-to-launch labels like LXR and Signia.

This might seem like a lot of information to keep track of, but on the positive side, it means more opportunities to earn and redeem Hilton Honors points at hotels in over 100 countries.

How to Earn Hilton Honors Points

Courtesy of Hilton

Hilton Honors members earn 10 points per dollar spent on room rates and other eligible hotel charges (like dining or spa purchases) at most of Hilton’s brands. Stays at Home2 Suites and Tru properties only earn five points per dollar. If you have elite status, you earn more, but we’ll get into that below.

Hilton also fields three personal credit cards through American Express with which members can earn points on everyday spending. The first is the Hilton Honors American Express card. It has no annual fee and earns seven points per dollar at Hilton hotels, five points per dollar at restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations in the U.S., and three points per dollar on everything else. Cardholders enjoy complimentary Silver status, which is Hilton’s lowest elite tier. At time of writing, this card’s sign-up bonus was 75,000 points when you spend $1,000 within the first three months.

The mid-range Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card has a $95 annual fee. For that, you have a chance at a 125,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $2,000 in the first three months. It earns 12 points per dollar at Hilton properties, six points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets, and three per dollar on everything else. It also comes with complimentary Gold elite status, with perks like earning even more bonus points on stays, room upgrades, and free in-room high-speed Wi-Fi.

The high-end Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, with an annual fee of $450, was only introduced in 2018. At time of writing, its sign-up bonus was 150,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. That’s nearly enough for two free nights at the luxurious Conrad Bora Bora Nui, which would cost 160,000 points or $1,500.

The Aspire earns 14 points per dollar on Hilton purchases, seven points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel and on car rentals and at U.S. restaurants, and three points per dollar on everyday purchases.

Every year you renew the Hilton Honors Aspire, you also get a free weekend night reward good at nearly any Hilton property around the world, which can be worth hundreds of dollars. Cardholders also receive up to $250 in statement credits on Hilton purchases each year, a $100 on-property credit on each stay of two nights or more at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad properties, an annual $250 airline fee credit, and access to over 1,200 Priority Pass airport lounges around the world. Finally, the card comes with automatic top-tier Diamond status, which includes benefits like 100% bonus points on stays plus complimentary breakfast and club hotel executive lounge access.

If you regularly stay at Hilton properties, the bonuses afforded by its credit cards can really add up, as can the points-earning opportunities on everyday purchases. Just note that Hilton Honors points expire after 12 months of account inactivity, so in order to keep your points active, you’ve got to either earn or redeem some each year.

How to Redeem Hilton Honors Points

Courtesy of Hilton

Speaking of redeeming points, Hilton Honors members can use theirs in a variety of ways. The first is by booking award nights at hotels.

Unlike some other hotel programs, Hilton Honors no longer has an award chart where properties are separated into distinct categories with set redemption rates. Instead, award nights are priced dynamically, meaning that if paid rates are lower on certain dates, you can redeem fewer points for an award night. Likewise, when paid rates are more expensive, you’ll need to redeem more points. In general, though, you can expect award nights to cost between 5,000-95,000 points each. For example, standard award nights at the sophisticated Waldorf Astoria Berlin range from 50,000 points or $230 per night to 70,000 points or $340 per night over the next few months.

Hilton offers Points & Money awards that allow members to use both cash and points on a reservation. Say an award night costs 50,000 points, but you only have 40,000 in your account. You can redeem the 40,000 points you have and then pay cash for the remainder of the bill.

For every 1,000 points you subtract from the regular award rate, the cash co-pay goes up by about $3-6, depending on the hotel. For example, on a night at the Waldorf Astoria Berlin that costs 70,000 points or $340, you could instead pay 35,000 points plus $175. This feature can be very handy in case you don’t have enough points in your account for an outright redemption, or if you want to save some of your points for the future and would prefer to spend cash instead.

Hilton also offers premium rewards where members can redeem even more points for upgraded rooms and suites, and those can cost hundreds of thousands of points per night. In general, aim to get about half a cent per point in value for any redemption. Hilton Honors Silver, Gold, and Diamond elites get the fifth night free on award reservations of five nights or more, which is a nice discount of up to 20 percent.

Members can use points for non-hotel experiences that range in value, such as Maren Morris concert tickets in St. Louis (30,000 points), or a 24-hour car-racing experience at Le Mans that includes a night of glamping at the Aston Martin campsite (350,000 points).

Finally, Hilton allows members to redeem points for Amazon purchases, but the redemption value tends to be pretty low, so avoid it if possible.

Hilton Honors Partners

In addition to accruing Hilton Honors points through hotel stays and credit-card spending, members can earn bonus points on car rentals with Alamo, Enterprise, and National; by joining the Priority Pass airport lounge network; or by booking a cruise through CruisesOnly. Members can also earn bonus points by eating out at restaurants that participate in Hilton’s dining network.

It is possible to convert miles from Amtrak Guest Rewards, Hawaiian Airlines and Virgin Atlantic into Hilton Honors points at varying ratios, though this is typically not a great option since the transfer ratios are quite low.

A much better deal – if you have an American Express card that earns transferable Membership Rewards points, such as the Platinum Card or the American Express Gold Card, you can initiate transfers at a ratio of 1,000 Amex points to 2,000 Hilton points.

On the flip side, members can convert Hilton points into airline miles with over 40 partners including American Airlines, Delta, United, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines. The conversion ratio for most of these partners is 10,000 Hilton points to 1,000-1,500 airline miles. So this should only be a last resort, as should redeeming points for a car rental with Alamo, Enterprise, or National.

Elite Status Tiers and Benefits

Hilton Honors members who spend a certain number of nights at Hilton properties each year can earn elite status, which confers benefits such as bonus points-earning opportunities, room upgrades, free breakfast, and more.

The program currently has three tiers of elite status starting with Silver, which is earned after four stays or 10 nights per calendar year, or earning 25,000 base points (equivalent to spending $2,500 at hotels). If you hit this level, you will earn 20% bonus points on stays (so 12 points per dollar instead of the regular 10), and receive a few perks like free bottles of water and a fifth night free on award stays.

If you earn Gold status by completing 20 stays or 40 nights in a calendar year, or by earning 75,000 base points (i.e. spending $7,500 at hotels), you get 80% bonus points (so 18 per dollar on stays), the possibility of room upgrades, and complimentary breakfast at most hotels.

Top-tier Diamond status is achieved at 30 stays or 60 nights, or by earning 120,000 base points in a calendar year (equivalent to spending $12,000 on hotel stays). Diamond elites get a 100% point bonus on stays (so 20 points per dollar), free premium internet, a better chance of room upgrades, club lounge access at some hotels, and various welcome amenities.

One interesting facet to the Hilton Honors program is that elite members can roll over any nights above the status level they achieve for the following year. So if you spend 20 nights in Hilton hotels this year, you would qualify for Silver status, which only requires 10 nights. The extra 10 nights will be rolled over into your qualification activity for the following year, giving you a jump on earning status yet again.

Remember, though, that all of Hilton’s American Express credit cards come with automatic elite status of one level or another, so carrying one of them is the fastest and cheapest shortcut to becoming a Hilton Honors elite and enjoying all the attendant perks.

Pros and Cons of Hilton Honors

The advantages of enrolling in Hilton Honors include the opportunity to earn and redeem points at thousands of hotels all over the world. The program’s co-branded credit cards offer some incredible benefits, including great ways to earn bonus points, automatic elite status, and on-property credits for things like dining and spa treatments during stays. One final factor in its favor: the ability for members to pool their points with up to 10 other people for free, putting more award nights within easy reach.

Unfortunately, the program lacks transparency when it comes to award nights since rates at a single hotel can vary by tens of thousands of points depending on demand. Also a drag? Hilton’s airline and shopping partnerships offer poor redemption values for your points.

How to Sign Up

It only takes a moment to sign up for Hilton Honors, and it’s free, so you might as well.

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