How did 550,000 Hilton points become 55,000 Delta miles? And can you undo it, please?

When Gale Flake tries to convert his Hilton points to Delta SkyMiles, something gets lost in the translation. Can the conversion be undone?

Question: I recently read your story about how persistence pays and it inspired me to write to you about my problem with Delta and Hilton HHonors. I’m a gold member of HHonors, Hilton’s loyalty program, and have saved for many years to plan a trip to Paris. I have accrued 550,000 points, and wanted to redeem them for a flight.

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I called Hilton and they suggested that I contact Delta to handle the transaction. I did. At the end of the transaction, I learned that I’d been reduced to 55,000 Delta miles.

I immediately called and asked to put the mileage back into my Hilton account. I have spent months trying to do this, to no avail.
Delta tells me Hilton must request the points to be transferred back, and Hilton tells me Delta must do this. I have contacted supervisors and written to the president of Hilton. No response.

We recently spent nights in a Hilton in Las Vegas, and an employee told us to “be persistent” — that 550,000 miles were too many to lose. I am 80 years old, my wife is 75. We want to go to Paris. Can you help me? — Gale Flake, Everett, Wash.

Answer: Uh-oh. Looks like something got lost in translation when you converted your hard-earned Hilton points to Delta.

I couldn’t believe Delta was giving you a 1:10 conversion rate, but a check of the online conversion calculator shows it’s correct. For every 10 Hilton points you’ll get one Delta SkyMile. The conversion rates are also clearly disclosed by Delta and Hilton on their sites.

When you called to make the conversion, it might have been nice if someone had warned you before you pushed the button. It appears that didn’t happen, and when you received your balance statement, both Delta and Hilton then played the blame game and stonewalled you when you tried to undo the transaction.

Why are these conversion rates so horrible? From my perspective, this unfair exchange shows how little these companies value their own miles and points. I’m not sure if the 1:10 conversion rate says more (or less) about Hilton or Delta, but one thing is certain: this is no way to repay a gold-level customer’s loyalty.

Both companies should have been falling all over each other to help you fix this. I would say that I’m surprised, but I’m not. Loyalty programs are there to help the company, not the customer. Except for the top tenth of a percent of elite-level customers, who bend and break rules by churning credit cards and taking mileage runs at their employers’ expense, loyalty programs are a losing proposition for travelers.

I think it’s time to rethink your allegiance to Hilton. Giving you the cold shoulder — that’s no way to say “thank you” for your loyalty. If you ever have trouble contacting Hilton again, try these executive contacts that I list on my site.

I contacted Delta, which had your miles, and it reversed the transaction.

Are mileage conversions fair to consumers?

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56 thoughts on “How did 550,000 Hilton points become 55,000 Delta miles? And can you undo it, please?

  1. Is the issue the fact that Hilton and Delta aren’t 1:1? If so, I don’t get the issue, they are different currencies. “Help! I have 100 Japanese Yen and my bank only wants to give me $1 US for them!!”

    If the issue is just getting the runaround to get the apparently unasked for transaction undone, then yes….there appears to have been multiple fails along the way by both Hilton and Delta.

    1. yep, another article of a consumer not bothering to know the rules of the game and being surprised they lost the game.

    2. This is exactly the correct point. These are absolutely different currencies. Let’s look at what you can get for these points (I’ll use 500k as a round number).

      For 500,000 points you can get 8 nights in the Hilton Paris La Defense, which retails for around 200 euros a night, so 1600 euros worth of $2,165 of value.

      Now let’s see what you can get for 50,000 SkyMiles. A “standard” award on Delta is 47,500 miles each way! between the US and Europe. Depending on when&where you’re flying to and from, this is worth anywhere from $450-$900 (those are high and low ends of my last couple flights to/and from Europe). It seems we’re in the same ballpark, although probably leaving them as hotel points is better. There’s a reason people call these things SkyPesos.

      Now let’s look at what Gale wanted. He wanted the equivalent of 500,000 SkyMiles. A round-trip in business class is 200,000 miles. So that’s 2 1/2 business class round trips to Europe. I just priced this randomly for March form Chicago. The discount advanced purchase fare on Delta is just over $5,000. So he wanted to get somewhere around $13,000 worth of airmiles that his hotel thought were worth closer to $2,000.*

      Now you can see just how explicitly these are different currencies. Nice of you to help an older man get his money back, but he certainly was not taken advantage of.

      *Now it’s interesting to look at these things as currencies. Normally when you do a foreign exchange transaction you’re paying somewhere in the 2-10% range to convert say from dollars to Euros. Here if you make the conversion (even correctly) between hotel points and SkyMiles you’re losing a much higher fraction of the value. That’s because these markets are highly illiquid, namely, there are no market makers.

  2. I’ve been passively reading the previous articles regarding the self-imposed moratorium on getting involved with loyalty program-related issues.

    I couldn’t really get it. What was the big deal? I figure it was no different than any other consumer-related issue.

    But, after reading /this/ one, I finally understood. This is such a major time-burner. It would’ve been productive for me to sit and watch my freshly-poured driveway cure, instead.

    1. Hopefully you paid for your new driveway with a new Chase Ink card w/ 50,000 sign-up bonus and then registered for the 3x November point promotion!

      Just kidding 🙂

  3. The coversion seems right to me, did she assume she was going to get 550k air miles? If so that’s just dumb. She earned 10 points for every dollar spent at Hilton according to their website. Not to mention double or quadruple point promotions they have. I think expecting anything more than the 1 mile for every 10 point was foolish or at least optimistic.

    I like the other analogies. She had pesos and wanted them converted to US dollars, points are not the same as miles.

  4. I liken loyalty points to currency conversion. Just as I cannot travel from country to country expecting identical rates, point exchanges fluctuate, too. Company value points at a level acceptable to their corporate policy. Programs with easily accured points are then devalued on the “open market”.

    I understand Chris’s hardline approach on refusing to intervene in point disputes, but do applaud his exception. I expect these elderly travlers are not tech savvy, misunderstood the transaction process, and made wrongful assumptions. Undoing a mistake doesn’t require a blame game on either company’s part. Flat out state you won’t fix the problem (heartless) or rectify and accept a mia culpa. The OP admitted fault and immediately asked for help to no avail. Cue Chris’s magic touch.

  5. He received exactly the number of miles that he should have received. I would say that this should go into the well done file of Delta and Hilton. They did exactly what they said they would do.

    What is wrong with the conversion rate? Are 550,000 HH points worth significantly less than 55,000 Delta points? If not then what is the problem? He wanted to use his HH points for a flight and Hilton does not own an airline.

    1. Didn’t read fine print, and got bit by assumptions. We all make mistakes. Hilton or Dela could have just flat out refused to budge. No run around required. Either take a hardline approach or accept the mia culpa from OP and fix the problem. Not too dificult.

  6. I voted no and then regretted it—much as the OP regrets the conversion. I do not belong to any hotel rewards programs and did not know how they work when it comes to converted hotel points to airline miles. (I am a frequent flyer with the airline based in my area however.) I read more and then looked at the Hilton site where conversions are fairly accurately detailed. Someone who has amassed that many points with a hotel chain is a lot savvier traveler than people are giving him credit for. I think he overlooked or did not listen to the information. Regardless of how the conversion took place, Delta or Hilton should have immediately rescinded the transaction. But as to a fair exchange rate, he was not comparing apples to apples and should have been aware of that.

    1. If they can find a Hilton Property in Paris…….not just availability, but a Hilton Hotel that is located near the city center and the “attractions” one usually wants to see.

      The OP and others who are unfamiliar with maximizing points in any program would do well to read about the ins and outs of their specific program on

    2. True, it is pretty costly and you may stay at a nicer place with the points than paying out of pocket. I had Hilton points gathered from work trips and decided to head to London early (work was paying for the airfare already) and stayed at the Waldorf Hilton for a few nights on vacation. I wouldn’t have paid what their cash rates were!

      1. +1

        I used Marriott and Starwood points to stay in nice places in Paris that I could never justify if I had to pay in cash. Years ago, I burned 150k Marriott reward points to stay at the Marriott Champs-Elysee. I got 7 night “Free”. But $200-300 a night? That was the Best Western next door. The best cash price I could find was 350-550 Euro..

        1. The choice clarion on the champ elysses runs between 150 to 250 euros a night. Time I stayed was 250 but seasonal prices vary.

  7. Sure it’s “fair.” There are few guarantees about convertibility of one loyalty program’s points to another. Only are credit cards, like American Express, Capital One and do forth based on multiple redemption options.

    Another way to look at it is this. The points/miles were free (without explicit dollar cost). In any conversion, you are ahead of the “game.” You sitll have a free benefit.

    Of course, Christopher will claim these programs are very costly, but finding those “costs” will be elusive if you fly/stay only based on low prices and pay off your charge-card purchases on time each month.

  8. As long as we’re doing currency analogies… what about the transaction fee? No bank, much less any money changer, is going to do these trades for free. Say the points are “worth” 9:1 between the two currencies. You’d probably pay 10 furgles to get each 1 blort. But when you go back, you get 8 furgles for each of your blorts.

  9. Maybe some of the travel agents on the site can inform me – how much money did Mr. Flake spend with Hilton to accrue 550,000 points? And why does he have to buy a trip to Paris with points, rather than the real money he spent to accrue Hilton points. I’m confused. Thanks.

      1. Well, since part of the article says “We recently spent nights in a Hilton in Las Vegas”, I’m going to go out on a limb and figure that he spent money for that stay. The article also says that he had “saved for many years to plan a trip to Paris”.

        Somehow I can’t reconcile spending money or points on a recent trip to Vegas with saving for a trip to Paris. And why the heck would an 80 year old man continue to bank points rather than just go? I hate to be insensitive, but either the loyalty program or the customer is going to expire some day.

        This case is a perfect illustration of Chris Elliott’s position against loyalty programs and points. I’m surprised he didn’t throw in a few remarks on the topic.

          1. I don’t agree 100% with your rants, but I don’t disagree 100% with them, either. This case is, to my mind, a prime example of how the accrual of points becomes the goal, rather than using the points to benefit oneself. As you’ve pointed out so many times, the goals move further away (as yes, I’m thinking of you, United and Delta!) or the program itself goes away.

          2. Devils in the details. If you assume the fine print favors the company, then expectations are realistic. Travelers spend to accrue points, but we all know points devalue, redemption gets harder, etc. Saving makes sense only if a company’s. Policy rarely change.

        1. You’re right, good point. It could be a combination of both – you can get many multiples of points when you use a branded card during a stay.

          And please don’t poke the sleeping bear……..

        2. You cannot say that. It depends on the health of the individuals. My 80 year old former boss, travels the world with his live-in girlfriend, plays tennis every Saturday for 4 hours, and lectures on Opera.

          1. True, and I posted an absolutely brilliant, heartfelt response to you from my phone agreeing with you. (Well, you’re going to have to take my word for it – Disqus “broke” my phone and I had to reboot.)

            I’ve spent the last month packing up all the treasures my mother has accumulated over the years. Accumulated, not used, not appreciated. Many, many, many items still in the box. They will go for a song at auction. I’m rather sensitive right now to older people hanging on to things and not using them, because they will be “valuable” “some day”. [Hint to you folks out there – Avon “collectibles” generally don’t appreciate in value over time.]

            Mr. Flake should take his Hilton points and reserve the best rooms in Paris he can with the points he has, and should buy airline seats independently of points. Situations change, regardless of age. Enjoy life now!

            {off my soapbox and heading for the stash of chocolate I keep for such occasions.}

          2. Read an article about a lady collecting hallmark Precious Moments figurines. Wanted to insure the collection for a few hundred grand. Author pointed out how the poor lady better hope her home gets robbed.

            Hummels, precious moments, avon, and qvc items are unlikely to become valuable. While hummels once held some, they aren’t worth much now.

          3. As someone who has sold travel to many age groups, I have said, if you want to go, then go, don’t wait. I have heard it all ;kids are too young, can’t afford it, I want more time there than I can take off. You can always come up with an excuse, but you can’t come up with more time in your life if you wait too long. I don’t believe in mortgaging the house to travel, but if you want something, make it a priority. If you think in the negative it won’t happen.

    1. Personally, unless someone else is paying for your hotel stays (ie. your company), it’s a BAD way to try to rack up enough points for an airline ticket. A flight to Paris doesn’t cost that much, certainly not for someone able to rack up that many points and/or consistently stay at a Hilton…

      What I didn’t like was: “At the end of the transaction, I learned that I’d been reduced to 55,000 Delta miles.” — “I had been reduced”, the passive, as if someone else reduced him and not he himself. But glad it worked out in the end. Surprised neither of them have a policy in place to redeposit / unconvert miles / points for a fee…

      1. I’m guessing the OP didn’t understand how conversions work. Had he gotten his expected (presumably) 1:1 conversion, he would have made out like a bandit. My experience is that hotel points to airline miles tend to be worse conversation in general.

        1. I don’t have an issue with the conversion rate, but I do think it was a pretty bush-league maneuver for the companies to play pass-the-buck when he decided to reverse the whole thing.

    2. No one answered your question yet about how much he spent. Ill take a stab at it. Personally, I feel Hilton has major point inflation over other hotels and airlines. They points are worth less. Also, Hilton points are the easiest to earn. I once did a comparison of all major hotel programs, and found that Marriott was the best if you use your points to stay at cheap hotels, but still not bad for expensive hotels. Hilton was the best if you stay at expensive hotels, but horrible for cheap hotels. And Starwood was above average across the board. This was before Marriott added new categories and raised everything by 5,000 points a night (and more for the higher categories) and before Hilton basically did an up to 90% jump on standard rates, but I digress.

      Back to Hilton. Every member gets 10 base points per dollar plus bonus points you can use towards an airline at various rates. You can also “Double Dip” with the bonus, and get 5 additional Hilton points, so 15 per dollar. I did the math and the other option were all worthless, it only paid to apply the additional 5 to Hilton. As a gold, the OP also gets a 25% bonus plus 1,000 points per stay. If the OP has the no-fee credit card, then the OP also gets a 50% bonus, plus an additional 500 point per stay. In addition, for two quarters each year, all gold member get to “double” their base points, or get a free certificate for X number of night. I did the math as well and found it better (before the change at least) to take the double points. So the OP has the potential to earn 32.5 points per dollar half of the year, and 22.5 points per dollar the other half of the year, plus 1,500 points per stay on top of that.
      Assuming to OP stayed randomly, used the no-fee card, and made no other purchases on the card, the OP would have spend between $18,000 and $20,000 on Hilton stays to earn that many points. With those points, the OP could spend 10 to 14 nights at a Waldorf Astoria . For example, right now I can book a week at the Grand Wilaia (One of my favorite Waldorf hotels) for 340,000 points, and the hotel costs $650 and up per night.

  10. In order to reach gold status, the op had to have stayed at a Hilton at least 16 times, (went up to 20 this year for next year,) or for 40 nights or accrued 75,000 base points from a hotel stay. While Mr. Flake may stay in hotels a lot, he may not be air travel savvy. He also comes from a time when businesses treated their customers more fairly and with more respect. It is difficult, when one doesn’t immerse oneself in today’s world, to think like today’s business navigator has to think. Also, today’s fine print requires a bigger magnifying glass. 😉

    Thanks, Chris, for helping him out. I’m sure he has learned for next time, even if next time comes under different circumstances.

    1. Actually it’s possible to obtain Hilton Gold status merely by obtaining the right American Express credit card, so Gold Status does not equal frequent Hilton stays or any level of travel savvy any more.

  11. I,too, do not get the whole concept of loyalty programs. When I go
    anywhere, I choose a hotel by convenience and partly price. If you stay
    at Hilton hotels no matter what else might be just as convenience but
    perhaps less expensive, then you have paid dearly for the 550,000 points
    and getting only 55,000 for them was an extremely costly error in
    judgment. Anyway, traveling by Air France is so much more to the point of going to Paris, and you can start practicing your high school French the moment you board your flight.

    1. When I go anywhere, I choose a hotel by convenience and partly price.

      I seriously doubt that. If a skanky Motel 6 is the closest, cheapest lodging do you always stay there? Perhaps? Perhaps not. My point is that making any purchase, whether lodging, or not, is far more complex than merely price and convenience. Its a myriad of factors including, need, quality, personal preferences, etc.

      For me, I like the quick and easy check-in, the late check-out, internet and breakfast included at no additional charge, etc. These make it reasonable for me, with my travel habits to stay at Starwood hotels in general. Between Marriott and Starwood, I’ve redeemed points to obtain 25 nights in very high end hotels in Paris and 12 nights in Rome.

      Chilling in a 2 story suite over looking the Champ-Elysee on Bastille Day, watching the parade from my 3rd story balcony, that was paid for with points, was the highlight of my vacation travel.

      1. Carver — I have stayed in many Motel 6s, especially in areas where there are nothing but chains. I also like small, older, mama and papa motels off the secondary roads. In Paris, I stayed in a small mom and pop hotel out off Rue Diderot that was wonderful, friendly, clean, great buffet breakfast for only 8 euros, a block from the metro and a restaurant that no one would know about except locals and was the best meal I’ve had during my 6 or 8 long visits to the city. It is also 3 blocks from the Air France bus that charges only 11 euros from CDG to Gare de Nord. There were no other English speaking people either in the hotel or anywhere around the area, so it was the real Paris. But if you want the comfort of being in the U.S. when in Paris, stay in an American hotel chain. But if you want high end and be in the rea Paris, why not choose the Ritz?

        1. Actually some chain hotels, are mom and pop run hotels, just using the affiliation to get their hotel out there. Best Western is an excellent example. In Europe, these retain the charm of the area and locals only know them by their actual name, not by the affiliation. Also, you need to know the difference in a chain managed vs chain owned hotel. Usually those familiar with Marriott like to stay in those in Europe as the rooms are generally larger in size than typical European owned hotel rooms. To each their own.

        2. I’m not making any statements about mom and pop motels. That’s a wide category, although I suspect, probably lacking the amenities required for business travel, most notably a robust business center Where I live though, the motel six is frequented often by prostitutes, drug dealers, and those looking for a booty call.

          As far as not choosing the Ritz, there are any number of high end Hotels. That’s just a matter of personal preference. Nothing more can really be said about that.

      2. Agreed. Paris isn’t a cheap place. His hotel points are more valuable for free nights than an airline ticket. October rates one street over from champ elysee were 250 euros. Think rooms can be had for 150 if lucky. Points redemption with a special going on meant I got 1000 dollars value for points that were worth 250-300 local. Airline tickets are less than a grand each. OP is lucky to get points back. Room redemption is a much better value.

    2. FYI, to earn points on a Hilton Reward account, you can also stay at their other brands, like Hampton Inn, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, Hilton Garden. Yes, location to where you need to be and price play a factor for many in their stay, but keep in mind there is more to the stay than that, if you want and appreciate extras. Upgrades, nicer amenities, late checkout times, are a part of many of these programs which can made a basic stay nicer.
      If price is important to you, Motel 6 will leave the light on for you.

      1. +1

        That’s one of the fundamental flaws in the critique of FF programs. The supposition is that price and location are the sole determining factor in buying decision. That’s simply not true. If it were, we’d have no national brands, we’d all shop at Walmart, eat at Denny’s, and Whole Paycheck and Needless Markup (aka Whole Foods and Neiman Marcus) wouldn’t exist.

    3. My former boyfriend/travel buddy was a whore for Hilton points, so that’s the only hotel loyalty program I belong to. I stay in hotels, besides summer vacay, maybe 2-3 times a year, which isn’t enough to split between programs. Marriott dropped my points twice after a year of not staying with them, so I didn’t even bother rejoining the third time, even after a week long stay in London where the desk clerk kept urging me to do it. Most places I go seem to have Hilton properties now, so all other factors being equal it’s fairly easy to choose an acceptable Hilton. If I try to stay once a year I will keep all my accumulated points, but one of these years I might forget and then… crap.
      Right now I have 86K HHonors points. If I could exchange them 1:1 for airline miles I’d be one happy camper. (happy flier?)

  12. I’d like to add, without being crucified, loyalty programs CAN work if consumers read the fine print. They are NOT free, require spending money, and have revolving rules. However, in the right context, you can save money.

    Choice hotels have a very easy program with no hassle redemption. Promotions for stay 2 trips and earn a free night run often. Points cashed in overseas, especially Europe, are worth 200 usd or more a night in major cities. Long story short, I don’t go out of my way, but I’m stuck in hotels often right now due to health issues. If I’m spending a lot of money, I might as well get perks.

    1. This entire thing about loyalty programs is so silly it’s almost painful. They are simply like any other investment. Think volatile tech stocks. They are great investments for some. Terrible investments for others.

      If you are a 25 year old with no obligations, volatile tech stocks are a perfectly appropriate investment. If you are 75, retiree, living on a modest fixed income, volatile stocks are a truly terrible investment. They’re probably a bad investment for the overwhelming majority of 75 year old people. Can we extrapolate that they are bad for everyone else? Most people? Some people?

      Like any other investment, you should see if it make sense for you. This year with my travel lessened, for the first time since 2001 I will not have elite status on any airline. I ran the numbers and a mileage run did not produce sufficient benefits so no mileage runs for me.

      1. Agreed. I typed an elaborate reply, but for some reason nothing posted. Suffice to say if I’m spending money already, there might as well be a perk or two. Loyalty plays a role, but I stay dependent upon need and value. Hilton, starwoods, hyatt, and the like aren’t budget friendly, but I won’t stay in motel 6 if hell froze over. Clean, safe, and good area are my prerequisites.

        This year alone, I’ve stayed so much, I’m getting to know the staff on a first name basis.

  13. You get 10 points per dollar for staying in a Hilton, less for their other brands. FF miles have a value of about a penny.

    No hotel could afford to be giving away FF miles with a wholesale cost of 10% of the bill.

    This wasn’t a scam or even particularly dishonest. Maybe it’s not a spectacular conversion rate, but not unreasonable either.

  14. For a person that knows they will be staying in hotels in various locations, renting cars, and flying on planes, NOT joining a FF program is silly. What do you do when you are through with work, checked out of your motel by 11am or noon, and your flight is not until the evening? Is it somehow more smart to stand in the long line at a rental counter waiting for your turn to select a car? With overhead space so limited on airplanes combined with baggage fees does it make sense to be able to board early? If you have done the homework, i.e. looked at your home airport, figured out which airline has the best combination of price and schedule, checked out the various typical rental car prices by brand, and compared what hotel chains have a program that suits your travel needs the loyalty programs can be a good thing. To try to achieve a status level by using a CC can be either a smart decision OR a really bad one, you have to figure out the total cost of using that CC vs a benefit that is specific to you.

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