I Booked a $4,200 Luxury Vacation at Hawaii’s Grand Wailea Resort for FREE Using Hilton Honors Points (So Can You!)
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INSIDER SECRET: Using Hilton Honors points for a bucket-list resort stay is already amazing. The icing on the cake is having the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express for its resort credit and Diamond elite status.
Collecting Hilton Honors points is a key strategy for getting free hotel stays among travel enthusiasts. The best use of Hilton points totally depends on your travel style, whether you enjoy fancy resorts or prefer stretching your points at more moderate hotels.
I’m usually in the latter camp, but recently made a big splurge and booked 5 nights at the ultra-luxurious Grand Wailea – A Waldorf Astoria Resort in Maui for my family’s upcoming Hawaii vacation. Using Hilton points I’ve earned from the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express and other Hilton cards, plus benefits like the $250 Hilton Aspire resort credit and having Hilton status that gets us the 5th night free on award bookings, we’re getting a stay worth ~$4,200 – for free.
That’s not something I’d normally be able to pay cash for, but here’s where miles and points truly shine – by making memories and having experiences you might not otherwise be able to afford. The kids are absolutely ecstatic about the resort’s multiple pools and waterslides (“It has a water elevator, Mom!”), lazy river, and incredible beach, and they’re at the perfect age to enjoy it. Sure, it cost a chunk of Hilton points, but … if not now, when?
Even if you’re brand new to the miles and points hobby, you can easily plan a similar trip when you earn Hilton Honors points with travel credit cards. I’ll take you step by step through the process.
You Can Use Hilton Honors Points to Book the Grand Wailea in Hawaii (Or Any Epic Hilton Hotel)
Step 1. Earn Hilton Honors Points (I Did It With Welcome Bonuses and Spending on Hilton Credit Cards)
If you’re already collecting Hilton points, great! But if you’re starting from scratch, you’ll want to begin by setting up a Hilton account (free to join and only takes a couple of minutes).
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start earning Hilton points (scroll down to the next step if you’re unsure of how many you’ll need). There are 4 AMEX Hilton cards (3 personal, 1 business) that earn Hilton points directly, and all of them currently have higher than normal welcome bonuses. This makes it a good time to apply because AMEX only lets you earn the intro bonus on a particular card once, per person, per lifetime:
|Card name||Welcome bonus||Our review|
|Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card||150,000 Hilton bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Terms apply.||Amex Hilton Aspire review|
|Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card||130,000 Hilton bonus points after spending $2,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. Terms apply.||Amex Hilton Surpass review|
|Hilton Honors American Express Card||80,000 Hilton bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Terms apply.||Amex Hilton Honors Card review|
|The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card||130,000 Hilton bonus points after spending $3,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms apply.||Amex Hilton Business credit card review|
- A weekend night award (at participating Hilton hotels) when you open your card, then every year on your account anniversary
- Automatic Diamond Elite status (100% bonus points on paid stays, upgrades to a suite when available, executive hotel lounge access, etc.)
- Priority Pass Select airport lounge access (bring 2 guests for free)
- Up to $250 annual airline fee credit
- Up to $250 annual Hilton resort credit at participating resorts
- Up to $100 property credit at Conrad and Waldorf Astoria hotels per stay of 2+ nights
- Terms Apply
While the $450 Hilton Aspire annual fee (See Rates & Fees) might seem like an insane amount of money to spend on a credit card, I promise it is well worth it if you like Hilton hotels (as you’ll see later)!
There are other ways to earn Hilton points indirectly with credit cards. For example, Hilton is an AMEX transfer partner, so if you have one of the cards below, you can transfer your AMEX Membership Rewards points to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio:
|Card||Welcome bonus & minimum spending requirements|
|The Business Platinum Card® from American Express||Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership.|
|American Express®️ Green Card||Earn 30,000 Amex Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first three months of account opening. Terms Apply.|
|The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express||Earn up to $300 when you make eligible purchases with Dell Technologies, DocuSign and FedEx within the first three months of Card Membership (up to $100 per merchant, in the form of statement credits). This offer will run through November 4, 2020|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||60,000 Amex Membership Rewards® points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account. Terms Apply.|
|American Express® Gold Card||60,000 Amex Membership Rewards® points after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first six months of account opening. Terms Apply.|
|American Express® Business Gold Card||Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Gold Card within the first three months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.|
|Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express||15,000 Amex Membership Rewards® points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account. Terms Apply.|
|Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express||10,000 Amex Membership Rewards® points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account. Terms Apply.|
Transferring to Hilton is not the best way to use AMEX points, because you’ll typically get more value with other partners. However, if you’re a few points short for an award stay, it’s a good way to boost your balance. You can also check out our post on how to earn Hilton Honors points for other ways to top off your account.
Step 2. Find and Book Your Award (and Get Your Bag of Tricks Ready!)
Search for Available Award Nights
Once you’ve got a nice stash of Hilton points and are ready to travel, it’s time to search for an award. Read our full guide on how to use Hilton Honors points for step-by-step instructions if you’re new to the process (it’s not terribly different from searching for a paid hotel stay).
Knowing how many points you’ll need is a bit tricky because the Hilton award chart no longer exists. Instead, you’ll have to search for hotels and dates you’re interested in to check out the award price, or use the Hilton Points Explorer tool to see the minimum and maximum number of points you’ll pay for a standard room at a particular hotel.
Top-tier Hilton resorts like the Grand Wailea charge 95,000 Hilton points per night for a standard room, but most Hilton locations cost less than that. The least you’ll pay is 5,000 Hilton points per night, but there are very few hotels at that level.
Booking award nights can be a bit of a challenge if you’re traveling as a family. Standard award rooms are typically suited to a maximum of 4 guests (and overseas, just 1 or 2 people) so you might have to jump through a few hoops to find the room you need. When I started my award search at the Grand Wailea for our party of 5 (3 kids, boyfriend, and self), there were no standard award rooms available – although they were happy to offer me a premium room award (suite) for a whopping 604,000 Hilton points per night.
Here’s where a few hotel award booking tricks came in handy. I got rid of one of the kids from the booking (don’t worry, they’re still coming!) and searched for 2 adults and 2 children instead. Voila! Standard rooms appeared at 95,000 Hilton points per night.
Here was another stumbling block – despite the fact an award became available for 4 people, the standard award room at the Grand Wailea is a “Terrace View King” with one king bed. While my kids are little enough to pile into bed together, the 5 of us certainly weren’t going to be crammed into a single king bed.
There’s a sofa in the picture. Frustratingly, the room description made no indication if it was actually a pull-out couch. And (unlike some other hotels) there was no mention of maximum guests per room.
So I picked up the phone and gave the Grand Wailea a call directly – first, to find out if that was a sleeper sofa, and second, to ask if it would be a problem having 3 kids in tow instead of two. The agent assured me that it was indeed a sofa bed, and that it was no problem at all to have 3 kids in the room – the rooms are super spacious and lots of families have no trouble making a one king room work for them. She also made a request on the file for a Diamond upgrade because we were a larger family.
Big caveat here: Not all hotels are so flexible (especially outside of North America). Some set a very firm limit as to the number of guests allowed and enforce it strictly, so be sure to do your research if you’ve got a larger group.
Book Your Room and Take Advantage of Your 5th Night Free (With Elite Status)
Having any level of Hilton status allows you to get the 5th night free on award stays of 5+ nights. All of the AMEX Hilton cards come with automatic elite status (Diamond with the AMEX Hilton Aspire, Gold with the AMEX Hilton Ascend and AMEX Hilton Business, and Silver with the AMEX Hilton Honors), so having one of these cards is a terrific way to make your Hilton points go further.
I’ve got Diamond status from the Hilton Aspire, so instead of paying 475,000 Hilton points for a 5-night stay at the Grand Wailea (95,000 points X 5 nights), I only spent 380,000 Hilton points (95,000 points X 4 nights + 5th night free). Here’s what the booking looks like:
This same idea works whether you’re booking an inexpensive Hampton Inn or fancypants Conrad hotel. A few rules to keep in mind:
- Only standard room (not premium room) award bookings are eligible
- Paid stays and Points and Money bookings don’t qualify either
- You can’t combine a weekend night certificate with points and still get the 5th night free (trust me, I tried – I’ll save my Aspire weekend night for another time)
The final tally? For 380,000 Hilton points we’re getting 5 nights (average 76,000 points per night) which, if paid with cash, would have cost nearly $4,200.
If you like to keep track of such things (I prefer not to focus on points value but some do!), we’re looking at ~1.1 cents per Hilton point, which is much higher than the average Hilton points value of 0.5 cents per point. I’m not complaining. 🙂
You might have noticed a couple of items in the screenshot above. The Grand Wailea charges a mandatory resort fee of $40 per night, which is included in the final cash cost. However, Hilton does not add resort fees to award stays booked with points or weekend night certificates (however you will pay resort fees for Points and Money bookings). So we won’t have to worry about that additional cost.
Where we will have to pay extra is for valet parking at $35 per night because we’re renting a car. But we won’t pay anything out of pocket because having the Hilton Aspire makes this stay truly free.
Step 3. Make the Most of Your Hilton Credit Card Perks
The Hilton Aspire Is Saving Us $250
This is why I recommend the AMEX Hilton Aspire if you’re planning a similar vacation.
Hilton Aspire cardholders get a $250 Hilton Aspire resort credit every account anniversary year. It’s valid for room rate and room charges at eligible Hilton resorts, which includes hotel restaurants, spa treatments, and parking. I’ll use my Aspire card to pay for room incidentals, which will cover the entire valet parking cost (with a few bucks left over for some mai tais and snacks by the pool).
The Diamond status that comes with the Aspire also gets you complimentary breakfast at Hilton hotels, executive lounge access at hotels that have one (free food, drinks), and upgrades up to a 1-bedroom suite if available. Unfortunately, the Grand Wailea is a bit of an exception in that:
- The “free” breakfast is actually a $30 credit at the hotel’s breakfast buffet restaurant, which is crazy expensive
- Executive lounge access is reserved for guests in the exclusive Napua Tower, and,
- Reports online suggest it’s rare to get an upgrade to the Napua Tower, even as a top-tier Diamond elite
So I’m not counting on using these perks for our stay. But if you’re staying at most other Hilton hotels or resorts, it should be a no-brainer to get a free breakfast, lounge access (where available), and a better room. Even Hilton Gold status (which comes with the AMEX Hilton Ascend and AMEX Hilton Business) entitles you to free breakfast at Hilton hotels. Before I had the Aspire, the kids and I enjoyed a wonderful free breakfast at the Conrad Tokyo from having Hilton Gold status that would have cost $140, so it can be totally worth keeping one of those cards even if you only stay at Hilton a couple of times a year.
Earn Extra Discounts With AMEX Offers (Stacks With Aspire Resort Credit)
That’s not the only AMEX card perk to consider. With any AMEX card, you’ll get access to AMEX Offers, which are targeted discounts you’ll get when you add an offer to your card and make a qualifying purchase. This includes retail merchants, restaurants, services, hotels, and other travel.
You’ll often see offers for Hilton hotels (or specific brands) included in the deals, and right now is no exception. On my Hilton Aspire card, I’ve got 2 that apply to our stay (I’m seriously thrilled):
So in the first case, if I spend $500 on my Hilton Aspire on room incidentals like valet parking, hotel restaurant meals, or activity fees, I’ll get $100 back from the AMEX Offer, plus another $250 back from the Hilton Aspire resort credit (you can stack both credits). Net out of pocket cost for $500 worth of stuff would be $150 ($500 spent – $350 in credits).
In the second case, if we spent $1,000 on room charges (probably pretty easy to do at the Grand Wailea), I’d get $200 back from the AMEX Offer and $250 back from the Aspire resort credit. In that case, the net cost would be $550 ($1,000 spent – $450 in credits). Maybe we will book that luau after all!
Now if both the AMEX Offers above stack, that’d be – as the kids would say – totally lit. (We’re taking bets on it at MMS; I promise to report back).
You don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy an incredible luxury resort vacation at a Hilton hotel like the Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea in Maui, Hawaii. My family is using Hilton Honors points to stay 5 nights in June, and getting a vacation worth almost $4,200 for free.
You can use the same strategies to do the same thing at just about any Hilton hotel, including:
- Using hotel award booking tricks to search for the room you want (call if you need to)
- Getting a 5th night free on award stays by having any level of Hilton status (which comes free with any of the AMEX Hilton cards – AMEX Hilton Aspire, AMEX Hilton Ascend, AMEX Hilton Business, and AMEX Hilton Honors) – plus, you’ll never pay resort fees on award stays
- Making the most of your Hilton credit card benefits (I’m loving the $250 Hilton Aspire resort credit for this stay!) and elite status perks like upgrades and complimentary breakfast
- Checking for AMEX Offers to see if you can snag further discounts on your room incidentals like hotel restaurants, spa treatments, and parking
I’d love to hear about how you’ve used your Hilton Honors points for incredible vacations (especially if you’ve stayed at the Grand Wailea). Please share in the comments!
Curious now about Hilton points and the Hilton Honors loyalty program? Here are a bunch of guides to check out:
- Our full Hilton Honors review
- What Hilton points value can you expect?
- Our review of Hilton status
- A comprehensive guide on how to earn Hilton Honors points
- What’s the best use of Hilton points?
- How to set up a Hilton account
- How to use Hilton Honors points
- Find out how to navigate booking without a Hilton award chart
- Do Hilton points expire?
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For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire CardAPPLY NOW
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card after you use your new Card to make $4,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, enjoy a free Weekend Night Reward within your first year and every year after renewal.
Earn 14X Hilton Bonus Points when you make eligible purchases on your Card at participating hotels or resorts within the Hilton Portfolio.
Earn 7X Bonus Points for eligible purchases: on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies & at U.S. restaurants.
Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
Enjoy up to $250 in Hilton Resort Credits on your Card each anniversary year, when you stay at participating resorts within the Hilton portfolio.
Enjoy complimentary Diamond status with your Hilton Honors Aspire Card.
$450 annual fee.
15.74% – 24.74% Variable
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