Hilton stinks at math: book award nights separately

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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.

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