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This post comes to us courtesy of one of our new TPG Contributors, Max Bloom. His work has him coordinating events at hotels all over the country and he’s become an expert on meeting planning, and how it can earn you both points and status. Max recently attained SPG Platinum by spending over $100,000 a year on meetings at their properties.
Remember, we’re still on the lookout for new contributors to TPG who are experts on various credit cards, airlines and hotel programs and can give our readers inside tips and tricks they can’t find anywhere else. Interested? Email TPG Managing Editor Eric at [email protected] with your ideas.
Why Meetings Matter
Holding meetings and events at hotels can be a fantastic way to earn a lot of points and even elite status, and it’s easier than you might think. You don’t even have to be registered as a “meeting planner” with any hotel chain. In fact, if you have ever organized a hotel stay for a group of people for business or pleasure, odds are good that your group may have qualified as a meeting without even knowing it.
How Meetings Earn Points
It is important to understand that earning points and status through meetings is significantly different than doing it through normal hotel stays. While you still earn points in accordance with the amount of money you spend, meeting planner programs tend to award many fewer points per dollar than they would award an individual for a stay. The number of points per dollar varies by chain and can be as low as 1 point per $3. On the plus side, however, you can reach elite status after only a few meetings, and in some circumstances after only one. In general, meetings whose total costs are high will net you a lot of points but not much in the way of elite status. If it is status you’re after, you should book as many cheap meetings as possible since status is more of a numbers game in this case. As always, there are exceptions, like Starwood, which awards elite status only based upon the amount of money you spend at their properties.
Another key difference is that while the major hotel chains tend to have pretty well defined criteria for meeting planner rewards programs and what qualifies as a meeting, meeting managers at individual properties have a tremendous amount of discretion to bend the rules, and when they do it is usually in your favor. Since bending the rules is relatively common, I rarely refer to these “rules” in absolute terms. Some of the things they can do include cutting the room rate in half, awarding you a “signing bonus” worth tens of thousands of points, or giving you amenities and room upgrades.
What Qualifies as a Meeting?
There are two ways to qualify as a meeting. You can rent at least one meeting room for any amount of time, or you can contract with a hotel to reserve a block of sleeping rooms. Of course, you can also do both.
Let’s get two pieces of meeting jargon out of the way before we go on. When you reserve only meeting rooms, the person you want to speak with at the hotel is called the “catering manager,” and this is true even if you don’t need any catering. If you are reserving a block of sleeping rooms, or both meeting rooms and sleeping rooms, you want to speak with a “sales manager.” These are people who work within the hotel’s events department and are not normal reservation agents.
Although renting a meeting room is very straightforward, the guidelines for qualifying by reserving a block of sleeping rooms are significantly looser. At a minimum, a room block almost always requires that you sign an actual contract with the hotel stating the number of rooms you are reserving and how many nights you are reserving them. As a general rule, a room block also requires that you reserve at least 10 rooms on at least one night, and this is written into the T&C of many meeting rewards programs. If you hadn’t guessed, there is sometimes a way around this rule and it is called the “room night.”
Room nights are the number of rooms you reserve times the number of nights you reserve them, and if this number is greater than 10, you may be able to make a case for your group as a meeting. Hyatt is a great example of a program with ambiguous rules in this area, requiring “10 or more actualized guestrooms.”
Let’s take a practical example of the room night: A group of five people traveling to a hotel for 3 nights makes 15 room nights. While you could make the reservations online or over the phone, it’s worth calling the hotel and speaking to a sales manager. You should have a pretty good gut feeling about whether or not you’ve got a case. If you are reserving one room for 10 nights, for example, I wouldn’t bother. Make sure you start by telling the sales manager that you need “X room nights” in order to pique their interest or they may blow you off. If you’re lucky, they’ll decide that you have enough to qualify and you’ll be off to the races.
Do Weddings Qualify?
A lot of people want to know whether or not weddings qualify as meetings, and like many things in the world of meetings, the answer is: it depends. If you are planning on getting married at a hotel, the answer is almost always yes. In fact, many chains and individual properties run special wedding promotions, sometimes involving 100,000 points or more for the happy couple. However, if you are trying to reserve a block of rooms in connection with a wedding elsewhere, the equation changes. Hotel sales managers are very wise to the fact that weddings often cancel for a variety of reasons. So wise, actually, that a lot of properties will outright refuse to sign a contract with you because the risks are too high, and instead will offer you a “courtesy hold” on a block of rooms. In this case, whether or not the block qualifies as a meeting will be at the discretion of the sales manager.
Who Gets the Points?
You have probably heard horror stories from people who attended conferences or events and reported back that they were not allowed to keep their points, and that is often the case. When it comes to earning points for room blocks, the relationship between meeting planners and the people staying in the rooms is almost always: whoever pays gets the points.
If the rooms all go on a single bill, called a “master account,” the meeting planner gets the points. If the people staying in the rooms pay for them individually, they get the points. In future posts, I’ll talk about splitting points between people, and what to do if you work for a company that prohibits you from collecting points. But for now you should assume that whoever pays gets them. This is obviously important to keep in mind when booking your event, and sales managers will always ask whether the rooms are to be billed to a master account or paid for individually. I am aware of only one exception to this rule and it’s Marriott. They allow meeting planners to earn points on the total cost of the room block, even when people pay for their rooms individually.
If in reading this piece, you’re thinking that all of this rule-bending creates great opportunities to haggle for a boatload of points, you are right, and I’ll be talking more about ways to do that in future posts. But even if you are averse to haggling, the moral of the story is always ask if you qualify as a meeting because you have to start there.