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Hilton & Hyatt Elite Status Beyond Diamond: the Weekly Wish

by on August 21, 2014 · 18 comments

in American Express, Chase, Citi, Elite Status, Hilton, Hyatt, TPG Contributors

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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.

My favorite kind of email: upgrade notification!

Suite Night Upgrades are just one of the benefits added to SPG in 2012 to differentiate between Platinums who make 25 stays and those who stay 50, 75, and 100 nights.

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.

By dangling the carrot of added benefits, hotel chains would provide an added incentive for travelers to stay at their properties more frequently.

By dangling the carrot of added benefits, hotel chains would provide an added incentive for travelers to stay at their properties more frequently. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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.

Hilton could add a higher form of Diamond status with additional benefits.

Hilton could add a higher form of Diamond status with additional benefits.

Hilton HHonors

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 offers full breakfast to Diamond members and up to three guests in the same room.

A higher level of Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status could come in handy at the Park Hyatt in Sydney, among others.

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.

H

Hilton and Hyatt could require members of these new top tiers to hold one of their co-branded credit cards.

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!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Brandon

    I thought the point of this website was so that everyone could enjoy the high end benefits of travel, not just the person that lives on the road. But here you are, lobbying for two programs to increase their tier levels and giving them justification to do so.

  • Mike

    I had exactly the same reaction Brandon with the added WTF when he mentioned that branded credit cards would be a requirement (I wonder where we could sign up for those). Lets be honest, both programs would create a new tier that would be equivalent to the current top tier and devalue the rest. If hotel’s really wanted to reward business travelers they would give a year end cash back bonus based on spend for the year. Any business traveler that has their business expenses comped this would be a nice year end bonus. If you are spending 150 nights in a hotel a year do you really care about another suite upgrade beyond what you currently enjoy. I wouldn’t want to step foot in another hotel room.

  • Goat Rodeo

    … thought they both had a tier above Diamond – invite only.

  • Guest

    Hyatt has Courtesy Card above Diamond already.

  • http://wang.yuxuan.org/ Yuxuan Wang

    forcing the credit card? then the new level is for US and other few countries with the credit card customers only? this is definitely not going to happen.

  • Nick Ewen

    True, but it is invitation-only. This post is wishing for higher tiers like SPG, where the earning criteria is published and transparent.

  • Nick Ewen

    Actually, I am lobbying for them to ADD to their programs, not devalue them. Again, use SPG as an example. How did “regular” Platinum members get hurt by the new higher tiers? The only possible drawback would be fewer nights in suites due to 50-night members using Suite Night awards, but the YOUR 24 benefits, 4 points/$, and ambassador benefits are solely meant to reward those more frequent travelers.

    The same would be true with these new levels for Hyatt and Hilton.

  • Nick Ewen

    Man, I would LOVE to see some type of year-end reward like cash back (or even a free night certificate, 10,000 SPG points, or something like that). This would be a great way to reward those truly loyal customers.

    However, I don’t see this as an opportunity to devalue their programs. Look at SPG. They didn’t devalue standard Platinum when they added their new tiers; they just wanted to reward their most frequent customers. Hilton and (to a lesser extent) Hyatt have lost a lot of my business since SPG added the 50-night level. All I am wishing for is more recognition for those who spend more time (and by extension, more $$$) in hotels when compared to someone who barely qualifies.

  • Nick Ewen

    Hyatt does have Courtesy Card, but I have never read anything about a level above Hilton Diamond (unless you count reports about “lifetime Diamond” for timeshare owners or corporate travel managers). The focus of this post is on adding a published tier like SPG.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Delta actually (kind of) has this, with their new $-based program. If you’re Diamond, you get 11 miles per $. If you have the Delta Amex, you can buy flights using miles at $0.01/mile. So, effectively, you’re getting 11% back in Delta vouchers. Not quite cash, but pretty darn fungible.

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare

    I would like to envision a world in which business travel is not rewarded by additional perks. If I were a business owner, manager, etc, I would go for 10, 20, even 30% discount on all travel done by all employees (foot soldiers, managers, and C level execs) in exchange for forfeiting all the points (which are considered “hobby” benefits to the employees).

    I think overall, this is bound to make travel cheaper for everyone.

  • Bill Rubin

    As SPG 75 now, I can say that the 50 nights Suite Night awards were worth getting–though I’ve only used 3 so far. The chance to get a suite upgrade anyway as a Plat makes the 5 night advance confirmed suite night award not quite as palpable a benefit as some would like to think it is. The 4 points bonus at 75 night is marginally useful, but not something that makes me want to stay at SPG hotels after 75 nights. The Your24 is useful, but far more rarely than I would have guessed. And the 100 night ambassador perk is completely worthless to me and most Plats I’d guess.

    I hope Hyatt and Hilton do improve their higher elite benefits so it will push SPG to improve theirs even more. If SPG wants me to both being loyal beyond 50 nights and NOT switch to Hyatt to achieve Diamond, or vice versa, then both would need to improve their program offerings. Otherwise, I will just try to achieve SPG Plat and Hyatt Diamond–which are the 2 types of hotels I most enjoy for business travel and absolutely prefer for pleasure travel redemption awards (with St. Regis, Park Hyatt, W, and Luxury Collection being chief among them, and occasional Grand Hyatts like in Kauai). Hilton just doesn’t have enough aspirational properties to make it worth my time, and Marriott is even worse (since I’m not a big fan of Ritz anyway).

  • Gina

    When speaking about Marriott – what exactly does this comment mean? I don’t get it at all – “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”

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  • Nick Ewen

    I basically meant that it wouldn’t be an apples to apples comparison. If you want top tier status with Marriott, you have to stay 75 nights; there’s no way to qualify with stays, so there isn’t as much room for differentiation among top tier elites. With SPG, those same 75 nights get you not just Platinum but additional benefits beyond “standard” Platinum.

  • Nick Ewen

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I too have been slightly underwhelmed by the SPG suite night awards, but I am doing what I can to get to 75 nights this year, as I would definitely like the extra point/$. I too believe that YOUR 24 isn’t as practical as it may seem. Most of the time I am landing at night and wouldn’t need a check-in that early.

    That being said, at least SPG has implemented these differentiated levels. If Hyatt and/or Hilton were to do so as well, I just might go back to being a regular Platinum with SPG in favor of the other chains!

  • Nick Ewen

    You know, we are already seeing some of that with consolidator fares not earning full miles on Delta (for example). The problem is that airlines sell these loyalty programs as big benefits of traveling with them, and they do serve as a huge profit area for them. My company also touts the “you get to keep your points & miles” as a benefit of employment (not necessarily publicized but many managers mention this during interviews). If they cut deals with airlines/hotels/rental cars that offered a flat discount with no points and miles, it would be good for the company’s bottom line but definitely not for employees. Maybe you would pass that savings to your employees in the form of other benefits/compensation; I can assure you that my company would not.

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare

    I see what you are saying. I can see that – if there is 20% savings from all travel using some means, e.g., eliminating points – the entire pot of savings won’t go to employees. But I feel like there should be a more efficient system then using hobby-miles gimmickry.

    I think the miles-and-points game could very well be a zero-sum-game for the airlines as a whole (with the acknowledgement that, like any other marketing strategy, once a single airline starts that marketing game, the rest of them MUST follow).

    And furthermore, it might also be a zero-sum-game for the consumers, as a whole game. Simply put, miles are a form of rebate, but of an uncertain percentage. Unlike dollar rebates, where the exact amount is expressed in a unified liquid currency, the value of miles is very hard to quantify, and depends on: (a) critical mass (if you don’t have enough for redemption, then these are basically wasted), (b) status, as with higher status, miles go a longer way, and (c) skill, as it takes skill to get a higher redemption value out of miles.

    Just imagine the economic loss on the society when you consider how many brilliant, above average, average, and below average skilled people are burning countless hours optimizing this hobby.

    And since IRS considers this as a hobby, we can safely say that it is an economic loss to the society.

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