A Comprehensive Look at Changes to Hilton Honors

Hilton Honors Logo for front

An exclusive telephone call with Aaron Glick — who is the vice president of the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program at Hilton — afforded the opportunity to not only find out more about the changes to the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program as reported in this article written by Tim Winship; but also address the concerns posted as comments elsewhere on the Internet in reaction to the announcement.

A Comprehensive Look at Changes to Hilton Honors

The changes which were announced include three new points benefits and a new benefit for members of Hilton Honors who have earned Diamond VIP elite level status — as well as a change to the name of the program itself from Hilton HHonors to Hilton Honors.

For your convenience, a concise list of advantages and disadvantages has been included at the end of each section to each change in the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program as a quick reference.

Points & Money: A More Flexible Option — But No More Hotel Category Charts

Effective later this month, Hilton Honors members can use a flexible payment slider to choose nearly any combination of points and money to pay for their stay — any time — with no blackout dates. Hilton Honors members can still opt to use all points on award stays; and members who have earned elite status level can continue to enjoy the popular 5th Night Free benefit.

Points & Money slider
This is a graphic of the new Points & Money slider. Source: Hilton Honors.

To use the Points & Money option to pay for a stay, the minimum spend is 5,000 Hilton Honors points; and the slider allows you to increase the number of Hilton Honors points you might want to redeem in increments of 1,000 points — all the way to paying for your stay in full with points only. Hilton Honors is the only frequent guest loyalty program in the lodging industry to equip its members with a slider to customize the balance between redeeming points and paying with money for a stay at a hotel or resort property.

Unlike the current Cash & Points option where you could not earn Hilton Honors points at all, you will be able to earn Hilton Honors points on the cash portion of a Points & Money stay once that option is in effect later this month. While not exclusive, Hilton Honors is one of the few frequent guest loyalty programs which offers this feature on its Points & Money option.

Prices of stays paid with Hilton Honors points will also become more flexible with the Points & Money option. When demand and room rates are lower, points prices will flex and go lower than before — meaning that hotel categories will become obsolete and therefore be eliminated, which will allow point prices to go lower than the previous ranges.

Even after the transition on standard room rewards, the maximum points price of each hotel and resort property will not increase.

As an example, a standard room reward redemption at Category 10 hotel and resort properties costs a maximum of 95,000 Hilton Honors points per night. Once the new Points & Money option launches later this month, the maximum amount of Hilton Honors points which you can redeem at those same hotel and resort properties will continue to cost 95,000 points — and may sometimes be priced lower than the previous category range.

For comparison purposes in the future, here is the hotel category chart which displays the current Hilton HHonors standard award prices per night prior to the elimination of hotel categories — and keep in mind that you can continue to enjoy the popular 5th Night Free benefit if you have earned elite level status, meaning that you can stay at the same hotel or resort property for five consecutive nights when you redeem enough points for four consecutive nights:

Hotel Category  Hilton HHonors Points  Cash & Points
1 5,000 points $30.00 + 2,000 points
2 10,000 points $35.00 + 4,000 points
3 20,000 points $40.00 + 8,000 points
4 20,000 to 30,000 points $50.00 + 12,000 points
5 30,000 to 40,000 points $65.00 + 16,000 points
6 30,000 to 50,000 points $85.00 + 20,000 points
7 30,000 to 60,000 points $100.00 + 24,000 points
8 40,000 to 70,000 points $125.00 + 28,000 points
9 50,000 to 80,000 points $150.00 + 32,000 points
10 70,000 to 95,000 points $200.00 + 38,000 points

Easily the most controversial part of the new Hilton Honors program is the elimination of reward charts — something which Delta Air Lines did back in 2015 — which prompted forecasts of gloom and doom.

“There is no secret plan to raise the maximum next week or next month,” Aaron Glick assured me. In many cases, “redemption prices are lower than before” and they “cannot go any higher than the previous maximum.” When I informed Aaron that members are concerned that even though there are no raising of maximum levels this year if that means significant devaluation next year, he stressed that the elimination of hotel category reward charts is “not a devaluation, as the value of Hilton Honors points are still the same. There are now more redemption prices so that the number of members who could not redeem points under the current program will be able to do so under the new program.”

To be fair, the maximum levels cannot be expected to remain unchanged forever; but there are no plans to significantly devalue Hilton Honors points overall in the foreseeable future. Aaron pointed out that reward stays were already variable — to a point — at Category 4 and above anyway. He also explained that the value of a point varies by such factors as hotel and date; and that the Points & Money option actually “creates more ways to get value for the points — especially when rates are higher at peak times.”

Regarding transparency, “I wanted the pricing tool,” Aaron stressed, as he said that he cares a lot about “members being comfortable” by providing as much transparency as possible with no surprises. When told that members of the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program tend to like the overall travel experience provided by Delta Air Lines — the SkyMiles program is the sore spot in which their trust was either reduced or lost altogether — he definitively responded that he does not want to risk the trust of Hilton Honors members, which is another reason why he adamantly wanted the pricing tool.

The idea of Points & Money is rather simple: as using this option requires a minimum of 5,000 points — which can basically be earned by staying two nights when paying with money for a hotel room — this gives the flexibility to get more value from points faster so as not to have to wait until there are enough points to use for a reward stay paid completely with points. This way, even members of the Hilton Honors program who are at the basic Blue membership tier can redeem their points faster for reward stays.

Aaron also assured me that the Points & Money option will be available “as long as standard room rates are available.”

Here are several examples of Standard Reward Point redemption rates at popular destinations both as of Thursday, January 26, 2017 and when the new, more flexible Points & Money launches later this month:

Hotel Property  Previous Category and Reward Point Price Range New Estimated Lowest Point Price New Highest Point Price
Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Category 6: 40,000 – 50,000 38,000 points 50,000 points
DoubleTree London – Westminster Category 7: 50,000 – 60,000 34,000 points 60,000 points
Hilton Garden Inn Monterey Category 7: 40,000 – 60,000 24,000 points 60,000 points
The Palmer House Chicago Category 7: 50,000 – 60,000 21,000 points 60,000 points
DoubleTree Grand Key West Resort Category 8: 50,000 – 70,000 46,000 points 70,000 points
Hilton Garden Inn Times Square Category 8: 60,000 – 70,000 32,000 points 70,000 points
Hilton Ocean City Category 9: 50,000 – 80,000 23,000 points 80,000 points
Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri Category 9: 70,000 – 80,000 55,000 points 80,000 points
Conrad Maldives Category 10: 95,000 95,000 points 95,000 points

You can check pricing examples for all of the greater than 4,900 hotel and resort properties here; and you will be able to use an availability calendar to see up to 365 days ahead exactly how many points are required to redeem at a specific hotel or resort property on a specific date. The redemption rates will be in real time once the Points & Money feature is launched.

Here is a hint imparted by Aaron: if you find a redemption of points which you believe is reasonable to excellent, you can redeem your points and book your stay to ensure that you have that rate by the time you arrive at the hotel or resort property. Not booking it means that the rate is at risk of fluctuating — meaning that the redemption price could change if you wait instead of book your reservation.

In the meantime, all reservations booked prior to late February 2017 will still be honored the way they were booked. If you choose to change a reward reservation after the launch, the points price of the stay will be subject to the latest redemption rates.

ADVANTAGES OF POINTS AND MONEY OPTION
  • Greater flexibility
  • No blackout dates
  • Ability to earn Hilton Honors points on the money portion of a stay
  • Can be used at greater than 4,900 hotel and resort properties at 14 hotel brands worldwide — no exceptions or exclusions
  • Possibility of lower redemption rates than those currently offered during off-peak periods
  • All Points & Money rewards stays and nights will continue to count towards the achievement of elite level status
DISADVANTAGES OF POINTS AND MONEY OPTION
  • Rewards more based on revenue and demand than before
  • Elimination of reward charts, meaning you likely have to put more effort into searching for a reward redemption using a tool
  • Resort fees will be applied for any bookings purchased with any combination of Points & Money; but they will still not apply to reservations booked solely with Hilton Honors points
  • Devaluations could possibly occur in a stealth fashion in the future — such as an increase in the maximum threshold of a hotel or resort property
  • At this time, the slider tool is not available when booking a stay at Hampton Inn hotel properties in Mainland China

Shop with Points on Amazon

As of summer of 2017, you will be able to use your Hilton Honors points to purchase products at Amazon.com. The partnership with Amazon.com will give you more choices — think millions of products — and more ways to use Hilton Honors points. Hilton is the first hotel partner to participate in Shop with Points at Amazon.com.

To use Hilton Honors points to pay for part or all of your purchase, you must first link your Hilton Honors account to your Amazon.com account — and yes, you must have an account with Amazon.com in order to participate. Once you are ready to purchase, simply proceed to checkout through your shopping cart. When you choose your payment method for the purchase, you can choose the amount of Hilton Honors points you wish to apply.

According to Aaron Glick, the best possible conversion rate with Amazon has not yet been determined and is still being negotiated; but Hilton is leveraging its purchasing power with Amazon.com by tapping into its distribution network. This way, you get to take advantage of that purchasing power when it becomes available.

Not being one to use frequent travel loyalty program miles or points on merchandise, Aaron was asked about why a member of Hilton Honors would want to take advantage of this option — especially when the value of the redemption of points for merchandise is usually worse than when redeeming them for a stay. He cited two reasons:

  • If the point balance is low and the member wants to use points but cannot use them for anything else, there will be options available at Amazon.com
  • When road warriors are on the road and have a high balance of points in their accounts because they have no time to redeem them for stays, they can always use them in the meantime to purchase gifts for their spouses — increasing the options for using those points
ADVANTAGES OF SHOP WITH POINTS AT AMAZON.COM
  • More options with which to redeem points — in this case, for virtually anything sold at Amazon.com and not confined to a limited number of products which were previously selected
  • Additional value to Hilton Honors members with low point balances in their accounts
  • Leveraging of purchasing power, which could mean more value for members
  • There is no fee to use this service
DISADVANTAGES OF SHOP WITH POINTS AT AMAZON.COM
  • Redemption rates of points likely not to be as good of a value as using them for stays
  • Redemption rates have yet to be determined
  • Although the Hilton Honors shopping mall will not be active in the United States once Shop with Points at Amazon.com is activated, it will remain active in all other countries
  • If a Hilton Honors member outside of the United States chooses to use Shop with Points at Amazon.com, that person should keep in mind that he or she will need to pay the shipping fees from the United States to his or her location, as this partnership only applies to Amazon.com and does not apply to other Amazon sites outside of the United States — such as Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.jp

Points Pooling

Starting this April, you can combine — or “pool” — your Hilton Honors points with family and friends on future award stays. No transfer fee will be charged, as this option will be completely free for you to pool your points with up to a maximum of ten family members and friends to get to more vacations together — and faster.

“40 percent of the use of Hilton Honors points involves three or more people,” Aaron said, noting that Hilton has the most suites of any lodging company in the world. This way, three or more people can pool their points and redeem them for a suite, which could possibly be less expensive than redeeming points for two or three rooms.

You will be able to transfer a minimum of 1,000 points — and a maximum of 500,000 points — into a pool in a calendar year. You can receive up to a maximum of two million points in a calendar year.

As to why up to ten additional people can pool Hilton Honors points — meaning that eleven people total can pool points — Aaron replied that based on numerous tests, constant communication with members, and consumer research, the team at Hilton Honors communicated with the information technology team at Hilton and decided upon ten additional members as the best balance — not too many people; and yet enough to satisfy most members.

In case you were wondering, members of the Hilton Honors program who are married and have what used to be known as mutual fund accounts will still get to keep this option — which has not been available for years — indefinitely.

Please allow up to 24 hours for pooled points to appear when you log in to your Hilton Honors account.

ADVANTAGES OF POINTS POOLING
  • Up to eleven people in total can pool Hilton Honors points — meaning fewer accounts with “orphaned” points
  • No transfer fee to pool points — transfer as freely as you like between the members in your pool
  • Mutual fund accounts remain intact for those members who have them
  • If your friend has to cancel his or her trip, he or she can simply transfer the points back to your account for free
  • Pooled points can be used on just about everything Hilton Honors points can buy when redeemed
DISADVANTAGES OF POINTS POOLING
  • You must be an active member of Hilton Honors and have a minimum balance of 1,000 points in your account to participate
  • Although generous, there are limits as to how many points may be transferred within a calendar year
  • Any discrepancies or arguments which could erupt between the maximum of eleven people as to how those points should best be used…

One-Time Extension of Diamond VIP Elite Level Status for One Year

Starting next month, eligible Hilton Honors members who currently have Diamond VIP elite level status can choose to extend their status for a year — one-time — for any reason when a light travel period does not allow them to qualify again for the next year. Examples include a new job, a new addition to the family, or for any other situation.

“Eligible” means that a year in which you had your elite status matched from another frequent guest loyalty program will not count as a year of eligibility for this benefit — nor will bonus Hilton Honors points count towards achieving the criteria for this feature.

The extension of Diamond VIP elite level status for a year which was granted by enacting this benefit does not count towards fulfilling the requirement for a year towards earning Lifetime Diamond status.

Aaron would not definitively answer whether this Diamond VIP benefit extension might be granted more than once; but he did call the Hilton Honors program the “most member-centric” and that Hilton “wants to be loyal back to Diamonds who have been loyal” to Hilton.

If you are a member of Hilton Honors who has earned Diamond VIP elite level status, you are eligible for this one-time extension if you have earned Diamond VIP elite level status for a minimum of three years since joining the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program — the years do not need to be consecutive — and you have also earned either at least:

  • 250 nights — paid or reward; or
  • 500,000 base Hilton Honors points
ADVANTAGES OF ONE-TIME EXTENSION OF DIAMOND VIP ELITE LEVEL STATUS FOR ONE YEAR
  • With little or even no activity, you can request to extend your Diamond VIP elite level status for another year
  • This option can be exercised at your discretion
  • No fee is needed to activate this option
DISADVANTAGES OF ONE-TIME EXTENSION OF DIAMOND VIP ELITE LEVEL STATUS FOR ONE YEAR
  • This option is only available one time
  • You must have earned Diamond VIP elite level status for a minimum of three years since joining the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program to be eligible for this option

Why the Changes in the Hilton Honors Program?

Despite the fact that the actuaries do calculate the liabilities of points and study redemption rates — the profit and loss statement is similar to life insurance according to Aaron — “we want members to use points for more redemption experiences because it creates a stronger connection to the Hilton Honors program and to the hotels.

Hilton Honors by the numbers
Click on the infographic for an enlarged view. Source: Hilton Honors.

Why Drop the extra H in HHonors?

Hilton Honors Logo
This is the current Hilton Honors logo. Source: Hilton Honors.

Hilton Honors is an “homage to the master brand,” Aaron said, explaining that the new spelling of Honors is the correct spelling and accepted globally. “The extra H caused confusion around the world. People did not know how to pronounce it. Was it Honors? Was it H-Honors?!? We wanted the name to be more friendly to members.”

At least Hilton did not use the unoriginal word rewards with the new name as at least four other frequent guest loyalty programs are currently named — including Marriott Rewards, Wyndham Rewards, Best Western Rewards and IHG Rewards Club.

Hilton logo 2017
Source: Hilton.

Additionally, the parent company has dropped the word worldwide from its name. Hilton Worldwide is now known simply as Hilton to better focus on building brands more than before — as well as focus on customers. Years ago, Hilton operated as two separate entities: one in North America; the other for the remainder of the world. At times, that was rather confusing for a number of reasons.

Summary

Tim Winship believes that the changes overall are weighted on the positive side — “It’s a win-win” — and there is little reason to doubt his opinion.

If you have any questions pertaining to the new Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program, you can either refer to this list of frequently asked questions.

To conclude this article, Aaron Glick said: “What can we do for what matters most to our members? I want them to have faith in us; believe in us; and I want to do what is in their best interest to earn their trust.”

Source: Hilton Honors.

Comments

  1. Paul Davis says

    I’m excited to see the pooling of points at no charge.
    I am platinum and my wife is gold.
    Can I assume that if we pool the points we will get platinum benefits?
    or, too soon to know

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