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For the past couple of months, I’ve been reevaluating the various loyalty programs I interact with on a frequent or semi-frequent basis as I decide where to focus my efforts in 2021. As far as big hotel chains go, I’m now very sure which ones will be getting the bulk of my business and which ones I’ll be mostly avoiding. It looks like I’ll be making a few changes from prior years.
Towards the beginning of the pandemic, I said that we should all be taking note of how various agencies, airlines, and hotel chains act throughout the crisis and that once we see a bit of normality return to our world, we should reward those that deserve rewarding and punish those that treated us poorly. I’m going to take my own advice.
I’m Mostly Done With IHG
From an elite status point of view, I’ve long thought that IHG Rewards Club is a poor program to participate in because the benefits are so weak (not even top-tier Spire elites get complimentary breakfast). But because the program’s points can often be earned quite easily and because the benefits that come with the program’s major credit cards can be so useful, I’ve still booked quite a few stays at (mostly) InterContinental properties over the years. I’ve also frequently purchased InterContinental Ambassador Status to try to make those stays a little better.
Now, however, I think I’ve had enough of IHG.
The hotelier had a good start to the pandemic (it was the first to lower its elite status requirements) but then things went rapidly downhill. IHG was one of the last programs to extend elite status, its communications with IHG Rewards Club members were mostly non-existent, it was very reluctant to extend the validity of various free night certificates (and then only extended their validity through to the end of 2020), and even though it was obvious back in the fall that most people would not be able to use their certificates by the year-end (because the pandemic hadn’t gone away), the hotelier waited until the very last minute (10 days before the end of the year) before it issued another extension. Compare that to Marriott Bonvoy which announced that it was re-extending the validity of its certificates way back in October.
That last move was particularly cynical on IHG’s part because it was obvious that it waited as long as it did before issuing another extension just to make sure that as many people as possible burned their certificates on pointless bookings just so that they didn’t expire unused – that was a classless thing to do.
All in all, I haven’t enjoyed watching IHG’s behavior for most of this year, and the significantly better treatment handed out to customers by the other major hotel chains (and their loyalty programs) has only highlighted just how poorly IHG has performed…so why give the chain any money?
Between the weak elite benefits, the continuing devaluations to the Rewards Club program, and the poor way IHG seems happy to conduct itself, I don’t see any point in giving the hotelier any more business than I have to. While I’m going to continue to enjoy the free night certificate that my IHG Rewards Club credit card gives me every year, going forward I don’t plan on giving IHG any more money than I have to.
Marriott Will Move Down My List Of Preferences To #2
I hold Lifetime Titanium Status with Marriott, I own a number of Marriott Vacation Club properties, and I have a significant Marriott Bonvoy balance, so cutting Marriott out of my travels really isn’t an option…but I will be spending a lot less time at Marriott properties in 2021 (and probably 2022).
From what I’ve seen, Marriott seems to have treated its customers pretty reasonably for most of 2020 (although it seemed reluctant to be proactive towards the beginning of the pandemic and I’ve heard that a number of US properties have pared their offerings to the bone), but there are a number of ways in which being a Marriott loyalist can be aggravating.
The fact that the Bonvoy program allows individual brands and properties to play fast and loose with the benefits they offer, the fact that the rules surrounding complimentary breakfasts for elites are ridiculously complicated, the fact that Marriott’s promotions are notoriously weak (if it even bothers to have a promotion), and the fact that the Bonvoy program’s best benefit (suite night awards) aren’t honored by a significant number of properties, all contributes to making Marriott an irritating hotelier to deal with for at least part of the time.
Where Marriott shines is with the sheer number of properties that it offers (it makes it easy to stay loyal) and, as a top-tier elite, I generally get treated pretty well during my stays so I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a disgruntled customer. I’m not. Sure, I’ve often pointed out that Marriott doesn’t really encourage Lifetime Elites to be loyal, and yes, the aggravating aspects of Marriott and Bonvoy annoy me sometimes, but the truth is that if it hadn’t been for the actions of one other hotelier, Marriott would probably still have got most of my business next year…and probably the year after that.
As it is, I’ll still probably have a fair number of stays with Marriott in 2021 (conditions allowing) but it will be getting a lot less of my business than my new #1 choice.
Moving To Hyatt
Even before Hyatt announced that it would be extending some of its excellent promotions into 2021 and before it made reaching top-tier Globalist status incredibly easy, I had decided that I’d be spending a lot more time at Hyatt properties in 2021 – that’s why I got the World of Hyatt credit card in October. If you’re wondering why, the reason lies squarely with how Hyatt has handled itself in 2020.
I can’t think of another loyalty program that has done as much as the World of Hyatt to keep travelers engaged, to keep its members happy, and to bring some fun and positivity to an otherwise dismal year. Hyatt was the first hotel program to begin to take steps to help out guests with non-refundable reservations when the pandemic hit, and for most of the past year it has been ahead of the game when it comes to extending member benefits, postponing negative program changes, extending elite statuses, and publishing excellent promotions.
At the start of 2020, I had no status with Hyatt and no plans to put much business Hyatt’s way but I’m ending the year with a plan to earn top-tier status and to book as many of my stays with Hyatt as possible.
I’m not going to deny that the lure of earning easy top-tier status and the benefits that come with it are a big draw, but that didn’t come into my thinking when I decided to give Hyatt a lot more of my travel budget. At the time, earning easy Globalist status wasn’t an option.
The reason I’m going to be giving Hyatt a lot more of my business is that I like the way Hyatt has treated its customers in 2020 and I like the direction the World of Hyatt program is going. Yes, the introduction of peak and off-peak seasons (coming in 2021) isn’t exactly great news but on most other fronts things look good. The World of Hyatt is a rewarding program, it offers good benefits, its elite statuses appear to be well honored across most hotels, Hyatt has some very nice properties that can be booked for a reasonable number of points, and the World of Hyatt’s footprint has been growing at an impressive rate. There’s not much to dislike.
When you combine a good loyalty program with a hotelier that appears keen to do the right thing for its customers you have a winning combination on your hands, and it’s a combination that really appeals to me. In 2021 I will happily go out of my way to be “loyal” to Hyatt because I think it’s a chain that is likely to treat me well and because I think it’s a hotelier that deserves to be rewarded for the way it has acted for most of this year.
Assuming my plan to earn top-tier status in the first two months of 2021 isn’t derailed by the pandemic that refuses to go away, I’ll also probably be giving most of my accommodation budget to Hyatt in 2022 (there’s no point in having great top-tier status if you don’t stay at the right hotels to enjoy it) and, after that, I’ll just have to see how things stand.
The fact is that I was happy to give Hyatt a lot more of my business when I thought that the best status I was likely to have was Discoverist (courtesy of my World of Hyatt credit card) or Explorist (if I put a lot of my stays Hyatt’s way), so I don’t see why that wouldn’t be the case when I finally lose top-tier status at the end of February 2023 (I’m unlikely to requalify for Globalist status).
By acting positively towards its customers during the terrible year that we’ve just had Hyatt may have managed to guarantee itself a big percentage of my accommodation budget for a lot of years to come. Is that a significant sum of money for Hyatt? No, of course not. But if others are thinking the same way as I am, Hyatt may well end up benefiting greatly from showing a lot of class when things were going very badly wrong.
Just to tie up the loose ends I’ll briefly mention the other two major players in the hotel loyalty sphere – Hilton and Radisson.
I have no strong opinions about Hilton because I’m not a big participant in the Hilton Honors program (although I like the middle-tier status the hotelier offers and I’m a fan of the Conrad brand) and, historically, I’ve been too closely tied into Marriott Rewards/Marriott Bonvoy to make it worth spending more time at Hilton properties.
Hilton seems to have acted reasonably throughout 2020 but its new promotion for 1Q 2021 is weak and it hasn’t done nearly as much as Hyatt to persuade me that I should put more of my stays its way. If my plan to upgrade my Hilton Honors Surpass Credit Card to the Aspire Credit Card comes to fruition I may give Hilton some of the stays that would have otherwise gone to Marriott (so that I can try out the Hilton Diamond status and use the credits that the Aspire card offers), but Hilton has a long way to go before I decide that it’s a better option than Hyatt for the next two years.
Radisson is a non-starter for me. Radisson’s properties in the United States are mostly poor, the loyalty program has gone from being a very interesting option to a (mostly) unrewarding one in just a few years, and the hotelier hasn’t really done anything (other than one good promotion in October) to grab my attention this year. With Hyatt offering as much as it currently is, with lifetime top-tier Marriott status in my pocket, and with Hilton mid-tier status at my disposal courtesy of my Hilton Honors Surpass credit card, I don’t see any reason to consider Radisson for any paid stays that I make in 2021 (however I may burn what few Radisson rewards points I still have should a good opportunity arise).
For me, 2021 will be all about Hyatt. I loved my stay at the Hyatt Regency The Churchill back in October (review to come) and I really enjoyed a recent stay at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel (review to come), so the prospect of more Hyatt stays in 2021 (pandemic allowing!) is one that I’m really looking forward to. Marriott will still get some of my stays next year but I’ll be surprised if I qualify for even one Bonvoy Annual Choice Benefit in 2021.
What are your hotel loyalty plans for 2021?