One of the programs that was shut out at the Freddie Awards was Hilton HHonors. I don’t think they should have won Program of the Year, but I do feel that HHonors has been getting a bit of a bad wrap in the frequent flyer community. For a long time they deserved it. The features of their program were limited —
- On the redemption side, no ability to use points for a better room than standard, no ability to stretch your points through cash and points awards like Starwood and then Priority Club offered.
- On the elite benefits side, no suite upgrades. To me, that’s the kiss of death for a program.
- And a couple of years ago they went through a big devaluation of their points.
But Hilton has made major changes in these areas, I just think they’ve under-communicated with their members. They haven’t made the changes in ways I’d have ideally liked, but the program is better now in my opinion than it was 18 months ago.
A couple of years ago the head of the HHonors program said effectively that he doesn’t believe in offering more value than competitors, since his customers won’t realize it, he’ll just wind up spending more money and won’t get their loyalty in return. So why offer better value? (He didn’t say it exactly that way, but it’s the best I’ve been able to make of statements calling the program ‘over-indexed’ and ‘not getting credit for that’ since customers only pay attention to the value proposition when it comes time to redeem the points). So I don’t ever expect HHonors to be the leader in this space. But they’ve actually gotten better, I think.
They don’t get credit for it, just like I think US Airways doesn’t get enough credit for some of the things they’ve done like being the first to introduce the current best business class seat in the market, or roll out first class cabins in their regional aircraft quickly.
With Hilton, I have to think it’s their own fault, they’ve made changes to their program but it’s not really been clear that they’ve done much to communicate those changes.
- Hilton made the big move that other chains have also made with their points, making reward nights available whenever standard rooms are on sale. Starwood pioneered this but pretty much everyone has matched.
- Suite upgrades are important, Hilton isn’t the best at it, but at least they’re not explicitly out of the game (like Marriott is). Hilton removed the exclusion of suites from the upgrade terms and conditions.
- Free internet is now standard for Gold and Diamond elites, and Diamonds get points as a check-in amenity now and don’t have to give up their upgrade or club access to get the 1000 points. It’s small, but significant.
- They added premium room awards, where you can spend additional points and reserve a higher category room. It’s not a fixed number of points for a better room like at Starwood or Hyatt, the number of points is based on published room rates for the nights of the stay and only values the points at about half a cent apiece. So not great. But it’s better than not having the option. Some don’t like it because now that upgraded rooms are almost always available, the program won’t go out and buy Diamond members free reward nights when standard rooms are sold out (as the Diamond could simply redeem more points for a higher level room). Tradeoffs.
- They added cash and points, following Starwood and later Priority Club, I actually expect Hyatt will eventually adopt this. It’s a great way to stretch your points further.
- And they’ve gotten much more active in the promotions space, encouraging more stays with additional points. I haven’t found Hilton to generally offer the most lucrative promotions of any chains, but some have been pretty good, and they do promos much more frequently than they used to.
- I even find the website to be less glitch than in the past, it used to be tough to search for award nights and every third page I used to have to log back in, things are much improved in the past six months.
They haven’t gotten credit for what seem to me to be improvements, but then they also haven’t really communicated those improvements. And if it’s at least arguable that they’ve made strides, you’d think they’d be shouting that from the rooftops.
I don’t think HHonors is the best hotel loyalty program out there, but I think it’s better than their members and other observers give them credit for.
For a long time I’ve expected them to roll out a new elite tier as a way of adding on additional benefits for their most loyal guests. That seemed like it would be a no brainer considering how easily they give away their Diamond tier now, I ‘earn’ my HHonors Diamond status by putting $40,000 of credit card spend on the American Express Surpass card each year ($75 annual fee). And when I’m able to do it by dropping a Hilton conference on the card, the spend earns 9 Hilton points per dollar.
Hilton is pretty darned ubiquitous. So it’s nice to have a big program status in my wallet, to complement the smaller but more lucrative Starwood and Hyatt programs.
And while Hiltons aren’t usually top of the line in most locations, they’ve done a great job adding aspirational properties, I can think of few better redemptions than what I had at the Conrad Koh Samui over this last Thanksgiving, there’s a new Conrad in Sanya, China that looks great and is at some point on my list, and if nothing else the Conrad Bali offers free unlimited laundry in their club section. There’s even two high-end properties in the Maldives! Unlike Starwood they don’t charge double points for hotels that are ‘all suite’ (though they may limit the number of rooms considered standard as a way of extracting more points for redemption, another pet peeve). On the whole, there are some good values to be had in the HHonors system.