Is being a Hilton Honors member actually worth it?

Dec 10, 2021

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Even during a pandemic, my job is to write about travel.

That means I spend a lot of nights in hotels each year. Some are incredible luxury properties worthy of 3,000+ word reviews, but many are forgettable, cheap and convenient for short overnight stays wherever my work and personal travel takes me.

Sometimes all I need is a clean, quiet bed to sleep in for a few hours before a very early start the next morning. In these instances, I’m looking more for a two-figure Holiday Inn than a four-figure Four Seasons.

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With so many nights to book each year, it makes sense to pick a hotel programme to focus on, both to earn and redeem points, and earn elite status. While my TPG U.S. colleagues rave about World of Hyatt and their Globalist statuses, in Europe it’s not realistic because the lack of properties means it’s less likely the destination I’m staying in will have a Hyatt property, versus a Hilton, Marriott or IHG property. It makes it harder to both earn and use Hyatt status.

I decided to pick Hilton Honors to focus on this year for my discretionary hotel stays and almost 12 months later, I’m really happy I did. Here’s why.

Related: How to choose a hotel loyalty programme

In This Post

1. Free breakfast for Gold members

My starting point in choosing my hotel loyalty programme for 2021 was deciding in which programme I could get a good head start on elite status immediately. My Platinum Card from American Express U.K. provides four different elite hotel statuses, though realistically the Hilton, Radisson and Marriott ones were the only suitable choices for a large European footprint.

I chose Hilton because Gold members receive free breakfast on stays, while Marriott and Raddison Gold members do not. It really was that simple. The breakfast has now been offered as a food and beverage credit in the United States this year instead – that has been fine by me as most of my stays have been in Europe, where this enhancement does not apply. For my U.S. stays this credit has covered a suitable breakfast.

Related: The perfect way to wake up: Why hotel room service breakfasts are better than you think

Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, Curio Collection by Hilton (Photo courtesy of Hilton)

2. No penny pinching for elites

Technically, only a continental breakfast is offered for Hilton Honors Gold members. However, where a hot buffet has been available, in each of my many stays this year, this has always been provided at no extra cost. I haven’t even needed to ask.

I was recently enjoying breakfast at a fabulous Marriott group property with my TPG colleagues, several of whom hold the higher platinum status in Marriott’s own Bonvoy programme. The Bonvoy elites were politely, but firmly told their platinum status only covered a continental breakfast and if they wanted any hot food they would each have to pay a surcharge. Note that Gold status in the Bonvoy programme does not include any breakfast at all, while I’ve consistently enjoyed excellent hot free breakfasts with my Hilton gold status.

3. Endless bonus points promotions in 2021

I can’t remember the last time I only earned a standard number of Hilton points for a stay in 2021 as they have rolled out promotion after promotion to encourage people to start travelling again. Every stay for the last three months, for example, has earned double points.

My personal best this year was when I was able to stack their elite status bonus for gold members, with their More Nights, More Points promo that offered double points for two night stays, and triple points for three or more nights as well as an Amex cashback offer. A two-night stay at the Doubletree Liverpool saw me earning an incredible 58 points per £1 spent.

4. An easy track to top tier status

Like other programmes, Hilton adjusted their elite qualifying requirements in 2021 to reflect the simple fact that most people were travelling a lot less than usual. With automatic gold status from my Platinum card, it means I only had to manage 15 stays, or 30 nights in the 2021 calendar year to reach top tier diamond status.

With plenty of cheap and cheerful one night stays this year I’m on track to earn Diamond status by the end of this month and keep it until at least April 2023.

Award nights, as well as paid nights count towards your status goals which I love.

The Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach. (Photo courtesy of Hilton)

5. Properties to earn and redeem points everywhere

Hilton has excellent coverage in the U.K. and Europe and more often than not, there’s been a property available at whatever destination I’ve been searching for, from Milan Malpensa Airport in Italy, Reykjavik Iceland to Antwerp, Belgium. It’s very convenient knowing that when I need a night somewhere specific, it’s highly likely a Hilton property will be available to me, usually a range of different properties – a Hampton if I want something no-frills, a Doubletree for something fancier, for example.

With continued uncertainty around long-haul travel, I’ve taken a “earn and burn” mindset with my Hilton points this year – I’ve earned so many points through the various promotions that each time my Hilton Honors balance reaches around 50,000 points, I look at redeeming for an upcoming night or two to keep the costs down. Saving up points for years for that once in a lifetime overwater villa in the Maldives doesn’t seem as realistic as it used to – for now I’m happy to be able to regularly keep my travel costs down.

Related: My stylish Nordic friend: A review of Canopy by Hilton, Reykjavik City Centre, Iceland

6. Great dispute resolution

I did have one bad Hilton stay this year. As I explored Hilton’s vast portfolio I decided to try and stay in as many of the group’s 18 different brands as possible — I’m currently up to 10. This led me to a night at a Tapestry Collection hotel in the United States last month which was a rare failure in my Hilton journey. I was given the worst room in the property right above the entrance to the rowdy rum bar next door which meant for a very disrupted night’s sleep.

The hotel itself could not care less about my experience at the time, so I gave specific feedback to Hilton that I did not think the property was worthy of being a Hilton group property.

Hilton came back to me within 48 hours with an apology and 10,000 Honors points compensation. I was happy with that.

7. Excellent elite status recognition

Probably my favourite thing about Hilton Honors this year has been how consistent they have treated me as an elite member. Across multiple countries, I’ve received the exact same “thank you for being a Hilton Honors Gold member Mr. Smithson” welcome message every time.

A friend of mine recently used his Marriott Bonvoy gold status from his Amex Platinum for a stay in Manchester and the only perk he was provided was a slightly later check out. He suggested to me that the free Bonvoy Gold status was a “scam” which really contrasted with my experiences at Hilton this year.

As an example, last month I stayed two nights at the Hilton Antwerp in Belgium. I redeemed Hilton Honors points for the stay, so it didn’t cost me a cent, but just by adding my Hilton Honors Gold status I received:

  • An automatic upgrade to an Executive Floor room without even asking, and the ability to choose my own room from floorplan on the Hilton app
  • Early check-in — the hotel cheerily advised me through the app that my room was ready from 11 a.m. onwards
  • A dedicated priority check-in queue
  • A welcome gift of local Belgian beers and chocolates
  • Free breakfast each morning (cooked, not just continental)
  • Free evening drinks and hot snacks each evening in the Executive Lounge as I had been upgraded to an Executive Floor room
  • Late check-out at 2 p.m.
Photo by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy

Bottom line

Hilton might not have the most aspirational properties in the world (though Conrad New York recently was absolutely flawless), but for my travels in 2021, it’s been a satisfying journey. I’ll hit Diamond by the end of the month which will provide even more benefits in 2022. While being diamond at their lower-end Hamptons and Hilton Garden Inns is unlikely to provide much more than some extra points compared to having Gold status, it’s a different story at their luxury brands.

With eight Hilton brands left for me to try (Waldorf Astoria, LXR, Signia, Embassy Suites, Tempo, Tru, Home2Suites and Hilton Grand Vacations) it will be fun to give my Diamond status a spin at some of them to see just how far my loyalty can get me.

Featured image by Summer Hull / The Points Guy

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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