Isn’t it all supposed to be about consumer trust and sentiment?

What are points? A reward system to encourage loyalty.

What is a loyalty program? A program designed to retain and encourage patronage.

What’s a devaluation? A move, perhaps out of necessity to scale back benefits.

What is trust? …..

Priceless.

Hilton is in the loyalty crosshairs today, but they are far from alone. Over the course of the weekend, without warning, Hilton took many of their best value hotels for redeeming points, and doubled the rates. There was no email, there was no tweet, not even an admission of culpability – just a unilateral move to make your points worth less. This flat out begs the question: why do “loyalty” programs insist on making customers feel cheated? It just doesn’t seem smart…

Devious Behavior

On the surface, one might say “it happens”. But this was devious. Hilton chose to do this less than a day after they launched an aggressive points sale, of which we and others were buyers. The sale matched the lowest rates ever offered on Hilton Points and for a second, it seemed as if someone had gotten things right, and were trying to win favor as Marriott battles IT issues in their gargantuan merger. But they didn’t, they got it really wrong, and they knew exactly what they were doing.

Inevitability Of Loyalty

Let’s be clear: no one likes a devaluation. When Starbucks, an airline, hotel or any other loyalty program moves the goal posts, it’s a crying shame. People work hard, set goals and they should never be punished for actually following through with the proposition of loyalty and becoming a super fan. But when a program like Japan Airlines, Marriott Rewards, AsiaMiles or any of the others give months of warning and lead up, trust isn’t eroded. Confidence may be, but trust, no.

Conrad Hilton Rangali.

Couldn’t You?

By devaluing a program overnight you only send one message: we do not truly value you the customer, or your loyalty. Anything we offer is a ploy. We value metrics, and once satisfied, you’re toast. What would it realistically have cost Hilton, in a long term versus short term thinking scenario if they had announced the 10,000 point hotels of yesterday would become 20,000 point hotels in two weeks time? People would grumble, many would book ahead and lock in the good rates, but many wouldn’t – and the light of trust would still be flickering.

Pond Scum

Resources like GodSaveThePoints.com are meant to help travelers, not hurt them, and this move doesn’t just affect your travels, it affects our inclination to cover a topic. The next time Hilton PR sends an email, will we be as likely to jump on the story? I can say emphatically: no, even if it costs us money. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice – shame on me. Overnight, stealth devaluations are the pond scum of the loyalty world, and any brand or person representing a brand that supports them must learn to swim in it. Devaluations are inevitable, but trust in communication is not for sale.

What’s an acceptable way of devaluing a program? Any good examples?