Late Checkout for Hilton HHonors Diamond: the Weekly Wish
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Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen continues his series The Weekly Wish, looking at flaws, shortcomings, and room for improvement in the world of travel and loyalty programs. Today’s wish: guaranteed late checkout for Hilton HHonors Diamond elites.
I'm sure many of you have been in a position where your travel plans don't mesh well with an 11 am or noon checkout. Maybe your flight is delayed and you'd rather relax by the hotel pool than hang out at your gate, or maybe you got in late and just need a bit more sleep. Whatever the reason, a late checkout cures many ills.
While anyone can request a few extra hours in the room, most hotel loyalty programs offer some sort of late checkout policy for guests with top tier elite status. There's a notable exception, however, that brings us to this week's wish: for Hilton HHonors to implement a guaranteed late checkout policy for Diamond elites.
Today's Weekly Wish was inspired by my visit a few weeks ago to the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico. On the whole, it was a very underwhelming (and overpriced) resort. However, what really left a bad taste in my mouth was the hotel's inflexibility with checking out. I was in town for work, and my wife came along for a quick getaway. Since our flight wasn't until 5 pm, I was hoping she could stay in the room (as opposed to the open air lobby). The posted checkout time was noon, and the morning of our departure, I called to request a late checkout. I was told that they could do 1 pm. When I politely inquired about extending the checkout for a Diamond member, they did so...to 1:30 pm.
I completely understand when a hotel is sold out or busy with a conference and can't offer late checkout, but out of curiosity, I searched for rooms available on the night of our departure and found that the hotel was nowhere near full. Every category of room (including ours) had at least 4 rooms bookable online.
This has also happened to me in the past at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Gainesville, FL. My wife and I stayed on a Saturday night and again requested a late checkout. In that case it was extended only one hour, again with numerous rooms open for booking that evening. I emailed Hilton HHonors expressing my frustration over that stay, and received a response from the GM admitting that Sunday night typically had the lowest occupancy rates, and that the front desk should have been more flexible with the checkout time.
Before you flame me for acting entitled, let me say up front that I know late checkout isn't a published benefit, and that in both cases my wife and I received other benefits as a result of my Diamond status. I also won't pretend to understand hotel occupancy rates and room allocation. However, if I can book at least four rooms in the exact same category (and bed type) for that same evening, I interpret that to mean the property isn't nearly sold out, and accommodating a reasonable late checkout request (especially for a top-tier elite member) shouldn't be a problem.
Moreover, other chains already include late checkout for their top-tier elites, while some include it for ALL elite members! Here's a quick rundown:
Hyatt Gold Passport
Platinum: "Extend your stay until 2 pm with a late checkout request."
Diamond: "Extend your stay until 4 pm with a late checkout request."
Analysis: Though the fine print indicates that late checkout is subject to availability at Hyatt resorts and casinos, I've never been turned down as a Diamond member. In fact, I almost always get asked at check-in whether I need a 4 pm checkout. Talk about being proactive!
Silver, Gold, and Platinum: "Priority late checkout"
Analysis: While the checkout time isn't specified, it's great that Marriott gives all elite members late checkout privileges. This benefit is based on availability, and is unavailable at Marriott Vacation Club properties, but I appreciate that it's a published benefit. As a Silver member with Marriott Rewards, I have only requested late checkout a few times, and my request has always been granted without hesitation.
Starwood Preferred Guest
Gold and Platinum: "4 pm late checkout"
75-night Platinum: "Your24 - have the flexibility of choosing your check-in. For example, check in at 9 pm and checkout at 9 pm on the day of departure."
Analysis: This policy may be the most generous, offering all elite members a guaranteed 4 pm checkout (again subject to availability at resort and conference center hotels). It's even better for the 75-night Platinum elites, as they could extend their stay even longer! Just like Hyatt, I'm almost always asked at check-in whether I plan on utilizing this benefit.
While not exactly a chain, travelers with The Platinum Card from American Express can book hotels through the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts program and receive a guaranteed 4 pm checkout as an added benefit. The Visa Signature Hotels program also provides late checkout, though it's only until 3 pm and isn't guaranteed.
Several competing brands offer late checkout, so why doesn't Hilton HHonors? One source of the problem may be the published benefits of the program, which lists late checkout as a benefit for all members of the program regardless of status. Hilton then adds the usual disclaimer: "Late check-out must be requested and is subject to availability." How does the saying go? When everyone is elite, no one is elite.
From my experience, it seems like individual hotel managers can significantly impact the availability of late checkout at their properties. While Hyatt and Starwood front desk agents are empowered to proactively offer extended checkout when a guest checks in, Hilton tends to be reactive and initially tell a guest no (even when there's availability). There are surely hotels in the Hilton portfolio willing to provide late checkout, but without having it guaranteed as a published benefit for Diamond members, there's no incentive for them to offer it.
Ultimately I know Hilton can't actually guarantee late checkout (and I know that even Hyatt and Starwood can't guarantee it every day at every property). However, after numerous poor experiences with Hilton, I think they could learn a lot from the competition.
What do you think late checkout policies should be for elite members? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!