A Comprehensive Look at Hilton Honors Changes About Which You Need to Know
M y time was already scheduled this past Tuesday, January 31, 2017; so I was unable to attend the conference call with Mark Weinstein — who is the senior vice president and global head of loyalty and partnerships for Hilton Worldwide, which is now known as simply Hilton…
…and — to their credit — the team at Hilton Honors attempted multiple times of the day that day to coordinate with me; but unfortunately, none of them worked out. I figured that I would simply expound upon what was already covered in multiple weblogs and media sources in a new article — until we agreed upon a time yesterday morning to talk.
That appointment turned out to be an exclusive telephone call with Aaron Glick — who is the vice president of the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program at Hilton. Lauren — who is known as FlyerTalk member and company representative HonorsRepresentative — also attended the telephone call. In addition to the news and explanations pertaining to the changes announced for the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program, I also had the opportunity to read comments posted on FlyerTalk and at other weblogs in reaction to the announcement — and so I thought I would address those concerns with Aaron and Lauren.
A Comprehensive Look at Hilton Honors Changes About Which You Need to Know
As I promised in this article from two days ago, this article details the changes which have been announced — as well as include comments from Aaron Glick which pertain to each change in the form of three new points benefits and a new benefit for members of Hilton Honors who have earned Diamond VIP elite level status.
For your convenience, I have also included a concise list of advantages and disadvantages at the end of each section to each change in the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program as a quick reference.
Points & Money: A More Flexible Option — But No More Hotel Category Charts
Effective later this month, Hilton Honors members can use a flexible payment slider to choose nearly any combination of points and money to pay for their stay — any time — with no blackout dates. Hilton Honors members can still opt to use all points on award stays; and members who have earned elite status level can continue to enjoy the popular 5th Night Free benefit.
To use the Points & Money option to pay for a stay, the minimum spend is 5,000 Hilton Honors points; and the slider allows you to increase the number of Hilton Honors points you might want to redeem in increments of 1,000 points — all the way to paying for your stay in full with points only. Hilton Honors is the only frequent guest loyalty program in the lodging industry to equip its members with a slider to customize the balance between redeeming points and paying with money for a stay at a hotel or resort property.
Unlike the current Cash & Points option where you could not earn Hilton Honors points at all, you will be able to earn Hilton Honors points on the cash portion of a Points & Money stay once that option is in effect later this month. While not exclusive, Hilton Honors is one of the few frequent guest loyalty programs which offers this feature on its Points & Money option.
Prices of stays paid with Hilton Honors points will also become more flexible with the Points & Money option. When demand and room rates are lower, points prices will flex and go lower than before — meaning that hotel categories will become obsolete and therefore be eliminated, which will allow point prices to go lower than the previous ranges.
Even after the transition on standard room rewards, the maximum points price of each hotel and resort property will not increase.
As an example, a standard room reward redemption at Category 10 hotel and resort properties costs a maximum of 95,000 Hilton Honors points per night. Once the new Points & Money option launches later this month, the maximum amount of Hilton Honors points which you can redeem at those same hotel and resort properties will continue to cost 95,000 points — and may sometimes be priced lower than the previous category range.
For comparison purposes in the future, here is the hotel category chart which displays the current Hilton HHonors standard award prices per night prior to the elimination of hotel categories — and keep in mind that you can continue to enjoy the popular 5th Night Free benefit if you have earned elite level status, meaning that you can stay at the same hotel or resort property for five consecutive nights when you redeem enough points for four consecutive nights:
“Some of the present low category hotels often have standard rooms at quite expensive room rates and this makes the present low category award rate very advantageous and is one of the benefits of the scheme”, explained FlyerTalk member cjd. “When the award rate is based upon the room price, I would imagine the points required will rise substantially.” Other FlyerTalk members posted similar thoughts.
“There is no secret plan to raise the maximum next week or next month,” Aaron Glick assured me. In many cases, “redemption prices are lower than before” and they “cannot go any higher than the previous maximum.” When I informed Aaron that members are concerned that even though there are no raising of maximum levels this year if that means significant devaluation next year, he stressed that the elimination of hotel category reward charts is “not a devaluation, as the value of Hilton Honors points are still the same. There are now more redemption prices so that the number of members who could not redeem points under the current program will be able to do so under the new program.”
To be fair, the maximum levels cannot be expected to remain unchanged forever; but there are no plans to significantly devalue Hilton Honors points overall in the foreseeable future.
When I asked Aaron about the concern expressed by FlyerTalk member :D! that “the points & money will be a fixed rate of 1 point for 0.46 US cents off a cash rate” and emphasized that that rate is poor — assuming that the new Points & Money option is not as good of a value as the current Cash & Points option — he replied that the value of a point varies by such factors as hotel and date; and that the Points & Money option actually “creates more ways to get value for the points — especially when rates are higher at peak times.”
Aaron pointed out that reward stays were already variable — to a point — at Category 4 and above anyway.
FlyerTalk member TravelinSperrycautioned that “Removing transparency never leads to good things.” Without even quoting what TravelinSperry posted, Aaron Glick volunteered to me that he wants for the team at Hilton Honors to be a “champion” to its members by providing transparency and the best value members can get.
“I wanted the pricing tool,” Aaron stressed, as he said that he cares a lot about “members being comfortable” by providing as much transparency as possible with no surprises. When I explained that members of the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program tend to like the overall travel experience provided by Delta Air Lines — the SkyMiles program is the sore spot in which their trust was either reduced or lost altogether — he definitively responded that he does not want to risk the trust of Hilton Honors members, which is another reason why he adamantly wanted the pricing tool.
The idea of Points & Money is rather simple: as using this option requires a minimum of 5,000 points — which can basically be earned by staying two nights when paying with money for a hotel room — this gives the flexibility to get more value from points faster so as not to have to wait until there are enough points to use for a reward stay paid completely with points. This way, even members of the Hilton Honors program who are at the basic Blue membership tier can redeem their points faster for reward stays.
Aaron also assured me that the Points & Money option will be available “as long as standard room rates are available.”
You can check pricing examples for all of the greater than 4,900 hotel and resort properties here; and you will be able to use an availability calendar to see up to 365 days ahead exactly how many points are required to redeem at a specific hotel or resort property on a specific date. The redemption rates will be in real time once the Points & Money feature is launched.
Here is a hint imparted by Aaron: if you find a redemption of points which you believe is reasonable to excellent, you can redeem your points and book your stay to ensure that you have that rate by the time you arrive at the hotel or resort property. Not booking it means that the rate is at risk of fluctuating — meaning that the redemption price could change if you wait instead of book your reservation…
…but of course, that could work the other way as well. I just thought of this question as I am writing this article: what if you redeem points to lock in a rate — only to find that the redemption rate decreases prior to your stay? Can you request the difference be refunded to your Hilton Honors account; are you stuck with the higher rate — similar to restricted revenue rates which are paid in advance; or can you simply cancel your reward reservation to redeposit the points back into your account and redeem them at the lower rate without any penalty? I intend to find out the answer and report back to you on that question.
In the meantime, all reservations booked prior to late February 2017 will still be honored the way they were booked. If you choose to change a reward reservation after the launch, the points price of the stay will be subject to the latest redemption rates.
ADVANTAGES OF POINTS AND MONEY OPTION
No blackout dates
Ability to earn Hilton Honors points on the money portion of a stay
Can be used at greater than 4,900 hotel and resort properties at 14 hotel brands worldwide — no exceptions or exclusions
Possibility of lower redemption rates than those currently offered during off-peak periods
All Points & Money rewards stays and nights will continue to count towards the achievement of elite level status
DISADVANTAGES OF POINTS AND MONEY OPTION
Rewards more based on revenue and demand than before
Elimination of reward charts, meaning you likely have to put more effort into searching for a reward redemption using a tool
Resort fees will be applied for any bookings purchased with any combination of Points & Money; but they will still not apply to reservations booked solely with Hilton Honors points
Devaluations could possibly occur in a stealth fashion in the future — such as an increase in the maximum threshold of a hotel or resort property
At this time, the slider tool is not available when booking a stay at Hampton Inn hotel properties in Mainland China
Shop with Points on Amazon
As of summer of 2017, you will be able to use your Hilton Honors points to purchase products at Amazon.com. The partnership with Amazon.com will give you more choices — think millions of products — and more ways to use Hilton Honors points. Hilton is the first hotel partner to participate in Shop with Points at Amazon.com.
To use Hilton Honors points to pay for part or all of your purchase, you must first link your Hilton Honors account to your Amazon.com account — and yes, you must have an account with Amazon.com in order to participate. Once you are ready to purchase, simply proceed to checkout through your shopping cart. When you choose your payment method for the purchase, you can choose the amount of Hilton Honors points you wish to apply.
According to Aaron Glick, the best possible conversion rate with Amazon has not yet been determined and is still being negotiated; but Hilton is leveraging its purchasing power with Amazon.com by tapping into its distribution network. This way, you get to take advantage of that purchasing power when it becomes available.
Not being one to use frequent travel loyalty program miles or points on merchandise, I asked Aaron about why a member of Hilton Honors would want to take advantage of this option — especially when the value of the redemption of points for merchandise is usually worse than when redeeming them for a stay. He cited two reasons:
If the point balance is low and the member wants to use points but cannot use them for anything else, there will be options available at Amazon.com
When road warriors are on the road and have a high balance of points in their accounts because they have no time to redeem them for stays, they can always use them in the meantime to purchase gifts for their spouses — increasing the options for using those points
ADVANTAGES OF SHOP WITH POINTS AT AMAZON.COM
More options with which to redeem points — in this case, for virtually anything sold at Amazon.com and not confined to a limited number of products which were previously selected
Additional value to Hilton Honors members with low point balances in their accounts
Leveraging of purchasing power, which could mean more value for members
There is no fee to use this service
DISADVANTAGES OF SHOP WITH POINTS AT AMAZON.COM
Redemption rates of points likely not to be as good of a value as using them for stays
Redemption rates have yet to be determined
Although the Hilton Honors shopping mall will not be active in the United States once Shop with Points at Amazon.com is activated, it will remain active in all other countries
If a Hilton Honors member outside of the United States chooses to use Shop with Points at Amazon.com, that person should keep in mind that he or she will need to pay the shipping fees from the United States to his or her location, as this partnership only applies to Amazon.com and does not apply to other Amazon sites outside of the United States — such as Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.jp
Starting this April, you can combine — or “pool” — your Hilton Honors points with family and friends on future award stays. No transfer fee will be charged, as this option will be completely free for you to pool your points with up to a maximum of ten family members and friends to get to more vacations together — and faster.
“40 percent of the use of Hilton Honors points involves three or more people,” Aaron said, noting that Hilton has the most suites of any lodging company in the world. This way, three or more people can pool their points and redeem them for a suite, which could possibly be less expensive than redeeming points for two or three rooms.
You will be able to transfer a minimum of 1,000 points — and a maximum of 500,000 points — into a pool in a calendar year. You can receive up to a maximum of two million points in a calendar year.
In response to my question as to why up to ten additional people can pool Hilton Honors points — meaning that eleven people total can pool points — Aaron replied that based on numerous tests, constant communication with members, and consumer research, the team at Hilton Honors communicated with the information technology team at Hilton and decided upon ten additional members as the best balance — not too many people; and yet enough to satisfy most members.
In case you were wondering, members of the Hilton Honors program who are married and have what used to be known as mutual fund accounts will still get to keep this option — which has not been available for years — indefinitely.
Please allow up to 24 hours for pooled points to appear when you log in to your Hilton Honors account.
ADVANTAGES OF POINTS POOLING
Up to eleven people in total can pool Hilton Honors points — meaning fewer accounts with “orphaned” points
No transfer fee to pool points — transfer as freely as you like between the members in your pool
Mutual fund accounts remain intact for those members who have them
If your friend has to cancel his or her trip, he or she can simply transfer the points back to your account for free
Pooled points can be used on just about everything Hilton Honors points can buy when redeemed
DISADVANTAGES OF POINTS POOLING
You must be an active member of Hilton Honors and have a minimum balance of 1,000 points in your account to participate
Although generous, there are limits as to how many points may be transferred within a calendar year
Any discrepancies or arguments which could erupt between the maximum of eleven people as to how those points should best be used…
One-Time Extension of Diamond VIP Elite Level Status for One Year
Starting next month, eligible Hilton Honors members who currently have Diamond VIP elite level status can choose to extend their status for a year — one-time — for any reason when a light travel period does not allow them to qualify again for the next year. Examples include a new job, a new addition to the family, or for any other situation.
“Eligible” means that a year in which you had your elite status matched from another frequent guest loyalty program will not count as a year of eligibility for this benefit — nor will bonus Hilton Honors points count towards achieving the criteria for this feature.
The extension of Diamond VIP elite level status for a year which was granted by enacting this benefit does not count towards fulfilling the requirement for a year towards earning Lifetime Diamond status.
Aaron would not definitively answer whether this Diamond VIP benefit extension might be granted more than once; but he did call the Hilton Honors program the “most member-centric” and that Hilton “wants to be loyal back to Diamonds who have been loyal” to Hilton.
If you are a member of Hilton Honors who has earned Diamond VIP elite level status, you are eligible for this one-time extension if you have earned Diamond VIP elite level status for a minimum of three years since joining the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program — the years do not need to be consecutive — and you have also earned either at least:
250 nights — paid or reward; or
500,000 base Hilton Honors points
ADVANTAGES OF ONE-TIME EXTENSION OF DIAMOND VIP ELITE LEVEL STATUS FOR ONE YEAR
With little or even no activity, you can request to extend your Diamond VIP elite level status for another year
This option can be exercised at your discretion
No fee is needed to activate this option
DISADVANTAGES OF ONE-TIME EXTENSION OF DIAMOND VIP ELITE LEVEL STATUS FOR ONE YEAR
This option is only available one time
You must have earned Diamond VIP elite level status for a minimum of three years since joining the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program to be eligible for this option
Why the Changes in the Hilton Honors Program?
Despite the fact that the actuaries do calculate the liabilities of points and study redemption rates — the profit and loss statement is similar to life insurance according to Aaron — “we want members to use points for more redemption experiences because it creates a stronger connection to the Hilton Honors program and to the hotels.
I commend and applaud Hilton Honors for finding innovative ways of unlocking additional opportunities to redeem points with more options available to all members of the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program.
I can hear you now: “What? You are okay with no hotel category reward chart?!? Are you a shill for Hilton? What about Delta Air Lines? You keep referring to their having no award chart as a negative. What is the difference?”
…and no, I am not a shill for Hilton or anyone else.
Why Drop the extra H in HHonors?
I have been having to watch myself as I type the name Hilton Honors as I keep adding that extra H, which is now dropped. For some reason — perhaps because I was so used to Hilton HHonors — Hilton Honors almost appears to look like a typographical error to me.
I actually liked the name Hilton HHonors. It was unique. Well, at least Hilton did not use the unoriginal word rewards with the new name as at least four other frequent guest loyalty programs are currently named — and I will not mention the names Marriott Rewards, Wyndham Rewards, Best Western Rewards and IHG Rewards Club in this article.
Additionally, the parent company has dropped the word worldwide from its name. Hilton Worldwide is now known simply as Hilton to better focus on building brands more than before — as well as focus on customers. I remember when Hilton operated as two separate entities: one in North America; the other for the remainder of the world. At times, that was rather confusing for a number of reasons.
Hilton Honors is an “homage to the master brand,” Aaron said, explaining that the new spelling of Honors is the correct spelling and accepted globally. “The extra H caused confusion around the world. People did not know how to pronounce it. Was it Honors? Was it H-Honors?!? We wanted the name to be more friendly to members.”
As a person who is experienced in communication design — that is the subject of which I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, in fact — I find the new logo plain and boring. Although gold and silver are far from my favorite colors, they seemed to add a richness to the former logo. There was also more “weight” in the former logo, balanced with a light weight of the logotype. It was contemporary and yet simultaneously classic; slightly formal yet definitely fresh.
My interpretation of the new logo is that Honors is “wrapped around” or “hugging around” Hilton with the box — as though the member is “covered” and that the team at the program is looking out for its members. I could be way off base on this one — or perhaps I am attempting to make much more out of the logo than what it is in its simplicity — but it does nothing for me. There is no discernible variance of weights or colors to bolster the look of the new logo, and it does not match the consistently modern style and design of collateral material — such as found with its advertising. Perhaps its look will grow on me in the future.
Then again, the current Hilton logo — with which the Hilton Honors logo more conforms — itself does nothing for me either. Sorry, Hilton.
I was on the telephone for approximately 90 minutes with both Aaron and Lauren; and I let them know that I was “honored” — pun intended and yet genuinely literal — that they took the time out of their day for the conference call. Thank you both, Aaron and Lauren — I greatly appreciate it.
There are still some features which I would like to see — such as the ability to log into my account to be able to check the number of lifetime years, nights or base points to see how much closer a member is to achieving Lifetime Diamond VIP elite level status…
…but I believe the changes overall are weighted on the positive side. Sure, there are potentially significant negatives which are possible — but I trust Aaron Glick, who is not ashamed to admit responsibility for something which occurred to the detriment of members of the Hilton HHonors frequent guest loyalty program. I have great respect for people who do not hesitate to admit when they are wrong — and then take steps to correct the error, which Aaron did as quickly as possible.
By the way, Aaron Glick has not been on the Hilton Honors team for a year yet — March will be his anniversary of one year — but do not mistake that for gullibility or inexperience. Before joining the Hilton HHonors team, Aaron spent nine years in either director or vice president positions at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Incorporated. He is no neophyte with regard to the lodging industry.
If you have any questions pertaining to the new Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program, you can either refer to this list of frequently asked questions; or you can ask me in the Comments section below. If I do not know the answer to your question, I will find out the answer for you through my contacts at Hilton.
I want to conclude this article with this quote by Aaron Glick during the telephone call: “What can we do for what matters most to our members? I want them to have faith in us; believe in us; and I want to do what is in their best interest to earn their trust.”
I have no reason to doubt him and not give him and the rest of the team at Hilton Honors a chance to show that they stand behind what they say — do you?