Yesterday morning I had breakfast with Mark Weinstein, Vice President of Hilton for the HHonors program. (Full disclosure: He offered, but I bought breakfast; we met at my hotel – a Marriott – and so I was the only one in a position to earn points.)
My sense is that they know they took a hit with last year’s devaluation. And they’d like to build some of the passion back amongst the most dedicated flyers.
Of course they’re not going to undo last year’s major changes…
Mark heard from me more than he revealed things to me, but he did promise that there were no big negative changes looming on the horizon. (They’ve already done that.)
My message to him was that:
- The program is too complex, hopelessly so. Reducing complexity isn’t about taking away member benefits. It’s about the award chart, and the perverse results it leads to (the frequency with which a suite will cost fewer points than a standard room shows that the award chart is out of whack for instance).
- Killing options like points and fixed miles isn’t the way to get to simplicity, in fact Hilton’s unique selling proposition was its generosity on the earn side and the ability to ‘double dip’ a campaign that’s long gone by the wayside.
- The program isn’t predictable enough on the redemption side. With so many award categories, and a sliding scale of point requirements within some of those categories, a member can’t know what their points are worth or set a goal for a certain number of points to redeem for an aspirational award.
- Even though they have to work with their hotel owners, compensate them well for the free room nights, and perhaps even make adjustments to point requirements as properties are full and rates go up — it may be really worthwhile for the program to absorb some of that cost increase at the upper end. They’ve priced their best hotels out of a reasonable range for redemption. It isn’t about how many points versus how much they have to pay a hotel — putting the best hotels out of reach reduces the incentive to stay at the lesser hotels throughout the year because members won’t be motivated by the great trip at the end of the rainbow. They need great hotels in great destinations that may even be loss leaders on the redemption side to drive the rest of the business.
- They need to improve benefits for Diamond status, there wasn’t much of a reason to earn it beyond getting Gold. And there certainly wasn’t a reason to stay at their hotels for status at this point. The sweet spot is Gold, and that’s a freebie (they believe this works for them, breakfast and internet and some room priority isn’t a benefit that trades off with other members so they can give it away broadly to spread the word amongst key traveler demographics).
- I fished for whether we might see a tie-up with American AAdvantage. Of course despite Crossover Rewards, Hilton has a strong (and frequently elite qualifying mile-earning) relationship with Delta now. American is the last big airline player and Hilton the last big hotel chain with a meaningful elite level so it could make sense. I got a knowing smile, clearly this is something they’ve thought a lot about, but I wasn’t going to get an answer yesterday morning.
At the end of breakfast Mark mentioned having read my post about losing Hilton HHonors Diamond status, and how I was no longer a Gold member. So he had already bumped my status up to Gold.
Gold is an easy status to get, there are several free or close to free routes I could have taken to get it had I expected to need it (strategic blunder on my part). And it’s a relatively low value item (though the best mid-tier elite status in most folks’ estimation).
I asked readers what they thought, I pushed back on the offer but did not want to be rude over our meal. Most readers thought it was fine to keep but others thought that I shouldn’t, that it would detract from their perception of my objectivity.
I thought it might just save me the effort of getting an HHonors co-brand credit card again, or doing (and failing) a Diamond challenge in order to keep Gold status. But I ultimately agreed with those who said it wasn’t a good idea, and was persuaded by the fact of how easy it is to get the status myself.
I’m far from pure. There are comps that I would take. If Aman Resorts wanted to give me a suite at one of their better properties, I would take it. I think the old apocryphal Winston Churchill story makes sense here (“now we’re just haggling over price”). But I’m not going to give anyone the idea that my reviews and opinions are influenced by a mere Gold status. 🙂
A snippet from the followup email I sent to Mark this morning,
Meanwhile, I greatly appreciate the spirit behind upgrading my HHonors account back to Gold status. I had my readers give me feedback on it, and I’ve thought about it, and if you don’t mind I’d actually prefer it if you would downgrade my account back down to Silver.
I think that’s the right thing.
And he replied,
As part of that candid feedback, I did not want to lose your perspective as a Gold Elite HHonors member. …Per your request, we will revert your status back to Silver and look forward to hearing your experiences through that lens and — hopefully — about your successful journey back to Gold Elite.