If you’re a Hilton Honors member, you might know that in addition to using points for hotel stays, you can also redeem for experiences. You do this via Hilton’s Auction site – some experiences are available as a points auction, others are straight redemptions. Value can vary significantly, and only a limited number of the experiences are UK/Europe (many are in the US), so I hadn’t found anything worth redeeming my points for until recently…
There have been a few ‘Hilton Presents’ events in different countries – the basic format is that a well-known act plays to a small audience at an interesting venue. The events are catered and have a pre and post-concert party. The latest event was an evening at Abbey Road Studios with Jessie J. The capacity was limited to around 200 people, and you could get two tickets for 75,000 points. You can normally get about 0.3p/point if you redeem for hotel stays, so that’s about £112 per ticket. That might sound a lot for a concert ticket, but when you factor in that these are ‘money can’t buy’ tickets with free food, drink and a chance to visit Abbey Road Studios – I thought it was very good value.
At a 2:1 transfer ratio from American Express, you’d have needed 37,500 Amex Membership Reward points to transfer for 75,000 Hilton Honors points (which is effectively the Platinum Card spend bonus).
There were also 10 ‘meet Jessie J’ add on packages available to bid for. I initially bid for these, but dropped out when it eventually went up to 30,000 points plus – it would have been fun to meet her, but I’m not a big enough fan to use that many points!
Abbey Road Studios opened for us at 7 p.m. promptly, as per the schedule. Having taken the mandatory Abbey Road zebra crossing photo, we were ‘checked in’ on an iPad whilst in the queue and given wristbands. We were then led downstairs to the largest studio, where the stage, bar and event space was set up. The room was a large hall space, I believe normally used for large orchestra recordings and similar. Unfortunately we discovered we immediately needed to come back out of this space, against the flow of people, to find the cloakroom and toilets (there was also small museum/display space in this area). There were loads of staff on duty, so it would have been useful to highlight the location of these to people on entry.
The space was set up with a number of small standing height tables, a bar and a large stage area. Canapés and drinks were served on trays by a good number of efficient and very friendly Hilton staff. Options included miniature buckets of fish and chips! There was plenty of food and drink available, plus a large, and well presented, ‘help yourself’ area at the bar. That said, Hilton advertised ‘cocktails and canapés’, but actually provided Prosecco, white/red wine and beer – fine for me, but not what they promised, and my wife was a bit disappointed with this as she was quite excited to see which cocktails would be on offer There was a photo booth set up at the recording desk – photos were available to collect at the end of the event, presented in a record sleeve. Guests were also given lanyards, Hilton Honors bags and Abbey Road postcards. This was a nice touch.
At 200 tickets, there was more than enough space available. With very little effort we wandered almost right to the front on the left hand side of the stage – this was a brilliant (and very loud!) spot. There were security guards ensuring people didn’t encroach onto the stage area, but we were a matter of feet away. When Jessie J came on stage she joked that the room was like an ‘end of term school assembly’ with a crazy budget!
Jessie J’s performance itself was exceptional – I expected it to be a fun event, but I perhaps underestimated how enjoyable seeing her live would be. Her approach was perfect, a mixture of energetic, well known songs and some really genuine, at times emotive, connections with the audience. Given that this audience was likely quite different to her typical shows (plenty of Dad dancing on show!), I was impressed at how well she engaged everyone. It felt like a special intimate show, not someone just churning through some radio hits. She told personal stories, introduced her Dad (who was stood behind us), invited a girl to sing with her, stopped to talk to a lady who was getting emotional and even threw in a Beatles cover. Just doing that doesn’t necessarily give a formula for an intimate show, but it felt genuine and it’s a long time since I’ve felt that engaged and involved in a show.
In true showbiz style, she threw the schedule out of the window and her hour performance ran over, she was supposed to finish at 9.15 p.m. and instead left the stage at ten to ten. As a result the after show drinks didn’t happen, but no one seemed that worried. In that time she included all of her hits, plenty of chat and loads of energy.
I have to say – at 75,000 Hilton Honors points, it was a great experience at exceptional value.
We’d travelled from Bristol for the event and therefore needed to stay overnight. Having already spent 75,000 points on the tickets, I didn’t want to spend another £200+/60,000+ points on a central London hotel, so given that we’d be arriving via Paddington Station anyway, we decided to book Hilton Reading at just £60/night. This meant we could drive to Reading and then take the 25 minute train journey in and out of London Paddington.
I’ve used Hilton Reading a few times and have never been disappointed. This was no exception; Hilton Reading is a nice modern hotel and I find that the level of service is always good and the trains are so regular that it’s an easy journey into London.
If you have a stash of American Express or Hilton points, it’s worth keeping an eye on Hilton’s Auction site to see whether anything attractive becomes available. Hilton have organised these kind of events with acts like Bastille and One Republic in previous years, and I’d assume there will be a similar offer in summer 2020. These are ‘money can’t buy’ experiences and personally I feel they can be a very good use of points.
If you’d like to redeem for an experience like this, then consider American Express is a good place to start if you’re not regularly staying at hotels. Read my post here, about the Amex Gold Credit Card.