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Gary Leff over at View From The Wing recently wrote an interesting article about how hotel chains are jeopardising their entire business model – click here to read his article. Gary correctly points out that individual hotels are incentivised to cut corners and maximise profits for 2022 hotel stays. This is because the long term costs are borne by the hotel brand owner (rather than the specific hotel owner), once guests realise 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 (because I have Globalist status, which offers excellent benefits). 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.
It didn’t take long to realise 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 honour Hilton’s elite status benefits, and provided a C$20 breakfast voucher instead. This works out to US$15 / £14 – which is less than the amount we would have received at a Hilton Garden Inn in the United States, and way worse than the “continental breakfast for 2” which is supposed to be the minimum offered at Hilton Garden Inn hotels in the rest of the world.
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 and tax 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 (especially since it was raining) 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).
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.
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 £35-40, 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 force a hotel to offer 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.
But more importantly, I suspect that many readers are the “loyalty programme 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 it’s not likely that I will be taking my family to a Hilton hotel for awhile if 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 honouring its promises…