Extreme Hotel Award Redemption, and Rescuing Reservations from Oblivion

I have reward redemptions coming up at two of the most interesting point value offerings out there from any chain.

No, I’m not talking about the Le Meridien Chiang Rai, which was reduced to a category 2 property in Starwood Preferred Guest six months back — and that was one of my absolute favorite properties when I visited there two years ago. (I can’t say my experience — under a previous general manager, and with a nearly empty hotel — will be repeatable, but it was outstanding.)

I’m talking instead about the Park Hyatt Maldives and about the Conrad Koh Samui.

The Park Hyatt Maldives is the very top award category in Hyatt Gold Passport, and yet it’s still a value. With rates hovering around $1000 for an entry-level room, the property doesn’t take any more points to book than the Grand Hyatt New York, Andaz Wall Street, or Hyatt Key West. All rooms are villas, and from what I understand they treat Diamonds to space available upgrades to villas with private pool — though the last thing I would want to do is fly all the way to Male, catch a domestic Maldivian flight, and then an hour boat ride into the middle of the Indian ocean to not have my upgrade, so I was pleased to learn that they’ll also confirm upgrades to higher room categories at booking (not checkin!) for cash payment, $200++ per night for a villa with pool or $350++ per night for an overwater villa. Even with breakfast included, and room reserved on points, it’s an expensive property — roundtrip airport transfers are $450 per person, one can expect to spend $300 on dinner for two (making it one of the few properties where a ‘passport escapes’ award is a good value for the included dinners. Fortunately I’m flush with Hyatt Gift Certificates from the Capital One credit card signups.

The Conrad Koh Samui is another exceptional aspirational reward redemption. I do rather like Hilton HHonors for redeeming at their very most expensive properties, excluding those that they label “Waldorf=Astoria Collection,” since those properties tend to be a pretty good value on points, at least relative to similar properties which are affiliated with Starwood Preferred Guest (many top Starwood properties are very pricey because the rooms are all suites, since they’re pricey they’re in the top reward category 7 but since they’re all suites Starwood then charges double points in category 7, effectively penalizing members twice). Great examples are the Conrad Maldives and the Bora Bora Nui Resort. The Conrad Koh Samui is another great example. The entry level room is a standalone ocean villa with private pool, making it stand out even amongst the other top tier properties, elsewhere you don’t come close to that sort of room category on a reward redemption but at this property you cannot do worse. I originally booked it when the hotel entered the Hilton system at reward category 6. It’s since been upgraded to category 7, but an elite member booking a 5 night stay still pays just 40,000 points per night, quite reasonable for an $800 a night room.

The hotel has only just opened, and it’s been split apart from its sister (connected) Conrad Koh Samui Residences. For a brief period the Residences were showing award availability at that same category 7 price point. It’s effectively the same hotel, but with a higher room category:

This 186 sqm, 2-storey two bedroom pool villa is designed in contemporary-Thaistyle. The upper level entry opens into lawn with sala for spectacular vistas.Foyer space encompasses living room, powder room, kitchenette, anddining room for gatherings. Lower level houses double bedroom suites withking bathrooms that lead to a 12 meter long infinity pool. Master bedroomsuites feature marble bathroom, quality fittings and spa-quality amenitiesfor a luxurious bathroom experience. Both suites feature living areas, workdesks to keep in touch. It also includesa 42 sqm outdoor wooden deck with lounge chairsand dining table which faces unobstructed ocean views and privacy.

I admit, I got greedy. I just had to have the two bedroom villa for the same points price.

Normally, I’d book the 2 bedroom villa award and then cancel my existing reward. But I didn’t have enough Hilton HHonors points to do that. So I called up HHonors. I explained what I wanted to do, transfer my reward stay from the Conrad Koh Samui to the Conrad Koh Samui Residences. That it was important not to muck it up, I didn’t want to risk having any room there since I already had airfare booked. We should only do this if we’re certain it’ll go smoothly. The agent seemed confident, assured me he knew what he was doing and that there was reward space available at the Residences. He cancelled out my existing reward stay, credited me the points back instantly, and then proceeded with the reward booking for the Residences.

Only… the new booking confirmed as a paid stay. The agent was confused. He put me on hold. No one could make the booking show up as a rewards stay. And he couldn’t restore my original reservation, either, as the hotel was no longer showing reward availability or my nights. We had a problem! I escalated it a level and then one level beyond that, I wasn’t going to go through the process of submitting a written request hoping it would get fixed. It had to get fixed!

I worked with a sympathetic supervisor who understood what happened, that it wasn’t my fault, and that it needed to be fixed. I would have been happy either with the room at the Residences or with my original booking restored.

It did take a little bit of time since they needed to coordinate with the hotel and the time zone differences made it difficult to do so real-time. But the agent left a message at the property and gave me her email, and kept me updated. In the middle of the night (my time, business hours for the hotel) I received a confirmation for a paid stay at the Residences. And then I got an email from Hilton HHonors that it was being converted to a reward stay. Points were deducted, and I’m good to go.

Now, I don’t know if this was all fixed because of the mess up with reservations, or because I’m a Diamond member and they’re able to do a ‘diamond force.’ Back in the day one of the few really special perks of Hilton Diamond status was the ability to use points at a sold out hotel. Generally most hotel chains offer guaranteed availability for paid stays to their top tier members (most chains offer a very pricey rate for this). Hilton allowed you to force the availability and pay with points. However, since Hilton has introduced reward stay options for better than standard rooms by spending additional points, they’ve limited the availability to force a standard room using regular points. If any room type at all is available, regardless of the points price (eg an expensive suite for half a million points a night!) then they’ll tell you that you must redeem that award. But since these hotel properties generally offer only a single room type, a situation where no other room type is available may mean that Hilton will force availability for diamonds and then convert the reservation over to points.

I suspect that Hilton HHonors must be paying better than $1000 per night for my stay, and I’m very grateful, a phenomenal use of points and one I’m very much looking forward to.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. are you flying on TG to Surat Thani (URT) to get to Koh Samui? Anything else planned in that area or just staying at the Conrad the whole time?

  2. Gary,
    Thanks for the timely post (for me). I’m planning a Thailand trip for next year and couldn’t decide where to go from Bangkok. Was going to go to Phuket, but this property looks so great, we’ll go here instead.
    We had hh points to burn, so we’re staying 4 nights for 42,500 each as a gold VIP.
    Can’t wait to hear your experience and what you recommend there!

  3. When Hilton fully implements its premium rooms booking scheme, the Diamond Force will disappear fully. This is a major disappointment. I made a blog post on how unreasonable these redemtions may be with the example of Conrad Hong Kong rooms costing oer 85,000 points per night on an award stay. See my blog post here: http://tinyurl.com/3r7enfz

  4. Wow, I’m also tempted to switch from Le Meridien Phuket to this hotel in Koh Samui, but my Hilton hoard is being saved for Bora Bora and Moorea. I was at these properties when they were Starwood, and I want to go back.

    Need the points at the ready should I land that miracle AF flight from LAX at low skypeso redemption.

  5. Hi Gary

    I had been thinking of setting up a trip to thailand for the 4 Seasons Tented Camp and then a few nights at Soneva Kiri. But this might change my mind, can’t wait for the trip report. How were you planing to get there from Bangkok?

    P.S. Thanks again for your help setting up my trip to Barcelona next month. Keeping our fingers crossed that we get the new 74 first.


  6. Same thing happened to me a few years back when trying to book the Mount Juliet Conrad. They also ended up making it a “paid” booking but deducted the points and converted it to an award stay. The best part… since it was booked, they booked me in to a 2br villa in the rose garden. Still to this day one of the nicest rooms we’ve stayed in, even better than the Trisara 1br villa or a Villa D’ Este jr suite… for just a mere 40k points!

  7. Hi, Gary, just about 1.5 month ago, PH maldive was still on the list and accepting Gift certificate, too bad to see $319 “taxes included rate” is gone

  8. @Troy the gift certificates being gone is disappointing, but what I’m talking about is gift checks (like the Costco certs) which I’ve never known a Hyatt property not to accept. Now, the hotel itself has been removed from the lsit. But I specifically wrote to the hotel about my plans to use these certificates, and they indicated they would accomodate, so there will be a real stink if they say they will not honor when I specifically have it in writing that they will…..

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