Why Hilton Honors is the best loyalty program for luxury backpacking

Backpacking and luxury usually don’t go together all that well. But that’s exactly what we do when we get the chance. In this post we want to teach you, how to use Hilton Honors in order to achieve this. In my opinion, Hilton Honors is the best loyalty program for the budget-conscious traveller. Why? Let’s start off with an example:

A few weeks ago, we stayed in a suite at the DoubleTree hotel in Kuala Lumpur and paid US$25 per person and night, including a huge breakfast, pool usage, free drinks in the evening and more…

The entrance:

Hilton Honors best loyalty program DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur

The lobby:

Hilton Honors best loyalty program DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur

The suite we stayed in:

Hilton Honors best loyalty program DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur

The breakfast restaurant we could indulge in every morning:

Hilton Honors best loyalty program DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur

And last but not least, free snacks and drinks in the lounge on the top floor with amazing views of the city:

So how did we manage to get all of that for less than the price of a hostel dorm bed in a city like Sydney? Mostly thanks to the knowledge of how to use the Hilton Honors program in our favour.

Generally speaking, a group or chain like Hilton wants you to use their loyalty program in their favour. Otherwise they wouldn’t be running it. But to get the best value out of it, this is where you have to turn the tables.

So back to our example: With Hilton Honors, you can earn and redeem points. If you are short of the required points for a redemption, you can purchase extra points. These points cost you US$10 per 1.000 points, but every once in a while, there are promotions where you get 100% bonus on your purchased points. That means, in the end you’ll only pay US$5 per 1.000 points. These promotions come around at least three times a year and usually last for a while. You can buy up to 80.000 points each calendar year, before any bonuses.

Buy points with a discount here. Current 100% bonus promotion valid until 3rd of May!!!

In some cases, in can make great sense to pay a hotel exclusively with purchased points instead of normal cash. Pretty much every hotel in the whole Hilton portfolio is bookable with points. This includes the luxury brands such as Waldorf Astoria or Conrad, the mid range properties like DoubleTree, Curio, or Hilton itself, as well as some lower level hotels such as Garden Inn or Hampton.

A short overview of how the points system works:

The amount of points required for one night is generally calculated by how much money you’d have to spend to book that specific night. For example, the same hotel could be 40.000 points a night in high season and 20.000 points a night in low season, depending on the cash price you’d have to pay. The good thing is: There are caps in place for standard rooms at all hotels, which can’t be surpassed. While at most hotels these are set reasonably or quite high, at some properties the caps are very low, compared to the usual retail prices of the hotel. And those are the ones we’re after!
A while ago, all hotels were put into one out of ten different award categories. These are no longer in place, but they still determine the caps I mentioned. The following are the maximum point values, that can be charged for a night in a standard room at a hotel of these categories:

  • Cat. 1 – 5.000 points max. per night
  • Cat. 2 – 10.000 points max. per night
  • Cat. 3 – 20.000 points max. per night
  • Cat. 4 – 30.000 points max. per night
  • Cat. 5 – 40.000 points max. per night
  • Cat. 6 – 50.000 points max. per night
  • Cat. 7 – 60.000 points max. per night
  • Cat. 8 – 70.000 points max. per night
  • Cat. 9 – 80.000 points max. per night
  • Cat. 10 – 95.000 points max. per night

Now if we buy these points during a bonus promotion at US$5 per 1,000, we’re essentially spending no more than the following money on these hotels:

  • Cat. 1 – US$25 max. per night
  • Cat. 2 – US$50 max. per night
  • Cat. 3 – US$100 max. per night
  • Cat. 4 – US$150 max. per night
  • Cat. 5 – US$200 max. per night
  • Cat. 6 – US$250 max. per night
  • Cat. 7 – US$300 max. per night
  • Cat. 8 – US$350 max. per night
  • Cat. 9 – US$400 max. per night
  • Cat. 10 – US$475 max. per night

Another nice side effect: There are no additional surcharges, taxes, resort fees, etc. if you book with points. When you book a normal rate, in some places like Bali or the Maldives, the additional charges can add up to more than 20% extra.

Getting the best deals out of this:

Now, there are two sorts of hotels which typically are a bargain on points more often than not.

  • Cat. 1 or 2 hotels which are normally priced at around US$100 per night, like in China, Egypt or Mexico.
  • Cat. 9 or 10 hotels which are normally priced at US$700 per night or (a lot) more, like in Hawaii, the Maldives or South Pacific.

And while there are some amazing deals to be had with those very expensive properties, we like to focus on the backpackers budget. So what you want to do is find the nicest properties with a 5,000 or 10,000 points cap per night.

11 examples with a 5,000 point cap per night:

  • DoubleTree Jiaxing, China
  • DoubleTree Ningbo Beilun, China
  • DoubleTree Panama City, Panama
  • DoubleTree Wuxi, China
  • Hilton Alexandria Corniche, Egypt
  • Hilton Garden Inn Bali Airport, Indonesia
  • Hilton Garden Inn Istanbul Atatürk Airport, Turkey
  • Hilton Hurghada Plaza, Egypt
  • Hilton Salalah, Oman
  • Hilton Sharm Dreams Resort, Egypt
  • Hilton Sharm Waterfall Resort, Egypt

11 examples with a 10,000 point cap per night:

  • DoubleTree Kazan City Center, Russia
  • DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • DoubleTree Xiamen Haicang, China
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Mexico City Centro Historico, Mexico
  • Hampton Warsaw Airport, Poland
  • Hilton Alexandria Kings Ranch, Egypt
  • Hilton Garden Inn Shanghai Hongqiao, China
  • Hilton Foshan, China
  • Hilton Pyramids Golf Resort, Egypt
  • Hilton Sanqingshan Resort, China
  • Hilton Sharm el Sheikh Fayrouz, Egypt

For example, look at the Hilton Salalah Resort in Oman, where you can stay for just 5,000 points or US$25 per night. With paid rates, you’ll rarely pay less than US$200 here:

Or the DoubleTree Jiaxing not far from Shanghai in China, which you’ll get for only US$25 as well:

If you’re willing to spend 10,000 points or US$50 per night, the DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur is an amazing option, as you saw at the start of this post. Other properties that make for a good redemption are for example the Hilton Alexandria King’s Ranch in Egypt, which normally runs at over US$200 a night:

This ideally located Hampton Inn & Suites property in Mexico City is also worth a look. It’s not only placed near, but actually inside a historical building, right in the old town quarter of the city. What a great location, that would usually set you back by a lot more than just US$50:

Another very special location in the Hilton Sanqingshan Resort in China:

What you also have to keep in mind is that you can share these hotel rooms. With your partner, with your friends, with your tavel companion. Every Hilton hotel room accommodates at least two people, often three and sometimes four. A hostel bed you have to pay per person.

But it keeps getting better: When you redeem points, you get every fifth night for free! That’s if you’re holding a status with Hilton Honors. And before you say that’s never gonna happen – it’s almost ridiculously easy! You can get the follwing levels:

  • Silver – At least 4 stays or 10 nights per calendar year
  • Gold – At least 20 stays or 40 nights per calendar year
  • Diamond – At least 30 stays or 60 nights per calendar year

And guess what: Even the nights that you purchase with Hilton points count towards these status levels! So you can get Silver after four seperate one-night stays, which you can have for as little as USD25 each. After that, you’ll enjoy every fifth night on points for free, meaning the average cost of one night would go down from US$25 to US$20, or from US$50 to US$40, given you stay for exactly five nights.

Gold or even Diamond are a lot harder to achieve of course, but if you travel around a lot, it might work out for you. But even if not, there are ways around these requirements! Check, whether Hilton offers a credit card for your home country. Usually, Gold status is included by literally just owning the credit card and paying the small annual fee. If you put enough spendings on this card (e.g. US$20,000 a year), you’ll even be upgraded to Diamond, regardless of your stay activity. These credit card offers are different for each country though.

And it’s worth it! You always get free breakfast for at least two people in your room. If you feel like it, you can have it deliverend right up to your bed and don’t have to pay for anything apart from the actual room delivery charge or a small tip. You get access to the executive lounges with free snacks and drinks all day – the best ones even offer a complimentary cocktail menu in the evening. You get more points for your stays, free water bottles in the room, complimentary pool or spa use, late check-out and it just adds up. What we love most besides the breakfast are the free room upgrades though. Sometimes you don’t get much, often it’s quite nice (for example a corner room with a view), and occasionally they treat you to an amazing suite.

So this is, how we stayed in Kuala Lumpur for US$25 per person and night, how we got our suite, how we enjoyed our free breakfast, free snacks, free beer and so on 🙂

More info on all the benefits here.

Of course, after all you don’t get the typical travel experience when staying in a hotel like this, compared to a hostel. But if you’re travelling with your partner, this can be a real treat at very affordable rates, depending on where you are. Or if you’re exhausted from partying nonstop and just need a nice place to recover for a couple of days.

Right, that’s it on the cheap rates. Be sure to look out for promotions. For example, in Kuala Lumpur we got 2,000 points per night back due to a promotion. This promotion would give you 2,000 bonus points for each night you book between February and April. Even if originally paid the night with points! That made the whole thing even better.

Now, one last thing. If a special occasion comes around and you do want to splash your cash, there are a few very good options too. Remember the hotels capped at 80.000 or 95.000 points that I talked about earlier? That equals US$400 or US$475. A whole lot of money. But if the room would normally cost you US$1.500 a night, it’s still a pretty sweet deal.

Let’s take it to the extreme, because some hotels do charge these prices. Like the Conrad Bora Bora Nui or the the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, which you can see here:

At this hotel, a normal standard night would set you back around US$1,400 plus US$300 in taxes and service charges. You can also cover this by 95,000 points, available for purchase by spending US$475 altogether, with no additional taxes. Even though this has nothing to do with travelling on a budget – it is quite fascinating what’s possible. And since you can use this kind of this at any given scale, I’m sure you’ll find the best use for yourself!


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About the Author:

Hey! We're Emma and Yannick! A travel blogging couple who met in Thailand in 2014, and since then we have visited over 20+ countries with no plans to stop! We travel the world in luxury, without paying the price for it, through travel hacking and insider knowledge. Through this, we love to help and teach others to travel well for less, just like we do!

2 Comments

  1. Elena (@TravelingBytes) March 28, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    I’ve been using Hilton Honors for 3 years by now. It is a good program, and all perks and benefits you described are true and valuable ones. There is a catch, though. Outside of the US, Hilton Hotels are in relatively short supply. Often, there are no Hiltons in places I am visiting. Arguably, it could be that I am unlucky with choosing destinations ;).

    • Emma Lomas April 6, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      Hi Elena!

      That’s great that you use Hilton Honors too! Oh really? Try China, there are hundreds there in places we had never even heard of!

      Happy Travels!
      Yannick

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