Q: I recently read your story about how persistence pays and it inspired me to write to you about my problem with Delta and Hilton HHonors. I'm a gold member of HHonors, Hilton's loyalty program, and have saved for many years to plan a trip to Paris. I have accrued 550,000 points, and wanted to redeem them for a flight.
I immediately called and asked to put the mileage back into my Hilton account. I have spent months trying to do this, to no avail.
Delta tells me Hilton must request the points to be transferred back, and Hilton tells me Delta must do this. I have contacted supervisors and written to the president of Hilton. No response.
We recently spent nights in a Hilton in Las Vegas, and an employee told us to "be persistent" — that 550,000 miles were too many to lose. I am 80 years old, my wife is 75. We want to go to Paris. Can you help me? — Gale Flake, Everett, Wash.
A: Uh-oh. Looks like something got lost in translation when you converted your hard-earned Hilton points to Delta.
I couldn't believe Delta was giving you a 1:10 conversion rate, but a check of the online conversion calculator (http://www.webflyer.com/programs/mileageconverter/) shows it's correct. For every 10 Hilton points you'll get one Delta SkyMile. The conversion rates are also clearly disclosed by Delta and Hilton on their sites.
When you called to make the conversion, it might have been nice if someone had warned you before you pushed the button. It appears that didn't happen, and when you received your balance statement, both Delta and Hilton then played the blame game and stonewalled you when you tried to undo the transaction.
Why are these conversion rates so horrible? From my perspective, this unfair exchange shows how little these companies value their own miles and points. I'm not sure if the 1:10 conversion rate says more (or less) about Hilton or Delta, but one thing is certain: This is no way to repay a gold-level customer's loyalty.
Both companies should have been falling all over each other to help you fix this. I would say that I'm surprised, but I'm not. Loyalty programs are there to help the company, not the customer. Except for the top 10th of a percent of elite-level customers, who bend and break rules by churning credit cards and taking mileage runs at their employers' expense, loyalty programs are a losing proposition for travelers.
I think it's time to rethink your allegiance to Hilton. Giving you the cold shoulder — that's no way to say "thank you" for your loyalty. If you ever have trouble contacting Hilton again, try these executive contacts that I list on my site: http://elliott.org/contacts/hilton/.
I contacted Delta, which had your miles, and it reversed the transaction.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)" (National Geographic). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, which he answers as quickly as possible, but because of a backlog of cases, your story may not be published for several months.)