Win a Chance to Chat with Jeff Zidell in Chicago!

MilePoint has teamed up with Hyatt’s VP of Gold Passport, Jeff Zidell, to organize a cocktail hour at the Hyatt Magnificent Mile in Chicago. The event will be held on March 18, and 25 lucky winners will get to attend. You can also win an even bigger prize: MilePoint is offering to pay for one person’s flight and hotel to make it to the event.

I recently visited Chicago — partly so Megan and I could return to the Art Institute of Chicago — but I purposefully flew in a day early to chat with Stephanie, the voice behind @HyattTweets. She surprised me by arranging lunch for us with Jeff. As Woody Allen said, “Showing up is 80% of life,” and I’m glad I chose to show up a day early.

To give you some ideas of what questions to ask Jeff if you get to attend, I’ll share part of our conversation and where he thinks Hyatt and Gold Passport are going in the near future. (These aren’t direct quotes, just the gist of Jeff’s responses.)

I started out with some softballs. Is Hyatt ever going to provide its elite members free bottled water? Will it raise the number of bonus points it offers on stays? When I first created my hotel comparison table last year, I found that Hyatt is one of the few brands that doesn’t give free water to it’s top-tier elites, and it provides only 30% more points per dollar instead of the 50% most other chains promise.

Answer: Hyatt continues to provide good value to guests and is more interested in finding unique ways to reward loyalty than by matching everything a competitor does. Jeff also pointed out my own chart also looked at the amount of money you’d need to spend at a Hyatt hotel to earn a free night. Despite the smaller bonus, Gold Passport fares well compared to other programs.

So I switched to strategy. I’d just spent the night at the Hyatt Place River North. It’s probably the nicest Hyatt Place I’ve ever stayed at, and I’m already a fan of the chain. Every time I see Stephanie I try to convince her to open near my in-laws in Amarillo. And while Hyatt only has about 500 properties, a large proportion of those are Hyatt Place. Is this part of a larger strategy?

Answer: Absolutely. If someone has a good experience at a Hyatt Place, whether on the road or in an urbane neighborhood, that makes it more likely he/she will upgrade to a fancier Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt, or Andaz on a future stay somewhere else. Some of these Hyatt Places are getting to the point where they offer serious competition to the traditional Hyatt brands, but it’s important that it’s still a Hyatt brand.

What about partnering with an airline? Jeff used to work for American Airlines before leaving to join Hyatt. He seemed to be tolerating the Polar Vortex pretty well.

Answer: American Airlines actually wasn’t the first carrier that Jeff mentioned as a potential partner, though I pointed out Hyatt already has two nice hotels at DFW, a mega hub that is larger in area than most cities. But more important that picking a partner is making sure that Gold Passport does it right. We debated the pros and cons of other partnerships. Jeff wants to make sure that if they try to follow this path that they do it with the same kind of success they were able to achieve when they announced their partnership with MGM Resorts — arguably the most rewarding of any of the hotel/casino partnerships.

I was also interested in more recent developments. The Points + Cash rates seem to be a big success, letting people get elite stay credit, apply an upgrade, and save some points (or cash) in the process. Others, like MyElite rates, seem like a good deal but could also be competing with their regular 48-Hour sales, which are only available at specific times. Does Gold Passport view these developments the same way?

Answer: These developments have been a success, and they don’t foresee any immediate problems. Even the competition between My Elite rates and 48-Hour sales isn’t an issue. If elite members don’t have to wait for sales and  book more often, that’s good. In response to my questions about earning status for other award stays, Jeff said it is mostly an IT issue. As Hyatt continues to improve their systems, they hope to offer additional improvements in the future

I didn’t learn any secrets about how Gold Passport or Hyatt work behind the scenes. Some of these answers are logical conclusions or what you would expect Jeff to say. But it was interesting to hear them from the horse’s mouth and with the passion in his voice. Though he’s not the first executive I’ve spoken with from a hotel company, Jeff and Stephanie are some of the more passionate people when it comes to talking about their brand. If you’d like to listen to some of that passion yourself, head over to MilePoint and learn how to sign yourself up to visit Chicago.

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  • Dan Miller

    Cool! I haven’t had a ton of experience with Hyatt yet but I keep saying I need to check them out. How are they for families?

    • Scottrick

      That was a topic we touched on briefly. Part of my loyalty to Hyatt is based on visiting them when I was a kid. They have a really good Camp Hyatt program at their resort properties, along with special kids menus at restaurants.

      But at your average hotel, I’m not sure they do anything significantly different from competitors. It would depend on the staff at that location. One reason I like Hyatt Place, though, is that it has lots of space in the living room. A family could spread out, and sometimes there is a sofa bed so it’s sort of like giving them their own room.

      • Dan Miller

        Cool. I realize that my family and I are a bit of outliers, given that there are 8 of us, but it’s hard to find hotel options that work for us.

        Similarly, it’s hard to justify paying extra for “fancy” hotels when kids don’t really care about anything this side of swimming pool and breakfast :)