Best uses of Hilton HHonors points before March 28, 2013

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Earlier I shared the details of Hilton’s massive award chart devaluation, whereby they added new hotel categories and introduced peak pricing. I had a few more thoughts on this I wanted to share, and also offer some suggestions for those of you that have large Hilton HHonors balances.

The bad news

A year ago I had maybe 5,000 Hilton HHonors points, while right now I have a balance of about 500,000, given that I’ve been focusing on racking up HHonors points as much as possible, given how easy it has been lately.

First let me say that to some degree this was inevitable. Not that I’m excusing it by any means, but I should have seen it coming, and valued HHonors points less based on that. Delta SkyPesos SkyMiles are generally considered to be the most devalued mileage currency, while I think Hilton more than gives them a run for their money on the hotel front. They have relationships with both American Express and Citi with very generous bonuses on everyday spend, so I can only imagine the number of points that have been put into circulation as a result. Similarly, points can be transferred from Hawaiian and Virgin Atlantic at a 1:2 ratio (and indirectly through Membership Rewards), so that was another great way to rack up HHonors points. Heck, in June of last year I shared advice on how to rack up 390,000+ HHonors points. So I feel stupid for not seeing this coming, and doing so much to accrue points with them.

Beyond that, this “seasonal hotel reward pricing” is absolute and total deceiving bogus. The way they published the new award chart suggests that the reason for the range within each category is to account for the seasonal pricing.

For example, the Conrad Hong Kong will be a category nine property, which will cost 50,000 to 80,000 points per night. The only thing is that the Conrad Hong Kong is 80,000 points per night all 12 months of the year — so much for seasonal pricing!

Similarly, category 10 properties range from 70,000 to 95,000 points per night, which, again, I thought accounted for seasonal pricing. The Conrad Maldives is 95,000 points year round as well, though.

Next, the new “benefit” of elite members getting the fifth night free is actually a devaluation as well. Elite members have access to GLON awards, whereby you get a 15% discount on four night awards, 20% discount on five night awards, and 25% discount on six or more night awards. A 20% discount is the same as getting every fifth night free, and with this new change you won’t have the flexibility to receive the discount on stays of four nights or more than five nights. So while it sounds nice in theory, it’s just lipstick on a pig. Really, really ugly lipstick on a really, really ugly pig.

How to make the best of the bad news

One (relative) positive of this change is that it increases the value of the sign-up bonus of the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Card, which offers two free weekend nights at category one through seven properties after spending $2,500 on the card within four months. All of Hilton’s other cards offer points as a sign-up bonus, while this card offers free night certificates. I’d say the value of those has just gone up substantially given that the category costs have gone up. Similarly, the card offers another free night certificate when you spend $10,000 on the card in a year, so as a relative matter the value of that increases as well.

The good news is that these changes only kick in for bookings made on or after March 28, 2013. Bookings made before then, even for stays after March 28, still qualify for the old rates. You can make award bookings up to a year in advance, so I’d highly recommend locking in as much travel as you can now, since in most cases award stays are refundable until close to the stay date. Though don’t be too selfish please, since there’s only a limited amount of inventory, so if you’re making reservations just for the sake of making them you could be preventing someone more serious from locking in a stay at the old rates.

But more big picture, Hilton does have some amazing award values if you book by March 28, so let’s focus on that. Hilton has something called AXON awards, whereby four nights at any category seven property cost you just 145,000 points. The key is that in order to qualify you must have a co-branded Hilton American Express card. The two best options for that are the Hilton American Express (which has no annual fee) and the Hilton Surpass American Express (which is more rewarding though has a $75 annual fee).

Now, we don’t actually know what will happen to AXON awards on/around March 28, though I suspect at the very least they’ll be capped at category seven properties (meaning you can’t redeem at aspirational properties anymore), and more than likely the prices will go up as well.

Let’s put this into perspective for a minute. Four nights at the Conrad Maldives would cost you 145,000 points on an AXON award, which is ~36,000 points per night. After March 28 a stay there will run you 95,000 points per night. That’s an unreal devaluation.

In this post I shared some of the best places to redeem AXON awards, which include the Conrads in Hong Kong, Koh Samui, the Maldives, and Tokyo. Keep in mind that if you get a Hilton co-branded American Express card now you should be able to activate it before the devaluation kicks in, and thereby still take advantage of AXON awards.

To simplify this further, just about any stay at an “aspirational” property makes sense right about now, given that many are going up in price by 60%+. Even if it’s not an AXON award, spending 50,000 points for a stay at a $500+ per night hotel is a phenomenal value. For that matter, if you don’t have enough HHonors points for the redemption you’re eying, using the “points & money” reward option can make sense. For example, a night at the Conrad Maldives costs either 50,000 HHonors points per night or 25,000 HHonors points plus $200. If you don’t have enough points I’d still much rather book now and pay the cash co-pay than end up spending 95,000 points per night.

Now I just have to figure out how I’ll burn 500,000 Hilton HHonors points in the next month. That’s over three AXON awards, as I’m looking at 12 nights in a Conrad at a minimum.

How are you guys planning on burning your points before the devaluation?

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  1. I was looking at an EK ticket that I could build a stop in the Maldives for 3 days for free. I was thinking of burning at the Conrad Maldives, but the seaplane fees hurt too much to pull the trigger.

  2. seems these miles are causing you too much stress….soooooo why don’t you just gift some to me! 🙂 Thanks in advance!

  3. Hilton was going to play a major role in my 2014 plans. Already got the Hawaiian BOFA…oh well, I guess they’re playing a slightly less major role now. Anyone ever been to the Conrad Hong Kong? Any good?

  4. What a mess! I think they’ ll be forced to backtrack on this somewhat, given the large number of protective bookings that are likely to occur as well as the outcry from their best customers and ensuing bad pr. At a minimum, push back the implementation date.

  5. Just tweeted you, but for the Citi Reserve, the 1st T&C article says:

    A weekend night certificate is valid for one (1) weekend night standard accommodation at CATEGORY 1-7 HOTELS and select Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, subject to availability and excluding All-Inclusive or Hilton Grand Vacation properties.

    Will that be changing now that there will be 10 categories?

  6. Thankfully I heeded some advice I read to burn as points as much as you can. I already enjoyed 4 nights at hilton bentley and have 8 nights planned at Conrad Tokyo, but made 40k spend on the reserve so I have another 120k points to kill , I’m booking Chinese New Year in HK for 2014.

  7. Would you recommend spending them on upgrades? I’m being offered 52k per night to upgrade from a beach villa to an over-water villa at the Conrad Maldives (cash stay, but BMG certificate)? Any indication if those are being devalued as well?

  8. I’m already have my 2013 plans made (3 trips beyond the ine I’m on) so don’t know how to fit in more than one more before D-day( d for devaluation). My other 3 are already using Marriott that are going up (London, Bali) and credit card free nights ( Hyatt Singapore, fair mint Maui). I’ll try very hard to get to the Maldives.

    I think all of us should cancel our Amex and citicards on the same day- D Day. Maybe that will register with them.

  9. My brother and I both have the Amex Hilton and each of us has about 60k points. What can we do to bring out the best value of these 120k points if only one of us will get to use all the points? Is there anyway to combine?

  10. BTW, if we need to get 20-30k more points, that’s possible too but right now the points are in two account. Is getting AXON award possible?

  11. Just booked 2 nights at the Rome Cavalieri for 100k points. Not the most bang for my buck but oh well.

    Any experiences at the Rome Cavalieri? I hear it’s a little bit out of the way…

  12. Lucky me ! I just returned from the Conrad Samui and am headed for 8 nights at the Conrad Maldives ! Also booked Rome Cavalieri and Hilton Venice for September. All on AXONs. Had nice upgrades at Hilton Lake Taupo and Queenstown last year on the hard-to-find points and cash. Need to burn remaining 500K-ish. Just made a ton of SPG points and cash reservations before their points and cash devaluation in March. Have reservations to December ! Got to think ahead in these hard times !

  13. Yet again non-US customers bear the brunt of this – we have no access to AXON awards and the most we could earn was about 0.5-0.8 points per $, therefore most of us earned points the hard way – yet despite not having access to these multi-hundred thousand point bonuses we’re stuck with major devaluation too. Bye bye HHonors 🙁

  14. Does anyone know how this impacts low-life people such as me, who just want to use HH points to get a simple hotel room (irrespective of category) to spend 2-3 nights at fun destinations? Does this devaluation impact every category and every hilton property?

  15. This one really hurts. After I burn my points I will never pay to stay in a Hilton again. I hope enough people will bolt HH to cause a big revenue hit so they reconsider. Do we have enough collective market power as a group? What about a “no-Hiltons” protest for the month of April? Other ideas, Ben?? The flood of bad publicity worked with Maker’s Mark!

  16. Funny to see this much outcry about HH all Over the blogosphere. United has been screwing elites for a year and nobody says a word!

  17. If I make a speculative booking for 3 nights using 50k points per night. And then, after March 28, I want to cancel just one of those nights, leaving 2 nights in tact. Will this be possible? Or will Hilton cancel the entire 3 night booking and rebook the 2 nights at the post-March 28 higher rate?

  18. If I book an AXON award based entirely on a semi-random set of dates that will likely change, what happens when I need to cancel it? Isn’t AXON actually a certificate for 4 nights? Could I then at least use that certificate at a different category 1-7?

  19. I have 140k points, only 5k away from an AXON award! Since I’ve allocated almost all of this year’s vacation time for trips already, if I use them to book something before 3/28, it’ll have to be a domestic (I have the SW CP) trip on a long weekend. Any good candidates for this (if I’m able to get the remaining 5k points)??

  20. @Craig #22

    Do you have an AMEX Hilton card? If so, it would be cheaper for you to book a 4 night stay than to book a 3 night stay

    …. and it will also be cheaper to book a 4 night AXON stay right now than a 2 night stay post 3/28

  21. As I read it, Category 1 & 2 properties are actually going down, correct? Cat 2 used to be 12,500 and is now 10,000. Cat 1 used to be 7,500 and is now 5,000. I know all you high rollers are upset about the luxury properties, but its better to use for those cross country hampton inn stays, correct?

  22. I am not sure how I’ll proceed with this. By March 10th I should have some idea if I’ll be visiting Thailand in November. If I do, I might just book a few nights at the Conrad Koh Samui and give the finger to HHonors as I burn.

    If I don’t do Thailand, if I am able to find availability next year during Mardi Gras I might just book an AXON award for that, although from what I was seeing last night a lot of the NOLA properties aren’t facing a huge devaluation. Didn’t check all though.

    Otherwise, I am not a very big aspirational kind of guy. I got my HHonors points basically for free and I’d be just as happy staying for free in a Hampton Inn as I would in a Conrad villa so I would probably just hold onto the points and redeem them for free nights at a lower level, which appears to be a better value on some places on the new chart relative to the old.

  23. A quick call to AMEX…and the CSR told me Hilton did not tell them anything about AXON awards going away, or point outlay changing. If that’s the case then it’s not too bad. While aspirational properties might go up in category, for those like me who just want a decent mid-level room in an expensive destination, this could still work.

  24. I was hoping to use AXON for the Conrad Tokyo later this year but will have to convert some points to Hilton to be able to book by March 28th! Otherwise I think I’d have to switch to the Hilton Tokyo as it is a lower category. Is the Conrad Tokyo a lot better?

  25. @ Maury — 12 months in advance.

    @ SFT — That’s the correct, the cost of some properties is going down, though that’s the minority.

    @ Carlos — Not that I know of, unfortunately. I doubt they’ll allow date changes after March 28 given how huge the devaluation is.

  26. @ pas — The cost of some properties actually goes down, so it’s not necessarily bad for those redeeming at category one or two properties.

    @ Craig — I suspect they’d reprice it. I would suggest just making the booking as three separate one-night stays, and then you have ultimate flexibility to cancel one of the nights if need be.

    @ Autolycus — I believe it would actually cause a reprice, so I don’t think that would work.

    @ Dave — Maybe the Conrad NYC?

    @ pointstoparadise — I’ve heard good things about the Conrad Tokyo, so I’d save up the points and go for it over the Hilton.

  27. @ Justin — I don’t necessarily think those rates will change. Assuming the upgrade for your dates would cost more than $250 or so per night I’d definitely use points to upgrade.

    @ JR — Short of paying to transfer points you unfortunately can’t combine points from two accounts towards a single AXON award. So in your shoes I’d try to get up to 145,000 points in one (or both) accounts by March 28 and then book AXON awards.

  28. I think I will try to book Koh Samui soon. DO you have any suggestions using United miles to get there first class perhaps stopping in Hong Kong or Bangkok for a few days?

  29. @ dan ray — Should be pretty easy to do, as Thai flies from Bangkok to Koh Samui. So maybe do Asiana Suites from Chicago to Seoul and connect to Bangkok and onwards, or route through Europe on Lufthansa/Thai?

  30. Even though points are devalued, free is still free. If you earn points and redeem them for free nights, you still win.

    I still think HHonors has some of the best property benefits for elites out there. The free breakfasts make a difference to me and Hilton awards them at a lower elite level than some of the other brands, mainly Marriott.

  31. @ bluedevil — There’s nothing “free” about award stays, in my opinion. There’s a HUGE opportunity cost to earning points in any program, be it the alternative of a cashback credit card, or staying at a local hotel that typically has lower rates. Most pay a premium to stay at chain hotels for exactly those benefits.

    @ E — Quick? Yes, you can transfer from Membership Rewards, though it’s not a very good value.

  32. staying next week at Waldorf Park City, rates are 1000+/night, at 60k points per night. not sure you can do much better than that.

  33. Hi Lucky — I don’t think it’s a guarantee that the citi free nights will necessarily be useable when the new categories come out. At present the T&C say the certs can only be used at category 1-7 and select WAs. Now, that makes sense because at this point there only are category 1-7s. Just as we don’t know what AXON awards will look like after 3/28, there’s no way to know what the citi certs will look like. The citi marketing materials have always said the free nights are at “select” hotels in the hilton portfolio, so they have an out if they decide not to make category 8-10 available. Same with the anniversary free night.

    Now, personally, I will be furious if they don’t let me book my free anniversary night at a category 8-10. I have already incurred the spend in reliance on the categories at the time, which went only as high a 7. For them not to say “sorry, categories can change any time” when they make you wait until the end of your anniversary year to get your cert would be pretty bogus, but as I said, the word “select” in the promo materials and the reference to category 1-7s in the T&C probably gives them an out. Like AXON, we’ll have to wait and see.

  34. Has anyone tried to book AXON rewards since the news came out yesterday? Just to make sure they are still around…

  35. Great! Thanks for info! Let’s hope they are still available in 2 weeks when my statements close and I’ll have the 145k points I need for the redemption that I want! 🙂

  36. @Miguel — their CSR told me AXON is here to stay with no changes. They need to add higher categories now for the program to make sense.

  37. @pointstoparadise, I have stayed at the Hilton Tokyo which is located in Shinjuku. I would recommend this hotel over the Conrad because of its location. You are close to the Lost In Translation Park Hyatt, which can be seen from the Hilton Executive Lounge. For cocktail time, they bring up a bartender to the Executive Lounge to mix drinks, but my stay was a few years back. Anyways, I found the Hilton Tokyo to be a great hotel.

  38. I just booked 2 nights at Conrad Maldives with 100K for March 6th to 8th (no cash and points @lucky!). Since I am flying from Doha, it is practically 72 hrs. A night is costing $1,200.

    I am also losing my Diamond qualification by the end of the month, so It is going to be a good way to say SAYONARA to Hilton.

  39. I just booked 2 nights at Conrad Maldives with 100K for March 6th to 8th (no cash and points Lucky!). Since I am flying from Doha, it is practically 72 hrs. A night is costing $1,200.

    I am also losing my Diamond qualification by the end of the month, so It is going to be a good way to say SAYONARA to Hilton.

  40. This one really makes me sick to my stomach. I stay at the Conrad Hong Kong and/or Tokyo 1-3 times per year. The new redemption rates are insane. I’ve got stays booked through 2013 and even into 2014 that now make me feel like a first-class chump. I need to seriously think about switching to Starwood or Hyatt.

  41. (When I said I had stays booked through 2013 and into 2014, I meant paid stays at HHonors properties around the world, which earn points and let me requalify. But if my favorite properties are now too expensive, why bother?

  42. Does hilton let you stay 4 to a room on award stay? The site doesn’t deny it for a 2 queen room, looking at hilton prague

  43. All this dithering over what to do. I was too busy with family and non travel affairs I missed it and the change is now in effect. So I’ve written Hilton a letter explaining to them I travel 6-8 MONTHS (yeah it sucks) and have another 6 in a row this year to go. And if they do nothing to accommodate this loyal consumer, I will switch chains. If we’re stupid enough to do nothing but chat here then why WOULD they change anything???? And just not staying there or just letting your “membership” expire isn’t enough. They need to see the connection. Oh also….most of these are franchises….so letting the owners where you stayed often know you won’t be back might help change the policies.

    I have no problem with the policy changes….just give me notice and time to use what I’ve earned under earlier policies and or preserve those earnings. Otherwise this is robbery….or your best customers. And again….moaning here will do nothing.

  44. @ Willy — Sadly still have about 300,000 of them and am using them for truly mediocre redemptions. Oh well. 🙁

  45. Hi. Any updates on whether Hilton will honor reservations made before March 2013 and that are past the certificate date? Thanks

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