Rebook your Hilton award reservations, but carefully

Some friends recently told me that since the latest changes to Hilton Honors went into effect they'd seen prices go down at some properties where they had existing reservations. I hopped online and saw that, indeed, the pricing on one of my upcoming reservations had dropped from 50,000 points to 46,000 points per night, and another had dropped from 60,000 to 57,000 per night.

Since both reservations were for 3 nights, that's 21,000 in found points, or $3,500 in American Express Hilton Honors Surpass grocery store spend. In other words, not that much, but not nothing either, and worth a few clicks in order to rebook at the lower rate.

Hilton is not good at stuff

First I attempted to change a 150,000-point redemption into a 138,000-point redemption. After completely the change, I was expecting to see my available Honors point balance increase by 12,000 points. Instead, it went down by 138,000.

In other words, instead of either calculating the difference in points required or redepositing the entire award amount and then deducting the new cost, the Hilton website simply deducted the new total points required.

That's not great. Today I called in and got a Diamond agent who, after I carefully explained what had happened 3 times, was able to figure it out and told me, "you should have cancelled the reservation and rebooked, or called in." She then proceeded to cancel my second, correct reservation and make me another, correct reservation, "explaining" that "the old reservation still has your certificate attached."

Also surprisingly rude!

Since I had her on the line, I also asked her to change my second reservation to reclaim another 9,000 miles. I was booked into an accessible room that had dropped in price, and the agent started interrogating me about whether I really needed an accessible room, and scolding me that they had a very limited number of accessible rooms, "like handicapped parking spaces."

This was so obviously inappropriate I don't have much to say about it, except to pass along what the Hilton booking engine itself says about the issue:

If Hilton thinks there is a problem with people booking accessible rooms in order to save points they can address the problem by not charging more for non-accessible rooms. Instead they chose to go the opposite direction, fine-tuning to an ever-increasing degree the number of points they charge for different room types, dates, and properties.

I'm reminded of the study made famous by Freakonomics, in which charging parents fines for picking up their children from daycare late increased parental tardiness, since it swapped a monetary incentive for an ethical incentive. The price mechanism is marvelously effective, but one of the things it's effective at is swapping financial calculations for moral calculations.


Naturally the reason I was trying to change my reservations was to ensure that space wouldn't disappear between cancelling a reservation and trying to rebook. That turned out to be a mistake! If you're worried about award space disappearing, your best bet is to call in.

Otherwise, just cancel your reservation and use the redeposited points to make your new reservation — that's what they'll do over the phone anyway.