People often ask me for advice as to which airline or hotel chain they should be loyal to. I certainly have my favorites based on what suits my travel patterns best, but the truth is that there’s no single “best” program, be it on the hotel or airline front. Everyone values things differently, and even when people explain to me what they value most, I still sometimes struggle with making suggestions, since there are so many minor things that can impact which program is best.
For example, as much as I rag on Delta SkyMiles, I’ve recommended a countless number of times that people consider being loyal to them. If their route network suits you or if what you value most are domestic upgrades, they’re pretty darn tough to beat, in my opinion.
On the hotel front, I love Hyatt Gold Passport and Starwood Preferred Guest. I find they do the best job with elite recognition while also having the most reasonable qualification tiers for status.
On one hand it always amazes me how well Marriott Rewards does at the Freddies. They have among the highest elite qualification tiers, and among the fewest published benefits (top tier elites don’t get any sort of guaranteed suite upgrades or guaranteed late check-out, and Platinum members don’t even get complimentary breakfast at resorts). But people love Marriott Rewards. Why? Probably because they have hotels for every budget anywhere you could want to go. And at the end of the day that’s the single biggest thing that drives loyalty, no?
But beyond the “hard facts” of the various loyalty programs, I often find the perspectives others have on programs to be fascinating.
And one of the most interesting recent perspectives I’ve read has been from reader DCS on my post from earlier this year about Hyatt Diamond vs. Starwood Platinum benefits. And it seems DCS is really passionate about Hilton HHonors, because s/he has left eight other comments about how great the program is since then.
Here’s what s/he had to say in response to that post:
Late response to this thread but I am surprised that someone who spends so much time writing exclusively about loyalty programs can be so misinformed.
I am referring specifically to the following claims you made about Hilton:
“Why don’t I love them [Hilton Honors] more? They’re not good with suite upgrades, they don’t offer guaranteed late check-out as an elite benefit, and their redemption rates are pretty horrible.”
Let me unwrap the above, one item at a time:
(a) They’re not good with suite upgrades: This is simply wrong. I am a Hilton Diamond and, unlike Gold Passport Diamond suite upgrades, Hilton HHonors Diamond suite upgrades are unlimited and good even on reward stays, depending on availability (same requirement as at GP), but availability is excellent at HHonors (100% so far for this Diamond)
(b) they don’t offer guaranteed late check-out as an elite benefit: Wrong again. Late check out has always been a HHonors benefit, not only for elites but also for ‘blue members’, i.e. those without status. The only requirement. which is universal in the industry, is that a timely request for late check out be made.
(c) their redemption rates are pretty horrible: It is a trifecta because this claim is also wrong. HHonors purportedly “horrible” redemption rates are a myth. A simple back of the envelope calculation would show that in terms of spend per free night Hilton HHonors offers about the same as Hyatt GP, while your second favorite program, SPG, offers by far the worst value in the industry. If one include point earnings from co-branded credit cards, HHonors offer better value in spend per free than Hyatt GP. The math is really quite simply.
Lastly, you also got this backwards: “If you’re not a super frequent hotel guest, Hilton is a program that’s tough to beat”. Hilton is the program for frequent guests precisely because it offers one of the spends per free night, in addition to everything else that you got wrong.
Now, assuming DCS is an actual Hilton customer and not an employee, I find how vastly different our experiences are to be interesting.
My view on Hilton HHonors
I don’t dislike Hilton HHonors at all for what it is. Since I’m primarily loyal to Hyatt and Starwood, and they have a limited global footprint, Hilton is a great “backup” chain.
And the great thing is how easy it is to get useful status with Hilton. For example, just for having the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express you get:
- HHonors Gold status, which gets you complimentary breakfast and internet, and executive lounge access when available — to me those are among the most useful elite perks
- If you spend $40,000 on the card in a year you get HHonors Diamond status, which is their top tier status — the difference in benefits is marginal, unfortunately
So I’m quite happy with the benefits I’m getting for a $95 annual fee (Rates & Fees) or for $40,000 of credit card spend, but I don’t think I’d be as thrilled if I were spending 40 or 60 nights with Hilton to achieve that status.
But back to DCS‘ perspective on things:
Hilton offers unlimited Diamond suite upgrades!
It’s true, Hilton does indeed offer unlimited suite upgrades as of a couple of years ago. The only catch is that it’s at the hotel’s discretion. Which means absolutely nothing. A hotel can have all suites available, and they’re not obligated to upgrade you to a suite. There’s a huge difference between upgrades being based on availability (as is the case with Starwood) and being at the hotel’s discretion. When they’re at the hotel’s discretion, you have no recourse when they’re still selling a dozen suites online but won’t upgrade you to one.
Suite at Waldorf Astoria Chicago
Hilton offers everyone late check-out!
Correct, Hilton does indeed offer late check-out, which is “based on availability and must be requested.” In other words, it’s at the hotel’s discretion. That’s very different than a guaranteed benefit, where I can check out at 4PM regardless of how full the hotel is.
I’ve been denied late check-out with Hilton several times.
Hilton’s redemption rates aren’t horrible
I’ll concede to DCS that in some cases Hilton’s redemption rates aren’t horrible. I’ve always admitted that their points earnings rates for hotel stays are quite reasonable and sometimes even generous, and there’s no denying that their redemption rates for low to mid range hotels are actually good.
That being said:
- Hilton doesn’t have nearly as many aspirational properties as Hyatt and Starwood, in my opinion, and I’m all about aspirational hotel redemptions (though I realize it’s different for others — but in the previous post I was sharing why I like Hyatt and Starwood, and not why others should)
- Hilton used to have exceptionally good redemption rates for high end properties, so when they jacked up the prices by 100% in some cases with last year’s devaluation, it certainly created the perception that their redemption rates were a poor value
- Hilton doesn’t have any efficient transfer partners, and staying at Hiltons enough to build up a sizable points balance doesn’t sound like a bundle of fun to me 😉
Conrad Koh Samui award rates
Do experiences really differ that much?
Do experiences really differ so much between members?! If so, what am I doing wrong?
The following links will direct you to the rates and fees for mentioned American Express Cards. These include: Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card (Rates & Fees).