Quick note – I love wheedling on the phone – I generally can build a rapport with customer service representatives pretty easily and get what I want from the call, whether it’s points, or, in this particular case, 2 free night certificates valid at any worldwide Hilton.
To the post…
The Hilton HHonors Devaluation:
As you might or might not have recently read, the Hilton HHonors program generosity just went from being like Robin Hood to Prince John. Luxury hotels costing over $600 a night which I would have instead used 50,000 points, in some cases, gone to 95,000 points due to the “phenomenon” of seasonal pricing.
That’s almost a 100% inflation rate in the number of points required for a redemption – which is grossly unfair I think, even with the inflated points that Hilton allowed you to pick up with credit card bonuses. Lucky has one example of gaining 390,000 points in one churn.
I have decided to utilize illustrations that limn the progression over the last month or so of the HHonors program:
Notice how Robin, playing a typical credit card churner – here attempting to liberate some HHonors points from King John before the devaluation – is showing off a typical HHonors Gold member redemption, as he is enjoying a high floor, a beautiful view of the local castle and a local activity! Unfortunately, I have no idea on whether he has been able to enjoy the free internet and breakfast that come with HHonors Gold status.
Here, we have Jeff Diskin – the Hilton Worldwide Executive Vice President, Commercial Services and played by a petulant King John – keeping close watch over his (small) HHonors Points cache. It’s small because HHonors members have been redeeming their points for grand vacations – which supposedly is the point of a loyalty program.
Mr. Diskin, here sporting some flossy jewels and a fur (mink?) coat, has tired of the constant redeeming and decided to pick the nuclear option, therefore killing the redemption chart’s top tiers, which are the hotels like the Conrad Koh Samui I mentioned above, or the Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria, which is located in Maui.
Friar Tuck, above, represents the fat stocks of locked up Hilton HHonors points that customers are now unable to redeem due to the terrible rise in redemption prices, which I complied in the chart below:
To be somewhat fair to Hilton, they have included the option of a Fifth Night Free award available to guests with Silver, Gold or Diamond status in the HHonors Program. However, there are rumors that this will replace the AXON and GLON awards available for elite members that gave anywhere from a 15-30% reduction on the points needed for stays 4 nights and over. The Points Guy has a great article on breaking down the math for both AXON and GLON awards here.
In short, this change in redemption policy seems to be punitive and does not reward customers who actually stay in the hotels. The change seems instead to want to hurt or delay the ability of credit card customers to redeem points.
The Call with Citi
I have the Citi Hilton Reserve credit card, which among other benefits like instant Gold Status and chip and signature technology, allows me to gain Diamond status by spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year. Since my sister doesn’t have long enough of a credit history to have her own cards yet, I made her an authorized user on my Citi Hilton Reserve and told her to start buying Vanilla Reload prepaid cards at $500 each to try to achieve Diamond status in 6-7 months. (Quick, informative and necessary write-ups on the magic of Vanilla Reloads and loading them into Bluebird here.)
Additionally, the Citi Hilton Reserve card gives a minimum of 3 points per dollar on all spend. So, if I spend enough to get Diamond status, which allows possible upgrades to suites and guarantees Executive Lounge access, I will have earned at least 120,000 points (40,000 x 3 = 120,000). With the old redemption policy, this would have earned me 2.5 nights at a top tier Hilton, at 50,000 points a night. Now, the same amount of points only gets me 1.2/1.3 nights at that same top-tier Hilton at 80,000-95,000 points a night.
There seemed to be no other option here but to call Citi and start negotiating on whether or not I would put any more spending on the card. I had already earned the sign up bonus of 2 free weekend nights at any Hilton by spending $2,500 in 4 months and the additional weekend certificate after spending $10,000 since opening the account. (For reference purpose, HHonors counts Friday as a weekend night.)
However, I opened the card in October 2012 and a large percentage of that $10,000 in spending had occurred in 2012, making it ineligible to be applied towards the $40,000 in spend needed in a calendar year for Diamond status. So, I had some decent leverage, as $40,000 is $40,000 if it’s on Vanilla Reloads and other manufactured spends or not and Citi can make a lot of money on each swipe of my card.
I called up the number on the back of the card (1-888-856-4255) and started speaking to a basic customer service representative (CSR). I explained that I felt that the benefits of the card had been dramatically devalued; mentioning the example of the free nights I had “lost” and, since I had gotten the card within the past half-year, felt this was very unfair of Citi. I also mentioned that I was very close to not spending anymore on the card, especially not the $40,000 required for Diamond status, and asked if Citi could do something to compensate me. The CSR then came back with a response along the lines of “We have no control over what Hilton does,” and I immediately responded by mentioning that the Hilton Reserve is Citi’s “top-tier Hilton card.”
The CSR agreed with me and asked me if I would like to speak with a senior representative (SR). I replied in the affirmative and, after a brief hold, was soon speaking with Jeff (Stan?). I mentioned again why I was aggrieved and that I was not going to spend any more money on the card. The SR placed me on hold and than came back with his first offer, which was a $50 statement credit. As a general rule, I refuse most first offers. This was a pretty weak offer in terms of HHonors redemptions, as a room at the hotels I want to stay at are often upwards of $500 a night. This means the SR was offering me a 10% discount on a paid night and I didn’t want to pay for the night in the first place!
I refused and he placed me on hold again while he searched for another offer, which turned out to be 2x points on gas (6pts total at 3pts per dollar at a minimum with the card) for six months. I live in NYC and don’t have a car, so this offer was pretty useless. However, the length of time on the offer – six months – intrigued me, as it showed that I needed to keep asking even if I wasn’t living in Manhattan and spent money on gas. I refused this offer as well
I then mentioned some kind of tiered spending reward, whether it was one free night after $20,000 and 2 free nights after $40,000, but he one-upped me and instead offered 2 free nights – weekend or weekday as I reconfirmed with Citi today – after $2,500 in spend. I was blown away and immediately said yes. To put this in perspective, this is a better offer than the signup bonus, which limits the free nights to weekends. Additionally, I now would have 4 free nights at any Hilton and the free nights are much more valuable than points, since the certificates are immune to points devaluations!
(Remember, I had offered up sums of $20,000 and $40,000 for tiered spending, but the SR, on his own volition, offered up $2,500. Never take the first offer and if you hear something you don’t like, hang up and call again! These banks have lots of phone drones ready to talk, so don’t be afraid to stop dealing with one that is unresponsive or surly.)
I could not have been more pleased and profusely thanked the SR for being so responsive to my request. This happened last Saturday, February 23, 2013 and I reconfirmed with Citi today, February 27, 2013.
So, the takeaway from here is to call up Citi and show them what exactly Hilton is costing them with the devaluation. If a phone call like this sounds like a lot of work, just remember, I was able to add 2 more days to my future vacation by spending 30 minutes politely stating my case on why I deserved to be compensated. Always ask!!