Hilton Honors Manufactured Spend Calculator

Introduction

As I was looking at hotels in New Zealand later this year, I noticed that the only big chain that was there was Hilton (no Hyatt or SPG.)  One of my fellow MS buddies had been MS’ing Hilton points with his AMEX Hilton Surpass at 6X at grocery stores.   I also know Free-quent Flyer loves to MS on his AMEX HH card, so I hope he reads this and gives his thoughts.   Anyway, I used to have the Surpass card, but had cancelled it to get the ‘old Blue’ over a year ago.  Now I was contemplating getting the Hilton card again to crank up my Hilton points.  However, I wanted to fully work out the math.  Was using a Hilton AMEX at 6X at a grocery store better than using an FIA AMEX to buy AGC through a portal and using CASH to book the stay?  That’s what prompted me to come up with this Google Docs spreadsheet.  Sorry, I didn’t web-ify it.

Link to spreadsheet

https://goo.gl/ehIzCr.  You may want to bookmark the link or this page for future reference.

Example

I’m looking at a stay in New Orleans in September.  There is the Waldorf Astoria there that goes for $299 a night or 50,000 points per night.

hilton1

 

However, we have to figure out taxes and fees, so I clicked on Rate Details and then divided $1035.31 / 3 = $345.10 per night.

hilton2

 

Entering it into the calculator:

hilton3

As you can see, you only need to enter in the yellow values.  I enter in the cash cost per night, the points cost per night, and how many nights.  The cells in light orange usually do not need to be changed unless you want to override the value of the HH point, what member tier you are, and what credit card you are going to book for the stay.  I currently only have the Citi HH Reserve, so I have Gold status (25%) and I get 10X points if I book the room using the card.  The AMEX Surpass would give me 12 points, and if I had that card, I’d change the number to 12.  Pretty self explanatory.

The option below that is if you’re going to go the AGC route using a cashback card (which once you see the result, you’ll know why it’s in here.)  This was the impetus of the spreadsheet.  Should I buy the gift card directly at the grocery store for 6X HH points or should I use a 2% card, go through a 2% portal, buy VGC at the grocery store, and then pay the cash cost of the hotel?

Example 1 Results:

hilton4

As you can see, if I went the 1st route of using the AMEX HH 6X card directly at grocery stores to buy VGC and then using them to load BB, I’d have to buy 49 $500 cards to manufacture the 150,000 HH points needed for the “free stay,”  This will cost me $294 in VGC fees, not counting the time and effort of buying and loading $25,000 worth of gift cards.  This of course is cheaper than the $1,035 cash cost though.

Now some people here will argue, would you have stayed at the Waldorf Astoria for $345 per night?  The answer is NO!  In a non-miles and points world, I’d probably find the nicest hotel that I could get for ~$150 a night.  But since we are in a miles and points world, if I can spend ~$100 per night in a Waldorf Astoria, I’m going to do it!

Going back to the results, the 2nd green cell is if I were to use the AMEX HH 6X to buy VGC to then buy MO (instead of loading to BB.)  Why do I list this route?  Because some of you may only have 1 or 2 BB/Serve cards and don’t have the capacity to do $25K quickly.  Well, when your capacity for BB/Serve dries up, you move to buying money orders from WMT at $.70 a piece.  That’s why this option is here.

The 3rd option is if you have the NW or USB Buxx cards.  This option by far is the cheapest option.  The problem?  Well, there is a limit on how many loads you can do per month.  You would need about 93 NW Buxx Arrival loads to generate 103,530 Arrival points so that you could book the cash cost of the stay of $1035.  This route also requires that you book the stay using your Arrival card so that you can redeem the 103K Arrival points.

The 4th option is different than the 3rd option in that for the 4th option, you are using a cashback card like the Citi DC to load the Buxx cards and then using one of the Hilton branded cards to book the cash cost of the stay.  By doing this, you will be generating HH points and because you are using their credit card, you’ll get a 10X multiple with the Citi HH Reserve or 12X with the AMEX HH Surpass.  This is when the value of the HH points come into play.  If I paid for the $1,035 stay on the Citi HH Reserve, with my Gold status, I’d get 29,765 HH points.  This is then valued at the default redemption rate of $.007, which equates to a $206 rebate.  Most will argue that this is too high, and so you can change the redemption value to a more realistic $.004 in cell A7.

The 5th option is the option that is more realistic to me.  Instead of using my AMEX HH Surpass at 6X grocery stores, I’m going to use my FIA AMEX 2% card to buy an AGC with a 2.25% cashback portal.  I’ll then use those AGC at a groc store to buy a VGC, which I’d then either load to BB/Serve/RB or MO.  This results in a net cost of $151 for all 3 nights at the WA.  This will involve the same time commitment as options #1 and #2, but it does add increased risk that the grocery store won’t take my AGC (but that hasn’t been a big problem.)  I can even reduce this option some more by buying the VGC at a drugstore for just $4.95 per $500, or a Simon mall for $3.95 (if I can find one that takes AGC.)

Conclusion

What this calculator has showed me is that I shouldn’t bother getting the AMEX HH Surpass for 6X at grocery stores.  I should just load as much Buxx as possible, and then go the AGC -> VGC route instead and then pay the cash cost for my stay to generate the HH points.  I realize some of you, me even, will be hesitant in paying the cash cost of $1,035 for the Waldorf Astoria even though mathematically it makes sense to do so.  Why? Because that FIA AMEX and portal cashback is in my bank account, and I would be better off spending that money elsewhere, at like a $150/night hotel.  I know FM wrote a post about this a while back (cash vs points), and I can’t think of a better example than here.

  • tom capone

    Great post. Don’t know if Free-Quent Flyer read it, but this is exactly the way he would have though about it. A couple of other factors to consider:
    1) $40K on Surpass give you Diamond. Easy to get and a nice benefit.
    2) If you’re staying 5 nights (you’re not) you get the 5th night free.

    I also like to spread out my MS, so having Surpass which I can easily use at any grocery with no questions is a plus, while I use AGC mostly at the drug store and occasionally at the grocery.

    • Miles per Day

      He has and he’s still in denial. Haha. He says he saves the AGC for drugstores, but since AGC is virtually unlimited, there’s no reason not to use it at groceries too. I run at least $20K of AGC through groceries per month with no problems.

      As for #1, you do bring up a good point, but it depends on how often you stay at Hiltons. I don’t stay that much to value the incremental benefit over Gold. And for #2, you can put that into the calculator. Just put in the point equivalent of 4 nights instead of 5.

  • beaglehug

    I’m going to NZ too! In early March 2016. Will have to learn from you.

  • SlickRick

    AmEx card includes Gold status so that’s generally good for free breakfast. Plus the option of a room upgrade which adds value because a true pimp never stays in a base room.

    • Miles per Day

      The Citi Hilton Reserve gives you that too and is more churnable than Surpass, so you can still be a pimp.

  • trAAveller

    I highly recommend the Hilton Queenstown, as a Gold member, they gave me a fantastic junior suite overlooking the lake. It’s really a beautiful location! You’ll love NZ, it’s worth all the hoops you’re jumping thru!

    • Miles per Day

      Cool. You guys have me excited for Queenstown now.

  • Interesting points.

    FWIW, the Hilton Queenstown IS worth the cost (especially if you can get a room with an outdoor hot tub), but the Hilton Auckland is a so-so city hotel at best. I talked about both on our site if you’re interested in reading more.

    • Miles per Day

      Cool. Thanks for the tip Kyle.