Quick hit: new Hilton all-inclusive award pricing is great

I earn a lot of Hilton HHonors points, and I'm going to be earning even more than usual this week, so I decided to take a look at some of Hilton's all-inclusive resorts to see if I could lock in some award space for next Presidents Day, since I had such a good time in Jamaica this year, and I remembered having a terrible time finding award space at Hilton's Rose Hall all-inclusive resort. While checking out the current award space availability, I discovered some pretty odd pricing anomalies — or features, if you prefer.

Searching for flexible dates doesn't work great (and never has)

When you search for flexible dates on the Hilton website, you'll be given something that looks vaguely like a flexible date search. For example, here's a search for flexible dates in July of this year:

This looks like you've got some expensive premium availability at the beginning of the search period, some not-unreasonable premium availability for a few days, some less-expensive award space for a couple days, one date of low-level availability, 3 sold-out dates, and then some more premium availability. That's not what's happening.

Here are the actual lowest-priced rooms I could find on the dates during this search period:

  • June 24: 70,000
  • June 25: 70,000
  • June 26: 65,000
  • June 27: 65,000
  • June 28: 65,000
  • June 29: 65,000
  • June 30: 70,000
  • July 1: No availability
  • July 2: No availability
  • July 3: No availability
  • July 4: 115,000
  • July 5: 65,000
  • July 6: 65,000
  • July 7: 70,000
  • July 8: 70,000

The award space on June 30 seems to flicker in and out of existence depending on whether I'm logged in, whether I'm doing a flexible search or a date specific search, etc. The search results shown on the website seem to be very path-dependent.

If this continues, it's a huge improvement over the old Hilton HHonors

Once I noticed these pricing anomalies, I decided to see whether I could find any more extreme prices. Here are a few weird prices I found checking the next few months

  • April 9: 70,000 (0.76 cents/point)
  • May 31: 45,000 (0.58 cents/point)
  • June 1: 50,000 (0.58 cents/point)
  • July 23: 41,000 (0.49 cents/point)

My original plan was to check each of the next 12 months and find the cheapest date with points. That ended up not being feasible because the Hilton website is terrible. It errors out after every 2-4 searches, periodically signs you out, and inflicts all sorts of other madness on you.

The key takeaway here isn't that there are atmospheric points redemptions (although they're squarely above Hilton imputed redemption values): the value you get from points depends on both the number of points charged and the comparable revenue rate, and the lowest points costs are on nights when revenue rates are in $200-400 range. Really brag-worthy redemptions are on nights when revenue rates are in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, and you're able to redeem a "mere" 95,000 points.

The real takeaway here is that by being willing to reduce point costs so dramatically on nights with low revenue rates, Hilton has increased the reliability of their points' value. Prior to the revaluation, the Hilton Rose Hall was 95,000 points per night regardless of the revenue rates available. In fact Hilton had a wide range of nice properties where on cheap nights it was difficult to justify redeeming points. If points costs will fall to match low revenue rates, it is easier to justify earning large quantities of Hilton points knowing that you'll almost always get close to, or above, their imputed redemption value.

The app works great

Last night after I scheduled this post I suddenly wanted to check over a few more things and opened up the Hilton app on my phone. After a few moments, I realized, "this isn't generating any of the errors the website was giving me."

If you think about there being a fixed "real world" of Hilton award space out there in the universe, it appears to me that the app is designed to tap into that world directly, while the website presents only a distorted image of it and requires you to rotate and adjust the lens in order to see different bits and pieces of the real world of award space.

Unfortunately the app doesn't have a flexible date search function, but since the one on the website is so terrible I hesitate to even say this is a disadvantage of the app over the website. In any event, if you know the dates you're interested in I highly recommend going straight to the app and skipping the website completely.

Exceptions, exemptions, and exclusions from hotel rewards and benefits

After 4 years involved in travel hacking, I still find myself learning something new almost every week. For example, since until this year I'd never had Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond elite status before, it had never occurred to me to dive into the gritty details of Suite Upgrade Awards.

There are in fact quite a few popular benefits of hotel loyalty programs that have cavernous exceptions you may not know about. Here are four.

Hilton HHonors elite 5th night free exceptions

Elites in the Hilton HHonors loyalty program get their 5th night free on all-points award stays (not on "points and money" awards).

But the Hilton HHonors terms and conditions conceal a landmine: the 5th-night-free benefit "[d]oes not apply when stay is booked as part of a Reward Stay offer, package, or promotion offered by Hilton or any of its partners, or at All-Inclusive properties or Distinctive properties."

"All-inclusive properties" is simple enough, although I consider it a bit cheap since there are non-all-inclusive properties that cost more points per night than Hilton's all-inclusives while still managing to honor the 5th-night-free benefit.

That leaves the question: what are "Distinctive" properties? Amazingly, the Hilton HHonors terms and conditions don't say. For that, we'll need to turn to Citibank.

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve weekend night exemptions

You may have heard of the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve weekend night certificates offered as a signup bonus after spending $2,500 on the card within 4 months and on each account anniversary if you spend $10,000 during the membership year.

What you may not have heard about are the properties that are exempted from having to honor those free night certificates! Citi excludes all-inclusive properties and distinctive properties, and handily provides us with an actual list of the excluded properties. Besides the all-inclusive properties, they also list all the "Distinctive" properties that are excluded. Most of these are simply timeshare properties operated as Hilton Grand Vacations properties, but the last one, the Qasr Al Sharq, appears to me to just be a very luxurious hotel that managed to carve itself out an exemption.

Hilton HHonors breakfast and upgrade policy exclusions

If you're used to receiving a complimentary continental breakfast when staying at Hilton and Conrad properties, you might be surprised to discover that Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts are excluded from that benefit. Your "My Way" benefit choices are limited to upgrades to preferred rooms and your choice of 1,000 HHonors points, a free in-room movie, or a spa, golf, or restaurant discount.

Speaking of those upgrades to preferred rooms: the Napua Tower at the Grand Wailea and the Imperial Floor at Rome Cavalieri are excluded by name from the preferred room upgrade benefit.

Properties excluded from Hyatt Suite Upgrade Awards

Everyone knows that "Suite upgrade awards are only valid for standard suites, defined as each participating property’s introductory suite category," which can be a real pain when you're trying to figure out which available suites are and aren't eligible for upgrades.

But there are also properties and brands that are completely excluded from suite upgrades!

First of all, "Suite upgrade may not be booked at Hyatt hotels or resorts before they have opened."

And second, "Suite upgrade awards are not available" at:

  • Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa
  • Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
  • Park Hyatt Sydney
  • Andaz Tokyo
  • Hyatt Regency Kyoto
  • Hyatt Regency Phuket Resort
  • Hyatt Regency Tulsa
  • Hyatt Regency Wichita
  • Hyatt Paris Madeleine
  • Hyatt Herald Square
  • Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa
  • Hyatt Manila City of Dreams
  • Hyatt Santa Barbara
  • Hyatt Residence Club resorts
  • Hyatt Place and Hyatt House hotels
  • and M life resorts.

Some of these properties, like the Hyatt Place and Hyatt House brands, simply don't offer suites. M Life resorts are only bookable as part of a joint marketing effort, so you can imagine some kind of logic behind them not offering free suite upgrades to Hyatt elites.

But the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and Andaz Tokyo do have suites, and the Park Hyatt Maldives and Park Hyatt Sydney at least have upgraded rooms. They're just extremely expensive and the properties aren't inclined to guarantee them to Diamond elite members in advance, for free.


Travel hacking is the knowledge that the house doesn't always win; it can be beat. But it can only be beat when you know what you're entitled to, and what the loyalty programs and properties can give you at their own discretion.

Western Hemisphere all-inclusive resorts

I wrote a few weeks ago that I've been craving a beach vacation, and I decided to take a look at so-called "all-inclusive" resorts, mainly out of curiosity: I've never stayed at one of these resorts (although I did crash one in Cuba's Veradero beach community) and I have a hard time conceptualizing exactly how they work. With the points currencies I have easy access to, there are 4 obvious options in the Americas:

  • Hyatt Zilara Cancun
  • Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall
  • Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa
  • Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort

The Zilara properties are Hyatt's brand of adults-only all-inclusive properties, while the Hilton properties are all-ages (a slight disadvantage in my book as a childless person, no offense meant to childful people) but available using Hilton HHonors points, an account where I've found myself with an uncomfortably large balance.


In deciding between the four properties, I want to be as rational as possible. In my view there are two main considerations:

  • Nightly room rates. What's the imputed redemption value of a points stay, and what are some typical nightly rates: are points redemptions a good deal?;
  • Flight options. Paying for your stay is only the part of a trip's total cost — you've also got to get there. Especially if you're booking for two or more people, a small difference in flight costs can swamp any difference in room rates.

Hyatt Zilara Cancun

The Hyatt Zilara Cancun costs 25,000 Gold Passport points per night for single or double occupancy rooms (40,000 for single or double occupancy suite nights), and 12,500 points per additional person after the first two.

Meanwhile, due to a current 50% discount promotion, a 5-night stay in mid-July costs $2,400, giving an upfront value of just 1.92 cents per Hyatt Gold Passport point. Since paying for that stay would also earn a Diamond elite member 15,600 points, the net value per point is just 1.71 cents each. That's a perfectly good redemption if you're transferring in Ultimate Rewards points worth a penny each, but it is on the low end of possible Hyatt redemptions. 

I have quite a few flight options to Cancun for the same July dates. Southwest flies from relatively-nearby Chicago nonstop in each direction for 30,014 Rapid Rewards points and $73.69 in taxes and fees ($373.83 in cash value if the Rapid Rewards points are transferred from Ultimate Rewards). A business class itinerary operated by American would cost me 60,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles and $105. And an economy US Bank Flexperks redemption from my home airport would cost just 40,000 Flexpoints (redeemable for $400 in cash). Given those options, I'll pay the extra $25 to redeem Flexpoints and fly from my home airport.

Total cost for 5-night trip: $1,250 in Ultimate Rewards points, $400 in Flexpoints per person, $2,050 for two people.

Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall

Like the Hyatt Zilara Cancun, the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall costs 25,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night for single or double occupancy reservations.

With the same ongoing 50% discount promotion, five nights at the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall cost $2,215, or 1.77 cents per Gold Passport point. After accounting for points earned on paid stays (14,397), a Diamond elite would get a total of 1.59 cents per Gold Passport point redeemed.

While the two Zilara properties cost the same number of Gold Passport points, flights to Montego Bay are much more expensive than to Cancun: I can redeem 60,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles plus $145.31 in fees per passenger, or 60,000 Delta SkyMiles plus $120.31 per passenger. The corresponding flights are just a hair over $1,000, so they'd cost 60,000 US Bank Flexpoints per passenger. Here Southwest comes to the rescue, with $586.79 roundtrip flights from Chicago Midway. That would cost me 30,000 Flexpoints per ticket ($300 cash value) or 32,832 Rapid Rewards points plus $114.69 per passenger ($443.01 cash value).

Total cost for 5-night trip: $1,250 in Ultimate Rewards points, $300 in Flexpoints per person, $1,850 for two people.

Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa

Remember, my motivation for booking this beach vacation was at least in part to use up some orphaned Hilton HHonors points after I started directing as many reservations as possible to Hyatt in order to take advantage of my matched Diamond status.

It turns out, however, that Hilton doesn't honor the 5th-night-free on award reservations at their all-inclusive resorts! That means a 5-night stay at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa costs 350,000 HHonors points, which if earned at 2.105% in opportunity cost comes to $245.58 per night — within striking distance of the $250 per night in cash value of Ultimate Rewards points redeemed at the Hyatt Zilara properties above.

By way of reference, the same 5-night stay would cost $1,745, or 0.5 cents per HHonors point.

Total cost for 5-night trip: 350,000 HHonors points ($1,228 in opportunity cost), $300 in Flexpoints per person, $1,827 for two people.

Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort

The final entry here is Hilton's Puerto Vallarta Resort, which is just 50,000 HHonors points per night in July. Without the benefit of a 5th night free, you'll pay 250,000 HHonors points for a five night stay that otherwise retails for roughly $1,107, or 0.44 cents per HHonors point. Given a 2.105% cash back opportunity cost on manufactured spend, that comes to about $175 per night at this resort, the cheapest we've see so far.

Given that lower cost, it would be dynamite if I could get there on the cheap. Southwest isn't an option because of their punishingly early flights from the only two nearby airports they serve (there's a 5:30 AM now?). But I can pay 60,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles and $133 per passenger for business class tickets, which is better than paying the 70,000 US Bank Flexpoints it would take to pay for the oddly expensive revenue economy tickets.

Total cost for 5-night trip: 250,000 HHonors points ($877 imputed redemption value), 60,000 Mileage Plan miles and $133 per passenger, 120,000 Mileage Plan miles and $1,143 for two people.


Presumably these calculations won't be useful to anybody else unless they want to visit an all-inclusive resort in mid-July! But this is the kind of calculation I run when I'm thinking about visiting a new property: how much will it cost to stay there, how much will it cost to get there, and what will I get for my money?

Aspirational awards, part 1: Hilton all-inclusive resorts (Americas)

If you follow the advice in my book and here on the website, hen you know you never need to pay retail for another flight or hotel stay again.  But that doesn't solve the most important question: where do you want to fly for free, and where do you want to stay when you get there?  In this on-going series, we'll take a look at various aspirational hotel and airline redemptions around the world in order to help you make the most of your miles and points.

In today's edition, we'll examine Hilton's all-inclusive resort properties, where you can redeem Hilton HHonors points for stays that included food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages.

Hilton Papagayo Costa Rica Resort & Spa

Vital Information

  • Award night cost: 60,000 HHonors points per night, year round.
  • 5-night stay with 5th night free for elite members: 240,000 HHonors points.
  • Cash price: $1,645 - $2,795 on sample dates.
  • Redemption value: 0.6 - 1.16 cents per point.


Getting there

  • merican Airlines operates non-stop service to Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR) on two-cabin aircraft from Miami International Airport (MIA).
  • Delta Airlines operates non-stop service to LIR from their hub in Atlanta, Georgia (ATL).
  • United Airlines operates non-stop service on two-cabin aircraft to LIR from their Texas hub in Houston (IAH) and seasonally from Newark (EWR).
  • US Airways operates occasional weekend flights from Charlotte, North Caroline (CLT) to LIB on two-cabin aircraft.

Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, Jamaica

Vital Information

  • Award night cost: 60,000 points per night, year round.
  • 5-night stay with 5th night free: 240,000 HHonors points.
  • Cash price:  $1,570 - $2,995 on sample dates.
  • Redemption value:  0.65 - 1.2 cents per HHonors point.

Getting There


  • American Airlines operates non-stop service to Montego Bay, Jamaica (MBJ) from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) on two-cabin aircraft.
  • Delta Airlines operates non-stop service to MBJ from their hubs at New York City's JFK and Atlanta.
  • United operates non-stop flights between MBJ and their hub in Houston (IAH) on two-cabin aircraft.
  • US Airways operates non-stop service to MBJ from their hub in Charlotte on two-cabin aircraft.

Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort, Mexico


Vital Information

  • Award night cost: 60,000 points per night, year round.
  • 5-night stay with 5th night free: 240,000 HHonors points.
  • Cash price:  $1,070 - $2,445 on sample dates.
  • Redemption value:  0.44 - 1.01 cents per HHonors point.

Getting There

  • American Airlines operates non-stop flights between Puerto Vallarta Ordaz (PVR) and their hub in DFW.
  • Delta operates non-stop flights between PVR and Los Angeles (LAX) and Atlanta.
  • United operates non-stop flights between PVR and San Francisco (SFO), Houston (IAH), Denver (DEN), Los Angeles (LAX) and Chicago O'hare (ORD).
  • US Airways operates non-stop services between PVD and their hub in Pheonix, Arizona (PHX).

ward Ticket Redemptions

All four of the airlines mentioned here charge the same number of miles for award redemptions to Mexico and to the Caribbean, so award flights between the continental United States and all three of these destinations cost the same number of award miles:

  • American Airlines: 25,000 (off-peak) or 30,000 (peak) AAdvantage miles in economy, 60,000 in business.
  • Delta Airlines: 35,000 Skymiles in economy, 60,000 in business.
  • United Airlines: 35,000 United miles in economy, 60,000 in first.
  • US Airways: 35,000 Dividend Miles in economy, 60,000 in first.

Since these are international flights, they do trigger the stopover and one-way rules that allow you to include free one-ways on award tickets on Delta, United, and American.


By offering over 1 cent per point in value for 5-night redemptions during high season, the all-inclusive resorts n the Americas provide some of the most valuable redemptions in the Hilton HHonors program.  The Hilton American Express cards (standard and Surpass) and Citi HHonors Reserve card earn 3 HHonors points per dollar in non-bonused spend.  Even though the American Express bonus on drug store spending (6 points instead of 3) is coming to an end for existing cardholders in May, if you're able to manufacture spending at a cost of .78 cents per dollar, you're still able to earn the 240,000 HHonors points needed for a 5-night stay at a cost of $624, saving up to 77% on a 5-night stay at the Papagayo Costa Rica, for example.