Hilton extending status until 2022, pausing point expiration, flexible bookings

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Hilton Honors has announced their plans to extend member status and pause points expiration and the news is very good: all members whose status was scheduled to be downgraded on March 31st will automatically receive an extension through March 31, 2021. Those who have 2020 status (i.e. those who earned status based on their 2019 stays) automatically receive an extension through March 31, 2022. New bookings — even those at reduced-price advance-purchase rates — will be flexible up to 24hrs before check in. The news here all looks pretty darn good for members — kudos to Hilton for a very generous solution here.

The beach at the Conrad Bora Bora, where I used an Aspire free weekend night this year.

Status extension, point extension, free night cert extension

Earlier today, we reported that Radisson has decided to extend member status for another year and I noted that it was generous and I was surprised. Hilton takes things a step further yet with their solution:

  • If your 2019 status was expiring this month: For those who had status in 2019 (which was based on stays in 2018), status would ordinarily expire on March 31, 2020. However, Hilton is extending the expiration of that status (again, if you earned it in 2018 and it was set to expire this week) until March 31, 2021.
  • If you have 2020 status: For those who earned status in 2019 (which ordinarily gives you status in 2020 up until March 31, 2021), Hilton is extending status until March 31, 2022.
  • Points extension: Hilton is pausing the expiration of all points set to expire between now and December 31, 2020. In other words, points scheduled to expire any time in the rest of 2020 will expire on January 1, 2021.
  • Weekend free night certificates: Hilton previously announced that certificates that were unexpired as of March 11, 2020 and all new certificates issued until August 20, 2020 will be extended until August 31, 2021 (the end of next summer). We posted about that here.

This is very generous indeed. Basically, everyone’s status is being extended until at least March 31, 2021. Those who earned status last year, whether through stays or having a credit card, would see that status extend until 2022.

I noted my surprise with Radisson making a similar move this morning, but in hindsight I shouldn’t have been that surprised about Radisson making the move they did to extend status since Radisson’s program is light on benefits (they count on their high earning rate, and perhaps low price point in the US, to drive business rather than benefits – so extending status might be their best bet).

Hilton is somewhat similar to Radisson in that they clearly don’t care about members actually staying a specific number of nights in hotels: after all, they sell their top-tier status with a credit card annual fee. Hilton believes that they incentivize your stays based on giving you easy benefits. Programs like Marriott and Hyatt view motivation differently — they require the stays in order to earn the benefits. So I’m not terribly surprised that Hilton is making this move. Their stance on status is pretty soft to begin with.

But that is not to minimize the positive benefit here. First of all, Hilton Gold status is the best mid-tier status in the business, giving you free breakfast at practically all Hilton properties — no need to consult a complicated chart. Diamond status gets you guaranteed lounge access. Getting those benefits for another year is great for those who may have otherwise lost access. At least some members are likely to cancel credit cards with annual fees this year, but I believe this extension should get you status until 2022 even if you canceled your card this year. That’s great.

There is also a brilliant piece of strategery here: they know that Marriott and Hyatt will likely reduce elite requirements but are unlikely to extend status for free. However, some members will either be uncomfortable traveling this year or their companies may continue to ban travel for too many months to make qualification with Marriott or Hyatt a realistic option. By offering this extension, Hilton gives themselves a chance to poach those who just can’t meet whatever revised requirements Marriott and Hyatt eventually announce. I think that could be a smart play for them unless Marriott or Hyatt matches this extension (I personally doubt Marriott or Hyatt will announce their strategies before mid-April at the earliest, but we’ll see.)

Booking flexibility

Perhaps even more generous than Hilton’s status expiration is how they’re handling existing and new bookings. From Hilton’s email:

  • Existing Reservations. All reservations—even those described as “non-cancellable” (“Advanced Purchase”)—that are scheduled for arrival on or before June 30, 2020 can be changed or cancelled at no charge, up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival day.
  • New Reservations. Any reservations you make—even those described as “non-cancellable” (“Advanced Purchase”)—that are booked between today and June 30, 2020 for any future arrival date can be changed or cancelled at no charge, up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival day.

The first bullet point is the most generous policy we’ve seen from a hotel chain yet regarding existing bookings, allowing changes or cancellations at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival day for stays scheduled for arrival on or before June 30, 2020.

But the second bullet point is huge: any new reservations booked between today and June 30th, 2020 can be changed or cancelled for no charge up to 24 hours before scheduled arrival day. This includes advance purchase rates. In other words, the cheapest advance purchase rates are just as flexible as the flexible rates (perhaps even more flexible than the published policy on flexible rates at many properties that ordinarily have cancellation policies of 2 days or more before arrival). This includes any future arrival date. While Hilton’s app and website show calendars further out (the app shows a calendar through June 2021 right now and the website through February 2022), in reality it looks like you can only book 1 year in advance. Still, that means you could wait until this June and book an advance purchase rate for June 2021 and be able to cancel that until 24 hours before your arrival date. That’s awesome.

Personally, I rarely ever book nonrefundable rates. The current pandemic underscores my reliance on flexibility — I generally don’t like to commit to plans months or even weeks in advance. With this shift in policy temporarily, I’ll be much more likely to book 2021 travel with Hilton at reduced prices. Offering this together with status extensions seems like a great play for Hilton.

Will other chains follow suit? Wouldn’t it be nice….

Bottom line

I have long liked Hilton and claimed more than once to be the closest thing to a Hilton fanboy that you’ll find in the blogosphere. Still, I’ve been staying at Marriott properties more often over the past year because I was going after Marriott status. We’ll see how that plays out with whatever revised requirements Marriott offers — but if Marriott doesn’t make it easy enough for me to renew some level of status for next year, Hilton may have just bought my business with the combination of status extension and flexibility on even the cheapest bookings. Still, I’d love to see Marriott or Hyatt step to the plate and be competitive here. I doubt we’ll see an imminent response from either, but I think Hilton’s move here is indicative of how competitive things may get in terms of travel companies doing what they can to encourage your business when we get through our current challenges. Hopefully we do get a handle on this pandemic sooner rather than later and there will be some good news coming our way from other directions.

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