Alternatives To Being Loyal To Hilton HHonors?

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Reader Adam left the following comment on the Ask Lucky page of the blog:


I had a HORRIBLE experience at the new Hilton Garden Inn Oceanside in VA Beach this past weekend. The funny part is that the Hurricane weather was the least of any issues! The breakfast was horrible. We waited over 90 minutes to be seated and served, and the food was disgusting. The lady who checked us automatically signed us up for the points vs. breakfast (we are GOLD), so i had to go and fix that before breakfast even started. The night before the hotel restaurant was on an hour long wait (due to being understaffed, as was breakfast). Room service made up the room and did a horrible job, including leaving beach sand all over the entry way. We checked out less than 24 hours later on Friday morning and I demanded all my points back (180K). Waste of a July 4th weekend.

What’s your opinion of Hilton brand compared to SPG, Hyatt, etc for stays in the US? I realize that there aren’t as many SPG and Hyatt’s but this was not a good view.

I’ve stayed in nice HGI’s before but I wonder if it’s really still worth achieving $40K in spend to get diamond status on Amex Surpass… versus focusing on SPG???

Ouch, sounds like a pretty rough experience. For what it’s worth I don’t think that’s representative of all Hilton Garden Inn properties — I’ve certainly stayed at some nice ones with good service, so much like all hotel chains, every property is different.

My general feelings about Hilton

For me, Hilton has four major selling points:

  • They have hotels almost everywhere, with over 4,000 properties worldwide — that’s more than Hyatt and Starwood combined
  • They have a good range of hotel brands, from limited service properties to full service properties (though I wish they had a “true” luxury brand, like Ritz-Carlton or Park Hyatt
  • It’s so easy to attain mid-tier status with them if you have the ability to open credit cards in the US, since both the Citi® Hilton HHonorsTM Reserve Card and American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass Card offer Gold status for as long as you have the card
  • Hilton arguably has one of the most valuable mid-tier elite status level, as it offers breakfast and internet, which I consider to be the two most valuable hotel elite benefits

I’m rarely thrilled about staying at Hiltons. My primary chains are Hyatt and Starwood, so when I’m looking up hotel options, I’ll always research those brands first. If they don’t have properties in the city I’m looking at or the rates are too high, I then look at Hiltons.

Conrad Koh Samui, one of the few awesome Hilton family properties I’ve stayed at

I find the Hilton brand to be really convenient since in many cities they have more properties than any other hotel chains. I have pretty low expectations when I stay at Hiltons, and with that in mind, am rarely disappointed.

I’m currently HHonors Diamond with Hilton (through spending $40,000 per year on the Citi® Hilton HHonorsTM Reserve Card), and aside from my first stay, can’t really say I’ve noticed a difference between it and Gold status.

But the simple fact that you can get useful mid-tier status with a hotel chain that has properties almost everyone so easily is a selling point for Hilton.

What about Hyatt and Starwood?

As I said above, they’re my primary hotel chains, and I think they complement one another nicely. But I think I’d struggle being loyal to just one, given their limited footprint in many cities.

Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel Des Indes

Now, you can quite easily attain entry level status with either chain, but unlike with Hilton, that won’t get you free breakfast or club lounge access.

If you want “real” benefits from these stays, you’d have to put in 25 stays or 50 nights with either chain. Admittedly Hyatt does offer a generous fast track to Diamond promotion, so if you want to go for top tier status with a great program, that’s the easiest way to do so. Starwood also offers a Platinum challenge, though it’s not nearly as generous.

Bottom line

I don’t love Hilton, but if I were a leisure traveler that doesn’t “naturally” put in over 25 stays or 50 nights per year, I’d probably still stick with them simply because of the benefits I can get from those stays. Otherwise I’d consider being loyal to Hyatt or Starwood, and filling in gaps in stays using Hilton Gold status.

But unless you do a lot of credit card spend, I don’t generally find it worthwhile to go for Hilton Diamond status, as there are very few differences between it and Gold.

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  1. Hmmm. Although there are ups and downs with some waldorf astoria, especially the ones in NY, I do think that they are true luxury properties, at the very least on par with Ritz Carlton or Park Hyatt, but not as much rosewood/four seasons.

  2. @Adam. Hilton is my preferred hotel brand because they have so many locations around the world. However, there are some poor Hilton branded hotels in the US. This is contrasted with Hilton’s international branded hotels which are usually excellent with Gold & Diamond benefits being access to the Executive lounge(with free evening drinks), good room upgrades, and free breakfast that may even include a choice of the buffet. I would strongly recommend reading reviews on about a Hilton hotel which you may be thinking of booking, as it should give you an idea as to the elite benefits and quality of the hotel. After I had some poor US based Hilton stays, I avoided the chain for years. This changed when I was going to visit Buenos Aires, and a United Airlines purser highly recommended the Hilton hotel there, as it is where United, Lufthansa, and many other airline crews stay. The hotel was awesome with a great Executive lounge and friendly staff. I hope your future Hilton stays will be better, but always remember that the better Hiltons are at international locations and is your friend, especially for researching US based Hilton branded hotels. Wishing you good travels.

  3. @ AJ — Marriott has such high elite qualification tiers that I don’t really see them as a reasonable alternative. And for that matter I don’t think their properties on the whole are better than Hilton’s.

  4. I agree with Evan about the Waldorf Astoria properties being phenomenal – well, I’ll qualify this, the one in Chicago, because that’s the only one at which I’ve stayed. But they were top notch from checking in to following through on every commitment made, and they are as good as any Ritz or Four Seasons or Mandarin Oriental I’ve ever visited. Not Aman level, but Amans are a stratospheric step up in many cases.

    One of the “benefits” of Hilton (the “free” internet needs a caution here: Some Hilton brands are offering “basic” speeds, and then the option to buy up to faster (meaning acceptable) speeds. I found the service on my smartphone so slow that I switched to 4G and used that instead. Luckly I have a wireless air card as well, so it ultimately didn’t matter to me, but the internet offering is really hit and miss.

  5. @ James K. — It’s definitely higher end, though don’t think they’re five star like Park Hyatts or Ritz-Carltons.

  6. First mistake: burning that many points in VA beach. I live in the area & its a dump. Wouldn’t recommend it as a vacation area to anyone.

  7. Without knowing where one stays and how much one is comfortable spending/night on a hotel it seems to me its very hard to recommend a chain for someone to choose. If someone can only spend 150/night then (from my experience) Hyatt is not going to be an option for them. Second, there are a lot more places that have a HGI or a Hampton Inn than a Hyatt Place, let alone an Aloft or Four Points.

    Without knowing what one can spend on a hotels and where they are going, choosing a chain just because they are fancier doesn’t really matter if they can’t book at that chain in the first place and/or they don’t have a location in that area.

  8. “We waited over 90 minutes to be seated and served”

    You actually waited 90 minutes to have breakfast? Are you mobility challenged? Or are you really so cheap that getting breakfast for free trumps all other considerations?

    Abysmal customer service is one thing, and being a masochist for punishment is another.

  9. @lucky thanks for discussing. I think I’ll hold hilton points for occasional one nights when needed and cancel my hilton Amex Surpass or at least downgrade to the free card to keep axon. Have to think about spending 10k on the citi version. I’m more tempted to cancel and put 10k on APE, CSP or SPG.

    @chitownflyer I still have 2 weekend night certs that I will probably have to use for a Waldorf in NYC and then I will keep your point in mind for overseas. Thx to a fellow chitown.

    @voiceofreason traveling with family is somewhat challenging at times, and if I knew breakfast would take that long I certainly would have gone elsewhere. Lesson learned and no I’m not mobility challenged, just trying to teach patience sometimes. If i knew the food was going to be disgusting I would have driven to McDonald’s.

    @ian where were you when I had the crazy idea! LOL!

  10. It all depends on where you like to stay and how you like to use your points. I like nice hotels, so Hilton has rarely worked for me. I also prefer Starwood and Hyatt, since they both have good upscale options (Starwood has Le Meridien, Westin, and W, and Hyatt Regency and regular Hyatt properties) for my day to day/routine stays. For aspirational stays, St. Regis, Luxury Collection and even some W properties are great with Starwood, and Park Hyatts and some Grand Hyatts are wonderful. There aren’t as many aspirational properties with Hyatt, but they are improving.

    Marriott having Ritz should make me more interested, but the redemptions are vastly more expensive for the comparable spend–and I don’t always love Ritz. Since I’m UA Gold and automatically now get Marriott Gold, I usually can stay in a Marriott whenever I’m lacking Starwood or Hyatt options. But I rarely seek them out.

    The other massive appeal for me with Starwood is that the points I earn transfer at 1.25 rate to 30+ airlines. No other hotel point transfers to an airline at nearly so good a rate, if they transfer at all. (Hyatt and Hilton don’t transfer, and Marriott only transfers to UA and at a bad rate, even if you’re Gold.) That vastly increases the value of a Starwood stay and the concomitant SPG spend–since I not only earn nights towards SPG status but also SPG points towards hotel AND airfare redemption.

    Using the SPG Amex, a new member earns 4x/$1, a Gold/Platinum earns 5x/$1, and a Plat75 (as I am now) earns a whopping 6x/$1 spend. That’s a lot of points towards hotel redemptions, but the airfare transfer option makes those points invaluable.

    Overall, I stay at Starwood properties whenever possible, and even for leisure travel except where an Aman or Four Seasons doesn’t have a St. Regis/Luxury Collection property as an viable option. I burned my remaining Hyatt points for predevaluation stays at suites in various Park Hyatts around the world this year…and can always transfer Chase UR to Hyatt should I need more.

  11. Lucky: would also like to get your thoughts on how the Waldorf Astoria brand compares to Park Hyatt, St Regis or Ritz Carlton. I stayed at the Waldorf Astoria twice with my family and it was a really nice hotel. I just came back from St Regis Princeville and I would say the quality in on par with the Waldorf.

  12. @Adam – the annual fee for the Amex Surpass is well worth it for gold status since that gets you free internet, breakfast and usually an upgrade even if it’s only a better view. One or two stays and it’s paid for itself, especially when traveling with family.

  13. Marriott!
    Seriously, I have stayed at Marriott and SPG across the country and shudder when I walk in to an Aloft or Sheraton. Even the W is blah. St Regis is very nice though.

    But Marriott? Even the standard Marriotts are great. I always get great service there. Some of the lower end properties aren’t great, but I will take Marriott over W or Westin any day. The only exception I have found is a great W in NY

  14. @Adam, I would certainly hold on to either your Hilton AMEX Surpass card or the Citi Reserve card as it guarantees you Hilton Gold status, as long as you have the card. The Gold status really comes in handy when traveling overseas where internet charges alone can be $30 to $40 a night, and it allows for space available upgrade access to the Executive floors where the lounges will be way better than anything you get in the US. Hilton US versus Hilton international are like night and day. A major reason I stay at Hilton is that their nightly rates tend to be less expensive and offer better value relative to their competition. AAA rates and quarterly sales make it a good value. Here is a link to the current summer sale which is prepaid.,HH,BNI6362x,Placement,EMEASummerSale

    I have visited many US and international Hiltons, so PM me on Flyertalk or Milepoint if you have any questions about a potential hotel, and I’ll do my best to help.

  15. I was at VA beach at the same time. I stayed 2 nights at the Country Inn (oceanfront suite with balcony) for 44K points (2nd night free with Club Carlson credit card). Had no problems and it was a nice property,

    I’ve never thought of VA Beach as a dump. Is somebody trying to keep the crowds away?

  16. @ Santastico — Perhaps I wasn’t being fair. I know the Waldorf Astoria is an absolute dump nowadays, and it’s sort of their flagship property.

    It really depends on the city, I suppose. For example, some people say that Four Seasons is hands down better than Ritz-Carlton or Park Hyatt. Yet there are unarguably cities where the Park Hyatt is the best hotel (Buenos Aires and Sydney come to mind). Meanwhile there are also some good Waldorf Astoria properties, but also some that are an embarrassment to the brand, in my opinion.

  17. My 2 cents… I’ve stayed at quitea few Conrads around the world. Tokyo and Hong Kong being extremely nice, even though the rooms were certainly not huge. The stand out, just blow me away every time is the Conrad Rangali in the Maldives, where I’ve been 3 times. We are upgraded twice to a palatial property (can’t call it a room, it was massive separate beach house with front and back gardens, outdoor shower, private pool and much more) The outstanding food and the house reef I still dream of, I gotta be honest I get bored easy, but I snorkeled just off the beach every day for hours. An underwater restaurant that is straight out of James Bond’s honeymoon. My last stay was 18 days on points (pre devaluation…sniff) We were all sick to leave even after all that time. Yep…Conrad rocks…even for that one hotel. PS I’ve done almost every Park Hyatt there is, despite being a huge Hyatt fan and Diamond, not one comes close to Rangali.

  18. I’m with you, Lucky. SPG and Hyatt are about my 2 favs at the moment. I just had a fantastic stay at the Sheraton Detroit Metro Airport. This will be my new “go to” property when I have to get in/out of Detroit. The beds were so comfortable I did not want to leave (had to catch an early flight out). I could have been upgraded to club level for $30 more, but opted out. Maybe next time.

  19. “180k” for a weekend room is all I needed to read to validate my feelings toward Hilton’s reward program. Oh and I would vote for IHG brands. They claim to have more rooms than Hilton. Hilton isn’t the same since the 2008 Blackstone deal.

  20. I like the Waldorf Astoria in Versailles, France. Good service, nice facilities and their backyard is the Queen’s private estate. Breakfast buffet is very elegant b

  21. I recently stayed at the EDITION hotel in London- Marriott’s “W” type brand.

    Outstanding experience. They are building them in Miami, New York, Paris, etc.

    I think Marriott overall is a bit underrated. The Marriott branded hotels are fine, but Ritz-Carlton hotels tend to be great. Courtyards are there wherever you need them (obviously they are not aspirational). After five stays this year, I already have enough points for a free night at the Edition (45,000) and I am looking forward to applying for Chase cards to augment that amount. I would rethink Marriott if I were you.

  22. As far as Hilton goes, the best Waldorf property is actually in Chicago (the NY hotel is a behemoth; it simply does too much volume and is too large to ever be renovated property). There are some other good ones as well (Berlin). Hilton hotels themselves are OK, HGIs vary dramatically.

    Starwood is great if you like W Hotels, which I do.

  23. I have many of the same thoughts as others. I was a Hilton Diamond for 10+ years, but never got any real benefit from it so now am just blue with Hilton. Top tier with SPG and Hyatt and feel that both the quality and the benefits received are much better than Hilton.

  24. Lucky, I agree that achieving Marriott status the hard way makes little sense, but all UA Gold and higher can get Marriott Gold as part of a promotion. I normally stay at SPG and Club Carlson; recently stayed at JW Marriott in Seoul, and the elite benefits were the best I’ve ever received (including wonderful breakfast and de facto full dinner in the lounge).

  25. @Lucky: To be honest I only stayed at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando. It was a really nice property which I compared in quality with the St Regis Princeville.

  26. @ Santastico – how did you like St. Regis Princeville – both hotel- and location-wise?

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