As the world reopened from COVID-induced shutdowns, my hotel loyalty has largely shifted away from Hilton, a chain I once held in high regard. Having transitioned most of my business to World of Hyatt and keeping Marriott Bonvoy as my backup program, I allowed my Hilton Honors Diamond status to lapse, though I still maintain Gold status through AmEx (offered on cards like the AmEx Platinum and Hilton Honors Surpass Card). A large driver of this is the huge deterioration in service, including (but not limited to) changes in benefits such as upgrades, breakfast, and late check-out.
While the Hilton Honors program is iconic, having even been a centerpiece in the movie Up in The Air, gone are the days where the benefits are competitive amid rival programs. While Hilton Honors was never the best, pre-pandemic, it at least used to have some unique strengths. A points & miles beginner could grab a Surpass card for $95 and, considering the modest annual fee, extract a ton of value and benefits out of it. Nobody is rationally expecting pre-COVID standards of service to ever return – if you haven’t seen the popular 2009 movie since the pandemic, go re-watch it now and think about how ancient and distant times like that seem. However, competitors like Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG seem to have coalesced around a permanent “new normal,” while Hilton seems to be stuck in late 2021.
However, my recent experiences have uncovered another aspect of Hilton’s service that has taken a turn for the worse—their stance on late check-out. During the pandemic, Hilton quietly removed late check-out from its list of published benefits, even for Diamond members. Hilton’s website now provides a vague statement: “Policies vary by location. Visit the hotel’s website to find out whether late check-out is available and if fees apply.” (Interestingly, I’ve yet to find an individual Hilton property that spells out their policy online.)
This means that even Hilton’s highest-tier elite members are left at the mercy of individual franchisees when it comes to late check-out. In the pre-pandemic era, securing a late check-out at any Hilton property was usually relatively easy, even for those without elite status (though to be sure, even in the good ol’ days, they were still relatively stingy on how late that checkout could be). Now, it often requires persistence, and at times, it’s simply denied.
What sets Hilton apart, and not in a good way, is that it’s now the only one among the four major hotel chains that does not offer late check-out as a published benefit to at least mid-tier elite members. Marriott Bonvoy offers Gold Elite members a 2pm check-out, subject to availability. World of Hyatt extends this privilege to even entry-level Discoverist status members. Higher-tier members with Marriott and Hyatt can get 4pm, and Marriott Ambassador members can get even later! Surprisingly, IHG, a brand not typically associated with robust program benefits, offers a 2pm checkout to everyone who signs up for their complimentary IHG One Rewards program, regardless of elite status or lack thereof. Meanwhile, Hilton officially offers nothing.
My most recent encounter at a Hilton Garden Inn property is a telling example of this shift in policy. While one might temper expectations at a select-service brand like HGI, there’s still a basic level of service one expects from the Hilton brand – and outright denial of my late check-out would have been a better experience than the very bizarre runaround I was given at this property.
The day before check-out, I politely approached the front desk to inquire about a late check-out, only to be met with hostility from the front desk agent (really, all the staff at this property were borderline hostile for some reason), insisting that I check back in the morning. The front desk agent mumbled some nonsense about needing to check occupancy factors; meanwhile, this same hotel had ended breakfast early that day with no notice due to… wait for it… low occupancy factors! I had a late night ahead of me, and my intention was to sleep in the following morning; waking up early to engage with the front desk defeated the purpose here.
On the morning of my departure, I called the front desk to request a 2pm check-out. After some back-and-forth with an uncooperative agent, we met halfway and agreed on 1pm. However, it didn’t end there. Housekeeping knocked on my door a full 25 minutes before the published check-out time of 11am. Though it’s not unusual to receive such knocks during a late check-out scenario, I’ve never had this happen prior to the hotel’s published check-out time. When I explained the situation to the housekeeper, she replied that the front desk relayed to her that the room across the hall had a 1pm check-out, but not me; strangely, that room had a sign on the door warning not to enter, as an ozone machine was in use (likely to remove tobacco odors from a previous guest). When I politely pointed out to the housekeeper that room in question likely wasn’t occupied at all, she relented.
Just when I thought the experience couldn’t get any more bizarre, at 12:40 (20 minutes prior to the agreed check-out time), the in-room phone rang. It was the front desk, inquiring if I intended to pay for another night, since I hadn’t yet vacated my room. While I’m not 100% sure, the voice on the other end sounded very similar to that of the individual I had spoken to earlier about securing the late check-out. This was quite a bizarre experience, and frankly, I’d have been left with a better taste in my mouth had they just outright refused my request vs. giving me the runaround I was given.
All in all, my recent encounters have left me wondering about Hilton’s changing attitude towards late check-out. In a world where its competitors are extending this courtesy even to entry-level elite members (or in IHG’s case, anyone who takes 60 seconds to register for their free rewards program), Hilton’s silence on the matter is deafening. As a brand that once prided itself on elite benefits, Hilton appears to be falling behind in the race for customer satisfaction and loyalty. And if late check-out is something that’s important to you, you might just consider taking your business elsewhere.