Category Archives: Disaster

The Anatomy of a Hilton Disaster

My brother recently embarked on a two and half week dream vacation through Europe for his honeymoon. My brother has traveled quite a bit in his life, and I’ve recently got him hooked on points to an even greater degree than he already was. As such, nearly his entire trip was booked using points.

He’s a Hilton Diamond member, and has been for several years. He’s one of those people that earned it by actually staying those nights as opposed to meeting a $40K credit card spend requirement on a Hilton credit card. Needless to say, he’s been loyal to Hilton for several years, and we’ve even had several arguments about elite status: me supporting SPG and him supporting Hilton.

As such, he’s been staying at some great Hilton hotels in Europe. He visited a couple of cities in Turkey and then on to a couple of stops in Italy. The next stop on his itinerary was the centerpiece of his trip: four nights in Paris, booked at the Hilton Arc de Triomphe Paris hotel.

About a month ago it was reported that due to a lawsuit, this hotel would no longer be part of the Hilton family. Loyalty Traveler did a great post on this topic, and points out that this hotel was Trip Advisor’s Travelers’ Choice 2012 Winner. In fact, this rating played a huge part in my brother booking this hotel, in addition to it’s location near tourist sites and public transportation. He planned his trip with great detail like any engaged traveler would to make his/her honeymoon absolutely perfect. He confirmed booking on July 12th, more than two months in advance of his stay.

Flash forward to September 17th, two days before his stay in Paris. He’s already in Europe and touring Venice when he receives this email:

Initial email from Hilton, 2 days before the stay.

So just two days before his stay, my brother is told his confirmed reservation is no longer available to him, and he’s instead been booked at the Hilton Paris La Defense. This hotel is not at the same level as the Hilton Arc de Triomphe for many reasons, and even Hilton recognizes this because they offered a category 6 hotel, while my brother booked a category 7 hotel. The La Defense hotel is in the business areas of Paris, and isn’t generally considered a great tourist hotel.

My brother was obviously extremely upset about this. He was out in Venice when he received this email and forwarded it to me to ask for some help as soon as he could. He didn’t take a computer with him (just an iPhone) so I of course agreed to help.

I took to Twitter, contacting the Hilton account and asking for help. By this time, my brother had replied to the email saying that it is unacceptable and couldn’t believe that a Diamond member was dealt with this way. He would never receive a response from that individual again.

Instead, the Hilton Twitter team responded to me, asking me to have my brother contact them at a different email address. My brother emailed them asking them to honor his stay at the original hotel with all his Diamond benefits.

At this point, I started asking various travel bloggers and other experienced travelers for help/advice regarding this situation. One of my favorites, Lucky from One Mile at a Time, took notice and asked if he could do a post on it. I checked with my brother and he agreed, hoping it would get the attention of Hilton to rectify this situation. Lucky was kind enough to make the post early the next morning.

The Hilton Social Media Team responded promptly to my brother’s email with

“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you. We are working hard to get this resolved to your satisfaction. Please allow us some time to reply back to you regarding this.  You will be hearing from us soon.”

My brother replied back letting them know that he would be out on a tour until mid afternoon, and gave his room number for them to contact him when he returns. At this point, Lucky’s post on this situation goes live.

When my brother gets back to his hotel in the afternoon, he finds an email from someone at Hilton along with a voice mail at his room. He was asked to respond back to the Hilton representative ASAP, and the rep again apologized for this situation.

After a phone call, my brother was offered the following hotel options that would be comped, but without Diamond benefits (which required additional approval). He was given 5 hours to make his decision since there was only a day left.

  • Renaissance Arc de Triomphe
  • Sofitel Arc de Triomphe
  • Marriott Hotel Champs-Elysees
  • Westin Paris – Vendome
  • Hyatt Regency Paris-Madeleine

Again, my brother did not have access to a computer at the time so he spent quite a bit of time doing all the research he can via his iPhone. I did some quick research as well and told him the Marriott would be his best bet, and he agreed based on what he was able to find out. My brother then writes a long and “strongly worded” email back, letting  the Hilton representative know that his decision is being made out of duress with the time frame given and the fact that my brother had other plans in Venice that evening and had to leave. In his email, my brother said he expected all the Diamond benefits he would normally be due, including daily breakfast for two, daily internet, and access to the Executive Lounge, in addition to additional compensation.

The Hilton Rep responded quickly saying he’s working on it and already got the approval for breakfast and internet charges. So at least things are looking up at this point.

When my brother returns from his evening in Venice, he finds this response in his email inbox:

“I am very sorry to inform you that the Marriott is completely sold out for your dates. I am truly sorry for this. Please also know that the other hotels that I offered you are also sold out. I am doing the following for you due to this terrible inconvenience. I have authorized to book you a hotel at the Hotel Splendid Etoile. This hotel got rated 41/2 stars out of 5 on Trip Advisor. We are booking you an upgraded King bedded room with Arc De Triomphe View. We will be providing you breakfast for 2 daily and also will take care of the internet charges. I am also going to place back into you account 50000 points. I will be sending you a confirmation email shortly. I will be in the office all this week if you need any further assistance with this matter. I am also copying this email to my co-workers who are highly aware of this matter. I can only again say how sorry that we are for this unfortunate situation. Please reply back to me if there is something else that I can do.”

So let’s do a summary here. Two days before my brother’s honeymoon stay in Paris, he’s told that his previously confirmed reservation would not be honored. My brother asks for Hilton to honor it, but instead they offer a not-as-nice hotel in the business district. My brother complains that it’s not adequate, and is offered a choice of 5 hotels in a similar area to his original booking. He reluctantly picks one as he’s rushed to planned activities in Venice. My brother returns that night to learn that none of the five hotels that Hilton offered even have availability for his stay, and instead he’s been booked at a hotel that few have likely heard of (though has plenty of good reviews on Trip Advisor). He was also told he’d receive back 50K of the 170K points he originally spent.

At this point my brother gets pissed, to put it mildly. He replies back (angrily) saying that this is extremely unprofessional and unacceptable. He mentioned the most recent review was a rather scathing review of that particular hotel, and my brother said he refused to stay there. He did some more research and found that the first two nights were available at the Renaissance and the next two at the Marriott, both hotels that were on the list Hilton provided earlier. He asked the Hilton representative to book these two hotels as well as for more than a 50K point compensation for the additional stress and hassle during his honeymoon. My brother again asks to be taken care of as a Diamond member.

At the time my brother sends this email it is midnight on the day of check-in – his flight from Venice to Paris leaves in the morning. The final response from Hilton was this:

Hilton’s Final Offer

Hilton’s final offer: The Hilton La Defense, all his points back, travel vouchers, and all his Diamond benefits since it’s a Hilton.

My brother forwarded this message to me and went straight to bed since it was late and he needed to be up early for the flight. I have no idea how he feels about this package yet.

Looking at it from the outside, Hilton seemed like they really tried to fix the situation. They recognized they made the mistake, apologized several times, comped his entire hotel stay in Paris and threw in some travel vouchers, which are likely going to be able to get him into the heart of the city (we don’t know the exact details of these vouchers yet). They tried to book any hotel possible in the original area, even if it wasn’t a Hilton branded one. It sounds like they truly did their best to fix it.

UPDATE: The travel voucher (only one) was for a one-way taxi ride to Paris.

On the other hand, this was handled EXTREMELY poorly from a customer service perspective. Hilton MUST give more than two days warning. And they shouldn’t have offered a list of hotels that had no vacancy – it just inflamed an already bad situation. And imagine if my brother hadn’t checked his email during these two days – what would have happened then? Hilton was certainly well aware of this matter far in advance, and should have contacted him earlier.

I suspect my brother will be plenty angry over this given how it ruined his trip in Venice and in Paris, even despite the compensation offered. If it were me, I probably would be pissed also.

I’m sure my brother will be reconsidering his Hilton Diamond membership at this point, if he hasn’t already. It’s also worth noting that our dad is a Diamond member and I am a Gold member. These are the types of experiences that can make or break a brand. If they can fix it, they’ll have earned a loyal customer for life. But if it’s handled poorly or the outcome is not good enough, that will be a very difficult thing to forget about.

I want to point out that in the points world it’s never wise to completely write-off an entire program/chain, especially one as large as Hilton, due to a single bad experience. And it’s important to recognize that this was absolutely an exceptional case. But it will be memorable due to the circumstances.

What do you think? Was the compensation fair? Should/could Hilton have done more? Or do you think it was more than generous?

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