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Award travelers often refer to the hobby as a “game,” but truth be told, sometimes you have to hustle. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen explains how a little effort to familiarize yourself with a loyalty program can go a long way toward getting you the vacation you want.
Points and miles enthusiasts tend to be very detail-oriented: we scour award charts to find saver level availability; we know how the seating configuration differs from one airline to another on a given aircraft; and we carry the best credit cards to maximize all kinds of purchases, from flights and hotel stays to groceries and office supplies (with your Chase Ink Plus, of course). Some might call it nerdy; I like to think of it as being thorough.
There are times when understanding the rules of a particular program can come in very handy, as I was reminded just a few weeks ago. This post kicks off a series that examines various hotel policies designed to protect the customer. In this installment I’ll share my experience of when a hotel (initially) failed to honor the terms and conditions of its own loyalty program, and discuss what your options are if you find yourself in a similar situation.
The saga began as my wife and I were planning an upcoming vacation. We always like to travel around our anniversary (May 31st), and this year, with the encouragement of many friends and TPG colleagues, we decided on a trip to Europe. Since we’d be traveling with a six-month old, we decided to focus on quality time in the cities we visit (rather than jumping from place to place with only a day or two in each). This included a 4-5 night stay in Paris.
During our last visit to “The City of Light,” we spent a night at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, one of eight top-tier Category 7 properties in the Hyatt Gold Passport program (and one of the best ways to maximize the free night certificates from The Hyatt Credit Card). Paid rates in May start around 760 Euros (~$925), and on our desired dates, they were a whopping 920 Euros, or $1,120 per night! Naturally, I figured this would be a great use of Hyatt Gold Passport points. Even at 30,000 points per night, I was still getting 3.73 cents apiece of value out of each one (more than double the amount in TPG’s latest monthly valuations).
Here’s where things got interesting. When I searched for rooms on Hyatt’s website and clicked the “Show Hyatt Gold Passport Points” box, I got an error message:
Hyatt’s website informed me that there was no award availability, but Park Queen and Park Twin rooms could be booked at the normal paid rate. That was surprising, since the Park Queen and Park Twin rooms at the property are considered standard accommodations. I decided to investigate further, and I searched for availability one night at a time. Some nights, a Park Queen was available on points. Some nights, a Park Twin was available on points. However, every single night had a Park Queen available at the Hyatt Daily Rate.
Perplexed, I decided to call Hyatt Gold Passport to see if the lack of availability was simply a website glitch. Nope! The agent confirmed that there were no rooms available on points for the five nights we planned to stay.
This is where knowledge equals power in the points and miles world. I knew that Hyatt Gold Passport prided itself on its “No blackout dates” policy, so before I called, I pulled up the full Terms and Conditions of the program online. Sure enough, the section on redeeming points includes the following language (emphasis mine):
“Hyatt Gold Passport Free Night Awards apply when standard rooms are available at the Hyatt Daily Rate. Standard rooms are defined by each hotel and are not subject to blackout dates.”
In other words, based on the T&C of the program, the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme should have rooms available on points because there were standard rooms (Park Queen) available at the Hyatt Daily Rate.
The first agent I spoke with wasn’t very helpful. He checked availability and said that he didn’t see any rooms. When I pointed out that this was at odds with the program’s T&C, he tried to explain that rooms booked with points and “award rooms” came from two different inventories. Clearly, I wasn’t going to get anywhere with him, so I politely asked for a supervisor.
The second agent was much more helpful. She initially stuck to the party line that there was no availability, but when I pointed out the discrepancy with the stated policy, she recognized that I was on to something. She put me on hold for several minutes, and when she came back, she confirmed that I was correct. She didn’t know what the problem was, but acknowledged that there was one, and put me back on hold to continue investigating.
After several more minutes, a third agent got on the line and apologized for the long wait. She too confirmed that I was in the right. However, since it was an international property, she claimed there wasn’t any way for her to “force” the hotel to open up award availability in the system. Instead, she would need to contact the property directly. Her plan was as follows:
- Book me a paid reservation in a Park Queen room at the Hyatt Daily rate. She wanted to make sure that I had a standard room booked (in case inventory was low). Since it was free to cancel, I was fine with this.
- Call the property and inquire about the discrepancy.
- Switch my standard room paid booking to a standard award reservation once the property “fixed” the issue.
She promised that she would follow up with me directly by the middle of the week (this was on Sunday afternoon) to keep me posted.
Fortunately, there was no need for that. At 6:40 am on Monday morning, less than 18 hours after the phone call, I received an e-mail confirmation with my modified reservation:
We were all set!
Now, there’s no way to know what caused this situation. Was it just a temporary glitch? Was the property trying to prevent award bookings for those dates due to the high revenue rates? At this point, there’s little to be done about it, and all’s well that ends well! I do credit both Hyatt Gold Passport and the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme for resolving the issue so quickly.
However, I was fortunate to know the Hyatt Gold Passport program inside and out. Someone without my obsession would have seen no availability online, been told that there was no availability over the phone, and been forced to move on, potentially missing out on a terrific vacation. That would be a shame, but I’m sure it happens frequently.
Here are my key takeaways:
- Know the rules. Again, knowledge is power. Even if you aren’t a frequent traveler, scan through the program’s website to familiarize yourself with the published policies. TPG has some great posts on just about every loyalty program out there, and you can head to FlyerTalk for more discussion.
- Be polite: My wife is fond of the old saying “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” and in the travel world (one where customer service is pivotal), that tends to ring true. A phone rep has a lot of power to simply say, “No.” Don’t give them an incentive to do so by being rude! That being said…
- Don’t take no for an answer (within reason): When the first phone agent tried to rebuff me, I politely asked for a supervisor, as I was 100% confident that I was correct. If you have that same certainty, don’t take no for an answer. Just be diplomatic. “The customer is always right” doesn’t fly when you are being rude, nor does it work when you’re asking for something unreasonable or infeasible.
- Elite status can help: I have no idea if my Diamond status helped with this request, but it certainly didn’t hurt! Having elite status can be a lifesaver when it comes to problem resolution—sometimes the most valuable benefits are the ones that can’t be quantified. Keep in mind that many credit cards include status of some sort just for being a cardholder (like Platinum status for Chase Hyatt Credit Card cardholders and Gold status for Citi Hilton Reserve cardholders).
- Have a back-up plan: If you know you’re right, everything should work out in your favor. However, don’t bet your vacation on whether the stars align. In these cases, you always should have a Plan B. I had already transferred Ultimate Rewards points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred to Hyatt when this snafu arose, but I knew those points could be used at other Paris Hyatt locations (or in other cities on our trip).
As I said earlier, I’m happy this was resolved, and interestingly enough, the hotel now shows award availability for at least one more Park Queen room on my travel dates, which makes me think it was a temporary glitch. Still, being armed with the knowledge to “force” Hyatt Gold Passport to honor its own policies made this a lot easier to fix.
When have you “forced” a travel provider to honor a published benefit or policy? Please share your stories in the comments section below!