Hate is a strong word and so I reserve it for use only on truly egregious programs. Despite being granted Hilton Diamond status this week via the widely reported status match opportunity, I find myself with nothing but hard feelings about the hotel chain.
Them giving me status is not what’s rubbing me the wrong way, or the fact that Paris never returns my calls (just kidding!), it’s their loyalty program. Like many of you, I save points up with the hope of redeeming them for out-sized value. I get excited about aspirational products and experiences and if an airline/hotel/program can’t offer that then I simply put my spending on a 2% cash back card.
What sense would it make to earn points worth a fraction of a cent when you can earn 2% cash back on all your spend and then use that cash to purchase anything you like?
Now on to my specific gripe (cue tiny violins); I have been saving up HHonors points to redeem at the Hilton Grand Niseko, which is right at the base of the Niseko ski resort in Hokaido, Japan. I went snowboarding there last year, and booked my flights to Japan using US Airways miles (those were the days!), and had a blast. So I am eager to go back and get a little quality shred time at Niseko.
My tiny little brain being oriented towards not paying hilarious sums for accommodations, my first thought was to sign up for some credit cards to build up some points and then use those points to stay and shred in Niseko. There is only one international hotel chain in Niseko, so the choice was easy, I would get some Hilton cards and use the points to book a room there.
Getting the cards was easy. Citi and Amex are both very generous about approving applications, so that part was a cinch. Now comes the ugly part.
The Hilton Niseko Village is supposed to be a category 7 hotel, which means that it should cost 30,000 to 60,000 points per night. When I first looked at this property many moons ago, it was pricing out at 35,000 points per night. Combine that with the 5th night free for silver, gold and diamond elites and you would be looking at 5 nights for 140,000 points. Not too shabby!
Even if all hell broke loose and they applied their “seasonal pricing” it should be capped at 60,000 per night, which isn’t brilliant, but combined with the 5th night free, it is still an alright value for a hotel that routinely sells rooms for $500 to $800 per night during the ski season.
Yet, lo and behold, Hilton has created a pricing scheme wholly unique to this property. Instead of the 35,000 points that I had seen some months earlier for the same dates, or the 60,000 point category cap, they are pricing the rooms at 266,036 points per night for my dates! Nearly eight times what it was pricing at before!
Despite Hilton labeling this hotel as a category 7 hotel, they are pricing the rooms using their “Premium Room Rewards” scheme, which allows them to slap any price they wish on the room. With standard room pricing for a category 7 hotel you would be getting between 1.2 and 2.4 cents in value per point (depending on whether it was at the bottom or top of its price range) for this room versus its cash price. With their “Premium Room Rewards” they are offering $0.0028 per point. Under this scheme, the 140,000 point which I could have previously used for 5 nights at this property is instead worth about $393, or half of one night at the resort! Talk about a devaluation!
It gets better! I searched through every single date on their award calendar for this property and I found that, despite some rooms occasionally pricing out within the Category 7 point range, all of the rooms for all of the days were priced as premium rewards. This means a couple of things: 1) You can’t get the 5th night free (which is the same as increasing the point cost by 20% on a 5 night stay) and 2) that of the 499 rooms across 365 days, not a single one, on any day, is offered at the standard category 7 rates. Of the 182,135 possible room nights (499 rooms X 365 days) not a single standard award is available! Not a single one!
This is the kind of move by a loyalty program that makes me crazy. They promise one thing (that the hotel costs between 30,000 and 60,000 points per night) and then suddenly they renege. The Hilton Niseko village is a category 7 hotel, yet it is pricing out at three times their category 10 hotels and doesn’t offer a single standard room redemption ever! Hilton has created a sort of flexible, rolling devaluation that allows them to price out a hotel at exorbitant rates the drop the value of my Hilton points ten-fold (from about $0.026 to $0.0028 for a 5 night stay).
This is why Hilton has earned my ire and urge you to voice your opinion on twitter and/or from the rooftops about them breaking their promises to their loyal HHonors members. Loyalty programs like Hilton’s get to set their own rules and change them at will, so the least they can do is follow their own rules.
Hit me up with all your questions and comments!
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