Hilton stinks at math: book award nights separately

I noticed a curious thing this week when I was looking up some award nights: Hilton’s computers aren’t always pricing awards correctly when you look at multiple nights — and it’s not good. When looking at Hilton award availability, it might be necessary to look up (and maybe book) each night individually to get the correct price in terms of Hilton Honors points. This makes award booking more time-consuming and less transparent.

Example case: a 2-night stay

I was looking at an award stay at the Conrad London St. James. I’m not sure that we’ll actually stay there, but looking at this hotel is what caused me to notice a pattern. When I looked up a 2-night stay, the best price I saw on the app was 227,000 points per night at the Conrad. The first few times I looked up hotels in the Hilton app, I totally scrolled past it. However, curious about what room type was costing 227K points per night, I finally clicked on the Conrad. I later pulled it up on the computer as well — in both places, it showed me that a King Deluxe Room was available for 2 nights for the bargain price of 227,000 points per night. For clarity, I was logged into my Hilton Diamond account on both my phone and computer. Here’s what I saw when I looked up a 2-night stay:

Just out of curiosity, I figured I’d run a search for each of the nights separately. I wondered if maybe a standard room were available one night and the other only had higher-category rooms (causing a high per-night average). So I looked at night #1, and this is what I saw.

Great — that fit into my hypothesis. It must have been that the first night was “standard” and the second night only had suites or executive lounge rooms, etc. Still, to come out to an average of 227,000 points per night, that meant night #2 would have to be 376,000 points. I wondered what kind of room that would be. But before I got that far, I was stopped in my tracks. I clicked the Conrad to see which room was available for 78,000 points on Night #1. The app showed no such room available. The cheapest room in terms of points was a King Deluxe at 142,000 points!

I initially figured that the 78K room had either been booked moments before I clicked or it had been booked earlier and the computer wasn’t yet updating. I eventually found out neither of those theories were correct — but first, I checked Night #2, still curious as to how the average price was coming up at 227,000 points per night. Imagine my surprise when the app showed Night #2 as available for just 80,000 points. I pulled up the room rates, and this is what I saw.

Two key things to notice there. First, a room was available for 80,000 points — though it wasn’t the King Deluxe, but rather a King Superior. Putting that aside for a moment, notice the price on the King Deluxe161,000 points. Now, I’m not sure if Hilton’s accounting is done in-house, but whoever wrote the function where the average between 142,000 and 161,000 is 227,000…..well, that kid has a bright future on Wall Street.

As it turns out, when I searched nights separately on the computer, I found where the 78K number was coming from:

 

It turns out that the 78,000-point rate was for an accessible room. Now it made sense why the room didn’t show up as being available for a standard award even though it showed 78K in search results. That’s still somewhat odd (if they are going to make it available to book on the PC, why not on the app?), but at least I knew why there weren’t standard awards for two nights — thus the app showing me a price for a “premium room award” for two nights. That still doesn’t explain how the cost of that “premium room award” was higher than the cost of either night separately in the same room.

How about when standard rooms are available each night but for different prices?

My next question was this: what happens if the same standard room is available for multiple nights at different prices. Since Hilton’s award pricing now varies dynamically with the cash rate, it is very much conceivable that a hotel’s “standard” room award could vary in price from one night to the next. I didn’t have to look hard to find it. The Trafalgar, another London Hilton property, had 3 consecutive nights with 3 different prices next month. When I looked at 1-night stays, the three nights in question came up as 66,000 points, 55,000 points, and 70,000 points. When I searched it online, the result I got initially showed 66,000 points per night.

However, this time, you might notice the asterisk next to the 66,000 points. That means that the price varies during the stay. If you click where it says “Standard Room Reward”, you’ll see that in this case, Hilton’s computer correctly prices the stay out by night:

That was encouraging. However, it’s also inconvenient. If you look up a multi-night stay, the computer shows you the cost for just the first night in search results — not an average cost per night. Keep that in mind on multi-night bookings. I’ve seen standard rooms at the Conrad that range between 66k-80K. If you start your search on an 80K night, you might scroll past it — but maybe those next few nights are available for 66K. On the other hand, if you start your search on a night that is 66K and you don’t pay close attention to the final price on the booking page, you might not immediately notice that the price went up to 80K for your other nights. That makes booking award stays a pain.

What about a 5-night stay

My next question was: How do they figure the math on a 5-night stay? Hilton elite members enjoy a 5th night free on award stays. I did individual searches on the next two nights. Each night was 70,000 points. That means the numbers for 5 nights looked like this:

Night 1: 66,000
Night 2: 55.000
Night 3: 70,000
Night 4: 70,000
Night 5: 70,000
Total number of points = 331,000 before the 5th night free

How would Hilton figure the price with the 5th night free? A generous interpretation would be that the 5th night is just taken off. The math on that is easy: 331K – 70K = 261K. Was that Hilton’s price? Nope.

My next thought was the poorest possible interpretation of the “5th night free”: Perhaps Hilton simply removes the cheapest of the five nights? 331K – 55K = 276,000 points. Was that Hilton’s price? Nope.

The next interpretation was that perhaps they figure the average price over the course of 5 nights. Divide 331K by 5 and you get an average cost-per-night of 66.2K points. Maybe that’s how they figure it? 331K – 66.2K = 264,800 points. Was that Hilton’s price? Nope. That’s almost the price. Apparently, the answer to Hilton’s equation is 265,000 points — I’m just not sure what the equation was.

Update: Thanks to reader SteveX for pointing out that the math below comes from taking four-fifths (4/5) the cost of each night individually, but rounded up (hence the additional 200 points). For example, 4/5 the 1st night rate of 66,000 would be 52,800 — which gets rounded up to 53,000 below. If the other four nights were also 66,000 points, you would get overcharged by more points since the four-fifths wouldn’t come out to an even-thousand number. Advantage: Hilton.

Hey, it sure beats the averaging they did on the King Deluxe room at the Conrad!

Doing those searches actually sent me back to the Conrad London St. James to see what would happen when I looked at a 5-night stay. Remember that King Deluxe room that was 142K one night and 161K the next night (and magically averaged to 227K)? Today, those two nights are averaging at 226K (although the individual night prices are the same). I looked up those two nights and the next three for a 5-night stay. Looking up days individually, none of the days were more than 161K and some were less. But when I look up a 5-night stay, each night magically bumps up to 226,000 points.

If you booked a King Deluxe Room each night as separate 1-night stays, you would only pay 748,000 points. For the privilege of booking it as a 5-night stay, Hilton is overcharging by 382,000 points. That’s ridiculous.

Moral of the story

The key takeaway from this for me was that I made the assumption that since Hilton is now mostly revenue-based, it meant that they provided you with an award rate that would be the average cost of your nights. As it turns out, they don’t. Personally, I certainly wouldn’t consider paying 100K+ per night for a room, but I expect that this principle carries down to lower-level Hilton hotels as well. This is particularly disturbing if you actually wanted to book a premium room award (perhaps you wanted a suite for your family) — you obviously can’t trust the price shown on a multi-night stay and will have to look up nights individually to find out whether you’re getting a reasonable price or Hilton’s funny money math.

While I’ve remained somewhat of a Hilton fan despite the devaluations and move to becoming revenue-based, this definitely leaves a sour taste. It took me a while to run all of the searches for this post and take those screenshots. I don’t think it’s reasonable to have to do the same amount of legwork each time I want to make a booking — but based on my results, I guess that’s exactly what I’ll have to do with Hilton from here on out.

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

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  1. […] Hilton points are worth about 0.4 cents per point (under half a cent per point) according to our Reasonable Redemption Values. That makes 10,000 points worth about $40. While that’s not as good as the bonus for adding AUs on some other cards on the market, it is enhanced by the ability to add up to four authorized users and receive the bonus. Since you earn 3X on everyday spend with the Hilton Surpass, you will earn a total of 13,000 Hilton points based on $1,000 spend on the AU card. That’s a return of about $52 in points on $1,000 spend — or a bit better than 5%. That’s certainly not bad. The ability to do it four times is even better. Holders of the no-fee Hilton Honors card only receive half the bonus, but it’s still a haul of easy points. Just make sure you check their math on your award stays. […]

Comments

  1. Wow, what a great post! This is clear fraud and would be be quickly labelled as such and reported in the mainstream media and lawsuits filed if this broken math was applied to cash rates and incentives. But because it is a loyalty points based system most don’t notice or care about holding corporations accountable.

    Thank you very much for this post!! I will not consider booking Hilton hotels until this is resolved.

    • Actually, can’t believe I didn’t look at that before. It’s the same deal with the cash rate. Look at the flexible rate on my example 2-night stay at the Conrad — 276 pounds the first night, 314 pounds the second night….or 459 pounds per night if you want both nights. After noticing that just now, I ran a couple of test searches in New York and found cash rates to display (mostly) accurately, but there is more research to be done here….

  2. Their whole system now without fixed rewards is a mess and completely misleading. I was looking at 5 nights in London next year and the Hilton Bankside was 66k, 48k, 66k, 70k, 70k for the five nights, but when you try to book 5 at once suddenly the 2nd night is 66k as well. I called in and they were pretty unhelpful. Not to mention with this new system anytime you book an award you have to keep checking back to see if it went down so you make sure you get the best deal. Not a great way to reward loyalty.

  3. Great post. If the numbers end up working out. The Conrad St. James is a really nice hotel. Maybe too many points, but perfect if you have any Hilton free night certificates and are Gold for the nice breakfast.

  4. I ran into this when booking night in London and Paris. Searching for one night returned pretty great rates while searching for multiple nights returned absurd amounts of points per night. Very frustrating.

  5. Night 1: 66,000
    Night 2: 55.000
    Night 3: 70,000
    Night 4: 70,000
    Night 5: 70,000

    If you are still trying to figurw out thw 5th night free algo its..

    Each night times 4/5 then round up..

    Ie, night 1

    66,000 x 4/5 = 52,800

    Round up to 53,000..

    • Ah-ha! That should have been obvious to me. Thanks for pointing that out — I’ve updated the post with that info. Since they round up, you’re not quite getting that 5th night totally free then…but this is still a better interpretation than just giving you the cheapest night free I suppose.

      • In looking a little closer.. i could be wrong or maybe not..

        The net is the your number 2 scenario is right.

        You just missed 1k in the addition. The total for the 5 nights is 331k vs 330k..

        So 331k – 66k is 265k. So i cant be sure they would always average up, though they did in your example.

        • Whoops — I definitely did the math thinking 65K even though I was looking at it and it was 66K. I updated the post.

          However, since the total is 331K, the average cost per night is 66.2K — based on the breakdown over 5 nights, you’re obviously correct though: they take 4/5 of each night and round up (the first night should be 52,800 but is rounded up).

  6. The math they are using on the 5 night stay is they are deducting 20% of the points for each night, instead of picking a night or an average to take off. So night 1 was 66k points x 80% = 52.8k, which they clearly round up to 53k. Night 2 was 55k x 80% = 44k. Nights 3,4 and 5 are 70k x 80% = 56k for each of the last 3 nights. Then they add those individually calculated 20% discount nights together to come up with the 265k for the 5 night stay.

  7. I also just updated the post with another small observation that I should have initially included: When looking at multi-night award stays, the price you see displayed is the award cost of the first night only. The other nights may be higher or lower, meaning that on multi-night stays, it is necessary to look at the nightly breakdown every time to be able to compare across properties. That stinks.

  8. Classic Bait and switch.

    They sell millions of points to credit cards co. and just when the customer is enticed into getting the product, there is a new devaluation.

    It doesnt really affect the regular churner. I mean “really”. But it affects the average Joe or Mary who used the card for a vacation promise.

    I cant understand why law firms havent started filing class action lawsuits against both , the CC companies and/or Hilton corporation.

    I use Amex gold status upgrades and they are more than enough for me.

    We will see

  9. Perhaps for whatever reason they want to charge more points for award stays of multiple nights. If one splits the booking into individual nights, doesn’t one technically need to check out and check back in a few hours later?

    • Theoretically, yes — but I’ve never been asked to move when I book the same room category for multiple nights. From the hotel’s perspective, there is probably greater cost involved in forcing you to move rooms — between the time to clean the room for turnover, the storage of your bags, etc, there isn’t much of an advantage for them in making you switch rooms. Furthermore, if you’re going to get the same room type each night, it’s an easy move on their end to seem customer-friendly by combining those reservations. You’re right that it is theoretically possible that they will make you move rooms and/or that you will have to stop at the desk to reprogram your keys each day, but I’d put the likelihood at low (provided you’re booking the same room type each night, as in the example with the King Deluxe room at the Conrad).

  10. This sort of thing has been going on since they got rid of the award chart. It’s stupid and frustrating. As you illustrate, their price for multiple days is plain wrong. I reported it to Hilton and they agreed to refund the overcharge. What they really need to do is fix the issue. More exposure and public shaming is needed.

  11. The thing to remember about most major hotel companies is that they are all now playing a length of stay pricing game. They want to maximize revenue over the longer time frame, so occasionally a longer stay price vary greatly from single nights, depending on whether it crosses need dates or high demand dates. Hard to know if that’s exactly the situation here, but their point value per night is now based on the occupancy forecast, so that would explain the higher prices on individual nights.

  12. Sometimes this happens when they don’t have exactly the same room availability for 2 nights. Of course when you get to the hotel they can combine and you won’t have to change rooms. It seems the system is set up to do this. I’ve seen exactly the same thing on Starwood. I always check single night availability.

  13. This is disappointing and disturbing. I don’t like the thought of having to spend this much time making sure my points are fairly applied when trying to book business or vacation stays! Thank you for your time in exposing this issue. It dies seem like a legal issue. Hilton has a bug reputation to protect worldwide. They need to fix this!

  14. I have fought with HHonors in the US regarding a stay that I purchased extra points to assure a free nights stay while traveling/moving across country. They refused to allow the points to be used for a stay, even though the hotel desk manager indicated they had reward night stays available but they weren’t showing up online. Last stay for us will be to use the reward points eventually. HHonors Citi card will be cancelled and we will go elsewhere.

  15. wow that’s ALOT and i thought i obsessed over hotel bookings with points, .upgrades etc.
    I must concur that the Conrad St James is a lovely hotel, excellent location, and a great high tea!i spent Christmas in London with points etc splitting time between the Conrad and a Marriott steps away, which was also lovely, especially for Xmas with the lights and decor by splitting between the two hotel chains I was able to get a good deal on my stay at both and literally had a three minute walk in between hotel rooms. I would say in terms of the room itself and Renovations the Conrad was a bit better but both were really nice. St Ermins is the Marriott property. More old-school England with a great restaurant and an impressive entrance driveway leading to the hotel. Both are located in the Westminster neighborhood which is steps away from what you want to see if you’ve never been to London. It’s cordoned off to autos so there are no cars in the immediate surroundings

  16. I knew when they got rid of the award chart bad things for the customer were coming..I used around 500k for all inclusive stays at a couple of places in Jamaica…After they first changed the program, It appeared that for the most part they were keeping the rates about the same and adjusting up or down 10-20k for seasonal differences, as they have always done with the AI properties….so I started collecting more points and using one or 2 night awards at standard hotels which were about the same cost. Once in a while, if hotel was full, diamond status would open up the handicapped room for a low cost booking. Then I recently tried booking a 5th night free and ran into this same crap…of course I should have known Labor Day weekend would be at a higher price, but after the first 2 nights it turns to low season…and the difference is crazy….We have weekend certs from the reserve card, but even if they will take them, it seems a waste for this property. I doubt they will be fully booked, but I also doubt the points costs will come down. If I was paying cash I would stay somewhere nicer. With my low point costs though, even their convoluted, overpriced, 5th night math problem rate, is still the best option.

  17. WOW! Not once did I notice you mention you had called to confirm for assumptions on this as you did all this time wasting research to write this very inaccurate post that would suggest the company scams, defrauds or can’t do math. Let me say 1st 1 point does not equate $1. If this were true then a room costing $359 for one night with double points and booked direct with Hilton reservations for a visit before 8/31 so as to get x2 again free (if my math is confusing….359×4=1436) and these are all base points sir. Thank you for being a Diamond member who earns 50% bonus points. In this example then you will earn an additional 718 points (again my math would then indicate this to be a total of 2154). Mr. Reyes, if I paid you $359 to provide a service for me would you provide this service and give me $2,154?

    If you feel that equating a monetary value to your points is necessary then I would take that nights rate of $359 and I would divide this by the earned points of 2154 (for those keeping score at home this would make my points earned at the exchange of .17 as in cents). In using your own scenario the room rate of $445 is 227000 exchange points for the night. If you desire a monetary value closer to a realistic calculation use the same formula to find this property would like to exchange your points for a value of .20 cents per point. Sir, this example has lost you .02 cents per point for a total of $8.90. I am sorry you feel cheated.

    When booking a room as a Hilton Honors member the online feature allows you do so with ease and speed but if you take advantage of booking direct with the specialist secured just for you by calling the Hilton Diamond Guest desk I think you’d be surprised by just how off-base your assumptions turn out to be. I will not attempt to review or correct anything further here.

    I will say that Christian of August 12 is 100% on the money and Nick is clearly in the know. The other major driving force behind the rates us the hotel iitself. The majority of properties are privately owned and managed and thesecond properties all retain the rights to set their own rates and reward exchange.

    Lastly, when it comes to the 5th night free rewards. This 5th night is always calculated inn and charged in the accounting. The total points reflected in the cost for the 5 night stay includes the full cost of the 5th night and it is deducted from your account. Upon completing your 4th night of the stay those points are returned back to the guest account at check-out.

    I believe the actual moral of the story here is you cannot learn the lesson is you do not know the whole story. I mean imagine if you never knew the little boy ago cried wolf had done so several times before – what would that moral be?

    I shall provide you one more takeaway here: Before educating the masses, become better educated by gathering all the facts. Otherwise, a theory remains nothing but a theorg to disprove.

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