Will Expiring Hilton Award Certificates Ruin Your Award Stay?

by on April 18, 2013 · 24 comments

in Hilton, TPG Contributors

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TPG contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at yet another headache caused by last month’s Hilton HHonors devaluation – this one involving the award stay certificate the program issues when you make an award reservation, which are only valid for a year from the reservation date – a big issue since many people scrambled to make what reservations they could before point requirements went up – and what HHonors members can do to ensure they get to enjoy their stay even if it’s over a year out.

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The Hilton HHonors devaluation became official last Thursday.

The Hilton HHonors devaluation became official March 28, 2013, but unfortunately, several things remain up in the air and will probably remain unsolved for a while. One of the biggest remaining question marks involves any reservations booked for more than 12 months out. When booking reservations online (both paid and award stays), the calendar limits you to within a year. However, many savvy travelers recognized that by calling, you could actually make reservations well into 2014 and even into 2015; given the scale and scope of last month’s devaluation, making these speculative bookings could be a valuable opportunity to save a large chunk of points.

However, there was one small problem with this plan, and it all comes down to the way Hilton HHonors books and processes their award reservations. In the past, all award stays would include two e-mails: one with the usual confirmation and the other with a certificate for the award stay and the points would be deducted from your account. The certificate used to be “required” at check-in (though I found that many properties didn’t enforce this requirement, hence the quotation marks).

free nights earned through the Citi Hilton Reserve card, certificates are still issued

Certificates are still issued for free nights earned through the Citi Hilton Reserve card.

In the last year or two, however, Hilton changed this process. For standard and the now-discontinued GLON rewards, you didn’t receive the actual certificate; instead, they would be sent directly to the hotel. However, for AXON rewards and free nights earned through the Citi Hilton Reserve card, certificates are still issued, and the certificates are valid for one year from the date of issue. (The good news is that Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve certificates are good at all categories of hotels except for this exclusion list.

Herein lies the problem, and it’s one that TPG reader Upen encountered the day before the devaluation when he wrote:

“Per your recommendation to make HHonors award reservations before the devaluation, I redeemed Hilton AXON awards for December 2013, April 2014, and December 2014. I called back to make my final reservation and the person told me that the certificates are only valid for 365 days so my award reservations in 2014 are going to be no good, as they are outside the 365 days. Is that correct?”

Upen raises a great (and nerve-racking!) question, and it’s one that has been discussed extensively in numerous FlyerTalk threads. This one discusses the devaluation in general (start at post #915 for the certificate discussion), and this one from last Wednesday focuses specifically on reservations booked more than a year in advance.

There are basically two different ends of the opinion spectrum. Some claim that any reservation booked for more than a year in advance will be invalid, since the reward certificate will be expired by the time you check in. They believe that the reservation will be cancelled once the certificate expires or (even worse) that the hotel will either force the guest to pay the rack rate at check-in or deny them a room entirely if they are sold out.

Others take a more “glass half full” point of view, believing that Hilton HHonors will (or should) honor these bookings regardless of the expiration date of the certificate. Why did their system allow the reservation for more than a year in advance if the certificate isn’t valid past a one-year window?

The thing is, when you make the reservation and get your certificate, the points are deducted from your account, so shouldn’t the reservation be valid?

So what camp does Hilton fall into? Shockingly enough, there hasn’t been any official communication from Hilton Worldwide about this issue, only the rumors or hearsay reported in the aforementioned FlyerTalk threads. However, they are definitely aware of this issue.  I called to ask about post-devaluaion AXON awards, and the Diamond Desk rep (without any prompting on my part) specifically mentioned that the certificates for any AXON or GLON reservation expire a year after issuance. That means that anyone who booked on March 27 (or earlier) for stays more than a year out will have invalid certificates. When I pressed her about what would happen to these confirmed reservations, she said she didn’t know but offered to transfer me to a “Guest Services” agent who could help. This agent gave me the number for Hilton Worldwide’s corporate office, and I left a message at the public relations department asking for clarification. I’m not holding my breath for a response.

However, there is a bit of good news. Hilton and Amex officially confirmed that AXON awards would remain after the devaluation, and in the meantime, Hilton HHonors’ official public relations rep confirmed to TPG that: “AXON rewards will not be eliminated and Hilton HHonors members can continue to book AXON reward stays. Through June 15, 2013 AXON rewards for a Category 5 through 7 hotel or resort will remain unchanged. Beginning June 15, 2013 AXON rewards will be adjusted for Category 5 through 7 and Category 8 through 10 rewards will be added. Cardmembers will receive communication with the full details in the following weeks.”

This is very interesting because it means Hilton Amex cardholders can continue to book AXON awards at the existing rates until June 15 (though it just makes sense for Category 6-7 hotels now) and then after that, the award rates will be adjusted for Categories 5-7 and Hilton will let members use AXON rates for Category 8-10 hotels as well, many of which were in Categories 6-7 previously, but which now will also include Waldorf Astoria properties that were excluded from AXON awards in the past. Only time will tell if those AXON levels end up being as good a deal as they have been in the past, however, when you could save up to 27.5% on award nights.

Bottom line: there is still a ton of uncertainty surrounding the changes to the Hilton HHonors program, even within the company. One thing that both competing FlyerTalk parties agree with is this: if you booked any type of reward reservation before the devaluation (AXON, GLON, or even standard rooms) with a check-in date more than a year ahead of the date of the reservation, there is some risk that it will be cancelled, not honored, or somehow modified with the new reward rates.

As an interesting sidebar, I ran this situation by a lawyer friend of mine, and she likened it to basic contract law. By making rooms available for reward stays more than a year in advance (offer) and allowing you to confirm the booking (acceptance) by withdrawing points from your account (consideration), they are contractually bound to honor the reservation. Hilton even provides written confirmation of the reservation with the dates and amount paid (in points). Whether or not Hilton chooses to interpret it that way remains to be seen, but it’s an interesting argument nonetheless.

Are any of you in the same situation as Upen with award stays booked after March 27, 2014? Are you concerned about the expiration date on the certificates? What about those of you who have had conversations with the Diamond Desk? Please share your comments on this “hot button” issue below!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Miguel

    Am in this exact situation for an award at a certain Conrad on the other side of the world (booked ~15 months out). For peace of mind, I emailed the hotel and asked about honoring the reservation given that it was more than 365+ days. They replied unequivocally that they would honor the reservation. Armed with that email and the email from Hilton confirming my reservation, I feel confident that when I show up, all will go smoothly.

    Might be worth emailing your hotels to get confirmation that they would honor these bookings?

  • Maury

    I booked an AXON 4 night award over the phone for the Bora Bora Hilton for July 2014. The certificate expires on 02/2014. I have not booked any travel around it since I am waiting to see if Hilton will honor it or not. Please keep us informed.

  • Maury

    What exactly did you tell the hotel? Did you state that the certificate will expire before the booked dates?

  • Carolina Griffiths

    I booked the Hilton Bora Bora and the Hilton Moorea for March 2015. I booked it online as it didn’t even occur to me to book an Axon award so far out. I’ve been in touch with the Hilton Bora Bora about upgrade possibilities and they offered some paid upgrades as apparently even as a Diamond I stand no chance with the overwater bungalows. Now I wonder if I should accept and prepay those upgrades so far in advance just to make sure they honor my reward stay, but then again I don’t know if I will be able to take time off so far in advance. Any views on this? Thanks!

  • AsanteSana

    Is the award certificate a paper certificate that is snail-mailed? I am asking since I made an AXON award resvn couple of months ago, and have not received any certificate. I am able to see the confirmed reservation on the website though.

  • Nick Ewen

    I haven’t been to Bora Bora, but in Moorea, they were very strict about upgrades to the overwater bungalows. I choose to wait until we got there. We wound up being upgraded to the deluxe garden bungalow (for free as a Diamond upgrade), and after four nights of the six-night GLON stay, asked about moving to the overwater for the last two nights. They weren’t willing to do it for free, but I decided to pay the fee, and it was TOTALLY worth it. You may want to go this route, but you should also verify that those upgrades are paid in advance or whether they are like room rates (and paid upon check-out).

    Have a blast!! Moorea was awesome. :-)

  • Nick Ewen

    Will do. Thanks!

  • Nick Ewen

    No, it should’ve come through via e-mail around the same time as the e-mailed confirmation. Did you double-check your spam/junk folder? I believe that it comes from a different e-mail account, so if you’ve never booked an AXON before, your server may have inadvertently flagged it as junk.

  • AsanteSana

    Oh boy. If it did get delivered to the spam folder, it must have been purged. I guess I need to call them up to ask them to resend.

  • Joe

    I just called the diamond desk and they said that the award certificate was mailed to the hotel? I specifically asked if they do that for AXON awards and they said yes. I never received any e-mail and I checked my spam folder and nothing there either. Any thoughts?

  • Gary

    So my question is if we booked a AXON reward in a category 7 (pre devaluation) but cancel that reservation… what level hotel(s) will the AXON be good at going forward? Can we use it for a hotel that may be in a higher category now but was a 7 before devaluation or am I SOL?

  • Mike

    Has anyone had luck with trying to change dates for a reservation that was made before the March devaluation? So if I booked the Hilton Bora Bora property for August and wanted to push out the date to September, but the reservation was made in February, I was wondering if anyone had luck doing the date changes after devaluation period? Thanks.

  • Nick Ewen

    Interesting…by all accounts I’ve heard, AXON certificates are normally e-mailed to both the hotel and the guest. As long as you have the reservation confirmation, you should be fine.

  • Nick Ewen

    No, any reservations made post-devaluation (AXON, standard, free night certificates, or any others) will follow the new reward categories. This unfortunately also applies to any changes made to existing reservations.

    However, we are still waiting for the new AXON levels to be announced, though I am virtually certain that they will be increased from the current levels. In that case, you’d cancel the existing AXON, have the points refunded, and then rebook at the higher rates.

    Sorry I don’t have better news!

  • Nick Ewen

    I have not tried this, but my understanding of the devaluation is that ANY change to an existing reservation (be it the dates, length of stay, or even room type) would result in the higher post-devaluation rate. One of the reasons why so many of us were trying to lock in our travel plans before March 28th!

  • Nick Ewen

    I think this could be good advice, but be aware that alerting the hotel of the situation may wind up coming back to haunt you if you run into an overzealous GM. As always, YMMV…

    I’d probably recommend waiting until closer to the stay to see if we get any official word from Hilton.

  • vcab

    I’m in the same situation with The Bentley in London for New Years 2014/2015. I emailed them to confirm my reservation and they responded saying they having me confirmed with my specified room type and that it was an award reservation. I don’t think there will be any issues, seeing as the points were taken out of my account, depriving me of the ability to make a different reservation prior to the deadline for using the old rates. As far as I’m concerned, we have a contract that I’ve prepaid for using points and the property’s assurance that I have a reservation. Now for the 22 month wait…

  • Nick Ewen

    That’s the exact view that my lawyer contact takes. I sure hope that Hilton views it the same way…

  • David Kang

    Guys, when i was planning my 10 yr anniversary trip to bora bora this winter, i was all excited but it was days before end of march devaluation and i had no hilton points. they were all in amex membership reward(80k), skypass(180k), marriott reward(180k) and starwood(340k). so im late to the party but im still planning on going to bora bora. hilton still seems like a better deal than starwood.
    my plan is either thanksgiving or mid december before xmas. plan on 6-7day trip between moorea and bora bora.

    what do u recommend i do til then?
    one thing tho i plan to get citi hhonors card to get 2 free nights.
    and which cards that i have should i focus on building my points til then?
    i plan to cancel my amex platinum next month(due to high annual fee..i dont travel that much) and also cancel marriott visa.
    my main thing right now is skypass and starwood.
    i may also get hawaiian air cc to get 40k bonus miles and transfer that point to hhnors. i also already transferred amex membership reward points (80k) to hawaiian air points.

    give me some pointers! oh after reading this post from yu nick, i gotta wait til new AXON deal on june 15th.

  • Nick Ewen

    Hi David,

    The Citi Hilton Reserve will be a MUST for your trip. Two free nights at either one of the Tahitian properties is a terrific use of those certificates (in my opinion). It also offers some great point-earning abilities for the other nights. If you definitely want to stay at the Hilton properties, I’d recommend getting both the Citi Reserve and standard (no-fee) Amex. After a few months, you’ll probably get an offer to upgrade to the Surpass and get another bonus (it was 50,000 when I did it last year). You could also look at the Virgin Atlantic card, since points from that can be transferred to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio.

    You also have some great options for getting there with your current account balances. I believe that 180,000 Korean Air miles will get your two round-trip business class tickets on Air France from LAX-PPT, though their inventory is REALLY tight on that route. 120,000 will get you two economy class tickets, and having done that flight in economy, it really isn’t bad. Availability looks pretty good for November and December in coach.

    One other thing to consider. The intra-island flights are not cheap, so you’ll definitely want to factor that into your plans. Moorea, however, is reachable by ferry which I HIGHLY recommend. We did the ferry one-way and the flight back, and the flight was a waste of money. Bora Bora is only reachable via plane; when we were there (May 2011), Air Tahiti offered flights from both Papeete (the main island) and Moorea. I’ve heard that Moorea has more to do and you are less captive to the resort for food, excursions, etc. However, I’ve heard that Bora Bora has more of that WOW factor (which is the main reason it’ll cost you 95,000 points/night rather than the 80,000 in Moorea). Sadly, I’ve only been to Moorea, so I can’t offer any comparison. However, the Hilton in Moorea is fantastic, and we loved exploring the island. We spent 6 nights there, and it was sad when the trip came to an end!

    Hope this helps! Feel free to contact me directly if I can offer any other advice.

  • David Kang

    i can do axon with 4-5 nights in moorea and use 2 free nights at bora bora. sounds like a good plan?
    i read that for ~$200, they will upgrade u to overwater bugalow. is that pretty common?
    well i can use a points expert like yourself. how do i contact u directly?

  • Nick Ewen

    Remember that AXON can only be booked in four-night increments, and I don’t expect that to change when the new levels are announced. However, as soon as you are approved for the Citi Hilton Reserve card, you will become Gold and thus be eligible for the fifth night free benefit. My guess (though this is complete speculation) is that a five-night stay would probably be the better deal points-wise, but again, we’ll have to wait until the new AXON levels are announced to know for sure.
    If you want, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected] and I’m happy to offer any other advice!

  • John

    I booked two AXON awards and did not receive any certificate, just a confirmation number.

  • Maury

    I emailed the Hilton Bora Bora and just received a confirmation that they will honor my reservation made with points so far in advance. I am breathing a sigh of relief for now.

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