Hilton Program Gets New Name and 4 New Features

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Hilton’s HHonors program this week gets a new name, Honors, and four new features. (The leading “H,” which stood for Hilton, was deemed unnecessary and apparently caused confusion when it came to pronouncing the program’s name.)

The real upgrade, however, is with the program’s four new features.

Points & Money

Hilton is hardly the first company to allow members of its loyalty program to combine cash and points to pay for stays. What distinguished the company’s new Points & Money feature is the ability to choose practically any combination of points and cash, rather than choosing from a limited number of preset combinations.

Using a clever slider on the Hilton website, program members can increase and decrease the proportion of points to money for any hotel booking, allowing them to preview and fine-tune their points-and-cash options.

As points-and-cash pricing goes, Hilton’s is now the most flexible and user-friendly.

Points Pooling

Where other programs charge a fee to combine points from other members’ accounts, Hilton will allow Honors members to combine their points with as many as 10 other members fee-free.

New Rewards Partner: Amazon

In a first for a hotel loyalty program, Honors members will be able to redeem their points for Amazon.com purchases. With Amazon’s unrivaled breadth and depth of products, that means program members can use their points for just about anything.

The question, of course, is how much Honors points will be worth when redeemed for Amazon products. Across both airline and hotel programs, redemptions for consumer merchandise, versus flights or room nights, have historically represented very poor value. That makes perfect sense, given the underlying economics. Merchandise awards are a hard cost to the programs, which must be covered by higher redemption costs. Giving away seats or room nights, which in most cases would have gone unsold, is much more cost-effective, allowing for relatively lower redemption prices and a more compelling value proposition.

During yesterday’s press briefing, the value of Honors points was not addressed, and a follow-up email query to Hilton was not responded to by press time.

Honors points are worth between 0.4 cents and 0.5 cents each, when redeemed for hotel stays. If they turn out to be worth significantly less when used on Amazon.com, the partnership will be more sizzle than steak.

Status Extension for Diamond Members

Recognizing that travel frequency ebbs and flows even for road warriors, Hilton will allow Diamond elite members to retain their top-tier status for a year during which they would otherwise fail to qualify for it. It’s a one-time-only extension.

There’s more than benevolence in play here. Allowing a customer to lose status, and its associated perks, effectively puts the traveler’s future loyalty at risk, when he resumes traveling frequently. The status extension gives such travelers an incentive to remain engaged with the program after a travel hiatus.

It’s a win-win.

Reader Reality Check

How much of a plus are the new Honors features for you?

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.

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