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Major Changes to Hilton’s Loyalty Program

As though we haven’t had enough shifts in the hotel industry in the last year, what with the Marriott-Starwood merger, then the update to the Hyatt program – Hilton was certainly not one to be left behind.

 

The Scoop

Today Hilton officially announced the changes to their loyalty plan – the most notable of which is the name – they’ll be dropping that extra ‘H’ in ‘HHonors” (my cellphone’s autotype is thrilled) to plain and simple ‘Hilton Honors“. Their twitter account @HiltonHonors reflects the change, not only in account name, but also in their banner.

 

We can expect to see the following changes available to members throughout 2017 – and you can see more details in on their new website. Here’s the details:

  • Flexible use of points and money for at Hilton properties – no blackout dates – available February 2017
  • Combine points with up to 10 members  – available March 2017
  • Shop with Hilton Honors points at Amazon.com – available April 2017
  • Diamond members can keep status for an additional year even if status requirements are not met – available March 2017

 

The most interesting of which is the cash and points – they’ll be offering a new slider function that will allow members to dictate the how much of the stay they’d like to pay for with cash vs points, starting at 1,000 points.

hilton slider

Diamond members (who’ve had Diamond status for at least 3 years and earned 250 elite qualifying nights or 500,000 points) are being granted a grace period if they don’t happen to meet status qualification – a major bonus to anyone who is at risk of hitting the mark by just a few nights – or if travel happens to slow down.

Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa

Your award stay at the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa could be a great deal on the Points + Money scale

The Takeaway

These are a LOT of changes. Overall, I think they are great updates to the program as it currently stands. It offers customers more options, to pay as they can, and spend points in more ways.

 

Of course, with new announcements come more questions. The biggest question here is going to be the points – how exactly is Hilton valuing them?

The Points + Money slider sounds awesome – but I am immediately intrigued to find out how much are they valuing Hilton Honors points at up against your cash? In practice, the slider is going to be great for those who don’t have enough points to cover an entire stay or are trying not to spend all their points at once, but sometimes, for just a little bit more cash, you might as well pay for the entire cost of the room. For example, I’ve seen SPG’s Cash and Points pricing to be completely ridiculous compared to the actual cost of paying for the entire room out of pocket, plus – you don’t earn SPG points on the cash portion of a Cash and Points stay. Which brings me to my next question – will Points + Money stays at Hilton properties be eligible to earn points on the cash portion? The current Hilton program does not allow this (and neither does SPG), but it doesn’t make too much sense to pay mostly in cash, cushioned with some points and not earn a single Hilton Honors points out of it.

Skift pointed out that this flexibility in selecting how much you pay for your stay in money vs points is heading in the direction of airlines loyalty programs – and it’s true. Delta, for example, lets you use your miles to pay down a portion of your ticket if you so choose – where 10,000 = $100. The difference here though is that you can earn Medallion Qualifying Dollars and Miles on the portion of your ticket you paid for with cash.  I’d love to see Hilton allow members to earn points on the cash portion. Whichever way this lands, I’m hoping this slider will offer more consistency to the Points + Money value each property has – because right now there isn’t a chart that dictates any points and cash ranges for properties within a certain category. This means two properties in the same category can charge completely different Points + Money rates. While the Point + Money slider doesn’t seem to be available just yet, you can check the points value per hotel on Hilton’s new page here.

I’m glad to see Hilton adapting points pooling – something that jetBlue offers their True Blue passengers. Similarly, Hyatt allows members to transfer points to anyone, which provides similar results. While this benefit isn’t entirely innovative in terms of loyalty, it’s definitely a great move.

Using Hilton Honors points over at Amazon.com is a nice, neat benefit, though I’m not expecting the points value on this option to be particularly fantastic. The option to use points at a partner typically comes at a terrible value for points, for just about any loyalty program. Even American Express Membership Rewards members are able to use points at a rate of about 0.7 cents per point – which is not entirely the best use of points.

And finally, the grace period being offered to current (legacy) Diamond members. This is the first time we’re seeing a loyalty program offer this (most just drop off your status completely, or offer you status one tier down, regardless of what you’ve qualified for). I’m a little disappointed to see the strings attached on the type of Diamond member – 3 years status, plus 250 qualifying nights or 500,000 lifetime points earned. I see the business reason behind it – you want to offer this to someone who’s been loyal over time, but then again, those qualifying nights and lifetime points thresholds are pretty high. In comparison, at 250 qualifying nights (and 5 years elite status – which you’ve likely hit with those qualify nights), you could already be at SPG Lifetime Gold (though who knows how much longer that program will stick around…). While restrictive, this benefit will surely prove to be a lifesaver to anyone in their last stretch of qualification towards Hilton’s Lifetime Diamond program. 

 

Despite all my questions, I think these changes are overall good for the program – I’m cautiously optimistic 😉

Featured image credit: Hilton

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