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Hilton scraps HHonors award restrictions

The overwhelming majority of the commentary I've written over the past decade has concerned the loss in value of airline and hotel points: From new and higher fees to increased award costs, more restrictions, fewer available awards, tighter expiration schedules, and a lack of transparency, it's a litany all too familiar to the traveling public.

It is therefore a rare pleasure to be able to report on a development that shores up the value of points earned in one major hotel loyalty program, and may—let's hope—force other hotel programs to do the same.

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Beginning February 1, Hilton HHonors award stays will be unencumbered by either blackout dates or capacity controls. In other words, a customer paying cash and an HHonors member redeeming points have an equal chance of booking the last available standard room.

All too frequently, what travel suppliers have trumpeted as good news turns out, on analysis, to be at best neutral for consumers. And more often than not, the new benefit turns out to be little more than a sleight of hand to distract consumers from a nasty change insinuated elsewhere in the program. One can't help but think of Southwest extending the life of Rapid Rewards credits from one year to two as they imposed capacity controls where none previously existed.

So when Adam Burke, Senior Vice President at Hilton HHonors, called to give me advance notice of the news, I naturally asked whether there were negative changes planned for the program that would offset the added value of the new policy. The answer: absolutely not.

There are no asterisked exceptions lurking in the fine print. The new policy applies to all 2,800-plus hotels in the Hilton network. And unlike Marriott's "Stay Anytime" unrestricted awards, which are priced at twice the normal rate, HHonors members won't be asked to pay more points.

There is one potential downside to the new rule. Diamond and Gold members of the program, who already enjoyed unrestricted access to award stays, will now find themselves competing with lower status members for award nights at popular hotels.

That's a small price to pay for the significant extra value added to the HHonors program overall.

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