Your Advice Please on Taking a Comp?

I had an interesting dilemma this morning and I’m not sure I handled it the right way.

Last week I wrote about being downgraded from Diamond to Silver status, missing the ‘soft landing’ to Gold that I expected.

And I missed several opportunities for quick and easy Gold status (from Milepoint’s premium membership, from American Express Platinum, and from the Hilton credit card that I gave up).

I had breakfast this morning with Mark Weinstein, a Hilton Vice President for the HHonors program. We’re both in Seattle for the same events. By the way I’m at the Marriott by the airport, he came to me, and as the only one of us registered at the hotel and able to earn points I insisted on picking up the check.

Unsurprisingly, like any good executive he did his homework and knew I had been downgraded to Silver. And he wants me engaged in his program. My account was already upgraded to Gold.

I told Mark that wasn’t necessary, that I don’t ask for special favors and experience travel the way anyone else does. I thanked him but said I really prefer not to get status that way.

But I also didn’t want to be rude. And I was taken by surprise. It didn’t jump up and down on the table, insisting that the Gold status be taken away. (Incidentally, two readers offered to give me their MIlepoint premium comped status. And as Frequent Miler pointed out I could have asked for a Diamond challenge and simply taken the Gold for not meeting it.)

As it stands right now, I have Gold status in the HHonors program. It’s the best mid-tier status but it’s also a ‘gimme’ level. I wouldn’t have taken Diamond.

But I’ve still also found myself, without asking or wanting to, being in the uncomfortable position of having violated my own approach.

I know that there are hotel chains that would give me status, and airlines too. I also know that on the frontlines of travel none of that matters, outside of my status, because I get treated just as badly as anyone else with similar status all the time.

In this case though, should I insist on removing the Gold status or taking the free breakfast on my (very) occasional Hilton stays? What do you think?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Is there a way for you to send them $95 (or the cost of the credit card that would grant you the same benefit as the one comped?) to offset?

  2. Take it. As long as it does not influence your writing, don’t worry about it.

  3. You can have my Diamond card as I will never be staying at their notes again except to drain my points……….TRULY the best way to express your gratitude at the swarm treatment is just never stay there………..that would be fair…….

  4. @CW – I replied to your message in the Apr 21 Bluebird post. Perhaps you didn’t see it. Thanks.

  5. At this “meeting”, did you express your disgust at last years massive 100% devaluation or did you just discuss credit card referral fees….

  6. I think you should just keep it rather than potentially creating an awkward situation. It might assuage my slight guilt for getting SPG Gold status by “moving” to a Hyatt in Asia.

  7. rob said,

    I think if, when reviewing Hilton properties, you disclose that you have been comped gold you’re off the hook ethically.
    I think that covers it nicely.

  8. Lot of companies do not want employees accepting any gifts/favors over $100. I feel gold status is less than that. Keep it

  9. To be honest, at this point, all of your readers are going to have to take your posts about HHonors with a grain of salt. Agree with others that you should definitely disclose this in any relevant post. And, you should definitely NOT do what an earlier commenter mentioned: “I would just keep it and enjoy it. But you should also in return be a little nicer to HHonors and stop mentioning the devaluation. They have given you something of value — I imagine they expect something in return.” I’m not sure if s/he was joking, but that, obviously, would be the worst course of action.

  10. The thing I’m most curious about in this whole scenario is why did you get rid of the Citi HHonors card? Didn’t you previously write about how it’s a no-brainer to keep it?

    Personally I think it is in fact a no-brainer to get Hilton Gold by one of the cheap methods for anyone who does much traveling at all. Just the free breakfast and wifi from a single three-night stay covers the $95 cost and then some, and there are Hiltons everywhere.

  11. C’mon Gary, you know the correct thing is to maintain your principles and refuse the freebie. If Hilton status really meant something to you, you could easily get it several ways. Surely all the affiliate income more than covers any upgrade you might want when you (rarely) stay at a Hilton…

  12. I knew a politician who once said something like this: the art of dealing with a gift, large or small, in politics was to not feel obliged to act on behalf of the gift-giver even if accepting the gift and keeping it; otherwise it’s a bribe and you’re corrupt(ed).

  13. If the integrity of this blog is important to you, do not take this. I feel this blog is on a slippery slope as it is.

  14. i would NOT keep it. it’s your reputation on the line. if you can get it via other normal ways, why don’t you do that? then you don’t need to feel like you owe hilton anything next time you review one of their lounges.

  15. Tough call. Kudos for debating it. You could always opt to pay for your breakfasts and not accept many of the benefits. But, it seems this gift doesn’t influence your writing/lobbying, so go for it. On a side note, I was also downgraded from Diamond to Silver this year (been Diamond since 2005), so if anyone has one of the free Gold statuses and would like to donate it, please let me know. I would greatly appreciate it.

  16. As long as you continue to write and speak the truth about whats right or wrong with these programs it’s all good
    As others have stated its easy to get gold and I’ve done it for others in the past by requesting gold from my contacts at the call center
    Hilton has destroyed its program and it’s core value
    Points are worse than Pesos and now a pitiful amount of miles are earned when double dipping
    Diamond force is gone
    I hardly use the program anymore and they gave me 3 years of complimentary diamond status to win my business back this year
    Ive done 2 stays with them in 12 months down from 78
    And I stil can’t say anything nice about the program or the Blackstone puppets running the program
    Awful what they did and helpful to Hyatt and SPG

  17. Of course you should NOT take it. His motivation is to buy you off, even if done subtlety.

    Are you going to say in all the credit card pushing that you do, you are not taking “comps”? (Money == comps) Why do you have no problem with that?

  18. Since gold status is so easy to come by and you have several other options for earning it, I say keep it, else you just spend unnecessary time getting it another way. You’ve always seemed to be a straight-shooter and I’d imagine it won’t affect your blog posts regarding Hilton.

  19. One status level up is no big deal. You have disclosed it, accept it and thank them, to do otherwise is churlish.

    Next time though, enjoy your breakfast in the Hilton!

  20. Gary,
    One can’t properly analyze or make decisions about an ethical dilemma considering only the instant situation. Context usually matters. You have established yourself as an honest, unbiased, call-it-like-you-see-it commentator on travel issues, and you were transparent about how you lost Diamond and Gold status (BEFORE Hilton gave you Gold and before your breakfast meeting) AND about Hilton giving you Gold, and your breakfast meeting. I have no concern you’re going to shave your comments about Hilton or Hilton Honors as a result.
    All that being said, however, I offer the following as reasons I think the best course would be for you to write Hilton and ask that they return you to Silver:

    o Not everyone who comes across your blog or other sources of your comments has followed you and knows of your allegiance to transparency and objective commentary. Appearance counts, and even if you and many of your followers know that you’re not going to change your comments because of this, not everyone will know that.
    o Our detractors are going to run us down no matter how honest, scrupulous, and ethical we are. But why give them ammunition?
    o I think it is a worthwhile advantage for you to be able to say “I never knowingly have accepted different treatment from a travel service provider than would be available to someone else doing what I’ve done.” I’d retain that advantage.
    In my mind, the benefits of the status change aren’t sufficiently significant to warrant the downsides of accepting the change “gift.” If those benefits matter to you at all, I have no doubt you’ll be able to arrange to obtain them by one or another tack available to everyone (and you’ll have knowledge of more ways to do that than most others).
    In summary, only you can determine if you’ll even infinitessimally prostitute yourself as a result of this. My money says you won’t, and I have no doubt many of your other fans will agree with me. I won’t think differently about you if you keep the Gold, given how it came to you. But I also have no doubt keeping the Gold will raise questions in the minds of some, and likely will convince a few (or reconfirm in the minds of those already convinced) that you get special treatment and probably reciprocate. That seems like a bad deal to me.

  21. @ScottB – as it happens, and I wrote later, I did ask to be returned to Silver and I was in fact returned to Silver. Thanks!

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