Updated: 1st January 2020.
Hilton, one of the most iconic names in the hospitality industry, has around 5500 hotels worldwide and fifteen brands in its portfolio. Its brands are:
- Hilton Hotels and Resorts, and its related Hilton Grand Vacations. (These ones are the most iconic of the Hilton portfolio),
- Waldorf Astoria,
- Curio Collection,
- Tapestry Collection,
- Embassy Suites,
- Hilton Garden Inn,
- Homewood Suites, and,
- Home2 Suites,
As a European traveller, you're probably more suited to starting off with Hilton Honors than the other big chains given their presence in the European market, though their points are a lot less valuable than other chains. You should sign up for their membership programme since there is no cost in doing so.
Hilton Honors is divided into four tiers:
- Blue — 0 nights or 0 stays per year
- Silver — 4 stays or 10 nights per year
- Gold — 20 stays, 40 nights or 75 000 base points
- Diamond — 30 stays, 60 nights or 120 000 base points.
The full membership benefits for each tier are listed here. Gold does provide some value in the middle tier loyalty market, because it gives free breakfast, and free internet on nearly all stays, though you should not actively divert spend into Hilton to try and qualify for it.
You earn 10 base points per 1USD you spend, before tax, on hotel overnight rates and other amenities charged to your room e.g. dinner or minibar. So effectively Gold and Diamond cost $7500 or $12000 at the worst case. Most people will qualify based on nights or stays requirements, or by having an eligible credit card. See the section “shortcuts to higher levels”.
Any nights you accrue over and above the tier threshold you last surpassed will count towards the next year. E.g. If you qualified for Gold and stayed 55 nights, then 15 nights will count towards next year, making your re-qualification a lot easier.
Do reward nights count towards elite qualification?
Shortcuts to higher levels:
Hilton Gold used to be notoriously easy to get instantly by having a Visa Infinite credit card. So easy in fact that simply by understanding how credit card numbers are generated you could mint your own Gold status here (though that offer has since expired). Things have tightened up since and fewer shortcuts are available.
American Express Platinum card holders (of nearly every country) are generally given Gold status. You should check with your local American Express page.
If you are lucky enough to have a US, Austrian, German or Japanese address you may be eligible for one of Hilton's own-brand credit cards which offer elite status for as long as you are a card member. These are generally cheaper than the American Express Platinum card versions above. At the extreme end you can maintain Diamond status for $450 annual card fee but Gold is possible for just $95 per year. Check all the different card options available on this page.
Hilton do allow Status Challenges to Gold or Diamond tiers. See this page to submit your request. If you have an elite level with a competing hotel chain you will be granted the equivalent level up front for 90 days. If you wish to maintain your status beyond the trial period and until March 2020 you will need to stay 4 or 8 times to qualify as Gold or Diamond respectively.
Staying at hotels
You earn 10 base points per 1USD you spend on your hotel bill before taxes. Silver members will earn a 20% bonus, Gold 80%, and Diamond 100% on top. In the past there used to be a ‘double dip' where you could earn air miles on top of the hotel room, but this was discontinued in 2018.
Hilton runs promotions every now and then (normally quarterly) which you should always sign up for. Most of the time you will not see tangible boost in your points balance, but once in a blue moon they do offer genuine value. The latest one which covers Q1 2020 and is covered in this article.
Standard Room Rewards
Hilton does not use a fixed band chart to determine how many points a night will cost. It is unfortunate, but you just need to manually check the hotel price where you plan to stay and hope for the best!
5th night free
Silver, Gold or Diamond members can receive every 5th night free when they book a reward stay between 5 nights to 20 nights. This benefit suits those who collect a lot of points through the year but only holiday with family a few times per year and commit to staying in one hotel – i.e. if you have children!
Points and Money
The cheaper hotels do offer genuine value for your Hilton points if you select the “Points and Money” option. I can't give you the exact value as this varies hotel to hotel, but expect to pay somewhere between 2 000 — 20 000 plus $30USD-$100USD. Compare the cash you will offset by using the points (not forgetting the currency exchange). If you can get over €0.005 per point then it's already a good deal.
Elite Status Gifting
Diamond members are able to gift Gold and Diamond status to a friend if you stay 60 or 100 nights respectively. Note that the number of stays or base points does not matter in this situation, only the nights. Consider this benefit hard-earned.
In a nutshell, I don't really see Honors as a programme where you try to earn and burn loads of points. I simply see this programme as a way to leverage your spending power by providing some extra benefits to their higher level tier members.
The full Terms and Conditions are here, dated 9th January 2020.