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Celebrating the best innovations in hotel loyalty in 2020 — and TPG's Editors' Choice award-winner

Dec. 09, 2020
13 min read
Andaz Bali
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Let's face it: 2020 was soul-crushing for anyone that loves to travel.

Dealing with the threat of coronavirus — and the fear of our loved ones and ourselves getting sick — is taxing enough this year. Never mind having to give up a lot of our cherished travel destinations and routines that are usually the things that help us cope with, endure or at least temporarily escape the other normal day-to-day stresses.

Largely giving up travel also meant disrupting our hotel loyalty plans. We were just starting the year when COVID-19 derailed daily life. The best-laid plans to achieve or maintain loyalty status quickly went out the window as that became the least of our worries.

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But, it was only natural for travelers to begin wondering about the future of their loyalty status. Many consider their point balances and elite tiers as investments in future trips, and it was important to figure out how the pandemic would affect their portfolios.

People wanted to know what would happen to their points, free-night certificates, upgrades and more. Some brands reacted more quickly than others to alleviate customers' loyalty program concerns, but just about all of them have now understood the long-range impact COVID-19 will have on its hotels and customers — and have reacted accordingly.

Related: Beyond coronavirus: What the future of travel will look like for all of us

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Some of these adjustments were more straightforward than others. But while extending point expiration dates during a pandemic may not be a cutting-edge decision, there were some innovations in hotel loyalty programs in 2020.

Here are a few of our favorites — as well as the chain that stood above the others and took home our editors' choice award for innovation in hotel loyalty as part of Hotels & Destinations Week at the 2020 TPG Awards.

Elite status extensions

Back in March, Hilton Honors quickly became the first major hotel loyalty program to extend status for all of its elite members. And now, Hilton has extended elite status even further.

It's the most generous elite status extension in the industry. If you were Hilton Honors Silver, Gold or Diamond going into 2020, you'll keep that status through March 31, 2022. That includes anyone that was about to be downgraded in early 2020 because they didn't requalify for their existing status level.

If you had Marriott elite status in 2020, it has been extended through February 2022. IHG status is extended through January 2022, and World of Hyatt status is extended through Feb. 28, 2022.

You can read about the changes to other hotel loyalty programs in TPG's complete guide to hotel elite status during the coronavirus outbreak.

Changes to earning elite status

Hilton has made it very easy to earn status for 2021 by cutting the qualification requirements in half. That includes stays, nights and base points. And, because all 2020 nights roll over to 2021, you may be well on your way to requalifying or even earning a higher status tier. Here's what it will take to earn Hilton Honors elite status for 2021:

  • Hilton Diamond: 15 stays, 30 nights or 60,000 base points
  • Hilton Gold: 10 stays, 30 nights or 37,500 base points
  • Hilton Silver: 2 stays, 5 nights, or 12,500 base points

The World of Hyatt program has taken multiple steps related to earning status. First, it's granting credit for each stay taken under the Bonus Journeys promo twice — once in 2020 and again in 2021. For example, if you had five eligible nights under this promo in Dec. 2020, you will get those nights credited in 2020, and they will count again in your 2021 quest for valuable Hyatt status.

Andaz Mayakoba (Photo by Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

But this became even more lucrative in late November, thanks to a pair of important announcements:

  • Bonus Journeys was extended through Feb. 28, 2021 — meaning that every night you stay during the first two months of 2021 will count twice toward earning status.
  • Hyatt slashes qualification requirements in half, allowing you to reach top-tier Globalist status after just 30 qualifying nights.

In other words, staying 15 nights in a Hyatt property from Jan. 1 through Feb. 28 will earn you Globalist status valid through February 2023. That's a phenomenal opportunity — and could be even quicker if you add the World of Hyatt Credit Card to your wallet before the end of the year.

Related: How to earn two years of top-tier Hyatt elite status after just 9 nights

Over at IHG, it reduced its points/nights requirements for elite status by 25% or more through the end of 2020. For example, while it took 10,000 qualifying points or 10 qualifying nights to earn Gold Elite status in 2019, it's just 7,000 points or seven nights in 2020. Platinum status has been reduced from 40k points/40 nights to 30k points/30 nights and tip-top Spire Elite status has been reduced from 75k points/75 nights to 55k points/55 nights.

Paused points expiration

Points expiration has been put on pause throughout the industry as well. Here's how things currently stand:

Hilton Honors: Initially paused through Dec. 30, 2020, points expiration has now been extended through Dec. 31, 2021. (Hilton Honors points normally expire after 15 months of inactivity.)

IHG Rewards Club: While points don't expire for elite IHG members, the program has also paused points expiry until Dec. 31, 2020 for base-level Club members. (IHG points normally expire after 12 months of inactivity.)

Marriott Bonvoy: Initially paused points expiration through Feb. 2021 but extended through Aug. 1, 2021. (Marriott points normally expire after 24 months of inactivity.)

World of Hyatt: While Hyatt points don't expire, you technically "forfeit" them if your account goes without activity for 24 months. World of Hyatt has suspended that policy through June 30, 2021.

More flexible awards

Travelers have craved additional flexibility due to the pandemic, and hotel programs have taken this to heart. We've seen several adjustments to existing (and new) awards that reflect this reality.

Hilton: Normally, the Hilton weekend award night certificates that are awarded with various types of Hilton cobranded credit cards can only be used on ... weekend nights (defined as Friday, Saturday or Sunday). However, at least for now, that's changed. Not only do you have longer to use these certificates right now, but you can use them on any day that ends in y.

Conrad Bora Bora (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Marriott: Marriott initially extended its free-night certificates that you earn with Marriott's cobranded cards, annual choice benefits and other promotions — to expire no earlier than Jan. 31, 2021.

In October, the brand extended that expiration date — including for recently-issued certificates expiring before July 31, 2021 — for a second time to Aug. 1, 2021. Just remember that the Aug. 1 date is the date by which you must travel — not book. The extensions go into effect on Dec. 11 so you should see your certificate expiration dates update in your online account soon.

For Platinum or Titanium elite Bonvoy members, Marriott also extended your Suite Night Awards through Dec. 31, 2021.

World of Hyatt: If you're a World of Hyatt elite or carry a Hyatt cobranded credit card, you earn perks like free-night certificates, club lounge access awards and suite night awards annually.

Hyatt has generously extended these valuable perks as follows: Unused club lounge access or suite night awards with Feb. 28, 2021 expiration dates will be extended to Dec. 31, 2021. Unused free night awards that were earned in 2020 with 2021 expiration dates will be extended to Dec. 31, 2021. The certificate extension includes all free night awards, including those earned from promotional programs like the Brand Explorer challenge. All unused awards with expiration dates between March 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020 had previously been extended to Dec. 31, 2021.

Related: 15 ways to redeem the Marriott 50k free night award

Skipping major award chart changes

As the pandemic was gaining traction in March, Hyatt quickly announced it would not introduce peak- and off-peak prices as it originally planned in 2020. But, it didn't stop there.

More recently, Hyatt has announced that peak- and off-peak prices will take effect more than a year after the originally-intended date — in July 2021. In addition, there will not be other major award chart changes in 2021. The program did announce changes in the categories of a few properties in late-2020, but the changes were a net positive, not a net negative.

By being upfront about skipping major category changes in 2021, those with World of Hyatt points know they will be able to book those trips they didn't get to in 2020.

Hyatt Coconut Point (Photo by Shelby Soblick for The Points Guy)

Lucrative promotions

One of the few silver linings of coronavirus has been the onslaught of lucrative bonus-point offers that have appeared as major hotel chains dangle carrots to attract business.

Hyatt: Whether taking a vacation or changing up your Zoom background with a work-from-Hyatt package, you can earn an insane number of Hyatt points right now on paid stays — or save a ton of points on award stays. Hyatt Globalists can earn as many as 25.5 points per dollar spent at Hyatt properties right now. Using TPG's point valuations, that is 43% back in earned rewards on your Hyatt stays.

If you're instead looking to redeem points, Hyatt made it simple and is providing 15% of redeemed points back for all members and 25% back for those with a World of Hyatt credit card. On top of that, the wellness-minded Miraval properties are offering BOGO on award nights through the end of the year. These promos can be stacked to an irresistible value proposition.

Marriott: For two separate weeks this fall, Marriott took the unique step of using off-peak pricing at virtually all of its global properties. It also made it possible to earn award nights to use in hotels (up to 35,000 points per night) with eligible stays at its Homes & Villas program.

Related: Guide to current hotel point promotions

Work-from-hotel packages

Finally, 2020 has also seen a notable pivot when it comes to hitting the road for work. With business-travel budgets slashed and conferences at a near-standstill, hotels around the world have been starved of a key revenue source. So major programs shifted to new work-from-hotel packages, offering incentives, discounts and other perks for remote employees. Rather than working from home, these individuals could conduct business from the comfort of a hotel or resort — including add-ons like free breakfast and waived resort fees.

The World of Hyatt was the standard-bearer here, launching the "Work from Hyatt" program in August before adding additional properties and extending the offer through Sept. 12, 2021. TPG staffers put these to the test at the Andaz Mayakoba in Mexico and Hyatt Regency Lost Pines in Texas, and both had great experiences.

Two other major programs recently launched similar programs. Hilton's WorkSpaces program went live in early October — adding 10,000 bonus points roughly a month later — and Marriott Bonvoy launched three new package options in late October.

Related: 8 factors to get right when selecting your remote work resort

And the winner is ...

Of course, there can only be one winner of the Editors' Choice award for Innovation in Hotel Loyalty at the 2020 TPG Awards — and this honor goes to the World of Hyatt program.

From being the pioneer of work-from-hotel packages to delaying peak and off-peak pricing to offering lucrative promotions and shortcuts to status, no hotel program has taken more innovative steps to engage with members during the coronavirus pandemic. Hyatt even used this time to make the customer-friendly update of booking suites online using points — which can be one of the absolute best uses of World of Hyatt points.

Honorable mention here goes to the Hilton Honors program as the first to announce extensions for elite members. Shifting free-night certificates to be valid any day of the week was a great change as well, and it did take home the readers' choice award for best hotel loyalty program — though wasn't quite as innovative as Hyatt.

Bottom line

There's no question that 2020 didn't go the way travel brands or travelers had hoped. But hotel loyalty programs wasted no time responding to the crisis by making extensions of all kinds so status levels and perks would be there when things were safer and travelers were again ready to pack their bags.

As summer turned to fall, those who were back out on the road were rewarded with large hotel point bonuses, ways to jump-start earning toward 2021 status and get a (substantial) rebate on the points they were redeeming. And of the major programs, World of Hyatt showed the most ingenuity, earning it the Editors' Choice award for Innovation in Hotel Loyalty.

While no amount of hotel bonus points or elite status extensions can fix the toll that 2020 took on so many, at a minimum, most hotel loyalty programs found ways to quickly innovate and protect the awards and perks for use in 2021 and even beyond — and here's hoping that these updates are just the beginning of what's to come.

Featured image by Andaz Bali (Photo courtesy of Hyatt)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.