Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hilton Changes Might Work For Those That Prefer Mid-Tier Hotels

Hilton is catching a lot of flack for their just-announced award program changes. For those of you too lazy to click a link, the changes are:
  • There will now be 10 hotel categories (there are currently 7 + Waldorf Astoria as a separate category)
  • Some hotels will have Seasonal Pricing - meaning the number of points required will vary from month to month
  • Elite members will get a 5th night free when they book stays of 5+ nights

Some of the major complaints are:
  • More categories almost always means more hotels moving up than moving down (and sure enough, that is indeed the case)
  • In theory, Seasonal Pricing should mean that properties are sometimes available at a discount - but many properties have no variation, and are priced at the top of the range throughout the year. This is particularly true for many high-end, aspirational properties in places like the Maldives or Bora Bora (some of which have gone from 50,000 points / night to 95,000 points / night)
  • Elite members were ALREADY GETTING 5th night free on awards, as well as a slightly smaller discount for 4 night stays, and a higher discount for stays of 6+ nights (it's expected that the discount at 4 nights will go away, as well as the extra discount for stays of 6+ vs. 5)

Goodbye overwater bungalows!

But how bad are the changes really, and where do they hit the hardest? Well, Wandering Aramean was able to pull data on roughly half of Hilton's 3900 hotels. He was gracious enough to post his raw data, and so I decided to take a look through it to see what else I could figure out. While the analysis doesn't cover every hotel in the Hilton portfolio, it does cover a wide range of brands, geographies, and award tiers. Here's what I found:

On average, the changes hurt the most at the very bottom, are pretty bad at the very top, and aren't bad at all in the middle.
  • Category 1 hotels currently require 7,500 points per night - the category 1 hotels in the data set will require an average of 9,615 points per night after the change go into effect (a 28% increase)
  • Category 2 hotels currently require 12,500 points per night - the category 2 hotels in the data set will require an average of 17,202 points per night after the change go into effect (a 38% increase)
  • Category 3 hotels currently require 25,000 points per night - the category 3 hotels in the data set will require an average of 26,097 points per night after the change go into effect (a 4% increase)
  • Category 4 hotels currently require 30,000 points per night - the category 4 hotels in the data set will require an average of 30,273 points per night after the change go into effect (a 1% increase)
  • Category 5 hotels currently require 35,000 points per night - the category 5 hotels in the data set will require an average of 36,129 points per night after the change go into effect (a 3% increase)
  • Category 6 hotels currently require 40,000 points per night - the category 6 hotels in the data set will require an average of 46,005 points per night after the change go into effect (a 15% increase)
  • Category 7 hotels currently require 50,000 points per night - the category 7 hotels in the data set will require an average of 56,759 points per night after the change go into effect (a 14% increase)

Assuming these results are reasonably representative of the entire Hilton portfolio (again, only ~half were included in the analysis), it looks like the average low-end property is getting a good bit more expensive, the average high-end property is getting somewhat more expensive, and the average mid-tier property is staying more or less the same. However, these averages mask the fact that there are a lot of properties moving up and down - some are getting much cheaper, many are getting much more expensive.

Is there any discernible pattern to which hotels are getting cheaper and which are getting more expensive?

Well, we've already seen that some of the most aspirational properties are getting hit hard - virtually doubling the number of points required. New York is also getting slammed with massive increases virtually across the board. But not all high-end properties are getting more expensive. Some are getting considerably cheaper - though a quick scan of the names suggests that these properties were probably over-priced to begin with. The Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort is a category 7 hotel? Really? The Hampton Inn Asheville I-26 Biltmore Square is a category 6 hotel? REALLY? A Hampton Inn with "I-26" in it's name is a near top-tier hotel?!

On some level, it seems like the new prices might reflect a closer alignment of the points required to the hotel's average room rate. I wouldn't be surprised if the correlation between these two figures has gone up as a result of the changes. Sure, no one in their right mind would redeem for the "over-priced" properties (I still can't get over the idea of dropping 40K points a night at a Hampton Inn on the interstate in North Carolina...), and many of us were excited to get great bang for our buck by redeeming for the "under-priced" properties (I'm looking at you, overwater bungalows) - but it's hard to fault Hilton for fixing some of these glaring discrepancies.

A few months ago I shared my thoughts on how Hilton fit into my portfolio strategy of hotel points. Needless to say, I'm going to be revisiting that analysis in the coming days (especially since Starwood just announced their annual category changes as well). I expect that they'll still be my top back-up, but their program doesn't seem to be nearly as complimentary to Starwood's as it used to be.

How will these changes impact your hotel loyalties this year? Will you be burning any Hilton points before the changes go into effect on March 28th?



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