The Challenges of Just Making a Reservation with Hilton, and Do They Have Too Many Brands to Offer a Functional Website?

Quick – can anyone name all of the hotel brands that are a part of Hilton? Without looking it up, that is?

There’s Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Hilton, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Hampton Inn & Suites, Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites by Hilton, and Hilton Grand Vacations.

The proliferation of brands certainly affects other chains too, I don’t think Hilton is actually the worst here, if I had asked the same question about Marriott, would you have included TownePlace Suites in your list?

But Hilton has different phone numbers for each. Or call Hilton directly and get a menu tree asking which one you want to make reservations at.

There has to be cost savings to better-integrating the brands. There has to be upside to just having fewer brands, there may be brand distinctions but consumers aren’t likely to understand those differences or how they relate to the overall Hilton family, emphasizing modest differentiation across brands has to undermine the value of the brand as a whole.

There have to be large numbers of hotel guests staying at a Homewood Suites and not even providing their HHonors number, not realizing it’s Hilton as opposed to, say, Priority club which has Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites.

Meanwhile, the Hilton HHonors website has to be the most frustrating to use of any of the major chains. I cannot manage to stay logged in throughout a session. I have to log in multiple times in order to make a reward booking. When I make a reservation, it isn’t immediately available online, in fact the website warns that it can take a couple of hours to show up. I find calling doesn’t produce much better results, even calling the Diamond line.

I tried to make a reward reservation over the weekend. I was about 9000 points short of what I needed, the website offered the reservation to me anyway while kicking in $264 cash.

  • So I tried to buy the points. 10,000 points costs $100, which is oddly less than 9000 points costs. But the website kept producing errors when trying to complete that transaction.
  • Not wanting to hassle further, I just transferred some points in from American Express Membership Rewards, it’s not a great deal but there’s a 20% reduction in Amex points cost for the transfer running so that helped. And the points post instantly.
  • I went to my account and my balance was represented correctly, immediately. But when I went to book the hotel the website still insisted I needed to top off with a $264 co-pay since I didn’t have enough points.
  • So I called. And after 15 minutes on the phone I was told that there was a system error, they couldn’t produce a reward certificate. So they made a paid stay and promised to convert it to points when I called back.
  • I called back, I was told it was taken care of and was told the correct points price. I was told that a confirmation e-mail would be coming. But I checked my balance a few hours later and the points hadn’t been deducted. No e-mail either. I called back.
  • Hilton HHonors told me nothing had been done to the previous reservation. They can’t convert a paid reservation to points. So they would have to make a new points reservation for me. That didn’t ring true, but I didn’t much care, I just wanted my award redemption! Only they spent 20 minutes, much of the time with me on hold, to tell me they had system errors and couldn’t complete the booking, I would have to call back.
  • Call back? Really? I asked about them calling me back, I was told that wasn’t possible, I should just try them later tonight. Would I have to start from scratch with the story? Yes I was told that I would.
  • This time I went to the website, and though I had to log in more than once during the reservation process I managed to make a points reservation successfully.
  • But now I couldn’t cancel the original reservation online, it would no longer come up on the website, so I had to call again to cancel the original paid booking.

And it is finally complete. But that’s what it took, for an HHonors Diamond member, to make a single reward redemption. As I say, there has to be a profitable opportunity for Hilton to develop some better systems and processes. I’m usually skeptical about that sort of investment, it’s usually more expensive than you expect and promised economies rarely develop as promised. Here, I am not so skeptical!

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. Funny story. Although, I have to say I think you should have written this in two posts — the subject matter is very different, and the only thing linking them is Hilton. It makes it hard to stay focused in the comments — are you trying to illustrate that Hilton sucks, and we can have a free for all, or do you want discussion on the two different pieces only?

    That said, yes, there are probably too many brands. Starwood has the same problem, but at least I don’t have to be brand-specific to make a reservation. In fact, like the Homewood Suites, I bet *W has a lot of people staying at Luxury Collection hotels not realizing they’re part of the *W family. In fact, when I come across an LC hotel that I’m unfamiliar with (say I come across it in an online hotel search if I’m not on *W’s main site) I usually have a hard time identifying it as an LC property, and even then, I forget that LC is part of *W.

  2. I’ve written their web team several times about how often you need to log in once you’ve already logged in. The last time I submitted my comments, I did receive the auto feedback saying that someone would get back to me, but I have heard nothing since. I don’t think it should be that difficult. You think with their new HiltonHonors branding campaign they could have spent some of that money on making their website more user friendly.

  3. Oh, forgot to add… Some grocery stores have the same problem, too. I worked for Kroger corporate for awhile (no presence in DC) and the number of brands under the corporate umbrella is pretty unbelievable — it’s pushing the number in *W/Hilton.

    I’m pretty sure these things end up like this because of corporate acquisitions. The corporate peeps figure there’s money to be made in acquiring a brand. They’re trying to get the best of both worlds — they want to maintain the brand loyalty that exists prior to the merger, but they also want to add the folks who are loyal to the program as a whole.

    But what they get is a hodge podge of brands that probably get lost in the shuffle. For instance, with *W, is there *really* a difference between Sheraton and Westin? How about LeMeridien? That’s primarily an overseas brand, but now that they are opening more and more NA properties, they’re losing that distinction.

  4. Gary: I have to agree on the clunkiness of their web site. Everytime, I try to make a reservation, I get logged out. Then upon getting logged in, the resrvation trips on my Frequent flyer number and won’t allow the reservation. I then call the Diamond and/or regular line and they try to make the reservation and their system even trips on the my correct Airline mileage number…Amazing, how they can’t get this right.

  5. LOL. Sorry but we’ve all gone through something like that with a company. I still it factors down to not wanting to pay money to get qualified IT personnel. Companies always want to get cheap IT people and this is what happens.

    Just look a most of the airline web sites, many of them are so confusing and poorly laid out. SWest use to be a simple easy to use web page but I looked at it recently and it is a mess. US Airways is another mess. I could retire if I could get paid for watching their logo loading the next web page.

  6. Gary,

    Virgin Atlantic Flier Club Miles is 1-1 Hilton Points for free (no fee) at 10K minimum and in 5K chunks thereafter. And no fuel surcharges with Hilton Points from Virgin. LOL


  7. @Dan the connection to the mutliple brnads was the overall confusion of the booking process and the multiple numbers to call for each brand. And it was about overall process improvements, clarity of booking and clarity of responsibility across brands for a smooth Hilton reservation/redemption process. Apologize if the thoughts seemed disjointed to you.

  8. @Chris the system won’t take my mileage number either. So I make reservations on the Hilton site without the mileage number. But since it’s successfully in my profile, the miles post anyway. I just can’t include it when MAKING a reservation, though not sure why I’m supposed to provide it anew at that stage when they already have it?

  9. Reason enough not to patronize the group.

    I do not stay at any of these branded properties (for these and many other) reasons.

  10. @NY Banker
    While I try to follow the philosophy, it is not practical everywhere. There are areas where the chain hotels are the best value, especially when it comes to resorts. Also for business travel they are great if your bookings are done through a travel agent. I have rarely used Hilton site so I have never run across seen by Gary. Also most of the time I will go directly to the hotel site to make my reservations.

  11. I Never had any problems making paid or reward reservation with Hilton hotels Online. I am surprised to see so many people had problems.

  12. @Gary, I also find the multiple log in requests for the Hilton website cumbersome and time consuming. Sometimes the best thing to do is to close the browser and start the whole reservations process again. With regards to having so many brands, I think this is actually the strength of Hilton over other hotels frequent guest programs. Compare the number of Hilton hotels in London to others, and Hilton wins with no contest.

  13. Private equity takes this company private and refuses to put any cash in to keep systems updated…a travesty, Conrad Hilton should be around to see this mess

  14. Pretty much the same experience as Ray. And anyone who doesn’t want their Hilton points are welcome to send them this way 🙂

  15. Time to use the IHG and collect Priority Points. I personally have not had any problems domestically or internationally, by phone or e-mail, converting my points to great stays.

  16. Ed I can’t find what you said on the web site. Either than or I misunderstand.

    It sounds like you are saying Hilton transfer to Virgin 1:1. Are you sure about that?

  17. Just wanted to correct Dan. Luxury Collection is part of Starwood as are W, Aloft, Sheraton, Four Points, Westin, St. Regis, Meridien etc. LC is not a part of W, and Luxury Collection was around far before W. The confusing part comes when you have a Sheraton Hotel, that is part of the Luxury Collection such as the Sheraton Park Tower in London. You see, other companies have just as many brands, and just as confusing. The worst I think is Inter Continental Hotels Group (IHG) which is the parent company of Holiday Inn and Inter Continental Hotels, Crowne Plaza, etc., but by branding the company as InterConti is somehow giving inflated quality expectations to their largest brand, Holiday Inn.

  18. Enricho —

    No correction needed 😉 I thought it was obvious, but “*W” refers to Starwood, not the “W Hotels” brand.

  19. I am a bit surprised about your experience, I think that would be more on the unusual side. I never had a problem picking up the phone, calling Diamond Desk and making a reservation or switching it or getting an email (a few hours later) confirmation about my reservation. Maybe, I don’t do it enough, or make simple reservations, I just never experienced anything that you described. I hope your next time (is there one?) will be better.



  20. I don’t have these problems with Hilton, other than of course the constant requests for my PIN. Earlier today I logged in to check something and it required my PIN on THREE consecutive screens.

    When I used 2 Q3FNs a couple months ago, I was shocked how quick it was by phone with the Conrad people. Called, gave the hotel, the dates, the cert numbers, and BAM, done. Must have taken no more than 60-90 seconds.

    Sure wish we’d see that promo again. Four $39 MCO-area nights yielded a $1100 rack room with $100 in breakfast.

  21. @sbe…

    It is there (on Virgin’s website)…..I found it. What you are asking is 10K Hilton points to 1500 Virgin Miles.

    Flying Club members can exchange their miles for HHonors points which can then be redeemed for HHonors rewards such as free hotel nights, experimental rewards, premium merchandise and much much more.

    Exchange miles at a rate: 1 Flying Club mile for 1 HHonors point.

    Minimum Level: 10,000 miles and then in increments of 5,000. Just call the Flying Club Helpline with your HHonors account number.

    *Please note your name on your Flying Club membership account must match exactly with the name on your Hilton HHonors account for a successful transfer. Your transfer will take up to 30 days and a booking cannot be made until the transfer is complete.

    Flying Club members can also exchange Hilton HHonors points for Flying Club miles. To exchange Hilton HHonors points for Flying Club miles please visit Hilton Reservations and Customer Care Opens in a new window

    Exchange points at a rate: 10,000 HHonors points into 1,500 Flying Club miles.
    =====================end of paste====================

  22. I agree as well about the clunky website and annoyances…the logging out, etc. And why, unlike any other hotel website, must I actually enter my unique AAA member number in order to check on AAA prices? (I’m sure some programmer/staffer thought this would cut down on fraudulent use of AAA rates but they still can – and sometimes do – ask to see your card at check in anyway)

    I know from travel with co-workers there are definitely people who have no idea that some of the brands are part of HHonors. WHether it’s more a problem than other chains I don’t know…I suspect it may be.

  23. In my experience Hilton has the worst service by far out of all the major chains. My last “adventure” was booking 2 rooms online, to get a single room confirmation. After weeks (literally) trying to fix it, I feel like they’re pulling some kind of joke on me. I never seem such lousy reservation service in other chains, and as far as I know nor have my employees and past co-workers. Never again.

  24. Do not expect a simple experience of making or changing a reservation at Hilton. First repson did not know here Riverside Hilton is. Then told me my reservation number (sent from Hilton) was invalid. Could not give me hotel direct number. Could not find my Hilton Honors number, name, etc.. Suggested I call Hilton reservations and ask for help. After this reservation done!.

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