A Case Study in How a Hotel Chain Can Easily Lose a Loyal Customer

Gary Leff over at View From The Wing recently wrote an interesting article about how hotel chains are jeopardizing their entire business model – click here to read his article. Gary correctly points out that individual hotels are incentivized to cut corners and maximize profits for 2022 hotel stays – because the long term costs are borne by the hotel brand owner, once guests realize that the hotel brand doesn’t deliver the standards expected of it.

I spent a couple of nights in Montreal, Canada and saw this dynamic for myself. I was visiting the city with my wife and 2 year-old daughter. When I was planning the trip, my wife made it clear that she wanted:

  • Breakfast included
  • A hotel with a pool or a garden and a children’s playground nearby
  • Late check-out – our flight home would depart in the evening

Admittedly my wife is a bit spoiled, because in such situations I would normally choose a Hyatt hotel. But the only Hyatt hotel available in Montreal at the moment is a Hyatt Place in a somewhat unpleasant part of the city. As a result, I would have to rely on my Marriott Platinum or Hilton Diamond elite status.

Ultimately I chose the Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-ville. Apart from the fact that Hilton Diamond members are not GUARANTEED a late check-out, the hotel seemed to check all of the boxes – as well as offering a slightly lower room rate than alternative hotels in Montreal.

Check-in

It didn’t take long to realize that this hotel stay wasn’t going to go well. Despite arriving at 2pm, our room was not yet ready. OK fine… standard check-in time is 3pm, but most hotels can manage to find a room for a top tier elite member before then.

When we finally received a room and completed the check-in formalities, I was informed that housekeeping would only be available if requested 24 hours in advance for a specific time of day. In essence… no housekeeping.

In addition, this hotel has decided to NOT honor Hilton’s elite status benefits, and provided a C$20 breakfast voucher instead. This works out to US$15 – which is less than the amount we would have received at a Hilton Garden Inn in the United States...

Breakfast

Unfortunately this hotel hasn’t updated its website photos, which clearly shows a buffet breakfast. I might not have minded terribly if two buffet breakfasts cost a bit more than the voucher amount and our daughter could eat for free.

Instead, breakfast consisted of a massively understaffed sit down “service”. Once we finally received a table, it became obvious that C$20 wouldn’t even cover one person’s breakfast, once beverages, tax, and tip are included.

I know that people often debate the “value” of hotel breakfast as an elite benefit, but in this case we simply did not want to leave the hotel (in the rain) to eat elsewhere. We chose this hotel based on the explicit Hilton Honors promise of two adults enjoying a complimentary breakfast (and the expectation that a 2 year-old child wouldn’t normally be charged for a bit of cereal from the buffet).

Check-out

With an evening flight, we were also hoping for a late check-out. After substantial negotiation, I agreed to a departure time of 1:30pm.

Not that we were able to leave at 1:30pm… Upon reviewing the hotel bill, I noticed that our “not free” breakfast had been charged twice. After 30 minutes of attempts to fix this, we had to leave the hotel and trust that the restaurant manager would sort out the refund later.

“Guest Assistance”

My first interaction with Hilton Honors was comical.  After I complained about the hotel providing a voucher instead of breakfast for two, I received this reply…

We really appreciate your loyalty and we truly understand how disappointing this could be. 
Kindly note as per Hilton Honors Terms and Conditions, food and beverage credit are eligible within hotels inside U.S only.

After I replied rather more forcefully, I received 10,000 Hilton points as compensation. I value 10,000 points at $40-50, which was somewhat less than what I paid the hotel for breakfast. But knowing that hotel chains find it easier to compensate members with points rather than organize a cash refund, I finally capitulated and accepted the points.

…only to find out that my billing error had not only not been refunded, but I had been charged yet again for breakfast. After some additional back-and-forth – with the hotel this time – it seems that the triple-charge has finally been reversed.

Bottom Line

DYKWIA?  Perhaps…

But more importantly, I suspect that many readers are the “loyalty program gurus” of their own families. We often make some sacrifices to earn points and elite status, which are partially compensated by our family members saying “YAY! We are staying at a [insert hotel chain here]”.

Instead my wife insists “we are never staying at a Hilton again”. I might still stay at a Hilton hotel when travelling on my own. Or I might be able to convince my wife when a Hilton is definitely the only or best option.

But there’s no way I’m taking my family to a Hilton hotel when there is a Hyatt or Marriott hotel nearby. And it’s all due to a rogue Hilton Garden Inn in Montreal that Hilton Honors is unwilling to pressure into honoring its promises…