Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Hilton

Best-Ever Hilton American Express Card Offers

Credit card sign up bonuses routinely fluctuate. It is good to understand when you are getting in at the top of the wave rather than the bottom. In general, most airline cards should turn your head when they have an offer of 50,000 miles or more.

Hotel cards, however, are all over the map. You just need to understand each program and the value of its points currency. But…the good thing is most bloggers will let you know when the offers are at their best. And now is one of those times for the Hilton American Express cards.

Hilton Amex Card offer

The offer on the Hilton Card from American Express is 80,000 points after $2,000 in spending within the first 3 months of card membership. Features of this card include:

  • No annual fee
  • Earns 7x Hilton points on Hilton stays, 5x points on gas, groceries, and restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
  • Hilton Silver status and ability to earn Gold status after spending $20,000 on the card in a calendar year.

The no-fee Hilton card is one of the “keepers” in my wallet. Because American Express only offers a sign-up bonus once per lifetime on their products, getting the Hilton card with this increased bonus is ideal. Once you have it, there is no reason to drop in, in my opinion, since you can’t ever get the sign up bonus again.

Link here (or hit me up via the contact me page for a referral).

Hilton Surpass Amex Card offer

The offer on the Hilton Surpass Card from American Express is 100,000 points after $3,000 in spending within the first 3 months of card membership. Features of this card include:

  • $85 annual fee
  • Earns 12x Hilton points on Hilton stays, 6x points on gas, groceries, and restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
  • Hilton Gold status and the ability to earn Diamond status after spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year.

The perks of the Hilton Surpass Card over the no-fee American Express Hilton card are slightly better since it grants you automatic Gold status with Hilton, and the earning is better as well. But there is a fee. However, if you have paid Hilton stays several times per year, you’ll probably come out ahead with this card.

Link here.

Both offers end 5/31/17.

The value of Hilton points

While these bonuses might seem huge in terms on the number of bonus points, they really aren’t all that spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, now is definitely the time to apply. But Hilton points don’t go as far as you might think.

Hilton hotels require anywhere from 5,000 to 95,000 points per night, which mean you could actually get over 20 nights out of the 100,000 point bonus offer (Hilton also offers a 5th night free benefit)! But the 5,000 and 10,000 point hotels are few and far between.

Honestly, I’m not even sure you can find them anymore after Hilton killed their award chart. But I haven’t really checked. In general, you should expect to pay anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 points per night on a “typical” hotel.

At this point, just view your Hilton points as worth about 0.5 cents each. This makes the bonuses worth roughly $400 and $500, respectively. This is a good card bonus, but nothing groundbreaking.

Again, if you’re interested in the no-fee Hilton card, shoot me a note via the contact me page and let me send you a referral link.

My First Best Rate Guarantee: Initial Experiences

Ever since Travel is Free wrote an awesome rundown on his experiences using best rate guarantees to save significant money on hotels (also see his complete guide), I have been itching to make a claim of my own. I have looked for opportunities many times, but nothing has ever presented itself in terms of timing and need.

Until now. While planning a crazy one-night trip (just to use a lounge pass I won and burn a United voucher), I was able to try a best-rate guarantee for the first time. Actually, I was able to try two.

But let’s pause for a moment so I can clarify what exactly is a  best rate guarantee. A “best rate guarantee” (BRG) is a policy outlined by a hotel chain that guarantees that the best publicly available rate that you can find for their hotel is on their website. Typically, the hotel chain offers to match any lower, publicly available rate, and then reduce the even more by a given percentage. In the case of IHG, they simply offer you the first night free, which is incredible for single night stays.

Finding Best Rate Guarantee Targets

I was headed to the Bay Area for work, and I noticed that the Hilton Garden Inn Emeryville was advertised at a lower rate on Expedia than on Hilton’s website. I quickly booked 2 refundable nights and submitted my first claim.

Then I started shopping for my one quick night near Denver airport. Almost immediately I had a target: the Marriott Airport Gateway. It as an Expedia daily special, and the refundable rate was less than $70. At Marriott’s website, the refundable member rate was about $80.

Both inquiries were responded to within 24 hours. Of course they couldn’t find either. The Marriott deal had about 8 hours left on it when I found it, so all they really had to do was wait it out. Somehow the room types didn’t match on the Hilton BRG. Meh. Technicalities. I can easily find other Bay Area options. I canceled the Expedia reservation and moved on.

Pursuing the Marriott Best Rate Guarantee

But I didn’t want to give up on the Marriott at Denver Airport. I quickly replied to the email, including a printout of my hotel confirmation. It was still just under 24 hours from when I had submitted my initial claim, and I had hung on to the original Expedia reservation since it was refundable.

I sent a message back to the customer service rep who had emailed, explaining that the rate was a timed Expedia special. I sent an image of my confirmation and hoped for the best.

Within just a few hours, I received an email back from the rep, stating that while they couldn’t find the rate that I had quoted, they had found a different one. It was even cheaper, and they were taking the liberty of matching it and then reducing the price by 25%. Sweet. The final price came out to about $60 after tax.

I was honestly surprised Marriott offered this. While I had expected that they would honor the rate I had booked, as I had submitted my claim within the time specified with an eligible rate, it was totally unexpected that they would match me to a wholly different rate.

Thus, I really chalk this up to both good luck and a sympathetic (or overly eager) customer service representative.

Due to a slight delay, I didn’t do much more than sleep and shower at the hotel when I finally arrived for my brief single night. I covered the cost with Arrival miles and raked in an extra 5,000 Marriott points for the stay from a Fall promotion. Not a terrible trade-off and an interesting first best rate guarantee experience.

Header image courtesy of Marriott. 

Hilton Florence Metropole: A Review

Location: Florence, Italy

Overall Rating: 9/10

I had some reservations when booking the Hilton Florence Metropole, mainly regarding the location. Unlike the SPG hotel options, the Hilton was a pretty good distance from the city center. I would have much rather booked the Westin Excelsior or St. Regis Florence, but the prices (both in cash and in points) were simply astronomical.

The Hilton Garden Inn was significantly closer, but still not fantastic, and the overall benefits at the Hilton Florence Metropole would be better with the Diamond status I had been matched to for the year. I finally settled on it as our best option, trusting that the views and amenities would make up for the poorer location. Plus, it would be free, except for the annoying city taxes.

We booked five nights to take advantage of the 5th night free benefit offered on Hilton award stays. The total came to 120,000 HHonors points. The same booking would have cost ~$600, so we were getting just 0.5 cents per point. Half a cent is the baseline at which I value a Hilton point, so I was fine with the redemption, but not ecstatic (you can often buy HHonors points for 0.5 cent).

Hilton Florence Metropole Exterior

Hilton Florence Metropole exterior

Kels and I arrived in Florence via bus and then train from San Marino. We left beautiful Monte Titano around 10:00 in the morning, and arrived at the Hilton Florence Metropole at about 4:30 in the afternoon. It was a decently long day of traveling, especially considering the two locations are less than 100 miles apart as the crow flies.

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Waterfall (waterwall?) in the lobby

The lobby of the Hilton Florence Metropole is very large and of modern style. There was ample seating past the front desk and an indoor waterfall as you enter.

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Lobby seating

Check in was quick and painless. I had previously confirmed our room via the Hilton app, and no changes were made at check in. By the number (1001), I had suspected that we had been upgraded to a corner room, and this was indeed the case. The Hilton Diamond status match was finally paying off!

My wife and I headed up the elevator to the 10th floor. Luckily, we did not get the slightly awkward chaperone to our room as we had in both Cannes and Milan.

Hilton Florence Metropole Room View

Bed, with a view!

I was in love the instant I opened the door to the room. We were not only upgraded to a corner room, but to one with views of the Duomo and city center in the distance, surrounded by the hills of Tuscany! It was spectacular.

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Desk behind bed

After spending an undue amount of time admiring our view of Florence, I did notice the rest of the room. Everything was very nice, and of very modern style. The desk was glass, and it was uniquely placed directly behind the bed.

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Desk

Next to the door was a little nook with the water kettle and glassware.

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Nook by the door

Like the Hyatt Regency Palais de la Mediterranee, the in room coffee consisted of instant Nescafe. Considering all the good coffee available, the hotels on this trip were failing the in-room coffee thing (except the Park Hyatt Milan).

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Kettle, mugs, and in-room coffee

The bathroom was similarly very nice. It had both a shower and tub, and an interesting clear glass sink.

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Shower and sink

Our only minor complaint was the shower. It was overly narrow. Due to the placement of the handle and shower head, both my wife and I tended to accidentally turn the water either down or off while showering. It wasn’t too much of an issue for us, but I can imagine it would be far more of a hassle for anyone substantially larger.

Overall, we were very pleased with the room. Housekeeping kept it wonderfully clean during our stay, even when we made a mess cooking.

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Lounge

Since both my wife and I had been matched to Hilton Diamond status via a promo at the beginning of 2016, we were granted executive lounge access during our stay, even though we weren’t on any of the 3 executive floors. I had previously been to a couple airport lounges, but this was my first time using a hotel lounge.

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Snacks and light dinner options in the lounge

The lounge at the Hilton Florence Metropole is on the top (15th) floor. It offers complimentary drinks, light bites at night, and a light breakfast in the morning. We ended up eating in the restaurant every morning, so I never actually saw what breakfast was like.

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Outdoor seating area of the executive lounge

There were two outdoor seating areas, as well as the indoor tables and couches. The views from the 15th floor were spectacular; you had access to at least 270 degrees around the building. My favorite view was toward the Florence city center, the same direction that we had from our room.

Hilton Florence Metropole View from Lounge

Panorama of Florence, city center in the distance at center left

I worked from the lounge most of the evenings we were in Florence. It was a quiet space, there were ample power outlets, and I could snack as I wanted. Although many guests came and went, the lounge never really filled up any of the nights we were there.

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Pool, and adjacent fitness facilities

On one of the evenings, my wife and I had a chance to enjoy the pool. It is quite small, but it had a very cool waterfall! And we had it to ourselves the entire time we were swimming.

 

Hilton Florence Metropole Pool Waterfall

Pool waterfall

Strangely, there were a few sunbeds. The pool is below ground level and there are no windows, so I wondered why anyone would want to come lay here for a while. Maybe you can tan from indigo mood lighting?

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Lounge chairs near the pool

The towels laid out and free bottled water were a plus, though.

Adjacent to the pool was the fitness center, which….I never used (vacation is about eating and seeing the sights, okay).

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Buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant

Speaking of eating, we enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant each morning, complimentary of course as another Diamond perk. The spread included a wide variety of both European and more American breakfast choices. It was honestly the best hotel breakfast I have had.

Hilton Florence Metropole Restaurant Seating

Restaurant seating

As I mentioned at the start, the Hilton Florence Metropole is a pretty good distance from the center of Florence. The hotel does run a complimentary shuttle, but the schedule isn’t ideal. The pickup times are 60-90 minutes apart at either end, so you really have to settle on a plan ahead of time. Space is also issued on a first-come, first-serve basis. The morning runs into Florence were usually full. If the shuttle runs out of space, you are out of luck. Fortunately, we always managed to find a seat.

The shuttle drops you about a 5 minute walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station, at the Piazzale Montelungo. The Mercato Centrale is an 8-10 minute walk, the Duomo about 10-12, and the Palazzo Vecchio roughly 20. We did a ridiculous amount of walking over our three days seeing the city and every night returned to the hotel exhausted.

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The public bus stop just down the street from the Hilton. Route 78 goes to the tram.

If the shuttle isn’t cutting it, you can navigate the public transit system. I honestly preferred this option, and we took it more than half the time. The schedule is more regular, and there is a bus stop a few hundred feet from the hotel. You have to make one transfer between the #78 bus and the T1 tram, but it is fairly straightforward. You can tell which stop it is since the bus basically empties out.

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The Duomo

Florence has so much to see and do. We spent three long days seeing the art, the architecture, and enjoying the beauty of this Renaissance city.

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The upper floor of the Mercato Centrale Firenze

Our highlights were the Duomo, the Galileo Muesum, the Mercato Centrale (wife’s absolute favorite!), and enjoying lunch in some of the small cafes. The Mercato Centrale consisted of a covered market on the bottom story, open most days during the moring, and then an upper, enclosed floor that had food vendors, a bar, and other specialty shops.

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The “steak for two” special. We did eat it all.

The most memorable was our Florentine “steak for two” at a cafe near the Duomo. The special on the sign said 1 kg, but I didn’t realize it would be a single giant steak!

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Cappuccino!

I also probably had like 17 cappuccinos over the course of a few days. I went from having never ordered one in my life to being completely addicted.

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Florence city center at sunset, viewed from the lounge terrace

Our entire stay in Florence was incredibly memorable. The city is full of art, history, and culture. Even after three days of museums, churches, and other sights (using our Firenze Cards), Kels and I both felt like we had barely scratched the surface of what the city had to offer.

If you ever have the wonderful opportunity to visit the birthplace of the Renaissance, I would highly recommend both the Hilton Florence Metropole, and a stay of at least 5 nights, if not a week.

Hilton Phoenix/Mesa: A Review

Location: Mesa, Arizona

Overall Rating: 6/10

After being matched to Hilton Diamond status a few months ago, I had been wanting to give their hotels a try. My wife and I have already made two 5-night bookings for this summer with our large number of recently acquired HHonors points from various credit card signups, so I had expected our first stays with Hilton hotels to be in July. However, on a recent trip to our Arizona company office, the Hilton Phoenix/Mesa was my hotel of choice.

Not only were the rates fantastic, but it was the closest hotel to our office, and it sounded pretty nice overall. I booked a total of 3 nights for $279, including taxes. With the current 2x promotion, the Diamond elite bonus, and the 12x return from using my Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express, I would earn about 12,000 HHonors points for the stay. The trip would give me a chance to see the HHonors loyalty program in action and compare it to both IHG and Starwood.

I arrived at the Hilton Phoenix/Mesa very late. My flight into Mesa on Allegiant had arrived just before 10:00 p.m., and it was nearly 11:00 by the time the Lyft driver got me to the hotel. The place was very quiet. I was greeted by a friendly and welcoming desk agent. As she started to check me in, I asked if I could have a top-floor room. With rates as low as they were, I figured the place wasn’t even close to full, so it was likely that I would be accommodated. I also wanted to see if she would offer me anything in terms of an upgrade.

The agent then said that she would have to clear the request with the manager, who was currently on the phone. This surprised me a little, but it still seemed reasonable enough. A few minutes later the manager was still on the phone, and I was awkwardly admiring the lobby while waiting to finish check-in. When the manager was finally off the phone, she took over the check-in terminal. She was the exact opposite of the first lady, lacking the friendliness and care that I would expect a hotel would want in their front desk staff. I finally got my room key, along with two bottles of water and a small card detailing access to the executive lounge (Diamond perks), and I was on my way.

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The hotel room was nice overall, but it didn’t quite live up to what I expected. I got my request for a top-floor room, but it didn’t seem like any sort of upgrade. It was large, but almost awkwardly so. The furniture didn’t really fill it well. The TV was overly small for the width of the room, and had I used it, it would have been rather hard to watch from the bed, and impossible to watch from the couch. The couch also seemed a bit old and worn. The beds were very comfy, though, and I slept very well all three nights.

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The work space was pretty standard. I used the desk to read and work a little in the evening.

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The two things that needed maintenance were in the bathroom. The sink stopper was broken, so I had to manually lift it up to keep the sink draining at a reasonable rate. Kinda nasty after you have used it for brushing your teeth. The other issue was the bar for the shower curtain. It sagged substantially, and the curtain would keep sliding inward. While showering I would routinely push the curtain back toward the wall, but it would slide back down again after several seconds, leaving a good 12-inch gap. This meant I soaked a portion of the floor every day.

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The view from the room was decent. I could look out over the golf course next door and the mountains in the distance. The top-floor room request paid off in that regard.

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The pool was amazing. With the temperatures peaking in the mid-100s each day, an dip in the pool sounded incredibly nice. On the last evening at the hotel, I tried it out. The water was cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough that swimming was enjoyable. The water was salty, and it made me wonder if they were using one of the natural salt disinfection systems. Whatever it was, I was happy it was not overly chlorinated. The same cannot be said of Mesa tap water.

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The warmth was actually nice as I relaxed and dried off after the swim. This was probably the only enjoyable moment I had with the Mesa heat. My walks back from the office each day, although only 10 minutes, were under a brutally hot sun that made me feel like I was going to melt into the sidewalk.

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What I did find hysterical were the signs posted around the pool and parking lot. The hotel is apparently absolving itself of any responsibility if you get hit in the head with a golf ball while swimming. The golf course starts just 30 yards beyond the pool, but based on the orientation, the risk of getting conked seemed minimal. Still, I bet there are some terrible golfers out there who could prove things otherwise.

The lounge was nice as well, and reminded me a lot of an airport lounge. It had a few different types of seating, two TVs displaying the news in the morning, and an offering of juice, coffee, fruit, oatmeal, pastries, and other light fare for breakfast. My Diamond status kept Transcon from paying for three days of breakfast through this perk. I also stopped in for an hour one evening when they were offering drinks and light snacks, and the lounge was quite full.

I really wanted to love this hotel. Overall, it was a good experience, but there were a few items that tainted my stay. The most frustrating was the shower issue. I considered speaking with the staff during my stay, and they likely would have moved me to a different room, but I didn’t want to go through the trouble of packing all my stuff up for just another day and a half. It was an annoyance, but not a make-or-break issue (like the AC not working, or something). I used the survey to express my thoughts to the hotel staff after my stay, and I received the following response:

“Good Morning Mr. Snyder, I wanted to take a moment to follow up with you regarding your recent stay at the Hilton Phoenix/Mesa.  Thank you for taking the time to complete your guest survey.  I want to assure you all comments are read and reviewed daily by the Management team an used for training purposes..  I wanted to touch base because it sounds like you may be coming to the area on business and that is my arena.   My sole focus is keeping and growing our corporate client base.  You hit on some issues we are well aware of – in fact, that is why we are starting a $8 million dollar renovation in July.  All guest rooms and public areas are to be completely re-done.  Everything will be new – in all our king rooms & 80% of our double queen rooms, the bathtubs are being replaced with walk in showers and the shower curtains are being replaced with glass doors, new carpet throughout, new furniture, drapes and bedding, all large screen televisions with HD channels,  upgrade lighting with additional USB ports. I am hoping you will give us another opportunity to impress you.  You mentioned we were close to your office, I would be happy to discuss a negotiated rate agreement for you that would provide an attractive rate/amenity package for you.  Please let me know if this is something you would be willing to look at.  Thank you again for your comments.”

The fact that the hotel contacted me quickly after the survey shows me that they do care about customer satisfaction and it definitely makes me willing to give the hotel another shot. I am glad she called out the fact that they are going to address the bathrooms. There are a few more hotels down the road that are still within walking distance of the office, but this one is definitely the most ideal. If the renovation is finished by the next time I head that way, I’ll likely give it another try.