In my ongoing journey of aggravation and crankiness, there are always a few easy milestones: technology, bad drivers, bureaucracies, and corporations. I’ve had much fun complaining about airlines and banks. The only problem is when they don’t cooperate. They do this by actually, unexpectedly, being cooperative.
When I first started traveling for business, I joined HHonors, Hilton Hotels’ frequent guest program. Say what you want about boring consistency, it’s easy to find a Hilton in every city and a subsidiary hotel in every suburb. They’re always reasonably priced and conveniently located. I harbored a fantasy that this affinity would become such common knowledge among my friends that if they knew I was in a particular city and wanted to find me, all they had to do was call the Hilton (this was, of course, before the invention of cell phones).
So that was my default, from Sydney to New York to London (although the less said about the Hilton Trafalgar, the better). I got my points, I occasionally partook of a free stay, and life was good.
Until I became self-employed. When I started traveling less, I would occasionally notice my HHonors account balance at zero. I would call customer service, and someone nice would explain that since I hadn’t stayed in a Hilton within the previous 12 months, my balance was negated. Jiminy Christmas, guys. Even the airlines give you three years of inactivity before they close you down. The customer service rep said that I could buy some points for something like $12.50 and she would reinstate my previously vacuumed points.
Life was good again. Until I noticed recently that I was back down to zero points, even though we had just spent a week at the Hilton Waikoloa. Another call to the nice people at customer service, another lesson in fine print. If you make a reservation at a Hilton through a third-party provider, such as United Vacations or a conference organizer, that isn’t recognized as a stay.
So even though we had visited the Hilton Waikoloa twice in the last two years, it didn’t register as a stay (pun intended). Even though when we went to San Diego last month for a conference and specifically chose the Hilton Bayfront over the Hyatt and the Marriott (and invited friends to join us there), that didn’t net points either. I’m almost positive they got money from us – we just didn’t pay what’s known in the industry as the rack rate, or the rate posted on their web site. It was as if they really didn’t want to have a loyalty program at all, so they made it as rigid and unyielding as possible.
Now I have to say that the next time I called customer service, I got a very nice woman named Joyce who looked at my 21 years in the program, said a quiet “oops” and restored my points immediately. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we’re unlikely to ever qualify for the kind of stays the HHonors program requires.
In a nice letter to the senior VP of marketing for the HHonors program, a man named Jeff Diskins, I explained I was cancelling my membership in the program because it was so clearly geared toward business travelers and not the leisure market. I would have, I told him, accepted a lower reward payoff, but I still would have liked to have had our stays acknowledged. Do you know what that guy had the temerity to do?
He concurred (admittedly, though an intermediary) that my criticisms were valid, and acknowledged that they were considering changes to the program to address my concerns. He also bumped my membership in the program up two levels, from blue to gold, and gave me 10,000 extra points.
And that’s how you ruin a perfectly good rant.