Why You Can’t Get Value Out of Hilton Anymore and Amex Fighting Back Against Churners

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Interesting Hilton article (and I love the “middle finger” reference)…this is what actual quantitative analysis on a mediocre program and it’s “enhancement” looks like 🙂

  2. Amex not doing that much I keep getting targeted offers and any analytics would clearly show the churning. I think they like to show the statistic of new accounts as much as the earnings.

  3. @Gary — there is an UPDATE to the linked post in which “Greg The Frequent Miler” writes:

    >>>The more important point, which I previously glossed over, is that the chance of getting very poor value has dropped quite a bit! In the old program it looks like nearly 45% of the time you would get less than .4 cents per point value. In the new program, it looks like you’ll do that poorly only about 20% of the time. That’s a huge advantage of the new program over the old! <<<

  4. @Jason Brandt Lewis – that’s a point I’ve been making since the changes were first announced. However I do not see it as a ‘huge advantage’ at all. You can now get average (low-ish) value for points when it used to be collossally stupid to burn points, and simply made sense to spend cash. But this doesn’t at all mean you get good value on those rooms. Just average value. They’ve killed most of the remaining leverage in the redemption program, what was left after the 2013 bloodletting.

  5. @Gary, I don’t think anyone is attempting to claim that Hilton is the greatest program on the planet. Certainly it lags far behind Hyatt (your favorite) and Marriott/Starwood (mine, in no small part due to the significantly smaller Hyatt footprint), and probably many other chains, as well.

    Personally I tend to stay at Hilton when I’m forced to stay overnight near an airport, or in the face of no viable alternative from either Marriott or Starwood. That said, I recently booked two all-points reservations with Hilton properties in the US, and received a return of 1.027¢ at a Conrad, and 1.036¢ per point from the Curio portfolio, respectively. Granted, Hilton points aren’t worth all that much to begin with — 0.4-0.5¢ each, depending upon whose calculation you use — but that’s why you get so many of them (e.g.: 12x points w/Amex Hilton Honors Surpass card), but receiving 2x value is always a good thing . . .

  6. re: AMEX, I thought you couldn’t churn AMEX cards anyway — that signup bonuses were once-in-a-lifetime per card family . . .

  7. @Gary continues to misfire: “They’ve killed most of the remaining leverage in the redemption program, what was left after the 2013 bloodletting.”

    Regarding that “bloodletting” of 2013, why don’t you substantiate it with some numbers. You keep going on and on about that canard when no objective analysis would prove it. The claim is bogus. All that happened in 2013 was that Hilton increased their award costs, which got ridiculously cheap, to the levels of their competitors — a sound business decision. Trivial modeling would show that after the purported “bloodletting”, Hilton Honors awards costs increased to become virtually identical to those of Marriott Rewards and Hyatt GP, while SPG’s, especially at their “aspirational” top-tier properties, were about an order of magnitude more expensive. I did the modeling AFTER the “bloodletting”, which can be accessed and examined at the following link by anyone interested in a factual analysis rather than in unsubstantiated claims:

    https://goo.gl/Zvlg58

    Please show us your modeling or stop making the bogus claim, because after the so-called bloodletting, an under-performing HHonors program became the vibrant and rewarding program that it remains today, and, Hilton, the company grew at a brisker pace than any other hospitality company, while its competitors — SPG and WOH! — well, I won’t go there this time, but HHonors is not the program that “got killed”…

    You latched onto someone else’s claim to disparage HHonors and are sticking to your guns, even after the original claim has been retracted as mistaken. The “Thought Leader in Travel”…?

    G’day.

  8. I did extensive published modeling in 2013. It’s well-established. 90% increases in points costs for the best hotels is pretty self-evident.

  9. You miss the point. The “devaluation” did NOT make HHonors awards more expensive than their four cvompetitors. It just made them COMPETITIVE because they had gotten too cheap. Only IHG and Club Carlson awards were cheaper and remain that way. In fact, when CC spend is included, HHonors awards got cheaper than HGP’s and MR’s. Another blogger, my favorite actually because he backs his claims with numbers and is “quantitative”, did the modeling, not just for the top rates and top elites as I did, but across the award charts and for lower elites and reached the same conclusion. I saw your modeling, though selective and limited, it painted the same picture. You simply chose to emphasize what made SPG and HGP seem better, but could not hide the fact that SPG’s awards were exorbitantly expensive.

  10. I thought AMEX already did away with awarding churners by limiting the sign up bonus to once in a lifetime per card product years ago, no?

  11. @DCS it is a mistake to include credit card earn in your analysis unless you incorporate the best possible credit card earn from spend with your competitors too. Stack up HHonors + credit card earn against Marriott + CSR earn, for instance, and see how that compares.

    Hilton hadn’t ‘gotten too cheap’ Hilton had already devalued — the only program to devalue — during the financial crisis. I agree it was once a super-lucrative program, of course.

    SPG awards *are* very expensive especially at the top end [I’ve been a critic of that for over a decade], and I have always argued that Starwood is not especially rewarding for in-hotel spend.

  12. @Gary — Even if you do not include the CC earn, HHonors’ award costs are identical to HGP’s and MR’s.

    At least you agree that HHonors was once “super-lucrative”, which blogger-speak for ridiculously cheap (just like HGP’s Diamond challenge was “lucrative”, which meant boneheaded); and that “Starwood is not especially rewarding for in-hotel spend.” Once we have agreed on those facts, then that’s already a validation of my modeling. So, I will let that modeling, complete with glossy charts, I linked to up-thread speak for itself, and then just link to this independent corroboration of that modeling:

    https://goo.gl/0JgM4O

    G’day!

  13. @DCS I’ve done the modeling, have a post scheduled for the next few days.

    Question: what value do you place on a single HHonors point?

  14. I look forward to the modeling post, which will have two independent and concordant modelings to compare to.

    The AVERAGE REDEMPTION value a HH points is 0.4-0.5 cpp (which would be equivalent to about 2.4 starpoints or 1.2-1.5 HGP points, 0.7-0.8 MR points). But for modeling, remember that the closet thing to the cost an award is how much one needs to spend in real currency to afford it. Spend per free night — literally the cost of the award — is points currency-independent because it takes into account both the EARN and REDEMPTION sides of the mile/point equation.

  15. Gary, you really should have read the update to the frequent milers post that you linked to. It turns out that the data did not actually show what he thought it showed. The effect of the new program on high value all point redemptions is fairly minimal. There was an issue with the scaling of the data and also an issue of data scouring with the points and cash redemption information. Greg basically completed refuted his own post.

  16. The only problem I can see creeping in with the “new” HH program is that “aspirational” properties (Conrad Koh Samui, Malides, Seychelles) would be tempted to designate every room as a “premium” award, making them unaffordable as points-only awards to encourage C+P redemptions, which would be the only way to sort of afford them. However, C+P awards as now implemented would still be less affordable than standard awards at such properties even at a maximum rate of 95K points/night.

    That bears watching closely…

  17. @Farnorthtrader I wasn’t making the ‘middle finger’ pretty picture graph point here that Frequent Miler was making. The data remains the same. There was only a small portion of hotels where you were getting 7/10ths of a cent apiece in value. That cohort shrunk by 25% in the data presented!

    Cash and points used to often be a strong value, now it’s an average value.

  18. @DCS you say 0.4 to 0.5 cents, it clusters closer to 0.4 though right? And you’d rather hold cash than an HHonors point also, plus you have to have more confidence in the stability of the dollar than the point, so you should discount further, no?

  19. I may have managed better value at NRT for a coming April night – ¥23K flexible vs 20K points.

    But those are rare.

  20. @Gary — You are still confused about the “value” of points. So, here is the lesson…again.

    That the AVERAGE REDEMPTION value of each HH point is 0.4 cpp or even less does not mean literally 0.4 cent. It means 0.4 cents PER HILTON POINT. Just as one should say 2.4 cents PER SPG POINT or STARPOINT.

    A CENT is a CENT but a POINT is not a POINT if different programs award different number of points for the SAME SPEND. Therefore, cents and be compared to cents but cents/points-currency cannot be compared across programs.

    Do you understand? The reason a starpoint is worth 2.4 cpp is purely arbitrary. SPG decided to express starpoints on a scale that is 6x smaller than HHonors’ points. That’s all. There is no reason for that other than that’s what someone decided to do. So, if the starpoint is on scale that is 6X smaller, then dividing a REAL cent by a number of points on scale that is 6x smaller yields a number that is 6 times bigger. That is why to compare HH points to starpoints, you need to put them on the same scale, by either dividing starpoints by 6 or multiplying HH points by 6.

    2.4cpp/6 = 0.4 cpp
    0.6cpp * 4 = 2.4 cpp.
    ergo 2.4 cents/STARPOINT = 0.4cent/HH POINT. No different

    That is why AMEX awards 2points/$ on the SPG AMEX for on-property spend and 12points/$ for on-property spend on the HH AMEX.

    12/2 = 6. Amex is not stupid to purchase starpoints for 2.4 ABSOLUTE cents each and HH points for just 0.4 ABSOLUTE CENT!!!

    It is how MR knew that using a MR points-to-starpoints ratio of 3:1 would give the same spending power when one currency is converted to the other.

    Bottom line: A CENT/POINT is NOT the same thing as just a CENT.

    I have given that lesson for about 3 years now and it should already have been understood, especially by the “Thought Leader in Travel.”

    G’day!

  21. 2.4cpp/6 = 0.4 cpp
    Messed this up as I am almost always multi-tasking make a lot of obvious error:
    0.4cpp * 6 = 2.4 cpp
    and not
    0.6cpp * 4 = 2.4 cpp

  22. @DCS. You are verbose and condescending, but glad to see that you agree with Gary that a Hilton point is worth .4cents

  23. @Johnny — Read the verbosity and, unlike @Gary, you might learn something. I do not agree with him because to do would be to get it totally wrong.

    A Hilton point is worth 2.4 cents AS a STARPOINT, that’s what neither you nor your hero gets.

    The concept is trivial to understand, but I am tired of trying to shine the light in a space that’s like a black hole 😉

  24. HDishonors again and again. You can’t trust this brand. Hilton makes Delta Skypesos look like angels!
    That Hilton Venice Hotel room will now cost 6Million points and will be offered at a $150K to purchase those needed points!

    At this rate, in a few more years, that 100K Surpass bonus, will be worth $50..

  25. I will freely admit that I am not very well versed in the points game but it does irritate me that I only “earn” approximately 1700 “points” for a one night stay at a category 1 Hampton Inn but that same Hampton Inn “costs” 30000 “points” for a 1 night stay. That means I would have to stay at that Hampton 17.64 nights in order to “earn” 1 free night. Doesn’t seem like a very worthwhile return on investment. And, no, DCS, I don’t want to hear from you how I can earn sign up bonuses, etc., to make staying at Hilton worthwhile.

  26. @Sarah: “And, no, DCS, I don’t want to hear from you how I can earn sign up bonuses, etc., to make staying at Hilton worthwhile.”

    LOL. You want hear it because I do not encourage people to earn points through sign up bonus!

    For HH, the best way to afford their awards is to earn points by staying at their properties, especially when they are running their generally rewarding promos. That’s by design. They chose their large-numbers points currency scale on purpose to make it tough to afford their awards by CC spend — not nearly enough points earned that way. It may be part of the reason why they are thriving. They force head into beds to earn points, unlike SPG that encouraged members to redeem starpoints for free tickets by (a) offering them a favorable transfer rate to miles+ a bonus if they transferred a big chunk, (b) making their award stays too expensive to redeem points for, and (c) having a small-numbers points scale that made people feel like the program was more affordable than HH since the cents/point value was arbitrarily large and misinterpreted by as making the points currency the “most valuable” and they could just earn points through CC spend, except that it was at a snail pace of 1point/$. Triple whammy!

  27. As far as airport architecture is concerned, I don’t think anybody can crow about how great their design is until someone addresses the gate lice problem. I would think a properly designed gate area cold alleviate this problem.

  28. Yea I agree Hilton points are fairly useless, but I stay in Hiltons when I get two free nights off a credit card signup and/or because I have gold status with the hilton card so if I am paying out of pocket its nice to have that status. If I was putting up significant numbers where I was able to earn status based on stays I would likely focus my attention on other programs. Don’t see why amex needs to worry about credit card churners. Their once in a lifetime bonus per card kinda reduces the risk of churners.

  29. Gary as usual is 100% on the mark when it comes to HHonors. I have consciously avoided Hilton since the great deval and cashed in my large balance for a nice family stay at the Waldorf Versailles last summer. Marriott has just as good coverage and pays out points at the same rate. Hyatt has better resorts. Conservatively I would estimate that I have 200 paid nights over past 4 years, so Hilton has literally lost thousands of dollars of potential spend. HIlton is dead to me.

  30. ¡Ay! Enough already . . .

    According to the Hilton website, one received 10 base points per $1 (10x) spent at all Hilton properties/portfolios¹ on your room rate and other eligible room charges (including telephone calls and room service). Through their bonus program, one can opt for “Points & Miles,” receiving the 10x base points and 1 airline mile per $1 “on most stays”; OR, one can choose “Points & Points,” receiving 10x base points + 5x bonus points per $1. So that’s a maximum of 15 total points per $1.

    Once you achieve elite status, there are more bonus points to be had: Silver gets you a 15% bonus (1.5x); Gold, 25% (2.5x); and Diamond, 50% (5x). Now, depending upon your status, you’re getting 16.5, 17.5, or 20 points per $1.

    Now, add in a co-branded credit card: a Hilton Honors Surpass Amex card earns 12x bonus points per $1 spent on eligible purchases charged directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio. Since it comes automatically with Gold Status, presuming you charge your Hilton stay to your Hilton card, you are getting 10x base points (for the stay) + 5x bonus points (for choosing “Points & Points”) + 2.5x bonus points (for Gold status) + 12x bonus points (for using your Hilton Honors Surpass Amex) = 29.5x total points per $1, (24.5x if you choose “Points & Miles”). If you attain Diamond status, you receive 32x points per $1 (or 27x).

    /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

    If you stay at a Starwood property, you earn 2x points on your stay, or 3x if you are a Gold or Platinum SPG member. If you also hold an SPG Amex card, you also earn 2x on the spend, for a total of 5x points per $1.

    /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

    The question then becomes how many Starpoints (or Hilton points) do you need for a similarly priced room in a similar portfolio. Direct comparisons never work, because no single hotel is a member of both chains, but that said:

    — A stay at a Conrad hotel this coming Fall cost me 70,000 Hilton points/night; a stay at a Category 5 Starwood is costing me 48,000 Starpoints/night.

    — A stay at a hotel in Hilton’s Curio portfolio is costing 32,000 points + $150/night; a stay at a Category 6 Starwood is costing me 10,000 + $180/night.

    [NOTE: none of the above examples include sales taxes.]

    __________
    ¹ Exceptions: Hampton Inns and Homewood Suites earn 10x on your room rate only. Home2 Suites by Hilton™ hotels, earn 5x on your room rate only. All Hampton Inns in the People’s Republic of China are currently excluded.

  31. ROTFLMO!!!

    @Boraxo, obliviously: “Gary as usual is 100% on the mark when it comes to HHonors”.

    This is how Gary is 100% as usual:

    DCS says: March 9, 2017 at 9:53 am
    “You latched onto someone else’s claim to disparage HHonors and are sticking to your guns, even after the original claim has been retracted as mistaken. The “Thought Leader in Travel”…?”

    Farnorthtrader says: March 9, 2017 at 1:18 pm
    “Gary, you really should have read the update to the frequent milers post that you linked to. It turns out that the data did not actually show what he thought it showed. The effect of the new program on high value all point redemptions is fairly minimal. There was an issue with the scaling of the data and also an issue of data scouring with the points and cash redemption information. Greg basically completed refuted his own post”

    TRANSLATION: @Gary got it wrong, got call on it, andm predictably, he double down!

  32. Postscript: I should have added the following information.

    a) I hold Gold Status with both Hilton and SPG;
    b) The Hilton redemptions represent a value of 1.027¢ (all points) and 1.036¢ (cash & points), respectively.
    c) The Starwood redemptions represent a value of 2.432¢ (all points), and 3.732¢ (cash & points), respectively.

  33. Speaking of moving sidewalks being done away with…..I just came back to EWR from a flight to ORD on UA. We disembarked from the furthest point from the airport exits (ugh,). My recollection from around six or so months ago, maybe eight, was that there used to be moving sidewalks there, as it is close to a mile to the exit or baggage. Instead there were at least three bars in the middle of the walkway, and all of them were packed with customers. I guess money talks, customers walk.

  34. Hilton’s program is the hotel industry’s version of Delta SkyMiles. And that is not a good thin.

    While Hilton’s program used to be super-lucrative for customers 10-15 years ago, it’s been anything but since for the majority of the current decade at least.

    While the corporate apologists and outliers may try to claim Hilton’s program is still a great value, it generally is not a great value for those who earn the bulk of their points from hotel stays and want to use those points for award nights.

    Hilton’s move toward becoming more explicitly a cash-back kind of rebate program has not been done to favor its customers in the main — it’s been done to fleece its customers with big point balances. And as with Delta, the strategy is to count on elite status qualification and benefits to keep customers hooked/attracted despite the gutting of value gotten from the rebate currency.

  35. @Jason Brandt Lewis says: “The question then becomes how many Starpoints (or Hilton points) do you need for a similarly priced room in a similar portfolio.”

    You are trying to reinvent the wheel. Please follow the link provided above in following posts. The question was a few years back, independenly:

    DCS on March 9, 2017 at 9:53 am for modeling done only for top elites and highest award rates, and
    DCS on March 9, 2017 at 12:16 pm for INDEPENDENT modeling done for general members and mid-tier elites across award charts. which a similar picture up and down the award charts.

    [Heck, even this site did limited modeling and got similar results, which it understated]

    @Jason Brandt Lewis says: “Postscript: I should have added the following information.”

    Your information represents redemption values in cents PER GIVEN POINTS CURRENCY and cannot be compared across program because ALL POINTS ARE CREATED EQUAL.
    Hilton redemption values of 1.027¢ (per all HILTON points) and 1.036¢ (per cash + HILTON POINT) would be equivalent to 6.16¢ (all points) and 6.18¢ (cash & points) TERMS OF STARPOINTS.

    With the above in mind, your redemption values for Hilton Honors points are about twice higher than the AVERAGE., which is typically 0.4-0.5 cent PER HILTON POINT. One of the highest I got was 1.3 at Conrad Koh Samui.

    So, yes, enough already!

  36. Always multi-tasking and thinking faster than I write and omitting words as a result!!!

    “The question was ANSWERED a few years back, independently…”

  37. DCS: “I am almost always multi-tasking make a lot of obvious error.”

    Please tell us you don’t have a day job that’s important.

  38. @Jason – a good attempt, but you missed a number of SPG points in your comparison:
    – A Plat75 is a better comparison vs. Hilton Diamond, thus 4 points/$
    – 500 Starpoints for a Platinum amenity
    – 500 Make a Green Choice points which I’m guessing many if not most take advantage of

    Thus, as exemplified by my stay that just posted this week, I earned 8.4 points/$. I’m guessing there are few SPG Plats only earning 5 points / $ per your example.

    And BTW, it’s 12K-16K points for a Starwood Category 5, not 48K

    (nice to have a reasonable discussion with an actually rational Hilton loyalist BTW, I assumed lack of actual promised program benefits just made them all raving lunatics 😉 )

  39. @SCD: “Please tell us you don’t have a day job that’s important.”

    No, I won’t, because I say I do not, it would be a lie. But you would not believe me either if I told you how much I accomplished while multi-tasking, including posting here, so I won’t tell you.

    Bottom line: none of your business.

  40. @UA-NYC —> Thanks for the catch/corrections!

    a) The Starwood hotel was 18,000 points/night, not 48,000. I had switched from showing a 3-night figure to showing the one-night amount, and though I changed from 210k to 70, I had neglected to change 48k to 18k. My bad; I appreciate it.

    b) re: the Platinum75 level, as an SPG Gold member, it’s quite clear that I’ll never reach that rarified atmosphere, and I quite simply forget that level even existed. ;^)

    c) re: the 500-point Platinum bonus — yes, I was remiss in that, and also the 250-point bonus for Gold members.

    d) re: the “Green Choice” — I made the mistake of choosing it once when I was staying at a Le Meridien with my wife. Oh, boy, was THAT ever a mistake! The problem was not only do they not change the sheets, but they also don’t empty the trash/garbage from the room — something that wasn’t clear to us at the time. I might do it again, but only if I’m staying somewhere alone, and for only a 2-night stay.

    e) And finally, in the FWIW mode, there are of course other ways to maximize your points, too — Hilton has a rate for a “2x Points Package,” as well as adding 500 points every time you use their Hilton app to make a reservation, rather than a computer or the phone; SPG has a 3,000 point bonus rate for “Suite Rewards” (a discount on a suite, plus 3,000 bonus points); and so on . . .

    Cheers.

  41. Lol. Only @DCS could argue in circles to come to the same conclusion as everyone else, only to completely disagree with someone else having that conclusion because of semantics. Not to mention, making error upon error in his comments, and using way too many words. Maybe cutting out the insults and condescension would reduce word count enough so you can understand what you’re writing.

    Glad to know we all agree that a single HH point is not the same as a single SPG point because they have different acquisition costs and different possible redemption values and prices. Lol.

    Btw, claiming that you can’t compare hotel points currencies is ludicrous on its face, similar to saying you can’t compare a USD with a CAD with a GBP or EUR. Points are currencies, and in this case, hotel points themselves can used to “buy” similar (commodity type) products. Therefore, they can be compared, albeit not perfectly. That’s why we have ranges for values and each person places their own value on a point from whatever program.

    Also hint: multitasking is not a good thing. It reduces productivity.

    Multitasking Damages Your Brain And Career, New Studies Suggest
    http://www.forbes.com/…/multitasking-damages-your-brain-and-career-new-studies-suggest/

    On second thought, it explains a lot… 🙂

    (attacking rant from @DCS in 3… 2… 1… )

  42. (As loathe as I am to encourage this . . . )

    @DCS –> “. . . your redemption values for Hilton Honors points are about twice higher than the AVERAGE., which is typically 0.4-0.5 cent PER HILTON POINT.”

    Yes, that was the point (no pun intended). Meanwhile, SPG points are valued at 2.7¢. I can certainly live with a 2.4¢ redemption on all points, though it fell slightly below expectations; and I can happily live with a 3.7¢ return.

    But the bottom line FOR ME (not trying to speak for anyone else here), is not how much I get/burn with which point program, but the money I’ve saved. By spending 210,000 Hilton Honors points, a 3-night stay is only going to cost me <$200 (taxes), rather than over $2k; or, 48,000 Starpoints and approx. $115 in taxes, versus nearly $1,300.

    FWIW, the highest cent-per-point redemption I received was two First Class seats from SFO to JFK for a net of 15,385 points and $11.20, rather than $2,397.98, getting a return of 15.5¢/point¹ — and much higher than the 25,000 + $11.20 that I spent with a different airline to fly 2x FC JFK-SFO, a return of 6.8¢².

    So far, by spending points from various programs, I have SAVED almost $9,000 on a three -week trip to Europe latter this year. THAT is the difference between my wife and I going on vacation, and merely wishing we had . . .

    __________
    ¹ To be fair, were it not for the sign-up bonus on the credit card, I would have had to spend 38,462 "earned" points (i.e.: points earned on spend, rather than
    received "free") for the two tickets. Still, that works out to a 6.2¢-per-point return, and a significant value over the 2.4¢ the points are ususally valued at.

    ² Again, to be fair, were it not for a points match last year, I would have had to spend 100,000 "earned" points, which would have been a 1.7¢ return — still better than the "traditional" value of the points (1.2¢).

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