Over the last few years Hilton has been working to revamp its loyalty program to better compete with Marriott and Hyatt. However, one of the biggest issues Hilton elites had with the program was its lack of suite upgrade awards — a benefit which both Marriott and Hyatt offer to their respective high level elites. Right now Hilton’s top-tier Diamond elites are not guaranteed suite upgrades, even if there’s availability.
Now, Hilton has confirmed with TPG that it’s currently running a pilot program that allows select elite members to confirm an upgrade at time of booking. While this is just a pilot, Hilton tells us that it plans to roll out the program to all of its members likely later this year. Once this happens, it will seriously up the value of Hilton elite status and close a significant gap between its perks and those offered by Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt.
We spoke with Jonathan Nouri, Vice President, Honors Strategy and Program Management, and Brad Anderson, Director, Hilton Honors, Strategy and Program Management about the pilot program and what it means for the Honors members. Nouri stressed the importance of upgrades and how those bring significant value to customers. While the team is looking at ways to enhance all elite upgrades for Gold and Diamond members in the future, this pilot is a tangible first step in raising the bar for the program’s most loyal members.
The pilot launched on Monday January 21 and includes a small group of diverse “high-value members” from around the globe — each of whom received one upgrade certificate that must be redeemed by the end of March. Since Hilton allows reservations up to a year in advance, these targeted elite members can choose to book and then upgrade a stay as late as March 2020. During (and after) this three-month time period, Hilton will be collecting feedback on members’ experiences with the pilot, and it will implement a program based on what they learn from participants.
The pilot’s upgrade certificates work in a similar fashion to Hyatt’s. The member can use a suite upgrade certificate at time of booking, and that upgrade will be confirmed immediately. Like Hyatt, the certificates cover a stay for up to seven nights. So if you booked a base room for a week and used an upgrade certificate during booking, your entire stay would be in the larger room.
Even better, this perk is applicable to both paid and award stays. Nouri thinks that most customers who would benefit from this perk would rather cash it in on a points booking at a luxury property, those that many travelers save up for. That means a little more space to relax and unwind at spots like the Conrad Maldives or the Hilton Moorea.
It’s worth noting that while upgrades during the pilot work by stays, Hilton says this may change as they collect and analyze feedback from the targeted members. The final program may follow the pilot, or it may award upgrades that can be applied on a per night basis. Or it’s entirely possible to be a combination of both nights and stays, says Nouri.
Another aspect that’s not clear at this point is who exactly will earn these upgrade certificates once the full program launches. Nouri said it may be earned after staying 60 nights (how much it currently takes to earn Diamond elite status) with the chain, and more may be received after hitting other thresholds (80 nights, 100 nights, etc.). It’s possible that spend on an American Express Hilton credit card could count towards qualification, which would be a nice way to recognize the value that cardmembers bring to the program. Hilton revamped its cobrand portfolio in early 2018 and launched the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, which may be the best cobranded hotel credit card available — it even gives cardmembers complimentary Diamond status as long as they hold the card.
There’s no official timeline on rolling out these new upgrade certificates, but Nouri thinks that we’ll see the official details of the program by the end of the year, and members’ qualifying stays during 2019 should count towards the new benefit.
It’s great to see Hilton committing to improve the Honors program. While we still don’t know the full details, the addition of confirmable suite upgrade certificates in any fashion is surely a win for consumers and should give road warriors serious pause when considering what hotel loyalty program offers the best bang for their hotel buck.
Featured image by Conrad Bora Bora Nui.