To be fair, I never really had a strategy with Hilton. I don’t stay at their hotels very often. Usually it’s just because I need a place for one, maybe two nights, and there’s no Hyatt or Starwood property nearby. It beats a Holiday Inn.
But I didn’t even redeem the points I had because so often it seems that the number of points required for the kinds of properties I stay at is absurd. The last time I tried it was 30,000 points for a free night at property that otherwise cost $150. The real value with Hilton (at least under the old award chart) was at the upper end, where you could stay at a Conrad or similar $600+ property for only 50,000 miles — and even less if you took advantage of AXON awards for American Express cardholders or GLON awards for elite HHonors members.
Dare I Say It? I Like the New Chart
No, not really. But psychologically it makes me feel much better about using my points. The number of points for those cheaper properties is not changing much at all. On the other hand, the aspirational properties are going up. Yes, that sucks for people who have the aspirational properties in mind, but Hilton is a backup program for me, not a primary focus. See more information about the new chart.
Before I would balk at paying 30,000 points to save $150 (0.5 cents each) when I could save them and pay 50,000 points to save $600 (1.2 cents each). Now the tradeoff is between 30,000 points to save $150 or paying 90,000 points to save $600 (0.67 cents each). Value per point is more even across all award tiers, relieving me of my guilt whenever I choose a low-value award. I also expect the new, higher redemption costs to lead to more bonus earning opportunities. It’s the same kind of runaway inflation that affects Priority Club.
Recent changes in Starwood and Hyatt’s programs have been more modest, amounting to a few shifts in which properties are assigned to each category but no broad changes to the redemption levels. Overall, announcements from different programs in the past months have left me relatively unscathed.
Still Want to Stay at the Conrad?
If you still want to stay at the high-end properties, the best solution may now be to take advantage of the free weekend night certificates provided by the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card. You get two after spending $2,500 in four months and then the opportunity to earn one more if you spend $10,000 in a calendar year. All card holders get Gold status for as long as they have the card, but spend a total of $40,000 in a calendar year and they’ll bump you up to top-tier Diamond status.
Getting a few free nights that expire a year from the time of issue and are only good on weekends isn’t nearly as good as flexible points, but it’s better than paying as much as 90,000 points for a top property under the new system. Megan actually has a few free nights from Hyatt that we are trying to save before they expire, which is one reason I wish Hyatt would just issue 44,000 bonus points to new cardholders instead of the free nights. But I have to admire their clever marketing approach. Less flexible sign-up bonuses make the cards more profitable and, hopefully, lead to better offers with the expectation that not all customers will take advantage of their full value. I expect this is one way Citi is able to offer better terms in comparison to the Hilton HHonors Surpass card from American Express.
What about HawaiianMiles?
Another important consideration is that I still have 150,000 HawaiianMiles I had planned to transfer into 300,000 Hilton HHonors points. That no longer seems like such a good deal. Megan and I took advantage of the ability to apply for both the Bank of America and Bank of Hawaii versions of the Hawaiian Airlines credit cards, four total and each earning 35,000 HawaiianMiles after spending $1,000 in four months and with a $79 annual fee. Since Hawaiian allows free transfers of points between cardholders (so don’t close your card first!) I consolidated all of them in my HawaiianMiles account. I am moving just 50,000 miles to Hilton in order to pay for a couple nights at the Conrad Hong Kong and expect them to post before the new award chart goes into effect.
Having 100,000 HawaiianMiles remaining actually doesn’t seem that bad. Flights operated by Hawaiian Airlines between Hawaii and North America are only 40,000 miles round-trip in economy class (it’s only a five hour daytime flight), and there are lots of options from the West Coast.
I can book flights on several of their partners at affordable rates, like 20,000 miles round-trip for a Main Cabin ticket with Virgin America between Seattle and San Francisco when visiting family. Delta has round-trip domestic awards for 25,000 miles in economy class, which would be useful to reach Salt Lake City and go skiing. These are all short enough that I don’t mind flying in coach.
Megan could also close her two cards and re-apply since these are among the few left that are easy to churn. With another 70,000 HawaiianMiles, she could transfer those to my account again and I would have enough for some international awards. From Los Angeles to Sydney is only 100,000 miles in economy class on Virgin Australia — probably not something we want to do, but it’s nice to know it’s there. After a few more cycles, we could afford business class. Or we could position ourselves to the East Coast and redeem 100,000 miles per person for premium economy seats to London on Virgin Atlantic.
So in my mind, Hilton’s points still have value, just for a different class of property. There are still ways to get free nights at the most luxurious Hilton brands. And I still have a reason to churn and collect HawaiianMiles even if I won’t be transferring them to Hilton in the future. I’m trying to keep a positive outlook despite recent events.