Monday, August 18, 2008

Hilton Changes HHonors Reward Program

With airlines changing the rules of their frequent-flier programs to help improve their balance sheets, it was only a matter of time before hotel chains began to re-evaluate their own loyalty schemes.

Still, many travelers were surprised, confused and even angry when, earlier this month, Hilton Hotels Corp. announced two major changes to its program, Hilton HHonors. It made it more difficult to qualify for elite status, and it restricted access to so-called executive lounges at its high-end properties.

In 2005, Hilton pioneered a "rolling VIP tier qualification" system, which replaced the industry standard of requiring a certain number of stays or nights during a calendar year - from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 - to win elite status.

Under the new rules, you could qualify at any time. You still needed 16 stays or 36 nights to become a gold member, and 28 stays or 60 nights for diamond over 12 consecutive months. But if you couldn´t achieve that by Dec. 31, you could do it in February or May - and not have to wait another whole year to enjoy the benefits that come with status.

At the time, Hilton said the new system was fairer to those customers who almost made it by year´s end, but not quite. Two weeks ago, however, it said that the "rolling" method was too confusing for its members, and it would roll it back beginning Jan. 1.

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