Has Hilton HHonors Just Gutted Redemptions at their Best Properties?

Hilton has introduced several new features to the HHonors program recently, all at first blush sound great and some are even quite good.

  • Cash and Points. Stretch your points farther, and you’re generally getting a higher value per point. Good on Hilton. I actually have an upcoming cash and points stay at two hotels in South Asia that represented remarkable value. I’m not all about the Cash and Points rather than traditional redemptions when available. As with Starwood, these awards represent real value.

  • Premium Room Awards. One place where hotel chains can miss is with redemptions, you give them your room nights and earn your points and when it comes time to redeem you’re stuck in a base room. Intercontinental hotels won’t even officially honor elite upgrade benefits on award stays, which seems ludicrous and counterproductive to their own purposes. Priority Club also offers no way to spend additional points for a better room. Marriott, Hyatt, and Starwood all do. And now Hilton does, too. But in most cases it’s a really bad deal, the points cost instead of being fixed anchors on the price of the upgraded room, with a low fixed value to the points being charged, often returning a value of just $0.0035 per point. I consider a rough average HHonors redemption to be $0.005, and mine often top a penny and one upcoming redemption tops 3 cents… Still, it’s useful at times and a better option than not having it at all. I recently saw the Conrad Hong Kong offering Harbour views at 65,000 points a night, not terrible considering a standard room there is 50,000.

  • Upgrade awards. Spend points on a paid stay to confirm a better room. Like premium room awards, the value of the points is anchored to the paid room rate increment, and they value the points quite poorly, so it’s rarely a good use of points. Again, better to have the option than not, but hard to imagine using it.

Well, here’s the rub.

The one thing that Hilton HHonors has been really outstanding about is that its aspirational reward properties are quite reasonably priced, even after last year’s award chart devaluation which brought us a new category 7 and a higher “Waldorf=Astoria” category. (At the time, the head of the HHonors program declared that they were ‘over-indexed’, corporate-speak for they were offering too good a value, their customers weren’t smart enough to realize it, so why not offer less value instead?

Hilton offered exceptional point value at top properties. Last month I pointed out the Conrad Koh Samui on Point Stretchers, 30,000 HHonors points per night for a standalone ocean villa with private pool that retails for $700 – $900 a night.

I stayed at the Bora Bora Nui back when it was Starwood for 186,000 points over 5 nights (using SPG’s 5th night free award in an overwater bungalow). A base room later jumped to between 240,000 and 280,000 points for five nights. But when it came over to Hilton, it was available for just 40,000 points per night, fewer points for elites (as few as 160,000 Hilton points on a 5-night stay). And Hilton’s points are inflated, typically I think of a Hilton point being worth only a third of a Starwood point, in this case they were worth more.

Hilton has simply been providing outstanding aspiration value at properties like the Conrad Sanya and Conrad in the Maldives.

But it seems like they’ve learned Starwood’s trick. Starwood pioneered the notion that any standard room was available for points, they called it ‘true redemption’ and it was their unique selling proposition. But then they started playing games with the definition of standard room, it was no longer just ‘base room’ (a hotel’s entry level room), instead they decided that some hotels didn’t even have standard rooms. If they declared a hotel all-suites, they charged double points. Even though it earned its category ranking based on its average rates, which are inherently tied to the type of rooms a hotel already offers. Starwood penalized members twice.

That’s how they get to charge 70,000 Starpoints for a single night at a top property — create category 7, then charge double the category 7 point requirement.

Guess what? As Loyalty Traveler details, Hilton HHonors has concluded that the introduction of premium room awards means that they can still claim to offer rooms at any hotel for redemption… while declaring that some hotels only have premium room awards.

At first when I saw this I thought it might be a glitch, an error with how HHonors was treating rates now that they had these premium room awards in their system. But Ric quotes Hilton as follows:

With the new Reward offerings provided by HHonors, some of our hotels only offer Premium Rewards. Because rooms at some of our Resorts offer additional features or are not standard hotel rooms (i.e. bungalows) all room types for these hotels are now considered Premium Roomsand the point values will now reflect this new change.

What does this mean for top-end properties? Well,

  • Hilton’s Bora Bora Nui will run around 150,000 points per night instead of 50,000.

  • Conrad Sanya will run around 115,000 points per night instead of 40,000.

This is bad, very bad news, because the really special thing about Hilton HHonors looks like it’s being gutted. You could spend 25,000 points for the Hilton Garden Inn Yakima or 40,000 points for a suite at the Conrad Sanya.

Of course, without standard rooms available at these properties it also means that elite reward discounts on multi-night stays no longer apply. That 40,000 point cost at the Conrad Sanya would have been discounted to 32,000 points per night on a 5 night stay for an elite member, now the elite is being asked for 115,000 points.

This isn’t the case at every top-end hotel.. yet. So get in while the getting’s good. I’m still hopeful that members will realize that this is a huge change, a dramatic reversal of the aspirational nature of the program that fundamentally drives loyalty and intertwines dreams with points. That Jeff Diskin is wrong that his members simply don’t understand value propositions, that their earning is disconnected from their burning, and that he can just fleece his members. Or that despite the explanation from Hilton HHonors that Loyalty Traveler points to, overall this is just a temporary change or glitch related to the rollout of the program.

Because otherwise my Hilton HHonors points just lost a good chunk of their value, since I save them for special redemptions rather than using them for domestic city stays.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve been following the thread on FT about this and was hoping it wasn’t true.

    Like you, I’ve been transferring points to Hilton and saving them for special stays, but looks like this is bad news.

  2. I think Hilton points lose almost all value now. I’m no longer staying at Hiltons and spending on Hilton cards unless this gets revised. Hilton properties just had very little value in low-to-mid tier redemptions (unlike, say, SPG which has some great low-to-mid tier redemptions on Starpoints). Now these Hilton points just are not worth accruing.

  3. This is a major devaluation and might be what finally pushes my loyalty away from Hilton. I can easily switch my annual spend (business and personal) to another hotel program.

  4. You are the best there is at listing properties thoroughly…

    In this case, can you please create a list of the properties effected by this change? (or is it affected?)

    If this really only effects the Conrad / Bora Bora type properties, then I think this is a much less devastating change then if it applies to the top 20% of Hilton’s properties… Still, not a good thing for Hilton to do with no notice or publicity, and hopefully with very negative PR repercussions

  5. The Hilton brand has always been my go to due to consistent quality and lots of hotels. I spend a lot on my Amex Hilton and that is going to stop. The arbitrary nature is what is most disconcerting. This is a MASSIVE devaluation. Who wants to use their points to stay at a Hampton Inn? I suggest emailing Hilton and shouting about this on social media.

  6. See ya HHonors!

    I’ll be back when/if things change.

    Now, what to do with my 1/4 million hhonors pesos?

  7. I had been working hard to save up Hilton points for a dream trip to Bora Bora. Now I feel soooo disappointed with Hilton and wish I had never applied for their numerous credit cards!! I cannot believe they made this upsetting move without any notice, and I’m seriously considering move out of Hilton all together.

  8. Hilton should’ve at least given us members a heads up about this. Something along the lines of “starting October 3 some properties may not offer standard room redemption rates”. The email sent after the fact about being able to book premium rooms with points, and having the audacity to sugarcoar this as a great opportunity, only adds insult to injury.

  9. I just transferred 10 years of accumulated HHonors points to American Airlines. A decade ago, there were some descent redemption options, but the new award category structure unveiled a couple years ago was a major blow, and this was the last straw. Happy to say I’m not worried about HHonors program nonsense anymore! Account is empty. Future bookings will be made elsewhere. Issue solved.

  10. I booked when Bora Bora was still showing as a cat 5, but my heart goes out to the honeymooners that have been saving for the honeymoon.
    That said – loyalty is now a think of the past.

  11. This is terrible news. I’ve been saving my points for some of the properties Gary mentioned … Conrad Sanya and Hilton Bora Bora Nui. I can’t imagine paying over 100k Hilton points per night. Any chance Hilton will back these changes out?

  12. I was thinking of moving a chunk of AA miles to HHonors. Not now. What will be next in devaluation? Also was thinking of applying for the Hilton cards but may not now.

    As long as Starwood have decent redemptions in the low/mid categories, that will be our “go-to” card. The only time we put Starwood in the drawer is when we are trying to get min spend thresholds on new CC’s to achieve signup bonuses.

    Will see what will play out concerning Hilton. Very disappointed that very special stays are going to cost alot more points. 🙁

  13. This is a terrible development. I’ve been considering a trip to Bora Bora, but haven’t been able to work out the scheduling. Now it may have to get shelved. I might need to quit chasing miles and just focus on trying to get a pay raise…

  14. Early on when I got into points collecting I had to rule out HHonors because I had to concentrate on a few programs. Now I don’t feel so bad about giving them a pass.

  15. Is there any place to find points and cash properties short of doing a one by one search?I could not find any in NYC or L.A. or Venice, IT…

  16. Last night at about midnight Pacific time, I sent an email to Christopher Nassetta who is the head of Hilton Worldwide expressing my concerns about the change in policy and the implications on future award availability on all Hilton hotels and the bad publicity that it is causing. This morning at 6:00 AM Pacific I received a call from one of his underlings (he didn’t realize I was in the Pacific time zone). He thanked me for the email and he explained that IT IS AN I.T. ISSUE and it is being addressed. He also apologized for some of the erroneous messages that have come out of Hilton and they are talking to the people who sent out the messages. He said there is no intent to eliminate standard rewards at Bora Bora or Moorea (those were the only ones that I specifically addressed).

    We will need to wait to see how long it takes for them to correct the situation.

    So bottom line, Hilton Worldwide is working the situation.

  17. Perhaps this is not in the same category, but i just had a problem with the hhonors program. My wife and stayed 13 nights at a Hilton establishment. I am a member and I chose Hilton because of that. Hilton now will not honor my stay with points because I used a 3rd party to book my trip. In this day and age who wouldn’t. I had over 100 hotels to choose from and I chose a Hilton because I was a member, not because it was the cheapest. When I book a flight on Expedia I still get my Jet Blue rewards. I did my research and even with my AAA rebate it would have cost me 400$ more if I had used their website. I feel duped. I think that Hilton Has lost yet another customer.Very disgusted!!!!

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