The Hilton San Jose & Towers

Much of what's written here applies to the other hotels serving Apple's World-Wide Developers Conference. I just haven't had the chance to stay at most of the other hotels and get pissed off yet. I'm sure I will in future years.

There's a wonderful scam surrounding conventions. It's not unlike the bait and switch tactics used-car salesmen employed in the past.

Here's how it works (in general):

  1. You decide to attend a convention.
  2. All the housing at the convention is handled through a single agency.
  3. You book your housing through that agency.
  4. Once you arrive, you talk to people (that's part of being at a convention after all) and discover that a cheaper rate could have been had if you'd booked directly.
  5. You also discover that other discounts don't apply to convention rates
  6. You don't really care though, since your company is picking up the tab.

At least that's the way it normally works.

This year, I paid my own tab at WWDC 1999 (admittedly through Polaschek Computing, Inc., but since I'm the sole shareholder, it's my dime). Even before the conference I'd heard that there was a cheaper rate available through Hilton's web site, but I had already made the reservation through the Apple Housing Service.

Before the conference, I received mailings both from AAA and American Express. I figured that at the very worst, I could apply these discounts and end up with a reasonable rate at the hotel. When I arrived, things started to change for the worse.

First, I arrived at the Hilton San Jose & Towers on the Sunday before the conference at 3:30 PM to find that no room was ready for me. I was the typical weary traveller, and just wanted to take a shower, and lay down for a while before meeting up with some other folks for dinner. Unforutnately, it would be at least an hour before the room was actually ready. Checkout time at the hotel is noon, so I'm not sure what the delay was, but it soured my attitude toward the hotel immediately.

When the room actually was ready, I checked in, and discussed the AAA and AmEx discounts with the desk clerk. She was helpful, but said that their policy was that discounts did not apply to the convention rate, and I needed to talk to the reservations manager if I had a problem with that. Of course he was gone for the day.

Over the next few days I tried to reach the reservations manager. Since I was attending a conference that had many happenings in the evenings, it took until Friday to finally connect with Moustafa Blaih. When I talked to him, he insisted that the conference rate was the cheapest rate they offered, and they couldn't discount it further. When I told him that friends of mine had cheaper rooms, he said that was impossible, and asked for their names. After verifying that they were willing to help me, I returned and gave him their names and the room rates they had gotten by booking on the web. The conference rate was $160 per night. The web rate was $165 for weeknights, but $109 for weekends. Since I was staying Sunday through Saturday, that would save me about $75 on the total stay. Moustafa finally agreed to give me the 10% American Express discount.

Saturday morning, upon awaking, I discovered the bill had been slipped under my door during the night. The 10% discount had actually been put onto the bill as an additional charge. Thankfully, once I pointed that out to the desk clerk, she fixed the problem on the spot.

Upon arriving home, I called Hilton Corporate Offices to complain. I made the point that while I eventually got a price that made me happy, I shouldn't have had to jump through hoops to get it, and I had not appreciated Mr. Blaih's attitude.

I also called the San Jose Convention Housing Bureau, speaking to Cheryl Little. I informed them that the Conference rate was not the cheapest rate available, and that they were losing conference registrations, since other people were booking directly with the hotels, and I would be doing the same next year. Cheryl replied that she wasn't the person who negotiated the rate, but having fewer people booking at the conference rate would drive the conference rate even higher. I asked that she pass this information along to the person at Apple responsible for negotiating the conference rate, and she said she would do so.

Finally, I called AAA, and informed them that the Hilton San Jose had more restrictions on the Show Your Card & Save program than were listed in the AAA magazine, namely that it only applied to rooms booked through AAA. You can check on AAA's website yourself, but the text I see says: Just show your membership card at any of these retailers and service providers, and exclusive member discounts will be yours for the asking. Also, by the Hilton badge, it says: Guaranteed Lowest Rates, neither of which seemed to apply in this case.

There are a few things here that really bother me.

The first is that when I told the reservations manager that there was a cheaper price available, rather than admitting it, he denied it, and implied that I was a liar. He also told me that since he was the person who set the rates on the web site, there was no way there could be a cheaper rate, and that the rate on the website was $239 (or more). After I actually proved to him that he had offered a cheaper rate on the website for the full duration of my stay (it was slightly more expensive on the nights of the conference, but even a single weekend night tipped the balance), he didn't admit that he was wrong, and simply said that he would apply the AmEx discount after all.

The second is that this whole pricing scam reeks of the sort of pricing the airlines do. I understand that they want to maximize their profits, but making a pricing structure so complicated that nobody can understand it (especially since the rules aren't generally available) just doesn't seem like fair play.

Finally, this is just the sort of customer disservice that helped me decide to leave California in the first place. I'm from the midwest, and in most cases, the rule is that The customer is always right (although in fairness, I must admit that's not always the case). While I don't expect that ethic to be present in small local shops in other parts of the country, I do expect it from large national chains. Part of the reason to do business with a national chain is that you expect their service or product to be pretty much the same anywhere you go. In the case of the San Jose Hilton, that definitely isn't the case.

This was originally written 27. May, 1999.

Update 10. November, 1999: I still haven't gotten the frequent flier miles from this hotel stay. I just called Hilton again, and there's no entry for me in their system.

Copyright 2009, Dave Polaschek. Last updated on Mon, 15 Feb 2010 14:08:47.