It was the best of trips, it was the worst of trips… or something like that. Twice in one year I made reservations at a brand new hotel that failed to open on time, but the way the hotel chains handled it is what distinguished the classy from the classless. IHG and Hilton are worlds apart, and I’m only sorry it took me a world of travel to find out.*
In October of 2018, I was presenting research at a conference in Kansas City, and I booked a room at the new Holiday Inn Express Downtown. It was slated to open soon before my conference, and was within walking distance to the venue, but far cheaper. As an employee of a state university with a limited travel budget, who also had to pay to park a rental car, I was going to be paying some of the cost out of pocket as it was. As an IHG Platinum Elite member, I was thrilled I’d get all the perks that came with my status, and be close to the conference to boot. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
About a week before the conference, I did what any smart traveler does before she’s going to travel: I logged on to check and see if there were any lower rates available yet. While rates tend to rise before check in, once in a while they fall and it’s possible to rebook the lower rate. Instead, what I saw when I looked up the hotel was that it was not opening until a month later. How could that be when I had a reservation this month? Wouldn’t I know? Apparently not. I wrote to IHG and it seems it was a little “inconvenience” on their part.
That’s right, the letter dated October 18 is the official letter sent by IHG. The former letter is the response only because I noticed a few days earlier and reached out. Had I not, I would not have received 15,000 points or a few extra days to find my own place. What can you find for 15K points in Kansas City the week of an international convention? Certainly not four nights at a downtown property. One night at a suburban mid-grade property maybe? (For comparison, I looked before posting this, and the lowest point value IHG downtown property in Kansas City is 30,000 points, so they, essentially, offered me half a night). However, since I was being reimbursed by work, points were not really helpful to me. I needed cash transactions anyway. And at the last minute, I was now stuck driving from a suburban location and paying exorbitant commuter parking fees—exceeding my university’s allotted budget for me, and keeping me from part of the convention.
IHG was no help in the process, however, and the company only offered to assist me in finding another hotel, as if I were not capable of doing so within the app.
All in all, there were maybe 6-8 emails that went back and forth, but the end result was, here’s your not-even-enough-points-for-one-night-downtown-consolation-prize and that’s-that response.
Fortunately for me, I have lived in Kansas City and knew my way around it well, so I knew where to book as an alternative, and the longer drive was bearable on a personal level, but would have been absolutely unacceptable to an unfamiliar visitor. I wish then I had known about who to book with for reliability—Hilton.
In June, I had a similar incident with Hilton, but the end result was exponentially different. My favorite U.S. city is Chicago. I can’t tell you why I love it, but I do. Any excuse to jaunt to Chicago, and I am there. I booked my last international trip to go through customs in Chicago before spending the night in the Hilton (review coming in a later post) before flying to DFW and ending my journey. I decided them to take a quick summer trip to Chicago.
I worked hard in June grading Advanced Placement essays to earn some plane fares, and the day after I was finished, I was packing up to go to the Windy City for a long weekend trip with no agenda, when I got a scary voicemail from a man named Harry. Here’s the transcript:
At first I was quite concerned. It was the night before. What did he mean, “another property”? I was staying on the Magnificent Mile, which is prime real estate, and I had booked at a brand new Hilton Grand Vacations site, the first in Chicago, atop the Doubletree, which is why I got a rate that was about half the going rate of every hotel on the Magnificent Mile when I booked it. I was relatively certain no one else in Chicago had the deal I did for the property type I did unless they lucked out at the last second on Priceline but didn’t get any admits or status recognition and perks for it. So Harry had some splainin’ to do—only I couldn’t find Harry. Eventually I reached a very nice lady at the desk at the Doubletree who explained to me that the Grand Vacations portion had some construction issues that had to be completed (much like the aforementioned IHG property). What Hilton was doing to help everyone who had booked (Harry didn’t do such a great job in the voicemail, but I can handle that part) is to rebook everyone in the Doubletree, so same address, and pay for the first night, and honor the rate they had booked. Thus, we got the same address and rate, and a large discount for our inconvenience.
Hilton did not actually call me back the next day, and I arrived in Chicago that evening around 10 to the front desk of the Doubletree, just confident that Hilton had me taken care of—which is something I didn’t worry about. And I didn’t need to. The front desk clerk wasn’t quite sure what had happened, but he had my name down and informed me I was being given two rooms, adjoining, for my troubles. Okay. Why one single woman needed two hotel rooms was odd, but I guess I had booked a bigger suite. About that time another woman appeared. I wish right now I could remember her name, and I had every intention of doing so, because it is people like this that make Hilton what it is.
This woman was from the DC office of Hilton Grand Vacations and was there was the opening—or lack thereof, I suppose. I don’t know if she had some notification set for when guests of the new hotel checked in or how on earth she knew to appear at the moment I was checking in, but that alone was impressive, but she appeared, shook my hand, apologized for the trouble again, and said she would be seeing me to me room to be sure it was okay.
She accompanied me to the 13th floor—my original reservation was the 26th floor. If you know Chicago, you know the view is a big deal, so this was a bummer. She knew it too. There was a two queen room and a king room. The king was a corner room with a plate of chocolate covered strawberries and very nice, and really all I needed. She asked how long I was staying. Four nights. She said, “How about we just pay for your whole stay?”
It’s true there is no way that king room on the 13th floor could begin to come close to the brand new king suite on the 26th floor, even with a free night. It wasn’t to be. But it also couldn’t be helped if it wasn’t ready to open. But where IHG said, “too bad,” Hilton said, “We’ll make it right” and paid for it. When I checked out, my receipt looked sort of odd. It had a zero balance, but showed no record of my stay at the Doubletree. It never showed I completed a Grand Vacations stay, even though it shows my reservation. The only downside to the whole thing, is that of course, I didn’t get the stay or points credit, but then again, so I didn’t get the bonus I would have earned, but I would have spent several hundreds dollars to do so. I can’t say I was terribly impressed with the Doubletree itself. And the 13th floor was horribly loud, facing Ohio St. I wouldn’t stay there myself, but I might stay on the 26th floor. What I will absolutely do is stay at any Hilton property I can any time I can. When it comes to award stays, IHG still has some lower point values, and I do use them also (in fact, I booked an unbeatable award stay next weekend), but they are no longer my first choice. For the longest time they were and I didn’t know what greatness was out there.
I happened upon Hilton through almost a fluke because I wanted to stay at a hotel out of my price range and needed award points through a credit card bonus. Instead, I found what I think may be the best quality chain for the average consumer in this nation. Without a doubt if you are a female traveling alone to a major U.S. city and get stranded at the last minute, you want Hilton on your side—unless you’re independently wealthy of course.
* It should be noted, I am an IHG Platinum Elite member and a Hilton Gold Elite member, which are considered equivalent level statuses in each hotel group.