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Hilton just announced a flurry of both big and small changes to its loyalty program, known (or formerly known) as “Hilton HHonors.” While some of these changes are clearly positive and should be welcomed there’s one big alteration that comes with a lot of unknown and perhaps a lot of negative potential. Here’s a look at the changes and my personal take on them.
“HHonors” will now be “Honors”
I have to admit, I’m just not a fan of all the cutesy lingo and spelling that reward programs love to incorporate. All the cheesy spellings like “HHonors” and “AAdvantage,” kind of drives me crazy and it doesn’t help that it’s often redundant. And then there’s the unpractical and even more annoying terminology, like Hyatt’s “Explorist, Discoverist” that makes understanding programs even more unclear, and I just don’t get it. So I’m always happy to see stuff like this go.
Thankfully, Hilton is moving toward simplicity with its rebranding efforts. And let’s face it, when it comes to branding, simplicity is winning out, as there’s been a huge shift to simpler slogans, logos, etc. over the past few years.
First, Hilton is changing its group name from “Hilton Worldwide” to just “Hilton.” Second, Hilton is also dropping the double H used in HHonors so that it’s new loyalty program will be known simply as “Hilton Honors.” Obviously, these are a purely superficial changes, but I look forward to the day where I get to ditch the silly spellings for good.
Now for the substantive changes.
Free points pooling
In what I view as a significant upgrade, you will soon be able to pool points for free with up to 10 people. One Mile at a Time writes that “[e]ach member can share up to 500,000 points per year, and have up to two million points shared with them.”
Keep in mind that before you had to pay just to share points with a spouse. While you could get around that by just booking a room in your partner’s name, it still will make things much easier when you need to put points together to meet a redemption. It also puts Hilton Honors on par and possibly even above other programs that already allowed transferring of points to others with restrictions.
Points plus cash slider
You’ll soon be able to book rooms using a combination of points plus cash by utilizing a slider function. Hilton already allowed you to use points plus cash for some (limited) bookings, but it looks like this function will be more universally available (available at more than 4,900 hotels with no black out dates) and might allow you to tweak exactly how many points you want to use versus using pre-determined increments (since they state you can choose “nearly any combination”).
Points plus cash is always a nice option to have for two reasons. One, it can expand your booking options by allowing you to use reward points when you don’t have quite enough points to book a stay. Second, it’s often the case that you can get better value for your points when you use them to redeem with points plus cash. However, it looks like the slider value will be tied directly to the point award value, meaning that you might be losing the ability to cash in on extra value.
So Hilton might be offering more flexibility but with reduced potential for maximizing the value of Honors points.
Hilton Honors points with Amazon
Hilton will be partnering with Amazon and you’ll be able to use Hilton points to make Amazon purchase. Personally, I can’t imagine this type of redemption being worthwhile, as I think the cents per point value will likely be very low. Also, there are already so many different ways to use points to make purchases on Amazon (although Hilton is the first hotel loyalty program to allow this). Still, maybe the redemption rate won’t be so bad and if you have little to no use for Hilton Honors points or really love shopping on Amazon, this might be a worthwhile redemption in any event.
Diamond Member Pause
This is definitely new and different. Gary at View from the Wing, writes that “Diamonds who have held the status at least 3 years and accumulated 250 nights or more or 500,000 base points can request a one-time status extension when not re-qualifying.” So this will essentially will allow you one extension on your Diamond status. While this is nice, those prerequisites are not so easy to meet so this is probably only a perk for true elite members, and not those who obtained Diamond status through more “creative” means, such as status matched.
So those are all pretty positive changes but there’s one more big change happening to the program.
No more award categories
This really shocked me. Hilton is doing away with award categories! What does this change mean for redemption rates? One Mile at a Time states that “Hilton won’t charge more than the current maximum being charged for a given category. In other words, the top hotels will continue to cost no more than 95,000 points per night.” So that’s somewhat comforting, but still enough to make me a bit nervous about the new program for a couple of reasons.
First, having access to award categories and award charts makes planning tremendously more effecient, so I’m not sure how that’s going to play out with the new changes. I’m wondering how will one go about searching for hotels within their points budget and then how will they know how much to save for those hotels? How stable will the prices be or will they fluctuate wildly?
If you’ve ever booked a Hilton award you’ll know that the award charts provides ranges for each category, which can have a wide range. For example, a category 7 redemption can be between 30,000 and 60,000 points while a category 8 hotel can be between 40,000 and 70,000 points. So dramatic fluctuations in award nights for certain hotels are nothing new but will this new policy open up a whole new level of it? Is Hilton on its way to a true revenue-based award system?
Secondly, as Miles to Memories writes, “[w]ithout award categories there is no transparency as to what they will charge” and “[t]his just paves the way for huge price increases down the line.” I think it’s a valid concern to think of this as sort of a slippery slope. I tend to to agree that with the decrease in transparency comes an increase in less consumer friendly changes and in this case, redemption prices might be that change.
I love that they are ditching the cutesy language, and I think the points pooling is a significant upgrade to the program while my feeling are mixed regarding the points plus cash feature. The Diamond pause is a great addition for true elites, and I couldn’t really care less for the Amazon redemption option but that could potentially be useful for some. The final change that removes award categories is concerning for the long-term but at least for now we have reassurance that prices won’t exceed their current caps.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.