Hilton HHonors loyalty program debuts name change, four new programs

Hilton HHonors, a loyalty program that recently signed on its 60-millionth subscriber earlier this year, is going under the knife. Feeding off of survey data showing that two-thirds of all its members believed the program influenced travel decisions, Hilton Worldwide is tweaking the program alongside its own brand refresh. As Hilton drops the “Worldwide” from its title later this year, its loyalty program is being made more aerodynamic by giving up the extra “H,” rechristening the service “Hilton Honors.”

“We hope it will cut down on mispronunciations,” Mark Weinstein, SVP and global head of loyalty and partnerships at Hilton, said during a call. “The first ‘H’ used to stand for Hilton. We saw it as an unnecessary marketing program. It did homage to our legacy, but now it’s a little more global in nature. We think that when you have a great brand like ours, you don’t need gimmicks or shtick.”

Aside from changing everyone’s corporate business cards, the new name is the least of the program’s new offerings. The program is offering four new additions to be rolled out as the year progresses:

  1. Points and Money: A reimagined point marketplace, with rewards being made available to travelers starting at 5,000 points. The new program also debuts a new slider on the company’s booking portal that allows travelers to adjust incrementally the number of points they inject into a booking, giving them better control over how these points are spent.
  2. Amazon Partnership: Hilton is partnering with Amazon to offer the ability to spend points accumulated through Hilton stays directly in the Amazon marketplace. This can be done with any combination of points, similar to the Points and Money slider, and is expected to debut summer 2017.
  3. Points Pooling: Each Hilton Honors member is now able to share his or her accumulated points with as many as 10 friends and family members, allowing them to benefit from an individual’s travel for free. This option is designed to assist in group travel, and will be available spring 2017.
  4. Diamond Benefits Changes: Members of Hilton Honors’ lifetime Diamond program are now able to put their Diamond status on hold for one year, one time, for any reason, without incurring any penalties.

An Appeal to Empathy

Weinstein said changes to the Diamond program are being made in order to accommodate the life changes of travelers. He used examples of guests’ changing jobs, going back to school or the birth of a baby as reasons guests to want to place their Diamond status on hiatus, but the threat of losing the status altogether when it is out of their control is not appealing.

“It’s about being more human and empathetic about travel,” he said. “It’s not just transactional from year to year.”

According to Weinstein, there is more on offer to guests but it’s not just more for more’s sake. Hilton conducted two years of customer research in order to settle on these programs, finding that frequent travelers and road warriors wanted more variety in they ways they could use their points, while other travelers wanted to engage in the process more often, using fewer points each time. Overwhelmingly, the slider was more popular with focus groups than a drop-down menu.

“These additions come from a road map that is five to six years long,” Weinstein said. “We’ve announced great partnerships recently, including one with Live Nation, so taking the points up a notch was the next logical step.”

The company’s relationship with Amazon goes back a few years, and Amazon Lockers can be found in a number of Hilton properties throughout the world. According to Weinstein, both companies share a number of customers in common, and Hilton jumped at the chance to be the first hotel company flipping points into dollars in Amazon’s marketplace. He justified the implementation of points pooling, the refresh’s third new option, as an appeal to travelers who avoid booking travel due to costs, giving them another avenue to purchase rooms.

“We think there are a lot of Hilton Honors members sitting on the sideline, and we want to make [booking] more flexible for them,” Weinstein said. “They want to travel together, and we are hitting the easy button. We want to take advantage of it, and on the business side it makes it so more frequent travels can help book a bachelor party, honeymoon or weekend at the beach.”

The rollout of these offerings will be made clearer as time goes on, but the Points and Money slider is expected to be in the hands of guests by the end of February.