Hilton’s Crazy Award Math: When 5 nights cost less than 4 nights

Recently the always excellent FrequentMiler blog crunched the numbers on a Hilton Honors phenomena that’s often not looked at accurately. We highly recommend reading Nick’s original piece for the full story, but here’s a summary for you:

Why 5 Hilton award nights can cost less than 4…

Hilton Honors offers the 5th night free when you book using points (assuming you have Silver, Gold or Diamond status). That seems easy to understand and is a nice benefit – if a hotel normally requires 10,000 Hilton Honors Points per night, you should be able to book a five-night stay for 40,000 Points rather than 50,000. This worked fine when Hilton had a ‘traditional’ loyalty program with fixed redemption category pricing, but ever since award pricing became increasingly ‘dynamic’ things have got more complicated.

When cash rates at Hilton hotels are relatively cheap (off-peak, quiet nights, etc), points rates are sometimes lower than the standard rate. This is broadly a good thing, but it can also be confusing because hotel cash pricing is more complicated and the points rates can end up mirroring that complexity. Add in the 5th night free calculation on points stays and perhaps it shouldn’t really be surprising that some odd results get thrown up—sweet spots for those who read the rules.

Say you were going to book a Hilton hotel for a two night stay. You could either make two bookings for consecutive nights, or (more normally) just include both nights on one booking. Most people would probably expect the cost of the two nights to be the same, regardless of whether the nights were booked separately or not – but sometimes that’s wrong.

How much you pay a hotel (for exactly the same room and dates) can change depending on how many nights you book – sometimes you’re better off booking each night separately, sometimes you’re better off just making one booking. This is something to watch out for when booking any hotel with cash, but since Hilton linked dynamic points pricing to the cash rate, it can also have an impact when using Honors points.

As an example, assume that a four-night booking at a Hilton hotel for a given date requires 21,000 points per night—84,000 points in total. It would be completely reasonable to then expect that a five-night stay would also require 84,000 points in total because the fifth night is free (and often that will be the case), but that’s not always so.

When it comes to ‘fifth night free’ points redemptions, the key point is that the Hilton system uses the cost for each night as if you were making a five night booking (which to be fair, technically you are), rather than a four night booking and then just adding the fifth night as free. If the nightly cost is different for a five night booking than a four night booking (it can be higher or lower), then that changes the total amount of points required. The fifth night does indeed get zeroed off, but the very fact it is a five night stay rather than a four night stay can impact the cost of the other four nights.

As you can see in Nick’s worked example,

a 5-night stay costs 115,000 points, whereas a 4-night stay would have been 132,000 points…— a savings of 17,000 points by booking a 5-night stay rather than a 4-night stay!”

Bottom line

Is this confusing? Yes.

Is this useful? – Moderately. It’s definitely a little on the niche side, but if you use your Hilton points for the most value, we think it’s valuable to be aware of how the Honors system actually prices awards.

It stands as a useful reminder that hotel award pricing can be challenging to understand and you can benefit by breaking up your bookings (or even adding an extra night) if you want to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal.

Have you noticed this from Hilton before?