The reaction to Hyatt’s new elite program from Conventional Wisdomers has been decidedly mixed. No, wait a minute. “Mixed” isn’t the word I’m looking for. I meant “apoplectic.” The reaction has been decidedly apoplectic.
Of course, every time a loyalty program is altered in one way or another, it results in some level of anger. No one likes having something valuable taken away from them. People get angry even when it’s something that was never of much value to begin with, such as this week’s devaluation of the already nearly useless Virgin Atlantic Flying Club loyalty program. As far as I can tell, Virgin Atlantic miles were only valuable once you had collected 1.2 million of them, so if you have fewer than that, your situation has not appreciably worsened.
While many changes result in some winners and some losers, in the case of the new “World of Hyatt” elite status program, the Conventional Wisdomers would have you believe that nearly everyone is a loser.
That’s simply not true.
While there is certainly a subset of folks who are going to do worse under the new program, I would argue that for the vast majority of travelers, the changes are for the better. And yes, that includes the gamers in this community.
Don’t believe me? OK, let’s take a look.
Who are the so-called “losers”?
First, let’s be upfront. There are definitely a set of people who will do worse under the new Hyatt program — those folks who have routinely qualified for Hyatt Diamond status based on 25 stays in a year (with substantially less than 50 corresponding nights). Coincidentally, this is also roughly the same subset of Conventional Wisdomers who are screaming about how awful these “World of Hyatt” changes are.
To those folks, I say… I understand. Yes, you are, in fact, going to do worse.
But to argue that this is unreasonable is not reasonable. At this point no other hotel chain allows people to qualify for top-tier status based on only 25 stays per year. Even with Hyatt’s more limited footprint as compared to other brands, staying at their chain only two nights per month on average (and often at the cheapest properties) is not exactly what most companies would call a “highly valued customer.”
Would it help if Hyatt also gave credit for award nights under the new program, like SPG does? Sure. But SPG isn’t a transfer partner of anyone other than itself (unless you count the terrible value of transferring Membership Rewards points at a 3 to 1 ratio). Since transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt are one of the more common ways for people to book award stays, it’s not as if Hyatt would be seeing a huge amount of revenue by counting those stays.
On a secondary note, yes, the new elite tier names and “World of Hyatt” logo are downright horrendous. Even I as the Devil’s Advocate can’t argue Hyatt out of that one. The Hyatt marketing department should be fired en masse, or more likely the “consultants” who accepted millions of dollars in fees, spent it on high-end liquor, and then drunkenly added the suffix “-ist” to a few random travel-sounding words out of the dictionary the night before the project was due.
So those are the people who lose with these changes – the 25-stayers and the consultants who will only be able to demand half a million dollars for their next marketing disaster. But…
The rest of us are winners.
Let’s start with the new mid-tier “Explorist” status. Hyatt has always been conspicuously missing a mid-tier status level. I’d always assumed if they ever put one in, they’d simply move the current Platinum-level benefits to the middle tier and then put a bunch of lousy benefits at the new lowest tier.
But they didn’t do that at all.
All the benefits of the old Platinum tier still remain at the new Explorist level, but they’ve added more. You’ll get the best available room excluding suites and club rooms, which is a perk that used to be only for Diamonds. The bonus multiplier on earned points has increased from 15% to 20%. And you’ll earn a free Category 1-4 night when you’ve qualified for Explorist by staying 30 nights, which will be the case for everyone after the first year of the program.
Most importantly, you’ll get 4 new Club Lounge Access awards, which can each be used on a stay up to 7 nights long. That’s a lot of free breakfast and complimentary cocktails. I think this perk alone could be valuable enough to warrant a mattress run in the last months of 2016 – check out my post “Bet You Didn’t Know: Two Quirks in the Hyatt Changeover That Might Be Mattress Run Worthy” over at Frequent Miler for details.
So if you’re like me and routinely had about 12-13 stays and 25 nights or so a year at Hyatt from natural travel, but didn’t feel it was worth it to stretch your bookings to 25 stays a year just for Diamond status, this is the perfect new system for you.
Top tier status earned via nights is better too.
For those who can qualify for the new top Globalist tier, many benefits are improved. You’ll still get 4 suite upgrades in your account each year that can be confirmed at booking, but now they’re usable on award reservations as well. On top of that, you’ll also get the best room available at check in on all your reservations, but unlike the mid-tier Explorist, for Globalists that includes suites. That’s a pretty
suite sweet perk.
In addition to the old Diamond benefits that aren’t being changed – such as club lounge access on all stays, a late 4pm checkout, and two United club passes each year – Hyatt has also added free parking on award nights and early check in when available. Neither of these are game changers, but they’re nice perks to have.
Now, to be fair, there is one downside to the top-tier changes, even though at first glance it’s masquerading as an additional perk. I’m referring to the new Category 1-7 free night certificate granted after you stay 60 nights to earn Globalist status. This certificate is basically good at any Hyatt in the world, but it expires 120 days after it’s earned, which is annoying.
The reason a lot of folks consider this a downgrade from the old Diamond benefits is because it’s effectively replacing the 1,000 point Diamond amenity (which worked out to 25,000 points after 25 stays, equivalent to a free night at top level Hyatts). I think that’s a valid argument, but it’s a problem Hyatt could resolve by simply making these certificates good for an entire year. I suspect that’s something they might look at if given enough customer feedback, but we’ll see how it goes.
And other changes that are great for everyone.
One new benefit that I think has been underestimated by the Conventional Wisdomers is the Category 1-4 free night that’s earned after staying in 5 different Hyatt brands. This certificate is available to anyone in the Hyatt program, regardless of status. Oh, and unlike the free night certificates for Explorist and Globalist tiers, these certificates are in fact good for an entire year.
Given that Hyatt currently has 12 different brands, this shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish for anyone with more than a handful of regular Hyatt stays. Not only that, but you can get a second certificate as well for staying at brands #6 through #10 after you do the first five.
And if that isn’t easy enough, the really terrific news is the clock on this perk never resets. Meaning if it takes you 10 years to visit 5 different Hyatt brands, you’ll still get the certificate. That’s awesome.
The Devil’s Advocate sees upside in the “World of Hyatt.”
Even here in the points and miles community, the people who are not Hyatt Diamonds (such as myself) greatly outnumber those who are. This silent majority never made 25 stays a year at Hyatts, but we might be able to achieve a lower status. So additions and improvements to those lower tiers are a real enhancement.
The other bonus here is for people who almost never stay at Hyatts. Maybe you’re a Hilton or Marriott person and only find yourself spending a night at a Hyatt on rare occasion. Under the new “World of Hyatt” program, even those folks will get a bonus free night whenever they find themselves at 5 different brands. And since there’s no deadline on that benefit, you can take all the time you need to accomplish it. If that isn’t an enhancement, then I don’t know what is.
We’ve seen a lot of loyalty program devaluations over the last few years, and it’s no surprise that we’re skeptical whenever a program changes. But in this case, these Hyatt changes are just that: changes. If there are roughly as many winners as losers, I honestly don’t feel we can call it an overall devaluation. It might be a devaluation to you personally, but remember that others are gaining at the same time.
Oh, don’t worry. I’m sure next time around, your enhancement will be my devaluation. Stupid karma.Devil’s Advocate is a bi-weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by following him on Twitter @dvlsadvcate or sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
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