A Threat to the Greatest Loyalty Program on Earth

Hyatt sometimes offers suite upgrades to Diamond members, as does Hilton, but neither program offers it as a published benefit. Marriott used to offer their Platinums an upgrade to the best available room at checkin including suites but now suites are explicitly no longer a part of the upgrade benefit.

Technically, Intercontinental’s Royal Ambassador status (which doesn’t have explicit qualification criteria but that you can get by learning the secret handshake or being referred by an existing Royal Ambassador, the latter method being how I got mine) does offer upgrades to an Executive Rooms or Suites which in practice varies from hotel to hotel (but which I’ve found to be quite generous if inconsistent).

But among major loyalty program top-tier status levels, only Starwood Platinum offers an upgrade to the best available room at check-in including standard suites. It doesn’t matter what room-type you’re booked into (well, as long as you don’t book on certain websites, but that’s a different story) — once you are in the hotel you’re their guest and you should get a suite if they have one available to give you.

Sure, there’s fine print about multi-bedroom suites and Presidential suites, but putting the offer of a suite into the program’s terms and conditions is a big deal.

But this industry-leading benefit may be in jeopardy.

Apparently there’s a test program where certain hotels, it looks like a handful in Europe, are not required to upgrade Platinum members more than a single category of room. This program was first reported on Flyertalk.com this past Friday, though in confirming the existence of the pilot program Starwood’s representative says it has been in place for two years.

There’s no indication of how widespread the program is, how actively monitored it is, or whether it’s likely to be rolled out across the brand or any particular division. But the existence of a pilot project that exempts hotels from upgrading Starwood Platinums notwithstanding the program’s own terms and conditions is troublesome to say the least.

Starwood is considering curtailing its upgrade benefit. And that’s a watershed.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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