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Old Jun 13, 11, 5:43 pm   #1
 
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Making sense of Hilton reward options [UPDATED June 2013]

The Hilton loyalty program, HHonors, offers a remarkably (and increasingly) complex array of options to redeem points for hotel stays. This thread attempts to summarize those options.

A few preliminary observations:
  • This remains a work in progress. If you see mistakes, important omissions, or other items in need of correction, please PM me or post a comment.
  • Please don't use this thread for general discussion of the reward options described here. Listed in the topic-specific posts below are various "definitive threads" where such discussion properly belongs.

Introduction

Over 4,000 hotels belong to the Hilton family. These include
  • luxury brands: Conrad Hotels, The Waldorf-Astoria Collection
  • full-service brands: Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Doubletree, Embassy Suites
  • select/limited service brands: Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Hampton Inn & Suites
  • extended stay suite hotels: Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites

(Plans for 2014 & 2015 also include adding a "boutique" brand called Curio, as well as a "lifestyle" brand similar to Starwood's W Hotels.)

Each property falls within one of ten reward categories (number 1 through 10, with 10 being the most expensive). To determine the reward category for a specific property, see the home page for the individual hotel's website. (For instance, the Washington Hilton website shows, on both the home and Hotel Details pages, that this is a category 7 property.) For a master list of hotels in each category, see the resources listed in post #2.

I discuss each of the various Hilton room redemption options in separate posts below:
In addition, I offer some suggestions below for how to get the best value out of your points redemptions.

For a historical summary of certain reward options that are no longer available, see
A note about blackout dates and capacity controls

According to the HHonors terms and conditions (item #4),
Quote:
Reward Stays are not subject to blackout dates or capacity controls, except for Points & Money Rewards™ Rewards, which are subject to both at the participating hotel's and/or Hilton HHonors [...] discretion. All Rewards depend upon availability and some Reward Stays types may not be available on the date of Member's request.
Unfortunately, beginning in the fall of 2011 Hilton allowed several properties -- including some of the most desirable desinations -- to effectively violate the "no capacity controls" rule. With the addition of Premium Room Rewards, certain Hilton hotels and resorts redesignated many of their standard rooms as premium rooms, and are charging exorbitant amounts (in some cases, double or triple the points) for these rooms. Members also report that some hotels have standard rooms available for cash purchase, but that these same rooms cannot be obtained using reward points.

This represents a significant stealth devaluation of the Hilton HHonors program. For further discussion, see

Last edited by beltway; Jun 2, 14 at 9:09 am.
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Old Jun 13, 11, 5:53 pm   #2
 
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Hilton HHonors standard rewards

The most basic HHonors hotel redemption is the reward for one free night in a standard room, applicable to all Hilton properties in categories 1 through 10:

Category 1: 5,000 points
Category 2: 10,000 points
Category 3: 20,000 points
Category 4: 20/30,000 points
Category 5: 30/40,000 points

Category 6: 30/40/50,000 points
Category 7: 30/40/50/60,000 points
Category 8: 40/50/60/70,000 points
Category 9: 50/60/70/80,000 points
Category 10: 70/80/95,000 points

Where there is a point range within a category, hotels may opt to have seasonal pricing, with peak and off-peak periods varying by property. To determine reward pricing for a specific hotel, use the Hilton search tool. (Note the caveat on that page: "The prices within this search tool are periodically updated, therefore these prices are meant to be representative. However, to view the prevailing prices for each hotel you must view hotel pricing on HHonors.com or by calling 1-800-HHonors.")

Except as described in post #3 below (Fifth Night Free for elites), there is no discount for booking more than one night.

To see a list of hotels in each category, click on the "Category [number]" links above. (Note that the results on each page can be filtered by country and, within the US, by state.) Lists compiled by outside sources, which may or may not be current, include
As of July 7, 2014, the distribution of properties is as follows:

Category 1: 38
Category 2: 133
Category 3: 367
Category 4: 1,932
Category 5: 1,008
Category 6: 398
Category 7: 211
Category 8: 105
Category 9: 48
Category 10: 9

Effective April 9, 2014, Hilton has begun publishing a periodic list of new properties, as well as those moving up or down in category. Hilton has also announced on FT that "we will be shifting away from the cycle of annual reward category announcements," and that "we have no plans to make major reward category changes, add new hotel reward categories or make any new major changes to the HHonors program this year [2014]."

Standard rewards may be booked online through the HHonors website or by calling a Hilton reservations agent.

Historical note
Prior to the 2013 program devaluation (and expansion from 8 reward categories [7 plus Waldorf-Astoria] to 10), reward levels were as follows:
Quote:
Category 1: 7,500 points
Category 2: 12,500 points
Category 3: 25,000 points
Category 4: 30,000 points
Category 5: 35,000 points
Category 6: 40,000 points
Category 7: 50,000 points

Last edited by beltway; Jul 27, 14 at 4:36 pm. Reason: update to reflect 2014 changes
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Old Jun 13, 11, 5:54 pm   #3
 
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"Fifth Night Free" benefit for HHonors elites

HHonors members with elite status -- Silver, Gold, Diamond -- qualify for a "Fifth Night Free" benefit on reward stays of five or more nights, up to four free nights on a stay of 20 consecutive nights. (Members may obtain elite status through hotel stays or by acquiring any of the Hilton-affiliated credit cards. For more information on the benefits of HHonors status and how to earn it, see the HHonors website and the FT threads listed in the FT Hilton FAQ.)

In cases where the number of points required per night varies (for example, when a stay includes peak and off-peak nights), the point value of the free night is determined by dividing the total point cost of all nights by the number of nights in the stay. Thus, for a six-night stay in which 3 nights cost 40K each and the other 3 nights cost 30K each, the value of the free night is 35K (210K/6). In this example, the total cost for the stay would be 175K (210K - 35K discount).

Elite members need not take any extra steps to receive the benefit. Any qualifying booking receives the discount automatically. Note also that the Fifth Night Free benefit applies only to standard rooms; see the discussion at the end of post #1 concerning capacity controls.

For more information about this benefit, see the HHonors FAQ, the HHonors terms & conditions, and a detailed sample calculation.

Historical note:
In 2013, the Fifth Night Free benefit replaced the much more flexible and advantageous "VIP Rewards," also referred to historically as "Going Global" (and coded by HHonors as GLON or GLONP awards), described below.

Quote:
VIP/GLON rewards involve stays meeting two criteria:
  • 4 or more nights AND
  • hotel category 3-7. (Above category 7 are the Waldorf-Astoria Collection properties, which have their own VIP Reward chart, discussed below.)

VIP/GLON rewards represent a discount of 15% (for 4-night stays), 20% (5 nights), or 25% (6+ nights) off the standard points rewards. The VIP reward chart from the HHonors website is no longer correct. Instead, use the following chart:



For general discussion concerning VIP/GLON rewards, see the FT thread http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/hilto...ve-thread.html.

Last edited by beltway; Aug 28, 13 at 1:20 pm. Reason: 2013 devaluation
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Old Jun 13, 11, 5:56 pm   #4
 
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Hilton HHonors rewards for Hilton Amex cardholders (aka AXON)

Holders of the US-based Hilton American Express cards (both the regular and Surpass versions) have an additional redemption option. In addition to receiving automatic elite status -- Gold for the Surpass card; Silver for the regular Amex -- and the corresponding VIP reward discount described above, cardholders also qualify for a separate class of rewards (AXON).

AXON rewards are available for 4-night stays at hotels in categories 5 through 10, as follows:
  • Category 5: 130,000 points
  • Category 6: 160,000 points
  • Category 7: 190,000 points
  • Category 8: 220,000 points
  • Category 9: 260,000 points
  • Category 10: 300,000 points

As with standard and Fifth Night Free rewards, AXON rewards apply only to standard rooms, and not to higher room categories. See the discussion at the end of post #1 concerning capacity controls.

For a comprehensive comparison of AXON to Fifth Night Free and standard awards, see post #11 below. Note that in many cases, AXON is now more expensive than a standard reward stay.

For general discussion concerning AXON awards, see AXON Hilton HHonors Award Questions and Information: The Definitive Thread.

AXON awards cannot be booked online, and must instead be made by calling 1-800-920-5649, per the Hilton Amex terms and conditions. Note that this is the Diamond Desk, and the CSR will automatically ask for your Diamond number. Don't be thrown off; if you are not Diamond Elite, simply explain that you are calling to redeem an AXON reward stay.

Historical note:
Prior to 2013, the AXON pricing structure looked very different:

Quote:
AXON rewards are available for 4-night stays at hotels in categories 5 through 7, as follows:
  • Category 5: 125,000 points
  • Category 6: 125,000 points
  • Category 7: 145,000 points

Inexplicably, the AXON rate for category 5 hotels is higher than the VIP reward rate: 125K vs. 119K for a VIP reward. (Inexplicably, because anyone who qualifies for AXON is by definition a Hilton elite eligible for the VIP reward, meaning that no-one should ever need or want to use the AXON5 reward rate.) However, AXON awards provide substantial discounts at category 6 and 7 hotels, as illustrated by the following chart taken from Ric Garrido's blog post:


Some members report that confirmation emails and/or online reservation records for AXON awards sometimes show the higher VIP rate instead of, or in addition to, the correct AXON point charge, although the proper amounts are deducted from their accounts. Also, as noted in the September 2011 thread http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/hilto...ging-axon.html, some American Express websites list outdated AXON point costs (i.e., showing 6 as the top HHonors category).

Last edited by beltway; Jul 3, 14 at 4:07 pm. Reason: 2013 devaluation
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Old Jun 13, 11, 5:58 pm   #5
 
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Points & Money rewards

In spring 2011, HHonors introduced an alternative redemption option allowing members to redeem for award stays using a mix of points and cash. The Hilton FAQ describes the new program as follows:
Quote:
With Points & Money Rewards™, you can book standard rooms using a combination of HHonors Points and money.... Availability and the number of points required for Points & Money Rewards varies by hotel and stay dates at the time of booking.
(My emphasis.) As of October 2013, the points portion is always fixed at 40% of the points required for a points-only standard room reward:

  • Points-only room for 5,000 points -> 2,000 points + $30 co-pay
  • Points-only room for 10,000 points -> 4,000 points + $35
  • Points-only room for 20,000 points -> 8,000 points + $40
  • Points-only room for 30,000 points -> 12,000 points + $50
  • Points-only room for 40,000 points -> 16,000 points + $65
  • Points-only room for 50,000 points -> 20,000 points + $85
  • Points-only room for 60,000 points -> 24,000 points + $100
  • Points-only room for 70,000 points -> 28,000 points + $125
  • Points-only room for 80,000 points -> 32,000 points + $150
  • Points-only room for 95,000 points -> 38,000 points + $200

Cash co-pay amounts shown above are approximate, and may vary (especially at non-US properties, as a result of currency conversion).

As noted above in post #1 (and in the HHonors terms and conditions), Points & Money rewards are subject to blackout dates and capacity controls.

For tips on assessing the value of P&M rates, see the post below on maximizing reward value.

For general discussion of Points & Money rewards, see these FT threads:
Historical note:
Prior to the 2013 program devaluation, Points & Money rewards were structured differently:

Quote:
On October 3, 2011, Hilton removed the pilot program P&M award chart and replaced it with a variable pricing scheme. (h/t Ric Garrido) In most cases, however, Hilton P&M rewards continue to be priced according to the original chart, under which award nights typically cost half as many points as standard award nights, plus a copay:
  • Category 1: not applicable
  • Category 2: 6,250 points + US$30
  • Category 3: 12,250 points + US$40
  • Category 4: 15,000 points + US$50
  • Category 5: 17,500 points + US$60
  • Category 6: 20,000 points + US$70
  • Category 7: 25,000 points + US$85
  • Waldorf-Astoria: 25,000 points + US$100 (or 75-150 Euros)

This effectively results in buying HHonors points for $3.20 to $3.50 per 1,000 points, or roughly one-third of the usual purchase cost. As a result, P&M rewards often represent extremely good values, especially for short stays where VIP and AXON rates do not apply.

Beginning in May 2012, numerous Conrad Hotels in East Asia -- e.g., Bali, Hong Kong, Singapore, Rangali -- have begun to charge a higher cash co-pay, according to a Ric Garrido blog post and reports from FT members.

Last edited by beltway; Apr 16, 14 at 7:19 pm.
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Old Jun 13, 11, 6:00 pm   #6
 
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Premium Room Rewards

In spring 2011, HHonors also introduced Premium Room Rewards, described in the Hilton FAQ as follows:
Quote:
With Premium Room Rewards, you can stay in the best rooms and suites available using HHonors Points. You can book premium rooms and suites at any of our hotels or resorts worldwide, with no blackout dates. As long as they are available at the time of booking, even our most luxurious, oceanfront, penthouse suites can be yours. The number of points required to redeem Premium Room Rewards varies by room, hotel, booking and stay date.
Although there is no standard award chart, a 2011 analysis by Ric Garrido suggested that Hilton's pricing typically turns on two factors:
  • the nightly Best Available Rate for a given room
  • Hilton's apparent policy of valuing points at $0.00334 (one-third of a cent)

Thus, a $709 room will cost roughly 212,000 points ($709/0.00334). This is an extraordinarily poor value.

For more about Premium Room Rewards -- including indications that some properties have relabeled some or all of their standard rooms as "premium" -- see the note at the end of post #1 concerning capacity controls.

Last edited by beltway; Jun 18, 13 at 3:11 pm.
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Old Jun 13, 11, 6:01 pm   #7
 
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Room Upgrade Rewards

Along with Points & Money Rewards and Premium Room Rewards, in 2011 Hilton announced a third new program, Room Upgrade Rewards, which allow you to use HHonors points to guarantee an upgrade to a premium room or suite with no blackout dates. The number of points required to redeem Room Upgrade Rewards varies by room, hotel, and booking date.

The HHonors FAQ explains how Room Upgrade Rewards differ from Premium Room Rewards and discounted room upgrades at check-in:
Quote:
After I book a room, sometimes I am given the option to request a discounted room upgrade. What is the difference between that option, Room Upgrade Rewards, and Premium Room Rewards?
The option to request a discounted room upgrade is based on availability at the time of check-in, but you are not guaranteed an upgraded room. However, with Premium Room Rewards you are guaranteed a premium room or suite at the time of booking. Room Upgrade Rewards lets you upgrade an already confirmed room reservation to an available better room, including suites.
According to the official HHonors terms and conditions governing reward redemptions, Room Upgrade Rewards
  • are "not available for reservations booked via Advance Purchase Rate, reservations that are part of a blocked group of rooms, or reservations that are made with a promotional Free Night Certificate."
  • "can be used only once per reservation." (In other words, no double upgrades.)
  • "can be redeemed at the front desk of some participating hotels," unlike other rewards.
For discussion of hotels offering Room Upgrade Rewards, see the FT thread http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/hilto...oint-cash.html.

Last edited by beltway; Jun 18, 13 at 3:11 pm.
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Old Jun 13, 11, 6:50 pm   #8
 
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Hilton Grand Vacations rewards (timeshare resorts)

Hilton's Grand Vacations Club is a set of timeshare properties in North America and Europe. These are not full-service hotel properties (i.e., no on-site restaurant), although many are situated near more conventional Hilton properties.

A subset of four HGV properties in Las Vegas offers award stays (studios only) for 35,000 points per night, bookable online.

For general discussion of Hilton Grand Vacations rewards, see Quick Hilton Grand Vacations Question.

Last edited by beltway; Apr 12, 14 at 3:30 am.
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Old Jun 13, 11, 8:11 pm   #9
 
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All-Inclusive Resorts

Certain Hilton properties in Costa Rica, Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, and Jamaica are set up as all-inclusive resorts, meaning that the rates cover not only accommodations but also meals, drinks (excluding premium liquor), and various recreation activities. They are

A reward night for 1-2 adults costs a fixed number of points, as indicated above. Additional guests may require extra points, depending on their ages; policies differ widely across the resorts. For complete details, see the individual property websites. Hilton's web page on this redemption option provides only an incomplete list of links to the individual property websites.

All-Inclusive Resort rewards can be booked online or by calling a Hilton reservations representative.

For general discussion of All-Inclusive Resort rewards (sometimes referred to by Hilton as "Distinctive Rewards"), see these FT threads:

Last edited by beltway; Apr 12, 14 at 3:32 am.
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Old Jun 13, 11, 8:35 pm   #10
 
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Packages

Hilton currently offers a reward package at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico. This is not a full travel package -- air and ground transportation are not included -- but instead a fixed-price award for three consecutive nights/two guests. The package includes free daily buffet breakfast for two and two spa treatments.

Current package pricing is 240,000 points. As noted above, a standard three-night reward at the Caribe Hilton (category 6) costs 90,000-150,000 points, and a four-night AXON reward costs 160,000. Members should carefully consider whether the package amenities justify the additional cost in points. (For example, a Diamond elite is entitled to daily continental breakfast for two on any stay, including a standard reward night, at no extra cost.)

Package rewards cannot be redeemed through the HHonors website, and must instead be booked by contacting a Hilton reservations agent.

Last edited by beltway; Jun 18, 13 at 3:28 pm.
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Old Jun 13, 11, 9:30 pm   #11
 
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Strategies for maximizing reward value

Despite the overall complexity of HHonors rewards, members looking to redeem points effectively can normally focus on a few basic principles. This post tries to identify and explain (briefly) those key considerations.

1. Compare to the cash price

Don't focus on points in a vacuum. Know what a room for the desired property/dates would cost out of pocket. Unless you're cash-poor and points-rich, it generally makes no sense to spend 75,000 points on a room you could have for a special $99 rate, or even $169. That's true for two reasons:
  1. You can normally get at least 0.3 to 0.4 cents (US) of value per point. Even at the low end, that makes 75,000 points worth $225.
  2. Unlike points, cash spent on a room earns you what amounts to a rebate: more points (especially if you use one of the Hilton-affiliated credit cards).
Keep the Points & Money option in mind as well. A sample analysis: if a room available at $300/night can be had for a P&M rate of $85 + 20,000 points, grab it. Your 20,000 points are effectively buying $215 worth of room stay, a superb yield of 1.075 cents/point. The general formula:
Code:
Room rate ($) - P&M copay ($)
----------------------------- x 100 = yield (cents/point)
     P&M points co-pay
2. Choosing Among Standard Rewards, AXON, and Fifth Night Free

Trying to figure out when to use which of the three main reward rates can be daunting. Some ground rules:
  1. Don't have the Hilton Amex? No AXON for you.
  2. Staying exactly 4 nights at a category 5-10 property? Here's where it gets complicated. As part of the significant program devaluation in 2013, Hilton realigned the award charts to put AXON reward prices at or near the midpoint of the new Standard Reward ranges. The result is that AXON is better than a Standard Reward only during peak season (and then only if the Standard Reward pricing is at the upper end of the range for that category). Conversely, AXON awards are more expensive during off-peak periods, at least for properties charging in the bottom half of the category pricing range.



  3. Are you an elite staying at a category 4-10 hotel for five nights? Use Fifth Night Free. AXON doesn't apply to category 4, and for category 5-10 properties is always a worse deal than Fifth Night Free. (The overlap between the AXON and Fifth Night Free ranges occurs only when making the apples-to-oranges comparison of AXON+off-peak awards to peak-season Fifth Night Free awards.)


To calculate the best reward option -- standard, AXON, Fifth Night Free (abbreviated as "5NF"), or a combination -- for any given category/duration up to 20 nights, you may download this Excel spreadsheet. (v 1.0 uploaded July 9, 2013; comments welcome.)

Here's a consolidated chart summarizing the best options and cost ranges for stays of 3-9 nights. Green indicates clear winners; yellow indicates cases where the best option varies depending on peak/off-peak rates. Use the Excel spreadsheet to determine actual (and optimal) pricing within a given box.



Historical note:
Prior to the 2013 program devaluation, the chart of optimal redemption options looked like this:

Quote:
Here's a consolidated chart showing the best rate -- standard, VIP/GLON, AXON, or a combination -- for any given category/duration. Green indicates the biggest discounts; bold indicates the AXON sweet spots. Note that for certain longer stays at category 7 hotels, it is cheaper to book back-to-back reservations (AXON plus a standard night, or even two consecutive AXONs) than to book the VIP/GLON rate.


Last edited by beltway; Apr 12, 14 at 3:38 am. Reason: 2013 update
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Old Jun 13, 11, 9:47 pm   #12
 
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Point Stretcher rewards (DISCONTINUED)

Point Stretcher rewards were discontinued in early 2012.

Prior version of this section retained for historical purposes:
Quote:
Hilton periodically offers Point Stretchers -- reward nights at a discount of 40% off standard reward rates -- for selected category 3-7 properties and dates:


To search for availability by hotel brand, use the Hilton Point Stretcher search tool. Unfortunately, there appears to be no way to search by date or city/state/country across the various Hilton brands.

As noted above (and in the HHonors terms and conditions), Point Stretcher rewards are subject to blackout dates and capacity controls.
For general discussion of Point Stretcher rewards, see the FT thread http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/hilto...ve-thread.html.

Last edited by beltway; Jun 18, 13 at 3:30 pm. Reason: 2013 update
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Old Jun 13, 11, 9:56 pm   #13
 
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Waldorf-Astoria Collection standard rewards (DISCONTINUED)

In 2013, Hilton incorporated Waldorf-Astoria properties into its new 10-category rewards system, eliminating the separate W-A rewards chart.

Prior version of this section retained for historical purposes:

Quote:
Unlike other Hilton properties, which fall into reward categories 1 through 7, Waldorf-Astoria hotels belong to a separate, idiosyncratic grouping (with sub-groups).

For the overwhelming majority of W-A hotels, a single reward night costs 50,000 points (low season) or 60,000 points (high season). The exceptions are the Beach House Maldives (50K low/80K high) and the Grand Wailea Resort (70K low/80K high). High and low season dates vary widely across properties.

Oddly, the W-A reward chart on the HHonors website omits several properties, including
Like category 1-7 standard rewards, Waldorf-Astoria standard reward stays may be booked online through the HHonors website or by calling a Hilton reservations agent.

Last edited by beltway; Jun 18, 13 at 3:31 pm. Reason: updated for 2013
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Old Jun 17, 11, 2:07 pm   #14
 
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Waldorf-Astoria Collection VIP rewards for HHonors elites (DISCONTINUED)

In 2013, Hilton incorporated Waldorf-Astoria properties into its new 10-category rewards system, eliminating the separate W-A VIP rewards chart.

Prior version of this section retained for historical purposes:

Quote:
Just as with category 1-7 Hilton hotels, Waldorf-Astoria properties offer elite HHonors members special discounts on reward stays of 4 nights or longer: 15% (for 4-night stays), 20% (5 nights), or 25% (6+ nights) off the standard points rewards.

Hilton does not provide any information on its website concerning W-A VIP Rewards. Copies of older W-A VIP Reward charts may be found on the Hilton UK website (for 2010) and archived on a personal website (2009). Note that these charts contain outdated information (both as to names of W-A properties and as to their classification in the W-A award structure), and should therefore be used only as historical references.

Like standard W-A rewards, VIP reward stays may be booked online through the HHonors website -- which automatically displays the discounted VIP rate if the elite member is logged in -- or by calling a Hilton reservations agent.

Last edited by beltway; Jun 18, 13 at 3:32 pm. Reason: 2013 devaluation update
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Old Jun 25, 11, 6:26 am   #15
 
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Thumbs up Thank you!

This is truly awesome Beltway. Started looking into Hawaii vacation a couple of weeks back -- first time i'd redeemed HHonors points in a few years, and i couldn't figure out what had happened to the old multi-hotel awards. Your summary is a huge help. Thanks!
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