When everyone is Diamond, is anyone Diamond?

Earlier in the year, when the Amex Hilton Aspire card began offering Hilton Diamond status to anyone willing to pony up the $450 annual fee, a reader commented to say “When everyone is Diamond, no one is Diamond.” I understood what he meant: the more people who have status, the less special/exclusive it is. I checked out of the Conrad Fort Lauderdale yesterday afternoon and I’ll say this: I don’t know whether it was my Diamond status that turned horrible circumstances into such a display of terrific customer service or if it’s that the staff at the Conrad Fort Lauderdale is just that good, but I’ll hang on to that Aspire card another year for sure either way. I’ll write a separate review of the property itself, but today I wanted to highlight how they surprised me both before and during my stay in very different ways.

Conrad Fort Lauderdale Resort: Booking & Upgrade

Last month, I wrote about the phenomenon of Hilton’s dynamic pricing stacked with its fifth-night-free for Hilton Honors members causing some 5-night stays to cost less than 4-night stays. I stumbled on that with the Conrad Fort Lauderdale, where a 4-night stay would have cost 300,000 points:

But a 5-night stay was 280,000 points.

That sounded pretty good to me, especially since the standard room at this property is a Junior Suite that looked pretty nice based on the website photos.

That looked pretty sweet indeed — there was even a small galley kitchen in that standard room. However there were some even nicer-looking premium suites on the website — including 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, and 3-bedroom residences that include a full kitchen, living room, and large outdoor terraces. We wanted to go to Fort Lauderdale with my parents and my sister and brother-in-law, ideally getting at least one room with plenty of space to hang out as a group. If we could get one of those larger residential-type rooms, it would be like if we had rented a home as we could comfortably cook, play a game, watch a movie, etc. Initially, we were just looking at a weekend. Weekend rates for a standard Junior Suite were around 89,000 per night but the 2-bedroom residence was just under double the cost of a standard room (both in cash or points). My family would probably only join us for the weekend, so I briefly considered booking one of those rooms just for the weekend.

However, when I found the 5-night prices for standard rooms shown above, I booked a standard room for 5 nights. Since my wife and I both hold the Amex Hilton Aspire card, we would have $500 in total resort credit between the two of us, and the Conrad Fort Lauderdale is an eligible resort. Looking at the difference in price between the standard rooms and the 2-bedroom suites, I thought that perhaps I could book a standard room and reach out to the property about the cost of upgrading to the 2-bedroom suite just for the weekend (I reserved Wednesday to Monday in a standard room and only expected my family to join us Friday-Sunday). I figured that the resort credit would probably cover the cost to upgrade at least two nights — maybe I’d get three if the property came back with a really reasonable cost to upgrade. I inquired about the cost to upgrade to the 2-bedroom for Friday and Saturday nights, and expressed my willingness to move rooms on Friday and again on Sunday. It’s worth noting that I emailed a month before check-in.

Much to my surprise, the property came back with this:

I am happy to confirm that we have the availability to upgrade your stay to a 2 bedroom Oceanfront Residence and there will be no need for you to move suites.

Wow. They upgraded me from a Junior Suite to a 2-bedroom residence for my full stay. For free. That would have been a difference in price of at least $1,500 over the course of five nights. I was particularly surprised that they did this a month in advance. A Marriott Suite Night Award, earned with Platinum status after 50 nights in their hotels, doesn’t confirm until 5 days in advance at most. The Conrad confirming the upgrade a month in advanced seemed really generous. Especially when you consider the fact that I indicated I was willing to pay for it.

Do I think that would happen for someone who is not a Hilton Diamond member? I don’t know. Honestly, the staff at this property turned out to be so good that I can’t say it wouldn’t happen for a non-Diamond member. But I can’t imagine that being a Diamond member hurt my chances.

A good stay gone bad

From arrival last Wednesday through Saturday, we were having an excellent stay. My parents ended up coming on Thursday since we had the 2-bedroom suite and we welcomed my sister and her husband on Friday morning with a separate room. On Saturday afternoon, things changed dramatically when my mother suddenly became violently ill. In every sense of the word. Vomiting, fever — I’ll spare you the details. It was awful. My father says it was only the second time she’s vomited in the 44 years he’s known her and the sickest he’s ever seen her. We wanted to take her to the hospital, but my mother is hardheaded strong-willed and refused to go.

Concerned about our baby and the possibility of this being something viral, my wife and I didn’t think it would be wise to spend the night in the same room (even though it was a large 2-bedroom suite). My sister and her husband had a separate 1-bedroom suite, and they offered up the pull-out couch. We gathered the stuff we needed and headed down to their room for the night.

When I called the front desk to ask for the pull-out to be made up as a bed, they perhaps sensed something in my voice and asked if everything was OK. I explained the situation and the hotel wanted to send security to check on my mother. I told them it wouldn’t be necessary. They eventually offered to slip a note under the door with local emergency medical numbers and locations. I had hoped that maybe the hotel had a doctor on call for situations like this — and they did, but at $1700 and up for a room visit, I think my parents likely would have gone to an urgent care facility first. Since we booked the tickets with our Chase Sapphire Reserve, I looked it up to see if the emergency medical coverage benefit would help. Unfortunately, it would only cover immediate family — defined as a spouse and dependent children (my mom wouldn’t be covered).

So we settled in to my sister’s suite for the night on Saturday. Around 3am, I awoke to the sound of my sister getting no less ill than my mother. It wasn’t pleasant.

When the baby woke up just before 7am, I went to the front desk to see if we could get a new room. They let me book a third room and check in right away at 7am, which was great as we wanted to get our son away from this Plague spreading among my family.

My sister and her husband were scheduled to fly home on Sunday, but as Sunday morning progressed, it became clear that they weren’t going to make that flight. As of Sunday morning, we had three rooms:

  • A 2-bedroom residential suite where my mother was still sick (checking out Monday)
  • A 1-bedroom residential suite where my sister was sick (checking out Sunday)
  • A 1-bedroom suite where my wife, son, and I were living under self-imposed quarantine (checking out Monday)

The front desk stayed in constant contact inquiring about how everyone was doing. Security proactively came to my room to take a statement about when everyone got sick, anything we thought it could have been, etc. They asked a number of times if we thought it was something they ate. We initially thought it could have been for my mom, but when my sister ended up with the same exact problems and they hadn’t eaten much at all in common (maybe breakfast potatoes?) it became clear that it was likely something viral. Surely, nobody wants to be sick while in a hotel/on vacation, but the staff at the Conrad certainly did not miss an opportunity to impress and make my family feel as much at home as possible under the circumstances. There were (many) extra rounds of housekeeping, room service orders of plain toast, etc. Nobody missed a beat on helping out and being totally understanding. Staff members seemed genuinely concerned and eager to help despite the unpleasant situation.

They were also very flexible. They extended us a late checkout on my sister’s room so we could move her to the 2-bedroom suite with my parents. Being able to get my immediate family into a new room art 7am on Sunday morning when my sister got sick was also huge.

And then, Sunday afternoon, I received a call from the Front-of-House manager, Julie Richaud. She again expressed her concern over everyone’s health and asked — as had so many other staff members — if there was anything she could do. Before my other became ill on Saturday, I had written to ask for a slightly late checkout on Monday since we had a late flight out of Fort Lauderdale. Julie was aware of that email and told me that she had noted to extend a checkout time of 6pm on both of our rooms. That was totally unexpected and turned out to be a godsend as my sister’s husband eventually became sick as well and my entire family needed the time and space to rest. If we all had to be out at 11am, I think we would have had to have booked another night. I can’t imagine the Conrad wasn’t aware of that — and rather than make us do that, they were completely accommodating.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the guaranteed 4pm checkout offered to top-level elites by Hyatt and Marriott. I sometimes wish that Hilton had the same. On the other hand, I was beyond appreciative when the situation dictated that we needed an extra inch or two and they were willing and able to give it. That’s actually not the first time I’ve dealt with being sick at a Hilton property — and both times the staff were accommodating beyond description.

Bottom line

I understand the argument that when everyone is Diamond, nobody is Diamond. And I’m further not sure that my positive experience (despite negative circumstances) at the Conrad Fort Lauderdale this weekend was directly related to my Diamond status. But customer service like we received this weekend is what keeps me coming back to Hilton despite Hilton being a favorite punching bag of the blogosphere. When I write up a little review of the property, one thing I’ll note will be consistency in that everyone we dealt with had the same attention to customer service and ability to take action. I’ll note the Conrad’s shortcomings as well — it’s not necessarily perfect — but sometimes the little things mean a lot, and this weekend they sure did.

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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Vet&Banker
Guest
Vet&Banker

I am so sorry to hear about your family’s illness! That sounds horrible, and I hope they have all recovered. But it sounds like the hotel’s staff truly was amazing, and their behavior was something all others should aspire to (no pun intended).

Russ
Guest
Russ

Did everyone get better and did baby Reyes make it through unscathed? I hope everyone is healthy again now!

DSK
Guest
DSK

So sorry your Mother and Sister got sick–the same thing happened to us in Kauai when our then four-year-old picked up a virus at pre-school who then passed it to our then two-year-old who then passed it to my wife and then me. When we went to the emergency room in Kauai and they asked who was there to see the doctor, i responded “All of us”! We all spent five nights of our one week Hawaii vacation in bed.

Having said that, I am very much looking forward to your review of the Conrad Ft. Lauderdale since we have three nights booked there in March using Hilton Weekend Certificates from our Ascend and Aspire cards. Seemed like a great use of those certificates.

Hope everyone is better now.

Pam
Guest
Pam

Certainly part of the “service” was the hotel assessing & reassessing their liability & taking action (legionnaires disease for ex is always a concern).

A call to your mom’s/dad’s/sister’s/brother-in-law’s health insurance company might have generated a covered out-of-network emergency house call from a doctor, esp with an infant potentially affected. If all this had instead been bacterial, meds would have been a quicker treatment. Even if not fully covered, at least 2 family’s sick (with potential for 3) would have cut the cost for some much needed medical attention.

I already have a stay planned there over New Year’s weekend using free night certs. Probably no upgrades available then but Jr Suites are always a great place to start!

Wayne
Guest
Wayne

Very sorry to read about your family illness. Glad to read the hotel helped you out. I’ll be at this property the end of Nov so hopefully we’ll have a great stay.

Robert
Guest
Robert

If you did spring for the on call doctor, would you earn hotel points for that charge? Thanks for sharing the experience. I hope all is well with your family.

Doublewidesfly
Guest
Doublewidesfly

Seems like they treated you right. I’ve been Hilton Diamond now for a couple of months. I’ve had 12 stays at different hotels including Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Garden Inn, Hilton, etc and yet to even see any type of upgrade. I’ve also never been able to get a late check out beyond 2pm! I’m lifetime platinum with Marriott and am going back

Ethan
Guest
Ethan

Nick, my wife and I are considering getting the Aspire and I was trying to figure out how we can both maximize the $250 resort credit. So your statement: ” I booked a standard room for 5 nights. Since my wife and I both hold the Amex Hilton Aspire card, we would have $500 in total resort credit between the two of us.”–so even though the room is booked under you, your wife can use her card to charge for food/services and it’ll be credit as the $250 resort credit? I thought the person using the $250 resort fee has to also book the room. Please confirm. Thanks!

FTL
Guest
FTL

Sorry to hear your family had to deal with this sickness. Hope everyone is feeling better. Since Fort Lauderdale is home I will be looking forward to your review. I don’t planning on staying there anytime soon since we have 5 month old.

NinjaX
Guest
NinjaX

dude nick. loving this post bruh. did a double take yesterday when i saw it. youre speaking to me man! haha.

first of all, im glad your family is OK. was considering writing all this crap about travel insurance and etc, but you know everything already and also your family refused to get medical assistance so that was a no-go anyway. also this was domestic so maybe that put some people at ease vs being foreign international. just glad it was still manageable because that zombie infection was spreading rapidly with very little incubation time of 24-48hrs. so curious what it could be. geez. close call IMHO. time to test amex plat med evac.

anyway, so happy to hear about your amazing experience from a customer service angle. i look forward to your full property write up, but lets not get too crazy by using one HH lux property to characterize the current state of the industry status dilution. you present a very good YMMV case here. sometimes you can win with Diamond. and win big.

the Conrad Fort Lauderdale is highly regarded w/ great customer service. you can tell just by looking at the various positive reviews on tripadvisor or yelp and many others. Im sure your Diamond status helped vs being a pleb, but its not something you can bet on with consistency. Even your massive upgrade may have been the result of ur status, but in no way could anyone rely on that with any consistency. one month out? crazy talk. during high demand, there would be way more diamonds on deck. I would post that as a “YMMV positive fluke”. still cant complain though and i hope it happens often.

however, in general, when everybody is diamond, nobody is diamond. this is simply based on the fact that our game is not of infinite supply. the resources available for elites are very limited and we clearly see this when policies/procedures change dramatically. i dont want to go on a rant with my own confirmation bias and mold examples to fit my own agenda, but here are some things that are just too obvious.

1) veterans already know from many years ago the evolution of frequent flier miles to frequent spender miles. everything is going to be revenue based and thats why people talk shit about DL since they are trailblazers in that dept. then you see AA copying that shit. AA upgrades based on EQD on rolling 12 months. EXP doesnt mean shit. everyone is EXP.

this is also why QF and CX totally changed its loyalty programs many years ago. too many “diamonds”. both airlines publicly confirmed that revisions would focus on rewarding high-yielding premium travelers who fly in business and first class. not about flying far for cheap (aka mileage run). cant be any more clear than that.

hotels may adopt more EQD concepts in the future, but I already now what they will do. they will just add massive inflation and deval their program vs adding EQD reqs for PR purposes just like HH Zimbabwe points. this is why Starriott and Hyatt will intro a cat 8. to throttle redemption burn.

2) the chuck E cheese zoo thats taking place at all airport lounges like amex cent and PP. the massive overflow of traveling “Diamonds” force lounges like AA and DL to limit their crap. dont need to talk anymore about this. everybody knows where this is going. last defensive barricade are the first class lounges like frankfurt or EK / EY where you cant just walk in with a CSR PP.

3) every hotel property is very good about guaranteed published benefits which is required for subscribing to the loyalty brand alliance. however, when it comes to “based on availability” which means every property owner can make up their own shit based on demand. this is the supreme example of when “everybody is diamond, nobody is diamond”. if you arrive at a popular destination and everybody is a diamond, you are no different than a “normal” customer because a rising tide lifts all boats. not just your diamond boat.

but lets be very clear. depending on your timing and location and your circumstance, you can win big with diamond. if you go to an unpopular destination during low tide, diamond can mean a lot. or if a property doesn’t serve diamonds often then they see you as Jesus.

one obvious example is UA GS status. many people dont understand thats its not just about EQD, altho very important. its about your location. if your airport HQ is SFO LAX DFW ORD JFK EWR or something similar, you better be spending $75k-$100k+. Thats because “everybody is diamond” at those airports. but if youre located in smaller hubs, u may only require $10k. why? because nobody flies into or from your village hut. In many ways, its totally unfair. how can someone at $10k get the same privileges as someone at 10X the rev? well, its because youre graded on a “revenue distribution curve” just like many school grades because when everybody is an A+ student, well… nobody is an A+ student.

anyway, dont want to bore you anymore. thank you for all your crazy work man and please nurse ur family back to health. also, your gear S3 brought tears to my eyes. very proud youre not an iPhone user. haha. jk.

Dr Ring Ding
Guest
Dr Ring Ding

I didn’t read this article because I didn’t want my eyes to become permanently dilated from trying to read a light font in 7-point type and replies in 5-point type. I can’t even read this as I type it, and I had an eye exam and new glasses 2 months ago. Please consider making the website content readable. Thanks…

NinjaX
Guest
NinjaX

well, its a feature of this website. i believe this blog used to be called Frequent Retina Miler. so i hope you dont use an iphone or never look at the apple website. haha.

although i wish there was a Night Mode.

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[…] we just used up a bunch of Hilton points in my household, we’ll probably look to replenish a bit with this […]

bettina
Guest
bettina

I am truly sorry to hear about your family’s illness and hope they are all better.
My question is to whom do you email in advance of your stay requesting an upgrade? How do you find the correct email address?

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[…] from Frequent Miler shares a tale about how an extended family vacation at a beautiful resort became a travel nightmare. The hotel they were staying at went above and beyond to help the entire family and earned the […]

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[…] week, I wrote a post about the great customer service I received recently at the Conrad Fort Lauderdale. It wasn’t just the service: the Conrad Fort […]