Hilton made an earlier announcement that it planned to offer free Internet access to all its elite members, and that new benefit went into effect last week while I was on vacation. Now when you stay at a Hilton property, you can get free premium Internet for Diamond members or free standard Internet for Gold, Silver, and Blue members. This means no change for Gold members, who already received standard Internet, while Diamond members are getting an enhancement. Silver and Blue members who previously had to pay for Internet access at some hotels will receive it complimentary.
This program enhancement for Hilton HHonors makes it the last major loyalty program to offer free Internet access to all its elite members, which is a welcome improvement. I’m glad because otherwise I think it’s been a fairly generous loyalty program.
Hilton Removes All Elite Benefits for Third-Party Reservations
It was no secret when this change was first announced that guests would have to book with Hilton directly or through another approved channel. Several other chains have created similar rules depending on your elite level. Starwood Preferred Guest, for example, requires its members without status to book online — reservations by telephone don’t qualify for free Internet access.
But one positive was followed quickly by a negative. According to Loyalty Lobby, Hilton later updated its Terms & Conditions for the entire Hilton HHonors program. They now specify that third-party reservations not only won’t receive free Internet but don’t qualify for any other elite benefits, either.
Eligibility for all on-property HHonors benefits, including complimentary Internet and MyWay benefits such as complimentary snacks and beverages, complimentary continental breakfast and space-available upgrades, requires a confirmed reservation made through one of the following channels:
- Any official direct Hilton Worldwide hotel brand or HHonors website (for example, HHonors.com, Hilton.com, Hampton.com, etc.),
- Hilton Reservations & Customer Care phone line (1-800-HHonors or local Hilton reservations office),
- Hilton HHonors or Hilton mobile application,
- Directly at a hotel in the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, or
- Through an IATA accredited retail travel agent professional (“Travel Agent”) booking through a Hilton Worldwide channel or the following Global Distribution Systems: Amadeus, Apollo/Galileo, Worldspan and SABRE.
On-property benefits are not awarded in the following circumstances:
- Reservations booked through a non-Hilton Worldwide-direct booking channel or a non-designated GDS, third party website or any other channel,
- Rates available on “opaque” websites where the hotel brand and specific hotel are not known until the booking is made, or
- Third party hotel packages or travel packages not booked through one of the eligible channels.
Consequences for Hilton Guests
While this change is unfortunate — no one likes to see new restrictions created — it may not affect you. Many people who have elite status already book their reservations directly with the hotel or through another approved channel. That’s how you earn the stay and night credit required to requalify for status the next year. Also, reservations through a GDS (used by business travel agencies like Concur) will continue to be eligible.
Specifically, these changes are likely to impact people who make reservations through the more popular consumer OTAs like Priceline, Orbitz, Expedia, and Costco as well as the smaller ones you’ve probably never heard of.
That can still be a problem. Hilton is well known for offering elite status with its credit cards, including Gold elite status with two cards from American Express and Citi. That means you could get some excellent benefits, including free breakfast, just by getting a credit card without any other stay history. Previously I’ve enjoyed my Gold benefits on Hotwire rates for last-minute reservations at the airport and elsewhere. While the benefits of having a credit card won’t disappear, you will need to book through an eligible channel in the future. It’s also possible that some hotels will continue to honor benefits even if they don’t have to.
As Loyalty Lobby says, Hyatt Gold Passport is the only program that now explicitly guarantees benefits if you book through a third party. (They even allow you to book an award stay for someone else, using your points, and they’ll share your Diamond benefits with them.) But Hilton and Starwood explicitly deny you benefits when booking through a third-party. Many other programs have no formal statement on the matter, but they generally offer benefits during your stay even if they don’t provide points or stay credit toward elite status.