Picture of an vintage hotel sign in a lobby

Hilton Honors: From Reward to Rebate Program

When I cash my points in for a flight or hotel booking, I derive an almost criminal pleasure from maximizing the cents per point/mile (cpp) redeemed.  If I can book a nearly $700 per night Waldorf-Astoria resort for 80,000 points (.875 cpp) , why would I spend 40,000 points to book a $120 Doubletree (.3 cpp) when I am on a road trip?


“Back in the day,” Hilton used discrete categories to price awards. A category X property would cost Y points. Bear in mind, this was in the past couple of years that this was the case.  This led to awesome opportunities where certain properties ended up being very cheap for one reason or another.  Price spikes due to seasonal or event demand made for insanely good redemptions.  This could be further compounded by Hilton giving away the fifth night free on reward bookings over 5 nights (silver, gold, and diamond elites – silver being available if you have a pulse and a credit score).


These days are no more. Properties now price dynamically.


 My most recent search for Actual Booking (versus data gathering) has been focused on the Millennium Hilton in Bangkok. I adore the property for its location, food & beverage, and awesome service.  The executive lounge attendant noticed that I was reading a book, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and we geeked out on Chinese history (her major). The view from said exec lounge is the main picture of this website! Rather than a fixed-point price, the price in points adjusts to the price in cash.  When I first searched, it was 36,000 points per night. By last weekend, it dropped to 31,000. Now, it’s 30,000.  I am not complaining, as I will benefit in the coming days.


Of course, I would be cursing like an Australian sailor if the points price went the other way.


The other Flyertalkers and myself have noticed a rather interesting phenomenon with our math results – the redemptions have a habit of ending up at around .4-.5 cpp, give or take a .1 cpp or so. This has ramifications for how we view the program.  Many Flyertalkers, including myself, are “guilty” of saving up for “aspirational” redemptions, like the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island (Hey Ryan!) rather than a free night at a Hampton Inn on I-95.


Are there outliers to this formula? Yes.  The Hilton near Vancouver Airport bucks the trend at a whole Canadian penny per point during the summer (really great property, BTW). Such redemptions are increasingly rare. Flyertalk has speculated at the effective rate of a rebate. I’ve seen numbers ranging from 10% to 24% depending how many points are earned.  A diamond elite paying with a top-tier credit card earns more points than a non-status member paying with a non-Hilton card.


This begs a key question. If Hilton moves towards a rebate-system with an easily calculated cash value per stay, why bother with not-fun-anymore Hilton handcuffs when you can just sign up with hotels.com and get a guaranteed 10% back with whatever property you choose?  [We’re leaving aside the frequent devaluations that had me comparing Honors points usage logic with mismanaged developing world currencies – use them today because they’ll be worth less tomorrow.]


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Featured Image credit: Bill Anastas