Hotels are hellbent on getting travelers to book directly on their own websites and through company call centers and that’s very much in play in Hilton Worldwide’s latest TV commercial, “Play Hooky.”
After inspiring travelers to play hooky from their ordinary Mondays and everyday lives, the TV spot [see below], which has been airing on CNN and other outlets, ends with the proviso: “When you plan a vacation at any one of Hilton’s 12 distinct brands you always get the lowest price only when you book direct at Hilton.com.”
Sorry, Hilton, but the message, which likely would get a lot of opposition (if they would only talk about it) from Hilton distribution partners such as Expedia, Orbitz and Booking.com, really isn’t true.
For example, Hilton.com was offering a room with a queen bed for tonight at the Hilton Times Square for at total rate of $2,526.85. (Incidentally, the initial search results page is bait and switch, saying the rooms cost “from $256.”)
Expedia.com was touting a room with two queen beds tonight at the Hilton Times Square for exactly the same total price, including taxes and fees, for $2,526.85.
The ways these things work is that Hilton is obligated to give the same rate that it has on Hilton.com to its major distribution partners.
So Hilton’s advertisement is disingenuous.
Where Hilton does have a point is in the perks that it provides if travelers book directly on Hilton.com — HHonors points, free standard Wi-Fi and digital check-in. The free basic wi-fi and the other perks, by the way, are available only for Hilton HHonors members who book direct and there is a charge for premium wi-fi.
But if travelers are considering only the bottom line, then they can get the same rate for the Hilton Times Square on other travel sites that they can reserve on Hilton.com.
So much for the commercial.
Marriott.com makes similar promises on Marriott.com but doesn’t say its own website is the “only” place to find its lowest rates. Marriott.com states: “Our best rate. Guaranteed. When you book direct on Marriott.com.”
If Hilton were confident that it always offered the lowest rate on Hilton.com then it wouldn’t need to offer its best rate guarantee, which matches lower rates found elsewhere and throws in a $50 rebate. Expedia has its own best price guarantee, too, as do other online travel agencies.
Andrew Flack, Hilton Worldwide’s vice president, global marketing, explains the reasoning behind the TV spot:
“Our marketing campaigns have always included a strong call-to-action, with many directing traffic back to Hilton.com. We provide several unique benefits for guests who book directly with Hilton, and this campaign was created to help drive awareness of those offerings.
“Our guests always receive our lowest price when they book directly through Hilton (Hilton.com, the HHonors app, reservations call center or our corporate travel partners). When booking directly through Hilton, they also receive benefits that are not available through online travel agencies. These include: Best Price Guarantee. If a guest finds a lower publicly available price anywhere else for the same accommodations, we will match that rate, plus give them an additional US $50 back.
“Benefits for members of Hilton HHonors, our guest loyalty program, including free Wi-Fi, Digital Check-in and HHonors Points and on-property benefits, such as room upgrades.”
Asked to comment on Hilton’s TV commercial, TripAdvisor spokesperson Kevin Carter said: “While we can’t comment on other brands’ marketing claims, I can confirm that TripAdvisor searches more than 200 sites to find the best prices, and travelers can save up to 30 percent when they book a hotel through our site.”
Hilton’s claims remind me of Expedia TV commercials in 2014 contending it was the world’s largest travel site when TripAdvisor at the time attracted more visitors. Expedia ended up altering its ads to show it was the “world’s largest full-service travel site.”
“Hilton Play Hooky”