Hilton announced five major changes, plus a name change, for its loyalty rewards program on February 1, 2017. The changes are an improvement for occasional travelers, but likely a devaluation for the road warriors. Real World Machine currently values Hilton points at 0.6 cents each; with the program changes, this value may decline.
Going forward, Hilton will be dropping the double ‘H’ in HHonors and is renaming the program Hilton Honors. A breakdown and analysis of the five other major changes is featured below.
No More Hotel Award Categories
Hilton is no longer maintaining award categories for its hotels. Hotel categories were based on revenue (which essentially worked out to demand, except for some reasonably-priced properties in Asia and the Middle East) and a set number of points, or a set point range, was required to redeem an award night for a standard room. Categories ranged from 1 through 10 and cost 5,000 to 95,000 points per night.
While some properties played games by drastically limiting the number of “standard” rooms, the existence hotel award categories generally ensured that properties couldn’t point-gouge you during periods of high demand. With the removal of categories, this is no longer the case.
Hilton claims that hotels still will not be able to charge more points per night for a standard room than they can under the current category system…but without categories, it’s unclear how anyone is supposed to know if the hotel is exceeding this limit.
I honestly don’t see this change benefiting any Honors members. Ideally, point redemptions will be a lot less costly during low season for properties with seasonal demand, but there really isn’t anything concrete right now to suggest that this will be the case. Unfortunately, I think the most likely outcome long-term is going to be outrageously high prices, in points, for high-demand properties during peak periods of demand.
The fifth-night-free benefit for all Honors elite members who are redeeming points on award nights remains in effect.
Universal Booking Availability for “Points and Money” Stays
You should be able to book a standard room reservation at any hotel in the Hilton Worldwide portfolio using “Points and Money” combination as the payment option starting in late February 2017. You’ll also be able to decide how many points you want to spend on a reservation (including none at all) and then pay the remaining balance with your credit/debit card.
“Point and Money” stays will now become eligible to earn base points on the cash portion of the room rate; previously the entire room rate was ineligible for points.
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I can definitely see the value of this benefit for the occasional traveler who has accumulated a few Honors points, but not enough to redeem for an award stay. This lets the occasional traveler lower the cash price of the hotel room and use up otherwise useless points.
For frequent travelers, the value of this benefit remains to be seen. I think a big devaluation fear is that Hilton will set a fixed rate for points values for Points and Money redemptions below the current value of 0.6 cents per point.
Pool Honors Points
You can now give or accept points from up to 10 friends or family members at no charge starting April 2017. You can give up to 500,000 Honors points and accept up to 2,000,000 Honors points in a given year.
This is a great benefit for a couple in which one partner travels a lot and has top-level Diamond status, and the second partner travels some, but not enough to hit Diamond status. This benefit enables the second partner to transfer his/her points to the first partner. The first partner can then make the award booking with the combined points, and the couple can enjoy the partner’s Diamond status.
This is also a good benefit for families who have a number of occasional travelers, but no frequent travelers. By pooling points, this can enable members of the family to accumulate enough points for award nights, particularly at the more expensive Hilton properties.
Use Honors Points at Amazon.com
Starting in July 2017, you will be able to use your Honors points to make purchases at Amazon.com. No point value has been established yet, but I suspect that you won’t be getting more than 0.3 cents on Amazon.com for your Hilton Honors points (i.e., 50% or less of the value of an Honors point when used for hotel award stays).
This benefit will have some limited appeal to the occasional traveler (five nights or less per year) who is just looking to burn up their handful of Honors points before they expire, but this benefit also will likely be of limited use to frequent travelers who actually accumulate enough Honors points to redeem them for award stays.
Extend Diamond Status
You can have your Diamond status extended one year without meeting the minimum requirements of 60 nights, 30 stays, or 120,000 base points in a given year, starting March 2017. This is a one-time benefit intended to help Honors members whose travel plans are curtailed for a year maintain their top-level status.
To qualify for the extension, you must already have 3+ years of Diamond status and either (a) 250 eligible nights, basically any night for which you received a night’s credit towards your elite status, or (b) 500,000 base points, which works out to $50,000 in spending with Hilton.
Informally, Hilton already proactively offered multi-year extensions of Diamond status to a number of valued customers in the past. It’s nice that this one-year Diamond status extension is now a published benefit, but that’s about it. This benefit should appeal to people who have to cut back on travel for a year due to things like health/medical issues or pregnancies, but is probably of limited value to most other Honors members.
Changes That Didn’t Happen
There was some hope that some new competitve benefits would be added when Hilton announced in early January 2017 that changes were coming to the Honors program. But none of the following benefits were added:
Overall, I’m not seeing a huge upside in these changes to the Honors program except for occasional travelers. For frequent travelers, the loss of hotel award categories and the expected uniformity of Points and Money booking options quite possibly means a devaluation in the value of an Honors point.