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Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen continues his series The Weekly Wish, looking at flaws, shortcomings, and room for improvement in the world of travel and loyalty programs. Today’s wish: Hilton and Hyatt elite status beyond Diamond.
I tend to analyze every purchase, hotel stay, and airline ticket to make sure that I maximize my return from a points & miles standpoint. I constantly ask myself questions like, “Does this routing allow me to get more miles and increase my chances for a complimentary upgrade?” or “Can I go through an online shopping portal to earn even more on this transaction?”
One of the biggest decisions we make as travelers is where to stay. To me, a hotel isn’t just a bed to sleep in; it’s an experience that earns me points (for a paid room) or makes me feel like I got great bang for my buck (for an award room). Often elite status factors into this decision, since earning status helps make future stays more enjoyable, which leads me to today’s weekly wish: Hilton HHonors and Hyatt Gold Passport need to introduce a status level above and beyond Diamond.
It wasn’t too long ago that Starwood Preferred Guest announced a huge set of improvements to their program (which, mind you, was already quite strong); we rarely see these announcements result in anything close to a net positive, but this was basically an across-the-board jump in benefits. It included things like lifetime status and new amenities for both Gold and Platinum guests. Most importantly, it also split Platinum status into four separate categories, with more and more perks provided for more and more stays. Previously, Platinum was simple: stay 25 times or spend 50 nights. Under the new program, this qualification level remains intact, but Starwood installed three additional differentiators:
- Those with 50 nights receive 10 suite night awards good for an upgrade (confirmable up to 5 days in advance) to a suite or premium room on both award and paid stays.
- Those with 75 nights receive 4 Starpoints per dollar (rather than 3 provided to “lower” Platinums) and can take advantage of the YOUR 24 program, which allows them to define a 24-hour stay period in advance.
- Those with 100 nights are assigned a Starwood Ambassador to act as a personal concierge to the member, including making reservations, handling special requests, and resolving customer service issues.
Some of those benefits are better than others. TPG was underwhelmed by his experience with the ambassador program, and I (personally) have had mixed results with my suite night awards. However, 4 points/$ and the YOUR 24 benefit have significant appeal to many road warriors out there.
Herein lies the rationale for this week’s wish. By creating additional benefits, Starwood Preferred Guest provided greater incentive to stay at their properties above and beyond the “standard” Platinum qualification threshold. If you’re a business traveler who spends over 100 nights in hotels every year (as I do), you could give all of your business to one chain and have top tier status with them only. Or, you could spread the love around and earn top tier status with two or even three chains (I’m leaving Marriott out of this analysis since their top tier status is based solely on nights and, in my opinion, requires much more “focus” on them as a chain than the status qualification requirements of SPG, Hyatt, and Hilton).
Now, I already know what several of you are thinking: “Once you’ve earned your status, the incentive to stay at their properties is the additional benefits like bonus points, free breakfast, and room upgrades.” That’s completely true. But why wouldn’t I want that exact thing at multiple properties? Until these changes from SPG, top tier status was basically the same across the major programs. It took a similar amount of stay activity to qualify, and the benefits shared a lot of the same characteristics. Not anymore!
Put it this way: assume you’re a business traveler who makes 100 stays covering 150 nights every year. How would you want to split that up? In my early years of collecting points & miles, I sent almost every one of those stays to Hilton HHonors properties. Then I realized that the benefits I received on my 100th stay were no different than those I received on my 50th stay. I expanded to Starwood first, and then realized that I could earn top tier with Hyatt as well. The question then becomes which chain gets my stays above those qualification thresholds?
For me it’s a no brainer: the answer is Starwood. Because I can continue to accrue additional benefits for crossing 50 nights, and then 75 nights, it makes sense for me to stay with Starwood as opposed to Hilton or Hyatt. Sure, I’ll break from that pattern if there are important price/location/property considerations, but when all else is equal, Starwood wins. Hilton and Hyatt could recapture some of my business by adding at least one differentiated tier of Diamond status to reward those who stay beyond the published thresholds.
So how might this work? Here’s my proposal for each chain.
Currently, you can qualify for Diamond with 30 stays, 60 nights, or 120,000 base points ($12,000 in annual spend). I envision a new level of status with higher requirements: 50 stays, 100 nights, or 200,000 base points. You would still receive all of the usual Diamond amenities, but as a 50/100/200 Diamond (we can workshop the name later), you would also receive:
- 10 suite night upgrades: These are good on both paid AND reward stays, and each one is valid for a single night. They can also be confirmed at the time of booking (if available). While suites are not specifically excluded by the Hilton HHonors program, it would be nice to be able to confirm these in advance, and it would more closely align with the benefits offered by both SPG and Hyatt Gold Passport.
- Guaranteed 4 pm checkout: This is another area where I have found Hilton to be sorely lacking, as I’ve had to fight for a 2 pm (or even 1 pm) check-out, even when the hotel isn’t sold out for the following evening. This would be a step towards SPG’s YOUR 24 benefit as well as the late checkout policy for Diamonds at Hyatt properties (where I find that I am consistently asked at check-in whether I will need to stay until 4 pm).
Hyatt Gold Passport
Hyatt’s requirements aren’t quite as tough as Hilton HHonors; you only need to stay 25 times or spend 50 nights in Hyatt properties to attain Diamond status. Because this matches SPG, I picture the new level of status only being applicable to those spending 75 nights in Hyatt properties. Here’s what those “Triple Diamonds” would earn:
- A 100% bonus on earned Hyatt Gold Passport points (so 10 points/$ instead of the 6.5 that “standard Diamonds earn): Currently, the 30% point bonus offered to top tier Gold Passport members is the lowest in the industry. SPG, Hilton, Marriott, and even IHG offer 50% bonuses, while Club Carlson provides their Concierge members with a 75% bonus. Hyatt points are definitely valuable, but this would be a relatively insignificant jump, and could lead to many more stays by the chain’s most loyal customers.
- Four suite upgrades on rewards: This is another area where Hyatt is lacking. Diamond members receive four suite upgrade rewards each year, applicable to paid rates of up to 7 nights. SPG’s suite night awards, on the other hand, can be used on both paid AND reward nights, and I’d love to see Hyatt add this as an option.
Of course, I would welcome ANY additional benefits for surpassing the “standard” elite qualification thresholds, but these are specific areas where I find the two programs to be lacking.
I have one final proposal to put forward along these lines. There’s no question that adding a level of elite status adds complexities (and costs) to a loyalty program. In an effort to neutralize these added expenses, here’s what I would include:
“In order to qualify for these higher levels of Diamond status, members would need to be a cardholder of a premium co-branded credit card.”
For Hilton, that would include the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa or HIlton HHonors Surpass American Express; for Hyatt, it would be the regular Hyatt Visa. In reality, many Diamond members in both programs would already have one (or more) of the cards; I happen to have both the Hilton Reserve and Hyatt Visa cards myself. However, “forcing” these members to open a co-branded credit card would increase the user base and elevate each hotel’s standing with its respective bank partner
It also wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen such a connection between elite status and co-branded credit cards. Delta’s new Medallion Qualification Dollar requirements can be waived with over $25,000 of spend on a co-branded American Express, and Starwood Preferred Guest members earn 2 stays and 5 nights of credit towards elite status just by having the SPG American Express. This type of requirement would likely ease the pain of implementing a new higher level of Diamond status.
What do you think? Would new status levels in either Hilton HHonors or Hyatt Gold Passport entice you to stay at their properties more frequently? What other super elite benefits would you like to see at these chains or others? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!