Prior to the merger of Marriott and Starwood, Hilton was the world’s biggest hotel chain by revenue, with 6,000+ properties under 17 brands in 113 countries. Hilton’s loyalty program, Hilton Honors, offers opportunities to collect points with the goal of redeeming them for free hotel stays.
With over 89 million members in its ranks, how does Hilton stack up against Marriott? Is Hilton a good hotel loyalty program for Canadians? Let’s explore the key aspects of the program and look at how we can best leverage Hilton Honors to unlock hotel stays at a fraction of the cost.
The most common way to earn Hilton Honors points is by staying at Hilton hotels; however, credit card transfers and co-branded credit cards (albeit with some legwork involved) both present additional options to earn Hilton Honors points in Canada.
Staying at Hotels
When staying at Hilton hotels, you’ll earn the base rate of 10 points per US$1 spent at full service properties, or 5 points per US$1 spent at limited-service properties, with bonus points for members with elite status: Silver, Gold, and Diamond members earn an additional 20%, 80%, or 100% respectively on top of the base rate.
In addition, one of the best ways to accelerate your points earnings on Hilton stays is to take advantage of the program’s frequent promotional offers. Historically, these offers typically take the form of either double points or a certain number of bonus points on each stay. These promotions almost always require you to register beforehand, so it’s important to keep tabs on the promotions if you have an upcoming Hilton stay.
At certain hotels, Hilton also offers room rates that give members double points. While this room rate is normally more expensive than the base rate by $20–30, sometimes it happens to be the cheapest available rate, in which case it makes sense to book it.
Take a look at the below sample stay to see how stacking the offers really allows the points to stack up.
The stay earned 4,038 base Hilton Honors points for the stay (for spending the equivalent of US$403 before taxes). Booking the room rate with double points, which was the cheapest available room rate, earned an extra 4,038 points.
The public Hilton Honors bonus offer at the time of the stay was also for double points, which earned yet another 4,038 points. Finally, the status bonus is applied to the base points earned, which added another 80%, or 3,230 points for a Gold member (keep in mind that Hilton Honors Gold status can be earned simply by holding the American Express Platinum Card).
In total, I earned 15,344 Hilton Honors points from this stay alone, which are worth ~$107 at a valuation of 0.7 cents per point. This represented getting 20% of the stay’s cost back in points, and that’s before considering the points I earned on the credit card used to book the stay. As you can see, you can already get a very good deal simply by maximizing your points earnings on paid Hilton stays.
Credit Card Signup Bonuses via Amex USA
Hilton offers co-branded credit cards to earn points through signup bonuses and daily spending. Many Canadians ask “Can I get a Hilton credit card?” – unfortunately, Hilton doesn’t offer co-branded cards in Canada, but only in the United States.
However, since the card is issued by American Express, you can do a Global Transfer from your Canadian Amex card to obtain one or more of the Hilton cards. This is ultimately the only practical option to get a Hilton credit card for Canadians.
American Express US offers three different personal cards, each with its own price point, signup bonuses (which can vary based on the specific offer channel you use), and perks and benefits.
The Hilton Honors Card gives you up to 95,000 Hilton Honors points, and its 7x multiplier on Hilton stays boosts the points earnings from your hotel stays. Using the sample stay we discussed above, paying with the Hilton Honors Card would earn a further 3,640 points (due to the charge being billed in USD), equivalent to another 4% back, giving you an overall return of almost 25%.
The Hilton Honors Surpass Card is another good choice due to the signup bonus of 135,000 Hilton Honors points, as well as its 10 complimentary Priority Pass lounge visits, which would be enough to cover lounge access on a handful of trips for the infrequent traveller. Another notable benefit is the instant Hilton Honors Gold status, which would unlock the ability to receive room upgrades, free breakfast, and a huge 80% bonus on point earnings.
The final card in the lineup is the Hilton Honors Aspire Card, which represents the luxury card of the portfolio, offering 150,000 Hilton Honors points as a signup bonus. The card comes with two different types of credits: US$250 in statement credits for any charges from Hilton resort properties, as well as a US$250 airline incidental fee credit, which applies to one US airline of your choice.
The resort credit can be applied to the room rate and any incidentals charged to the room, which makes this benefit equivalent to cash if you stay at Hilton resorts at least once a year.
Meanwhile, the airline incidental fee benefit is designed to be applied to ancillary fees like baggage fees, change fees, or seat selection fees; however, anecdotally speaking, it can be applied to certain airline gift cards as well.
Right off the bat, the US$500 in fee credits more than offsets the US$450 annual fee, making this card a great choice for the frequent traveller. Throw in the free weekend night, instant Hilton Honors Diamond status, and unlimited Priority Pass access, and the Hilton Honors Aspire Card is a very strong all-round travel credit card.
Importantly for Canadian applicants, all three cards have no foreign transaction fees, making it ideally suited to paying for your Hilton hotel stays around the world, and also minimizing the FX impact of meeting the minimum spend if you’re based primarily in Canada.
When doing an Amex Global Transfer to your first Amex US credit card, it’s a good idea to choose a card that you can keep open in the long term to build your US credit history. One strategy could therefore be to apply for the Hilton Honors Card as your first Amex US card, and then apply for or upgrade to the other cards once your American credit file has matured.
For more information about doing an American Express Global Transfer, check out the guide on Getting US Credit Cards for Canadians.
Transferring from American Express
In Canada, American Express Membership Rewards points can be converted into Hilton Honors points, although the conversion ratio of 1:1 represents a poor use of Membership Rewards points, since those points can be redeemed for much better value through other airline or hotel transfer partners.
Indeed, even purchasing Hilton points outright during a 100% bonus event, and then using MR points as a statement credit to offset the cost, can work out to be a better deal than transferring MR points directly. Needless to say, this option to earn Hilton points should almost never be pursued.
Now that we’ve explored ways to earn Hilton Honors points for Canadians, what are the best ways to redeem Hilton Honors points?
The classic use-case for Hilton Honors points is to redeem them for hotel stays. Unlike many other programs, Hilton Honors no longer publishes an award chart, so the only way to figure out how many points you’ll need is to search for specific hotel stays on your desired dates of travel. The points requirements range from 5,000 to 95,000 points per night, with one specialty property costing 120,000 points per night.
Free Night Redemptions
Hilton offers a very wide range of properties catering to every type of traveller, ranging from mid-tier limited-service brands that are fairly consistent between countries, such as Hampton Inn by Hilton, to luxury brands like Conrad and Waldorf Astoria.
On the low end of the spectrum, Hilton has 23 properties that are redeemable for a mere 5,000 points per night. These are mostly located in Central and South America, the Middle East, and Asia.
Other than that, hotels in suburban areas generally fall into the range of 30,000–50,000 points, downtown properties in major cities requiring 70,000–80,000 points on average, and high-end luxury properties will reach 80,000–95,000 points per night. There’s one specialty property, the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, which is an exception to the normal award costs and charges 120,000 points per night.
The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi is a brand-new resort and a highly aspirational property to aim for with your Hilton Honors points. As you can see, the base-level King Beach Villa with Pool normally retails for $1,959, meaning you can redeem 120,000 points at a very good value of 1.63 cents per point (cpp).
Another aspirational property is the Conrad Bora Bora Nui, which retails for $1,040 or 89,000 points and would therefore give you a value of 1.17cpp. It’s one of the most highly-rated resorts in Bora Bora, and using Hilton Honors points can be a great way to reduce the cost of an otherwise very expensive trip.
Closer to home, we can see that a ski trip at the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa over the festive season can be booked for 80,000 points per night, working out to around 0.95cpp compared to the cash rate of $704. Unlike many of their competitors, Hilton doesn’t charge resort fees on award stays, which adds another $25 worth of value at this property, increasing the value of using points even further.
Hilton Honors can deliver value at mid-range properties as well. For example, a stay at the DoubleTree in Portland for 40,000 points can achieve 0.68cpp; while not as spectacular as other examples, that’s still a value proposition at which I’d consider redeeming my Hilton points if I wanted to save money on the cash rate.
Further down the spectrum, 20,000 points can get you a free night at a Hampton Inn, which could be perfect for a road trip. This works out to 0.89cpp, a great value for a quick stay.
And finally, at the very bottom of the scale, rooms are available for a mere 5,000 points in select locations. While these properties are few and far between, they can certainly represent great value – for example, a stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Sanliurfa in Turkey gives you a return of 2.54cpp, which is the best nominal value of all the properties we’ve examined.
Like all award programs, you should give some careful thought to the value you’re getting from your points from any redemption opportunity. Generally speaking, I’d be happy to redeem Hilton points around the 0.7cpp mark; with anything lower, I’d consider paying the cash rate or looking at another property.
“No Blackout Dates”
Hilton maintains a policy of having no blackout dates on award stays, which means that it can be ideal to redeem points when cash rates are high, such as during a holiday period or when a special event is in town. However, keep in mind that the No Blackout Dates policy only applies to standard rooms, and that each hotel is free to designate however many or few of its rooms as standard rooms.
Fifth Night Free
When redeeming Hilton points, Silver, Gold, and Diamond members can get the Fifth Night Free when you redeem points for four consecutive nights at the same hotel, which is another way to squeeze even more value out of your points. For example, to stay five nights at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives, you’d only need to redeem 120,000 × 4 = 480,000 Hilton Honors points.
Remember that you can earn Gold status just by holding the American Express Platinum Card, so virtually anyone can take advantage of this benefit.
Pay with Points & Money
In addition to outright points redemptions, Hilton also offers a flexible redemption option known as Pay with Points & Money, where part of the stay can be covered on points, and the remainder using cash.
You can redeem as little as 5,000 points to reduce the cost of a stay, and once the minimum redemption threshold has been reached, additional points can be redeemed in 1,000-point increments. Using Pay with Points & Money typically gives you a value of around 0.8cpp; however, the savings are not perfectly linear.
We ran the numbers on the Parc 55 San Francisco as our example, where a night is retailing for either 70,000 points or $563.80, and plotted out the cash supplement required for each level of points redemption under Pay with Points & Money.
As we can see, the savings are fairly consistent, with a marginal improvement by redeeming more points (i.e., a hypothetical value loss of $18 by redeeming only 5,000 points compared to the optimal scenario of redeeming at least 55,000 points and paying the remainder with cash).
Overall, I wouldn’t worry too much about hundredths of a cent in value, and would simply choose the level of Pay with Points & Money that best fit my needs.
Hotel stays will give you the best value for your Hilton points, but there are a few other options available to you as well, in case you don’t have any upcoming hotel stays planned.
Shopping with Points
Hilton Honors is pretty unique in offering the opportunity to redeem points on Amazon.com purchases. Once your Hilton Honors account is linked to your Amazon.com account, you’ll be able to using your Hilton Honors points at checkout.
The redemption rate is a flat 1 Hilton Honors point = US$0.02, which is unfortunately well below the value of a point when used towards hotel stays.
Hilton Honors Experiences
Similar to Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton also offers a range of experiential redemptions, typically focusing on unique musical or sporting events or food experiences around the world. There is a mix of auction-style opportunities, which can get very expensive very fast, and fixed-rate redemptions like concert tickets.
Transfer to Airlines
Lastly, Hilton Honors points can be transferred to airline frequent flyer programs, with over 40 airlines and transport providers available. Unfortunately, the conversion ratio is typically 10,000 Hilton Honors points = 1,000 or 1,500 airline miles, which isn’t great value by any means.
Using a valuation of 0.7cpp on Hilton Honors points, the airline miles would end up costing between 4.6 and 7 cents per mile to acquire, which is very poor value. Only redeem your Hilton Honors points this way if they’re about to expire and you truly have no other uses for them.
Hilton Honors operates one of the most generous elite status programs among the major chains, especially when you compare the status levels required to enjoy tangible perks like free breakfast to other loyalty programs.
What really makes the Hilton elite program so “easy”, though, is that you can jump directly to a status level simply by holding the right credit card, which is far easier than actually spending so much time in Hilton hotels.
The American Express Platinum Card, as well as the US-issued Hilton Honors Ascend Card, will earn you instant Gold status. Meanwhile, the US-issued Hilton Honors Aspire Card will earn you instant top-tier Diamond status. Hilton Honors Diamond status is also the only top-tier elite status among major hotel chains that can be earned simply by virtue of holding a certain credit card.
Gold members receive free breakfast at most Hilton properties, as well as a complimentary space-available upgrade to the Executive room type. Meanwhile, Diamond members receive access to executive lounges (where available) and improved upgrades to the One-Bedroom Suite room type.
As you can see, opening the right credit card and qualifying for one of these status levels is an easy way to maximize your experience at Hilton hotels.
As with any loyalty programs, there are several tips and tricks unique to Hilton Honors that can help you squeeze even more value out of the program.
No Resort Fees on Award Stays: Unlike other hotel programs, Hilton doesn’t charge resort fees on award stays or promotional free stays (such as credit card free nights). This can add up to signficant additional savings at many aspirational resort properties around the world.
Points Pooling: Hilton offers free points transfers and points pooling among all accounts, which is perfect for sharing your points among your friends, family, or anyone else. You can pool your points online through a very easy and intuitive process, which makes playing in two-player mode a breeze when you’re collecting Hilton points.
Buying Points: Hilton typically allows you to buy points at 1cpp, but frequently puts on promotions where you can buy points at half-price (effectively 0.5cpp). This can be a great way to top up your points holdings at a very reasonable cost in case you have a high-value aspirational redemption planned.
Each account is limited to 80,000 purchased points per year, but as mentioned above, you can pool points among different accounts for free, so…
Read more: When Should You Buy Points?
As the loyalty program of the world’s second-largest hotel chain, Hilton Honors unlocks a world of options for earning free hotel nights, and I’d consider it to be an excellent hotel loyalty program for Canadians to use alongside Marriott Bonvoy.
While earning Hilton points can be a little challenging, as the co-branded credit cards only available through getting into US credit cards, the opportunities for good-value redemptions at aspirational and mid-tier properties alike, as well as the relative generosity of the elite program, make Hilton Honors a program that’s worth your attention.