After many years of wallowing around in the mire of other programs, I have become a fully-fledged Hyatt enthusiast. I tried SPG, Hilton, IHG and even Club Carlson. They all have their place and time. I don’t always have a choice of where I stay, but when a Hyatt is available, I am mostly there. Here are a few reasons why:
1) Service – The “soft product” tends to be excellent once you get above the Hyatt Place level. My experiences at their full-service hotels have been truly amazing, even when I am not a guest at that property (more on that later).
2) Points – Their program is one of the most valuable for points. While SPG might be slightly better in terms of earn rate to burn rate, the difference is marginal, but Hyatt points are easier to obtain. For example, in addition to their superior promotions they are also a transfer partner from Chase Ultimate Rewards. With their points plus cash (on par with SPG and better than Club Carlson) even just 20,000 Hyatt points could cut your hotel costs dramatically for an entire vacation.
3) Diamond Level – Their top tier elite program is one of the best. As a Diamond member I have club level access at every full-service hotel, and if one is not available or is closed I receive additional points and breakfast in the restaurant. I also get four confirmed suite upgrades per year, each of which is valid for up to six nights. That’s a ton. The closest competitor is SPG which will give you the best available room at check-in but is not confirmable in advance and often are not obtainable (given some reports). Their top level also requires just 50 nights or 25 stays. Last year I made it on stays as most of my visits tend to be short (just one night) or moving around a lot. The competition requires a lot more.
Any program is not without fault, and here are some of my gripes.
1) Coverage – There are less than 600 hotels in the brand and there are some really noticeable gaps. For example, on a recent trip to Europe we realized that there is not one single property in Barcelona, Madrid, in fact anywhere in Spain, nor Portugal, and only one in Milan. While the Milan property is very good (as is Paris, and London), instead of expanding from 5 properties in the Pittsburgh metro to 8, maybe you put a property in some key cities. Sure expansion is a lot cheaper when you are adding just another Hyatt place or similar but there are other glaring examples as well. Their telephone HQ is in Omaha, NE and has been for at least ten years. They are getting their first property soon, and it’s not full-service. Cleveland has just two hotels, only one full-service; there are three in Hong Kong, but not a Park Hyatt, yet there is a Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek. Then you get to their headquarters in Chicago and there are 18 properties, which makes sense because Chicago is the third largest city in the country, but there are only 8 in New York, a metro about twice the size of Chicago, and three of those opened up this year.
For work, I am not always in major metro areas and this is where the competition smokes Hyatt. I have a handful of choices for my most frequent work destination, but they are Hilton, and IHG only. For another city I frequent (a college town) there is representation from every major brand with at least two properties each. Hyatt has none. This is the largest challenge to someone who truly wants to participate in the program for both work and leisure stays. One could say that they are only playing to the truly high spenders, the big corporate clients that only operate in large, international markets. But that would be incorrect when you look at some of those gaps like what I previously mentioned. If your business takes you to Spain, or Portugal, anywhere in Greece outside of Thessaloniki, Rome, Manchester, Dublin, or if you need more than one hotel in a given city (because perhaps it is not close to your meetings or full) you can count out most of South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Mexico, Bangkok and countless others.
That being said, they are fixing this problem in areas and adding a lot of hotels including in typical US tourist destinations like Jamaica, coastal Mexico, but also nearly doubling their presence in Shanghai adding Park Hyatts in Zanzibar, Marrakech, and Bangkok among others. It is merely my preference that there was more breadth to their coverage as opposed to more depth like in the Pittsburgh market for example.
2) Other Elite Tiers – If you are a Diamond member, life is good. You get free breakfast, afternoon cocktails, access to the lounge in between where you can help yourself to drinks and snacks and work outside your room. You also get bonus points (30% over the normal award amount), a welcome amenity or 1,000 points your choice, late checkout, and then of course free internet.
Platinums, however, get a 15% bonus on points, and free internet. Which the brand just made free in every one of their hotels going forward. So just the bonus points. And that’s after 5 stays or 15 nights which is a very low threshold but given their properties, and your travel pattern that could be all you are able to do in a year.
This is an area where it would be easy for Hyatt to make incremental improvements to Platinums like offering 500 points at check-in, a free drink or appetizer in the bar or restaurant, or something to that extent. I think that if more Platinums were given a little taste of what else there is, there would be an incentive to make a play for more stays. If a guest finds themselves in September with 15 stays and 25 nights as Hyatt is their second program, they might make a play for Diamond with the rest of their year. And I have rarely found examples of Diamond members turning their backs on the brand.
3) Upgrades – One place that SPG kicks Hyatt around is with the Platinum Suite Upgrade. With Hyatt, as a Diamond member you are granted the best available room for the category in which you book meaning that if you book a basic room, you will get the basic room with a better view, or preferable floor. With SPG, they go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum, and allow you to have “the best available room at check-in” which in some hotels can be crazy. In practice with Hyatt I have found that I sometimes get a better room if the hotel is full or I blatantly ask for one. With SPG, the “best available room” seems to be subjective, and Lucky of One Mile at a Time has cited numerous incidents where he had to basically force the hotel to follow the SPG rules and give him the suite available. I really have no interest in doing that, but if I gave a hotel chain 25% of my year, I would expect that they play by the same rules they have made and I think that is fair. I have had mixed luck with clearing the Diamond suite upgrades but have found success by reaching out to the individual properties closer to the time of check-in. On an upcoming series I cleared every single one, over the holidays, in high season and they were confirmed in advance – no arguing at the front desk, no limbo, no wondering and they were really good. But if SPG chooses to enforce their rule more strictly across the brand then Hyatt has a little catching up to do in this category.
4) Credit Card – The SPG card is far superior to the Chase Hyatt card in my opinion. If I am paying an annual fee for a credit card I want that fee to be as low as possible or for the annual gift to outsize the cost. The SPG Amex, a card that both the Sherpa and Sherpstress hold, is great for this purpose. It comes with 10,000 points and then 15,000 once you hit $5k in spend, and I am not shilling it, I’m just filling you in. I earn 3x points on every SPG purchase (though I would earn 2x with the Sapphire Preferred – I use it but I am not shilling that one either). The Hyatt card comes with two certificate nights to use at any Hyatt in the world and then earns points per dollar in spend but no bonus points when you get the card.
To get maximum value, you would want to spend your night certificates at the Park Hyatt Maldives, Park Hyatt Milan or the Park Hyatt Tokyo where the nights can cost thousands of dollars. But without a mistake fare this year I would not have been to the Park Hyatt Milan, Tokyo or the Maldives. The best I could have done based on my schedule and travels would have been the Park Hyatt Shanghai, and after that in terms of costs the Grand Hyatt Erawan. Both of those hotels, however were highly attainable because of cash plus points options, so again, the certificates, while worth something are not getting me the maximum value.
Assuming you keep the card and pay the annual fee of $95, you will receive a certificate for one “free” night (you just paid $95 for the card) plus taxes at a category 1-5 hotel. You are still probably saving money, but not much, and if I am not saving much money I would rather have the cash in my pocket rather than a coupon. For the average traveler who will not find themselves in the Maldives or Milan or Tokyo, the SPG card allows them to stay more nights at more moderately priced hotels that are in their area.
Chase has so many compelling offers, I am surprised this one has not been updated recently. Rumor has it that the Hyatt card will see an update at the expiration of the current offer, January 17th. I have some changes in my wallet to make, and I will wait for this mystery date to see if anything comes of it, but if it doesn’t I will pursue other options and retain the SPG AMEX.
For the holidays this year I am taking my brother, mother, the Sherpita and Sherpstress all to Asia, and for my mother this will be her first time on the continent. With stays in Dallas/Fort Worth, there is only one real choice and it happens to be a Hyatt. We then fly from DFW to HKG and take the ferry to Macau and stay at the Grand Hyatt Macau. We had a few more choices here, but are really glad we stayed at the Grand Hyatt Macau and met some great people. Then it was to Bangkok where we got to try the W Bangkok. We went to Krabi, Thailand and some of the islands to show them what Thailand was about and stayed in a AirBnB near the beach, more on that later. Then to the Grand Hyatt Erawan in Bangkok and finally the Park Hyatt Shanghai.
After staying in the Park Hyatt Milan on my last trip, it is starting to turn into Hyatt points, and that’s not what this blog is about. While I think there is a place for having a travel brand specific blog for those who only use that brand (Delta Points, Lufthansa Flyer), we are not excusive to Hyatt for the reasons we outlined, though our stay history would contradict it. As of last count, we have stayed in 10 hotels in Bangkok alone in the last four year and only one of them was a Hyatt.
That being said, this is a blog written by a real person traveling the world with his family and working a full-time job independently of that. I have preferences and a right to choose, and when it is available I tend to choose Hyatt. I have loyalties like everyone else and am not entirely impartial nor do I claim to be. But I do pledge to be fair to the reader about the deficiencies as I embark on this Tour De Hyatt so whether you are a Diamond member or loyalty program agnostic you can determine if these properties are the ones for you.