Do major program devaluations affect customer satisfaction?

This has to be a rhetorical question, right? Of course major changes to the programs piss off customers such that they’re ready to grab their torches and pitchforks and rant and scream. Except when that doesn’t actually happen. Which it turns out is more often than we might think.

Image egregiously borrowed from these guys

A few weeks back when I was working at the APEX Expo conference I had the opportunity to speak with all sorts of people associated with the IFE and aircraft interiors side of the business. But there was one other keynote speaker who didn’t really fit in the same mold as the others. Bob Brooks is Hilton‘s VP, Global Culture & Strategic Initiatives. He works on a wide variety of tasks within the company but his recent work has been focused in large part on efforts to help the company refocus on its core mission of hospitality. Over the past three years he’s spent a ton of time overseeing a number of different research projects, including those which address customer satisfaction and behavioral patterns. His main speech at the show was interesting but most striking to me was a brief follow-up conversation I had with him during the break which followed.

We talked about loyalty – a topic near and dear to my heart – and he was well versed on the subject despite not working in the HHonors part of the company. I asked point-blank about the recent devaluations to the award charts and other similar changes which have been made over the years. He didn’t hesitate one bit in his reply. It turns out that major changes like that have a far smaller impact on customer satisfaction than we may have previously believed. Customers aren’t necessarily happy about them, but it also doesn’t result in mass changes of booking or behavioral patterns, at least from the data he had available (and he’s got a lot of data).

It was the little things which affected satisfaction scores. Being greeted appropriately, welcomed back and recognized for loyalty were all more significant than the award chart numbers. Or, as Brooks summarized:

Nothing is more discouraging to a HHonors elite member than checking in to a hotel and no one even acknowledging the status. That’s a real disconnect as far as delivering on the benefits.

This was not really the response I expected to receive, though in retrospect I suppose it probably should have been. It isn’t that the companies don’t care about what their customers think when changes are made. It is that they are focused on the actual behavior, not the grandstanding and posturing. It turns out that those are often not the same.

Read the full story from my conversation with Brooks over on the APEX blog.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. It’s because customers are inured to devals. Where are you going to go when everybody is devaluing? Hilton devalued so go to SPG? Well, they devalued too…meet the new boss, same as the old boss!

  2. It is further that one change won’t do much, repeated changes, look at United, it took multitudes of changes before many of us finally left. We endure a lot, but once the change is made its generally final.

  3. Not all sinners are created equal.

    Hilton HHonors is to hotel “loyalty” programs what Delta SkyMiles is to airline “loyalty” programs. Consider them the worst of the big lot.

    Unfortunately, “loyalty” programs don’t make a big enough of a difference to enough customers to really scare off sleazy “loyalty” program management from fleecing their “loyal” customers the most.

  4. I’d bet that overall, the HHonors guy is probably right. Those of us who are FFP junkie-types and really seek to maximize our value, are very upset at devaluations. We realize what we’re potentially losing, or have lost – especially with no-notice changes. While the number of folks in our category is growing, we’re not representative of most customers, I’d imagine.

    The vast majority of people only rarely look into loyalty program redemptions, when the go to redeem once a year or even less frequently. A lot of them probably have no idea that award rates changed at Hilton earlier this year, for example. And just my anecdotal guess is that a surprising number of customers don;t even bother to join many loyalty programs.

    Sure, a layperson may be irritated if he can’t find a hotel room or flight he wants, with the points he has at the moment. But if he’s only treating the program as an afterthought, it may not be a deal breaker.

    I mean, just look at Trip Advisor reviews…people get riled up about things like, as mentioned above, proper greetings and friendliness; whether there are gaps around the lightswitch covers; a stain on the carpet; too much street noise; the maid forgetting to refresh shampoo, etc.

  5. I disagree with his analysis and I think he is not being sincere with his “data”. I had 71 nights last year, this year 8, BECAUSE OF THE DEVALUATION, I question his sincerity or his ignorance of what is really happening. As the previous poster said, they are the Delta Airlines of the hotel industry, always looking for ways to screw their best customers.

  6. I don’t think devaluations proceed evenly among programs, and they don’t result in similar end valuations for those programs. I think it’s important for the knowledgeable to try to move the needle by reacting negatively and promptly in their patronage to those devaluations that are excessive in scope and not announced sufficiently in advance. Yes these programs are copycats in some ways (though obviously not all), so be sure to act, not just gripe, when things change for the worse.

    Some devaluation is justifiable simply as cash prices in general go up. If 20,000 points are good for a $125 hotel room (I have no program in mind with the example) at one point in time, then if the market room price goes up to $150, it’s reasonable the chart would be adjusted at some point to require more points for the room; otherwise the points become a hedge against inflation, which is certainly not the intent.

  7. I value HHonors points at worthless or less, however, I’ve reached Gold level for several years in a row now. And will probably continue to do so.

    I love Hyatt hotels the most, but they are not everywhere I go. I’m SPG Gold and will reach Platinum in a month or so, but they also are not everywhere I go. Both of them, sometimes are “too much” for a sleep and go situation.

    Back to HHonors: they are almost everywhere! And between that and a potential bed-bug from some other chain, I’d rather stay at a Hampton Inn or similar, which is consistently clean, full breakfast in the morning, free WiFi and usually friendly staff.

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