card hhonorsIn 1991, Robert Annenberg paid $150 for life membership in Senior HHonors Gold VIP program. Last year, Hilton terminated his membership without warning. Is Annenberg’s elite status gone?

My initial response — and one I’ve repeated to several Hilton guests with the identical problem — is that he’s probably lost his HHonors status for good. The lawyerly terms and conditions for Hilton’s loyalty program is crystal clear that it can basically change its contract any time, for any reason.

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought how wrong that was. The terms are irrelevant — lifetime means for the rest of my life.

Right?

Annenberg picks up the story:

All was fine until Hilton Hotels was purchased by new owners sometime in 2007 or 2008. In any case, I suddenly found myself the recipient of a mailing from Hilton in 2008 that said they were terminating the Senior HHonors program. We would be relegated to the lowest level of HHonors status (at no charge) after one year unless we had enough stays to earn the Gold VIP level.

Note: Most of Hilton’s Senior HHonors Gold VIP members don’t have enough room nights to maintain elite status under the regular rules, since they’re retired, so this conciliatory gesture was largely meaningless.

Since I had paid for the Senior HHonors Gold VIP status for a lifetime, I felt this was highly unfair. Therefore, I contacted Adam Burke ([email protected]), the head of the HHonors program to complain. Mr. Burke had assisted me in the past with matters pertaining to my HHonors points status since I had earned almost 1 1/2 million HHonors points through transferring miles from an airline promotion.

Mr. Burke responded by saying that (small print apparently) provisions of the Senior HHonors program allowed Hilton to cancel the program at any time, but they were kind enough to extend the Gold VIP privileges for one year.

When unable to get anywhere with Mr. Burke, I wrote a letter to the CEO of Hilton. In turn, Mr. Burke contacted me in reply. After discussions back and forth, he finally agreed to extend my Gold VIP level until April of 2011. I found myself without any choice, but to accept this offer. I even suggested that the fact that I had had well over one million points accumulated in their HHonors program at one given time, that alone should see me through life benefits for Gold VIP level. No such luck!

To this day, the more I think about it, the more frustrated and angry I get at the poor traveler who invested money for a program that said “lifetime” to again be handed the short end of the stick without any recourse.

Chris, if you feel that this is a legitimate gripe and can do anything to assist me in getting back my Lifetime Gold VIP status, I would be most grateful, thinking of you every time I used my benefits for what can’t be to much longer since I am now close to 80 years of age.

Apart from the fact that canceling a life membership is wrong, I have to wonder why Hilton wouldn’t keep its word for the senior citizens who had paid to belong to this program. What harm could possibly come from treating a few seniors well during their hotel visit? How much money could Hilton possibly lose by maintaining these guest’s elite status?

I asked Hilton. A few weeks later, I heard directly from Annenberg:

Christopher – you’ve done it again! In today’s mail I just received a new HHonors Gold VIP card from Hilton Hotels showing a tier expiration date of “Lifetime.”

Thank you for your efforts. Obviously, the efforts proved worthwhile and I certainly do appreciate your help!

I’m happy that Hilton changed its mind about its Senior HHonors Gold VIP program, and I hope this sets a precedent for other seniors who have lost their status.

(Photo: FrankZoe/Flickr Creative Commons)