Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 


The hotel industry considered whom it most admired.

The answer was: the airline industry.

Yes, that wily cartel of misbegotten nickelers and dimers who delight in making planes narrower, seats smaller and passengers ever closer to ululating for five hours straight.

This was something to which the hotel industry could look up to.

This was greeted with cheering in the streets. At press conferences, world leaders came out in support. The United Nations held a five-minute standing ovation.

Would it actually work? Would it increase customer satisfaction -- I mean, Hilton's profits?

This seems unclear. What is very clear is that cancellation fees are staying. They're going to become a thing.

As Skift reports, Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta said this during an earnings call: "As opposed to the test, which was quite blunt force, I think what you will see us do -- and we're in the process of doing other tests right now -- is different ways of pricing our products both short, long, lead and more and less flexibility."

A translation of this might be: You know when you book a flight online and you get all those different pricing options, in which if you cancel the cheapest one you lose all your money, well, have you seen how much money the airlines are making these days?

Please, therefore, look forward to hotels aspiring to be as venal as airlines.

One airline fee that especially boggles my brain involves booking an economy plus seat. You pay extra to sit, say, in a exit row. 

It used to be that if you then upgraded, you got the seat fee back. Now you don't. Even though the airline will likely sell that seat again for the very same amount.

It's like ordering a dish in a restaurant, sending it back and, instead of having the dish comped, you get charged double.

Nassetta admits that his cancellation fee experiment was " unsurprisingly hated."

But he said the real problem was that going from free cancellation to the ugly fee in one step "is very hard because consumers have been trained for so long around the model as it exists."

Essentially, then, Hilton guests are but monkeys who need merely to be trained in the new way of things.

Of course, one difference is that there's surely a lot more choice when it comes to hotels than there is with airlines.

There seem to be relatively few airlines competing on the same routes.

Hotel groups, on the other hand, not only have to compete against other hotels, but there's also the upstart sharers at Airbnb.

It may be that guests have used their dastardly computers to keep booking and canceling until they get the best rate they can. But Hilton is in the hospitality business.

Instead of finding ways to pinch more money from people's wallets, might another approach be to make Hilton Hotels so irresistible that they're worth staying in, even at increased prices?

Perhaps that's too difficult. Perhaps acting like an airline -- which pinches money from you while its captains tell you they know you (supposedly) have a choice of carriers -- is the simpler solution.

Nassetta clearly believes the whole industry will follow Hilton's initiative.

He sees it as a victory of mind over (customers who don't) matter.

He said: "There are some really intelligent things that I think you'll see us start to do later this year to start to move customers down that journey of recognizing, 'yeah, if you want total flexibility, there's a price for that.'"

Who can wait for these really intelligent things?

And somewhere, Airbnb executives smiled and went out for a bike ride and a kale salad.