Hilton exec overrules “customer service” department, helps guest

By | December 1st, 2009

vbGot a problem with Hilton? You might get help. Then again, you might not.

Ever since the Blackstone Group’s $26 billion buyout of Hilton in 2007, getting good customer service has been a hit-or-miss proposition. Some cases are resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. Others aren’t.

I used to know most of Hilton’s executives, thanks to a first-rate corporate communications team. They made sure the channels of communication were always open between Hilton and any potential customer-service problems, much to their credit. Today, I have a queue of unsolved cases.

Is Hilton a lost cause?


Consider the following request from Jean Moore. She was booked at the Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront, and wanted to make a quick change to her reservation. This is what she emailed to Hilton via its Web site:

May I change it from one room for two nights to two rooms for one night (no loss to hotel)?

That is, instead of my husband and me staying the nights of Dec. 20 and 21, I would like for my husband and me to stay in one room on the night of Dec. 20, and my parents to stay in one room that night as well, with everyone checking out Dec. 21.

Please tell me first if you would permit this request.

That seems pretty reasonable, right? Not to Hilton. It sent her back the following denial:

We are unable to comply with your request to modify your reservation. Reservations secured under the Advance Purchase rate program are non-cancelable/non-refundable and non-modifiable.

Ouch. She sent Hilton a brief, polite appeal. Its response?

Thank you for your recent communication regarding the reservation confirmed at our Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hilton location from Dec. 20th – Dec. 22nd. We sincerely apologize for delayed response, due to the volume of requests received; we was unable to respond to everyone in a timely manner. We would like to take the opportunity to respond to your concern as we have reviewed your reservation very carefully.

This particular reservation was confirmed in accordance with the Hilton Advanced Purchase Rate. The terms and conditions to these rates are very restrictive as we require full pre-payment for the entire stay; once confirmed we are unable to refund or modify an Advance Purchase reservation.

Should you choose to depart early, cancel or fail to honor the reservation for any reason, you will forfeit full payment for the entire stay without any ability to grant your request for a refund.

We understand that while theses rates are designed to be competitive with the lower rates offered by 3rd party booking channels, much like those channels, they carry the same prepaid, non-refundable restrictions. We contract these rates well in advance with all participating hotels through the Advance Purchase program and our obligation and commitment is to secure and protect the revenue generated by these advance bookings.

Due to the restrictive nature of this program, we make every attempt to notify our customers as we want to be very clear to our customers that once the booking is confirmed, we are unable to modify or cancel these reservations. Moreover, we provide a clear itinerary to specify the details of the transaction via email.

Jean Moore while I certainly understand your dilemma and with all due respect, reservations made under the Advance Purchase rate program are unable to be amended or credited; the directive and condition is very firm to this program. We appreciate you taking the time contact us; it is our hope that the condition associated with our Advance Purchase rate program does not dissuade you from choosing the Hilton Family Brands for your future travels.

In other words, no — and no! Moore sent me a note, asking if I knew any executives at Hilton to whom she could appeal this decision.

I didn’t, but a quick search of Hilton’s executives yielded the name of Kenneth Svendsen, Hilton’s senior vice president and global head of sales. His email address wasn’t too hard to find, either. Moore sent one final appeal to him.

I emailed Mr. Svendsen and said essentially that, although I knew I was in the wrong, my proposal would cost Hilton neither money nor occupancy, and I asked for an exception in the interest of courtesy and good will.

A couple of days later, a gentleman named Shariar Islam (972-726-3346 shariar.islam@hilton.com) called me and gave the exception. There was a little upbraiding about how this shouldn’t happen again and so on, but in general everyone was on his best behavior. I got my “one room for two nights” moved to “two rooms for one night.”

So thank you!

Ya see? I just knew that behind the facade of “nos” there were people who want to say “yes.”

(Photo: pamramsey/Flickr Creative Commons)

  • Ladamepta

    Mrs Naim,

    Is this issue below going to be taken care of anytime soon. ?? I have
    emailed Mr Johnson and you. Your refund did not reflect the Friday charge of
    157.05$ the extra day I was charged. I booked one day Thursday as my e mail
    confirmation reflects and this matter had yet to be resolved. Please at least
    let me know where we are with this issue. I think it is ap paling in the first
    place to make a reservation on line for one night then be charged for two and
    the issue is still not corrected. I contacted the Manager then Mr Johnson and
    now you . Better business bureau next.

    Thank You

    Lori Adame

    I have not received a response to this E Mail. Please let me know what is
    to occur regarding this matter. It is not 14 days since my stay and still you
    owe me funds you erroneously deducted from my account.
    Thank you
    Lori Adame.


    RE #8529596
    I was refunded the extra night charge however the 133.38$ refunded does not
    reflect the 157.95$ charge for the extra day.
    Thursday rate (the night I stayed) was 133.38$ the Friday rate of 157.05 $
    is what should have been credited.

    Also I never received a call back or apology from the Manager. You have had
    157.95$ of my much needed funds for 13 days then I am refunded the wrong amount.
    Is this what I am to expect from being over charged?. I understand simple
    mistakes however when I make two calls to the manager he tells me he will call
    me back then does not. Then I call corporate and another mistake was made is
    unacceptable. My husband was an executive for Footlocker and has stayed at your
    establishments many times a month for over 22yrs. I have the VP of Footlocker
    Operations and Human Resources in New York on my speed dial. I have all of the
    executives on my e mail. I was courteous and understanding before. I explained
    my situation with losing my husband recently and this stay at your establishment
    was to help in my grief. This is not helping. There are 2 VP s of operations 12
    Regional executives 52 District Managers and over 30,000 associates world wide
    for Footlocker. Many of them I have met over the 22yrs my husband worked for
    them contact me daily. I do not feel that everything was done to rectify your
    mistake. Something my husband took pride in daily. Make the customer happy so
    they will return. You have failed to do so given double opportunity.

    Please take care of you mistake .

  • Serena Lim

    Dear all,

    I’m a foreigner and I stayed in Hilton Minneapolis recently and my baggage was stolen from my room. Instead of being empathetic towards our situation, the asst manager was really very rude to us. I need to bring this to higher authority in Hilton as no one including the security director give us a good explanation on the situation. This is a very serious matter and the hotel took this incident very lightly. Can anyone help us how I can deal with this to bring up to the higher authority ? Thank you.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Hi Serena,
    At the top of this page, click on “Company contacts”. On the dropdown lists that appear, click “Hilton”. That will open a page with all kinds of contact information for Hilton management. One bit of advice… Chris always recommends written contact rather than phone calls. That way, you create a paper trail of any promises made. Good luck!

  • garry

    Hilton customer service is as bad today as discribed in2009. I have been attempting to resolve a reservation problem since 18sept12….4 email promises to fix from HILTON action=0 as of 20nov12
    Gold card member but will never stay at a hilton hampton inn again

  • garry

    Hilton Customer Relations or Customer Care is about the worst I have ever experienced

  • sjsauer

    I know this is a really old post but just wanted to say they’ve gotten much worse. I’m a diamond member with over 265,000 points (i’ve used a bunch) to date with a 4 months left in the year I have 29 stays (i’m writing from my hotel room), 79 nights and 105,000 points for the year. One would think that I would be considered a valuable customer. For the first time ever I tried to book a room for NOVEMBER (it’s September) that was “sold out” which I should be able to do based on the 48 hour guararnteed reservation policy. Nope it’s over sold but we have other nights available was the response. If these people don’t care about the customers who have spent almost 13 weeks worth of the last 9 months in their hotel rooms why woudl they care about customers who spend 1 night

  • Nathan Bush

    FYI: I represent a Hilton property, and the rule is that if the certain property has high demand dates set in our internal system, Hilton Honors Diamond members are prohibited from using the “48 Hour Reservation Guarantee” on certain sold out nights on certain dates, no matter what. Example: The Iowa Pork Expo is an event to where we are sold out several weeks prior to the event, and you would have a hard pressed time finding a hotel room for a 50 mile radius. It’s not what you think about Hilton corporate “not caring” for their customers…it’s our local hotel property making sure that the guests (yes, there are guests that aren’t Hilton Honors members who only travel once or twice a year) don’t get bumped, and have to be inconvenienced of being walked to a different property, as all of the other properties in the area are most likely to be sold out, and that would reflect badly on OUR property, with negative reviews on Expedia, TripAdvisor, and our internal review system, in which our owners (not customers) can only see.

    Yes, our Hilton Honors Diamond members are our utmost important guests, but hopefully you can understand that, say, a non Hilton Honors guest (or even a Blue or Silver member) couple that has spent all day out and about, and to check in at the hotel around 10pm to their credit card guaranteed room, only to find that they have been “walked”, and have to drive 30 miles to go to another property because all of the other hotels are sold out…that would not bode well, and that would probably guarantee a VERY negative TripAdvisor review, and honestly, I wouldn’t blame them one bit, because I’d do the same thing, if I were in those person’s shoes. That is what you probably experienced due to the “High Demand Dates” at the hotel you attempted to book at.

    The bottom line: Please don’t blame Hilton corporate for that. It’s not their fault, and yes, it is impossible to know every single event that goes on when booking hotel rooms while making on-the-spot hotel reservations, but I just wanted to clarify some things on that.

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