Maybe the Hilton Free Nights Really Are More Valuable

I complained earlier that I don’t think the two free weekend nights you get with a Hilton Reserve credit card are any more valuable after the recent devaluation of the Hilton HHonors award chart. This card offers two free weekend nights after you spend $2,500 and pay an annual fee of $95, plus you get free Hilton Gold status for as long as you hold the card. Spend $10,000 and you get a third night.

While the cost of award nights in terms of points has certainly increased, two nights is still two nights. I had argued that the cash price for those hotels didn’t change, so the certificates’ value was the same.

The best argument I’ve heard in favor of free night certificates being more valuable is that those certificates were always meant for aspirational properties — exactly the sort that you don’t pay for with cash. I decided to take a second look and run with that angle instead  As always, you are free to disagree with me. This post is just a thought experiment, but I encourage you to chime in.

The new Category 10 will have 10 properties after Hilton revamps its award chart:

  • DoubleTree Guest Suites Times Square
  • Grand Wailea
  • Conrad Koh Samui
  • Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
  • Conrad Tokyo
  • Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa
  • Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa
  • Hilton Maldives / Iru Fushi Resort and Spa
  • Hilton Odawara Resort and Spa
  • Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort and Spa

Of course, there are plenty of other excellent hotels in Categories 8 or 9 that we might still consider aspirational, but I don’t need the entire list to make my argument.

While the high cost of the DoubleTree Guest Suites in Times Square is probably what got that property into the vaunted Category 10, that alone doesn’t make it an aspirational property. There are plenty of other good hotels in New York, and I’m not sure many of you would ever call DoubleTree an aspirational brand (even if the room is a suite).

Defining aspirational properties is just as subjective as defining the value of a point, mile, or free stay. If you would have paid $500, then a free stay is worth $500. If you would have only paid $150 without it because of, say, a limited budget, than the free stay is only worth $150. Likewise, if you had already aspired to stay at the Conrad Koh Samui, then a free night there can be highly valuable. If you would rather stay somewhere else but are stuck with a Hilton free night award, I won’t say it’s worthless but it clearly is not worth as much.

Take Tokyo for example. We’ve all heard wonderful stories about the Park Hyatt Tokyo, especially the New York Bar, which received greater attention due to the film Lost in Translation. I’ve heard much less about the Conrad Tokyo. It’s still excellent since it is, after all, a Conrad! But I don’t aspire to stay there.

When I think of Tokyo or the Maldives, I think of the Park Hyatts at those destinations. I forget Hilton even has hotels there. When I think of Koh Samui, then I think of the Conrad.

Here’s a test for what counts as aspirational. Like any kind of “free night” or “free flight” award, there are deadlines on their use. You should not apply for the Hilton Reserve or the Hyatt credit cards if you don’t already have some idea of how you’ll use the free nights. You don’t really aspire to something once it’s within your means.

I recently had to request that Hyatt extend Megan’s two free nights by an extra month so we would still be able to use them after our original plans fell through. We were planning to use them at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Instead, it’ll be the Hyatt Regency Maui. I like this hotel a lot, but I don’t really consider it aspirational. I’ve gotten less value from those two free nights than if we had used them as originally planned, and it’s not just because the Hyatt Regency Maui is a cheaper property.

Having considered this new angle, I am now willing to agree that Hilton’s free weekend night awards have become more valuable. I do this under the condition that your plan for those free weekend nights is for truly aspirational properties. You saved up your Hilton HHonors points to stay at a truly amazing place like the Conrad Koh Samui, and now Hilton wants to double the cost by making your points worth less. That sucks. But you sure aren’t going to pay cash. Free nights have become the only choice.

If you happen to be a billionaire — either in cash or in points — then the free nights probably haven’t changed after all. Likewise if you never particularly cared for the Conrad and would be just as happy at the InterContinental. You still have options. And that is why I say valuation is a personal decision.

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  • Bill n DC

    DoubleTree Guest Suites Times Square: NW Corner suite on floors in the mid 20s is very sweet look both west and north, plus actually see the street in TSq Free Bfast as HHonors Gold + Cookies :-) I’d use free weekend nights here (again) Only other Cat 10 I’m interested in is Grand Wailea, but want to try Big Island 1st. Beaches – Shorter plane ride to wonderful inexpensive place in Rivera Maya

    • Scottrick

      Whereas I’d probably rather avoid NYC altogether 😉 Glad to hear you enjoyed your trip!

  • Paul Allen

    I am a billionaire and the free nights have not changed anything

  • Greg

    The Conrad Tokyo is probably the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at in my life. I received lounge access and a suite upgrade, all on a points stay.

  • Andrew Pechersky

    Hyatt Regency Maui is my favorite too.

  • Alan

    Interesting – I hardly ever even consider Hyatt as a brand when looking at hotels, I guess just because they are so few of them in Europe. I’ve stayed in an Andaz once (in the US) and that’s it! So many more from other brands – it means I don’t even think of Hyatt properties as aspirational as I don’t even know where they have them! Just goes to show the difference for each person.