During the 2017 Freddies in New York City I had an opportunity to meet the Vice President for Hilton Honors, Aaron Glick. We didn’t have enough time to conduct a proper interview at the event, but Aaron was kind enough to return some responses to questions submitted through email. As I aim to be transparent, I have neither edited my questions nor his responses. My questions are in bold and bulleted, his answers appear in quotes.
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— Interview Begins —
- Recently, Access Auctions has expanded and now includes some exclusive events, what can we expect of this in the future?
The Hilton Honors Auction Platform gives our members access to some of the most exclusive experiences and events around the world. From a concert and meet & greet with country music star Sam Hunt, to a culinary tour of Philadelphia with indie band Fitz and the Tantrums, to a VIP-worthy day at the Singapore racetrack with the McLaren-Honda Formula One, we offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can enrich anyone’s travels. We want to ensure our members’ Points are going toward experiences they really want and dream of, so we constantly gather feedback to curate the auction platform offerings.
As we look ahead to the next generation of travelers, we see a group that cares not only about Points, but also gives great value to experiences. We find more of them enjoying elite benefits, including the auction platform – which speak to the idea of experiential value. So, we will continue to develop, with our members’ feedback, experiences that give them ways to unlock even more value from their membership beyond their stay.
- You mentioned the OneRepublic series of events with some private events, can you tell me more about that and what you might have in the pipeline for the future?
Music has always had a rich legacy with Hilton from John Lennon writing the lyrics to his number #1 hit single “Imagine” on Hilton New York stationery, to the 1st Annual GRAMMY Awards® dinner ceremony hosted in 1959 at The Beverly Hilton Hotel, which is why the Music Happens Here program was created.
Since the start of this year we have held several Music Happens Here events – a kickoff in Los Angeles, a private music session with OneRepublic in London and an exclusive show at the New Orleans House of Blues with Aloe Blacc.
Music Happens Here is a first-of-its-kind integrated music program that provides Hilton Honors members with unique concert experiences and unprecedented access to music and artist connections. The program builds on Hilton’s exclusive partnerships with Live Nation and The Recording Academy® (the GRAMMYs), and introduces a new music and travel content creation partnership with Spotify. These partnerships give guests access to exclusive music experiences, like a behind-the-scenes listening session as OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder covers the Oasis classic “Champagne Supernova” in Abbey Roads Studio, as well as an insider’s guide to some of the most iconic places where music has been created, performed and celebrated.
Hilton’s commitment to music – and bringing it to its Hilton Honors members – does not stop with Music Happens Here. Hilton is also headlining as the official hotel sponsor for both OneRepublic and Lady Antebellum’s 2017 North American tours, giving our Hilton Honors Members the opportunity for early, VIP access through our Auction Platform.
- We discussed the Diamond benefit, upgrades at time of checkin including suites if available. As of late, my percentage of suite upgrades from standard rooms has been quite good. Can you describe what makes Hilton so much better than other hotels at granting this benefit?[See note below]
We pride ourselves in really taking the time to get to know our members. We know that direct, loyal relationships with our guests involve advanced tools to deliver a more personalized customer experience, including upgrades for our most loyal members. One way we do this is data driven – every hotel has a daily customized report that shows the most frequent guests at that location and the personal preferences of those guests – perhaps their favorite beverage or whether they like to be near an elevator.
Additionally, our Team Members share the same guest-first commitment: Hilton Honors members and guests are our number one priority at Hilton. Upgrades are definitely a focus for us, and we’re working closely with our hotel Team Members to ensure they’re offering upgrades to our elite members as often as they can.
Hilton also boasts an extensive collection of suites within our portfolio, including Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, and Home2, on top of the beautiful suites in our other full service hotels – offering our members more ways to enjoy the “suite” life.
- Honors has one of the most generous mid-level elite tiers (Gold) offering free breakfast to guests. Can you clarify what the policy is regarding free breakfast for Gold and Diamonds if there is a lounge present? Can a Diamond eat breakfast in the restaurant if they so choose? [See note below]
Hilton Honors Gold and Diamond members have free breakfast as a MyWay benefit at many of our brands including Hilton, DoubleTree, Conrad and Curio. It’s definitely a perk that our elite members appreciate. While the offerings might vary from brand and hotel, we empower our Team Members to deliver the best service at the start of every morning. We know it’s important to our members, so it’s important to us.
- Marriott has crossover loyalty reciprocation with United, SPG with Delta. Now that those are both under the Marriott flag, would Hilton Honors consider a tie-up with American? Perhaps Alaska or Southwest given that those two have also become larger players for traveling workers in the US? [See note below]
We’re always evaluating partnerships that make our members’ lives better and for ways to take the friction out of travel. Partnerships with others in the travel industry add value and flexibility across the entire customer journey – which at Hilton is actually a series of journeys, both in and out of hotels. We’re always thinking about how we can create exceptional experiences through travel and in everyday life, and considering new partners that fit the bill. Currently, we have travel partnerships with over 65 partners, more than any other loyalty program I know. Those relationships span across Amtrak, jetBlue, Virgin America, Delta and National Rental Car.
In addition to travel partnerships, we are looking for even more ways that members can use their Points. That’s why we recently partnered with Amazon. Through Amazon Shop With Points members will soon be able to use their Points on just about anything when shopping on Amazon.com (coming soon).
- I had previously praised your first promotion for the year, 2k Every Stay Every Night, for the reward it gives to both extended stay guests and infrequent guests alike. However, I also noted that it didn’t really reward those that are your most frequent guests and likely have more choice of their hotel. What should we expect in the third quarter? An emphasis on rewarding elites or encouraging general members?
In planning our promotions, our goal is to keep rewarding our most loyal members while also giving our newer members incentives to keep coming back. That’s why with our second promotion of the year, “Go More Get More,” all Hilton Honors Members can earn Double Bonus Points while Diamond Members can earn Triple Bonus Points on eligible stays. Diamond member feedback has been extremely positive, making this one of our most successful promotions ever. “Go More Get More” runs through the end of August, and as we look ahead, we’re already thinking of ways to “plus up” the promotions for our most loyal members.
- Hilton just started a new promotion, Five Feet From Fitness but it looks like roll-out is limited and there is a price bump of $45/nt over the selected room. Other chains have made workout equipment available on site for rent or lending but never in the room. Are there other health incentives that Hilton and Hilton Honors specifically are working toward? [See note below]
Hilton’s history with wellness goes way back: we were the first major hotel chain to standardize hotel fitness centers, and are now leading the in-room fitness revolution. The concept, “Five Feet to Fitness,” is Hilton’s answer to the fact that 50% of travelers select a hotel based on rooms that fit their needs, and 1 in 3 Millennials cite fitness amenities as a “must” at hotels.
Many hotels have introduced wellness concepts for travelers, but Hilton is different. We’ve designed these rooms from the ground up to be both functional and enjoyable. These rooms are truly designed with travelers’ needs in mind, and we’re collaborating with industry-leading partners like Wattbike and Life Fitness to bring the latest, customizable fitness technology and trends to the room.
In terms of roll-out plans, Parc 55 San Francisco – A Hilton Hotel and Hilton McLean Tysons Corner are just the first of our concept roll-out. We know that movement and mindfulness make for a better travel experience and aim to have over 100 of the fitness rooms around the country by the end of the year, including Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Las Vegas, New York and San Diego. Regarding rate, The Five Feet to Fitness rooms cost around $45 more than the standard room so not too much more than a boutique fitness class. And Hilton Honors members can of course redeem their Points to book their room.
— Interview Completed —
- Hilton’s auction platform at the time of our meeting was sparse. Mr. Glick was previously at Starwood in various senior capacities, one of which was Loyalty and another Strategic Projects. He was reticent to discuss SPG Moments when I brought it up and wanted to focus on Hilton’s offering in his current role, which I can appreciate. That being said, the expansion of the program in the months since our in-person meeting make it a valid competitor to SPG moments and offer real value for frequent guests like myself. There seems to be a genuine desire to offer ways for guests to spend get more value out of their points and grow a stronger connection with the Hilton brand. More than anything we discussed directly, it was a sense that there was once again someone in the loyalty industry that was loyal back to guests – that’s a welcome change over the bloodshed we have seen elsewhere in the rest of the travel loyalty space as of late.
- I’m not a OneRepublic fan, I have nothing against them, it’s just not for me. However, I’d jump at the chance to have been there for a private session in the Abbey Road studios during a cover of Champagne Supernova. I also was unaware that John Lennon wrote Imagine on Hilton hotel stationery. I will be thumbing through those notepads by the bed at my next Hampton Inn a little more carefully in the future.
- The question of upgrading standard rooms was submitted prior to my recent stay at the Hilton Mexico City Airport Hotel. That being said, my upgrade percentage since that stay has been 4 of 4 so it does feel like there is a true effort to honor the benefit though as I covered here, there is an ongoing challenge with individual properties.
- I didn’t get a direct answer on the hotel breakfast question but reading between the lines, he isn’t committing hotels to honor breakfast in the restaurant if it’s already offered in the lounge, but he also seems to suggest it’s worth a try. So try I shall, every stay.
- When asked about if there is a possible tie-up with one of the airlines not yet partnered up with a hotel chain I got a dodge and pitch. The question simply wasn’t answered directly because he either can’t discuss it or it’s not in the works, I am hoping for the former and not the latter. He also pitched Honors new partner Amazon and while I doubt I would prefer to redeem Honors points for Amazon purchases, it is always better to have more partners than less. I often search for ways to empty orphan account balances and for those who infrequently stay with the chain, this may present great value.
- I mentioned their last promotion (live at the time we originally met) and he took the time to respond about their current promotion which addressed my previous concerns. I have personally enjoyed this promotion better than 2k every day, every stay but that is based on my travel pattern and nothing more. Is “plus up” a hint about the next promotion?
- While “Five Feet to Fitness” is a product and not an Honors promotion, I really like the concept and think I will try out the Tyson’s Corner property with the feature to see what it entails and whether it is worth it for me personally.
I want to thank Mr. Glick for taking the time to respond and appreciate his willingness to speak with members like myself. He took a genuine interest in our readership and I look forward to continuing the dialogue with him as the Honors program evolves.
“Can you describe what makes Hilton so much better than other hotels at granting [suite upgrades]?”
DCS, is that you?
@Gary – I am not sure who DCS might be. On the question itself, Mr. Glick and I spoke outside the interview about efforts from the brand to have hoteliers honor the benefit – I wanted to give him an opportunity to expand upon that at his discretion. His response is unaltered.
My personal record on my last five stays is 4 for 5 and I noted in my Mexico City post that they did not upgrade nor make any effort to address it, but otherwise it seems like there has been an uplift in my case across the brand. Has your experience varied?
@Gary – he fortunately has yet to infest this site with his dogmatic bluster, best as I can tell 😉
@UA-NYC – I should take that as a compliment right? In which case, thank you.
You seem like a rational guy Kyle – I can tell you clearly aren’t DCS. If and when he infests this site, you will know it!
I have to ask… who is DCS?
I’m glad you’re getting real upgrades, though as one data point, I can tell you that in 4 years as a mid-tier Gold, I never once received a meaningful upgrade. Every property I’d stay at would invariable use the “a higher floor is an upgrade” loophole. Or, I’d be roadtripping, and the ubiquitous Hampton Inn/Homewood Suites don’t really have “upgrades” because all the rooms are basically the same. In fairness, my Gold status expired in 2014, so things might be different now. One thing I would have liked to hear from him about, though you probably wouldn’t, understandably, get much of a response about, is the switch to an opaque award model. I have zero trust in a program without an award chart, given how other companies (cough – Delta – cough) with opaque charts play games with un-announced devaluations. I know plenty of others feel the same way, so curious to see how this all plays out going forward.
P.S. “DCS” is a Hilton fanboy that frequents OMAAT, and to a lesser extent, Travel Codex. Say anything even remotely negative about Hilton, or remotely positive about SPG or Hyatt, and he’ll immediately launch into a treatise about how Honors is the greatest program ever and anyone who says otherwise is a shill for the other programs. Surprisingly, he didn’t troll my post about hotel breakfast. Guess I’m living a charmed life.
DCS is THE Hilton fan boy. Doesn’t pop up so much when you write about Hilton but loves to chime in when the post is about other loyalty programs and point out why he thinks Hilton is so much better. He’ll be around. 🙂
Also, there are Westin hotels that offer treadmills or bicycles in the rooms. I made a list a while ago of the Westins that I could find that had this offering – http://runningwithmiles.boardingarea.com/want-great-workout-hotel-look-rooms-like/
@Charlie – Thanks for the reference piece and for explaining DCS. The irony for me is that I was more a Hyatt fanboy than anything else so I am surprised that someone would suggest any other brand than that.
Sorry, my comment above was in response to Matthew and I hadn’t realized you answered it!
As a diamond I rarely if ever get upgraded. I love the points bumps and think Hilton does do a great job with that. I also note he didn’t remotely answer the question about Delta or United crossover with SPG and Marriott (which means you get two airlines when you qualify for either program!). It sure would be nice to get actual Delta silver status since SPG is going away!
@David – I was hoping to avoid the “Sunday School answer” on the crossover rewards especially given that Mr. Glick was so heavily involved at SPG. However, I wanted his answers to stand alone as he responded so that readers could make their own assumptions.
@Meanmeosh – Perhaps DCS took the weekend off. My experience at Hilton has been excellent as of late so I am reporting that honestly. If it changes I will submit those posts in the same vein, then maybe he will come out of hiding but for the most part I am pretty satisfied that I have been hitting upgrades. The funny thing to me is that I have been accused of being a Hyatt fanboy (a fair assessment) in the past so to be bias towards Hilton is odd for me. I have an upcoming post about Accor that won’t help my case (their brand service was garbage despite having some great hotels).
DCS – DeCompression Sickness?
No a character attribute?
@andrew – One of the other commenters has mentioned that DCS is a frequent commenter and Hilton loyalist. I have yet to encounter the legend that is DCS.
Cool. I realized that and meant it as a joke. -:)
The unasked question: Hilton transparency…
@andrew – I didn’t ask about the Best Rate Guarantee policy which I have found to be elusive with other brands. I haven’t tried it yet with Hilton but I actually decided against a night with Sofitel simply because neither my wife nor myself wanted to deal with the brand (Accor) in asking them to honor their own policy. I share your frustration with hotels on this policy generally and perhaps on my next Hilton stay I will try them to see if my result is the same. I simply haven’t had the issue yet so it didn’t come to mind.