Nate Bear has been a Hilton frequent guest for more than a decade, having earned Gold VIP status during hundreds of hotel stays. One of the benefits he likes the most is Hilton’s No Blackout Dates rule that seems pretty straightforward: “If there’s a standard room available at any Hilton Family hotel or resort worldwide, you can redeem points for it. No exceptions, no fine print. It’s that simple.”

But is it really?

“Apparently there are exceptions and fine print,” he told me. “In other words, it’s not that simple, despite the clear wording.”

Bear ran into a problem when he tried to redeem his points for a room at a Homewood Suites by Hilton property.

The HHonors online reservation system said there are no rooms available, and suggested other Hilton family hotels. Because I was curious, I then tried to book a room at that same property, but paying with dollars instead of points.

Surprise! There were standard rooms available — single king bed or twoe queen beds.

Bear phoned HHonors to see if he was missing something. A representative told him that Homewood was an “extended stay hotel” and was exempt from the blackout dates promise.

When I asked him how HHonors could promise “no exceptions” and then make an exception, he said he didn’t know and transferred me to a supervisor.

The supervisor told me the same thing as Nelson – Homewood Suites is exempt.

When I asked her if that was “an exception” to the rule, she said it was not – it was an exemption. I asked her what the difference was, whether it was just semantics and the words meant the same thing, and she said there was a difference. I asked her what the difference was and she just said they are different and then asked me if there was anything she could help me with.

I told her she could help me understand how the “exemption” of Homewood Suites from the “No Blackout Dates” promise was not an exception to that rule; and she could show me where that “exemption” was disclosed. In response, she said she had tried but I was being difficult and refusing to accept what she was saying.

You say exception, I say exemption. Whatever. I contacted Hilton to find out what was going on. Here’s its response:

The Homewood Suites brand, like the rest of our brands, has a no blackout date policy for Hilton HHonors members who are reserving reward stays. The confusion in this case could have come about if the guest tried to book a room that wasn’t a standard room when they went to book the reward stay and then unintentionally selected an upgraded room.

Bear doesn’t buy it.

The policy is what it is – the confusion from my standpoint is the lack of a clear definition for the term “standard room.” The response Hilton gave you focused on the “standard room” but failed to state what that term means – is it related to price or bed-type or # of beds or something else? Is the definition consistent across the various Hilton brands? Is it communicated properly?

Additionally, the response from Hilton does not address what I was told – by two separate people last week – that Homewood Suites is “exempt” from the no blackout rule because it is considered an “extended stay” hotel. To me, this is possibly a bigger concern, because it flies in the face of the simple “no exceptions, no fine print” allure of the no blackouts rule. Either way (i.e., the agents made up the exemption, or the exemption really exists) the lack of clarity is both frustrating and wholly avoidable.

This boils down to Hilton not being 100 percent clear on the rule and what it means. I understand the marketing allure of the simple no blackouts rule, but if the reality of the rule is not as simple as claimed, then the marketing has crossed the line into dishonesty.

The fact that two separate agents gave me an explanation that is entirely different from the explanation Hilton gave you makes me think that this dishonesty is intentional. That, in turn, makes me not like Hilton and makes me regret my loyalty to them.

What do you think? Is Hilton being upfront about its rules, or splitting hairs?

(Photo: gabyu/Flickr Creative Commons)