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How to Maximize Your Hilton Honors American Express Card Rewards, According to a Seasoned Program Member

Discover how one Hilton Honors™ member travels well — without any additional fees

Laurie L
Hammock hanging between palm trees with two people frolicking in the ocean in the background.

Full transparency, now that we own five weeks' worth of Hilton Grand Vacations ClubPoints a year, we've become spoiled when we travel. You see, as Elite Premier Owners, we're exempt from booking, cancelation and guest certificate fees. So we don't pay a single fee to travel. 

Aerial view of Maui coastline and waterfall spilling into the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii.    

Additionally, as part of my quest to accumulate as many Hilton Honors points as possible for retirement, we earn our fair share of free night certificates through our Hilton honors American Express credit cards. 

And, thanks to the Hilton Honors program’s member-friendly coronavirus response, they've extended those certificates, which gives us even more.

So as much as we love the quality of staying with Hilton Grand Vacations when we travel, our surplus of free night certificates has given us the option to plan vacations to destinations without Hilton Grand Vacations properties.

All the while, with a bit of strategy, we still enjoy the benefit of no additional fees. 

Typically, we're still on the hook for resort fees if we book outside of Hilton Grand Vacations' portfolio, and remember, we've become spoiled. Now, I'm hesitant to stay at a property without resort fees. Only the best-in-class properties charge a resort fee, and we've found that top-tier hotels are closer to what we've grown accustomed to through timeshare. 

But don't get me wrong, I don't actually want to pay that resort fee.

"Remember, the goal when traveling is to stay at the best hotel while paying the lowest price. "

— Laurie L., Hilton Grand Vacations Owner and Hilton Honors Member 

Let's get back to how we used our free night certificates, though. Despite having been once, Key West has always been on our bucket list. It's quite a trek from Iowa, where we live, but it seems like a waste to use free night certificates to stay close to home. So we set our sights on Casa Marina Key West, a Waldorf Astoria™ Resort

Luckily, I'm a planner and have found that the earlier you book, the more likely you will find a "standard room" available for your certificate. In this case, I was able to book at Casa Marina for Memorial Day weekend. (As you can imagine, booking far in advance is easier for holiday weekends.) 

Hilton Grand Vacations Owners snapping a selfie at Casa Marina a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Key West, Florida.     

And since I'm not retired yet, booking during holidays is a plus. I know that I already have some of the days off due to work holidays no matter what. Which means I use fewer vacation days. Finally, booking in advance typically requires fewer points. 

I used three of my certificates and then booked two nights using points at 63,000 points a night. Just for fun, I always check back to see how much the rate changes after I book. 

For example, two months after we booked, the room would have used 95,000 points a night. A month ago, the room was nearly $1,100 a night, and today, the same room is $1,800 a night — assuming a standard room would still be available during a holiday weekend. 

The best part is that I'm not paying anything out of pocket, not even the resort fee, which they waive when you book using free night certificates or points. So always remember to book with all points (versus points plus cash) when staying at a resort with resort fees.

As for this particular trip? It was all about location. Staying at Casa Marina puts you within walking distance to Duval Street, which is amazing, and it exceeded our expectations. 

Sea turtle at the Turtle Hospital in Key West, Florida.    
Although it was a holiday weekend, we could still book a Kayak tour, a sunset boat cruise, see the turtle rescue and our favorite, a Jet Ski tour of Key West — from the water. 

You can't beat the opportunity to stay anywhere in the world, Hilton Grand Vacations resort or not. But, with a bit of strategy, you can sweeten the deal and do so without any out-of-pocket hotel costs using free night certificates and points.   

We can't wait to use this year's free night certificates in Maui. Maui Bay Villas by Hilton Grand Vacations can't open soon enough, but in the meantime, we're grateful there are other options as Hilton Honors members. We plan on staying at Grand Wailea Maui, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in October for a few nights, and then we're off to the other islands for the complete Hilton Grand Vacations experience. 

Read “Why you Should Become a Hilton Honors Member Today" for another Owner’s perspective.


Hilton Grand Vacations Explorer, Laurie L.

Laurie L

As an Elite Owner, Laurie has a home-away-from-home at Elara byHilton Grand Vacations, Hilton Grand Vacations on the Boulevard and Kings' Land by Hilton Grand Vacations. She joined in 2013 and says vacations are among the most important things in her life and a big part of her retirement plans. She enjoys traveling with her significant other and friends and is happiest with a bit of adventure (think: helicopter tours and biking trips). 


However, her favorite travel memory is touring an olive oil farm and winery while staying at Hilton Grand Vacations at Borgo alle Vigne in Italy. As a traveler who loves a good deal even more than travel itself, she's your go-to for tips on planning unforgettable trips that won't break the bank. 

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