I think that Starwood’s changes to elite benefits are really quite huge. There’s a breakfast option (Continental breakfast or 500 point check-in Amenity) for Platinums, the ability to express a preference for when you’d like your upgrade for Platinums who stay 50 or more nights per year, and true 24 hour checkin (not guaranteed and must confirm at least 48 hours in advance) for Platinums staying 75 nights or more per year. There are other new benefits, but these to me are the really ground breaking ones for the program. Oh, and Golds can choose free internet finally.
The really funny thing is that Starwood hasn’t moved the needle of my opinion about where it stands relative to other frequent guest elite programs. Its top tier was number two behind Hyatt before, and it remains number two behind Hyatt in my opinion.
Starwood has, in my view, completely addressed its deficiencies. A Platinum checking into a hotel with no lounge and not many suites really just got 500 points and internet as the sum total of recognition for their stay. Now breakfast at least will make Platinums feel recognized each day of their stay.
But for those for whom Hyatt has the range of properties and locations to meet their needs (and Hyatt is growing, to nearly 500 properties, not close to Starwood’s thousand or so and not in any way close to bigger chains like Marriott and Hilton) I do like the Gold Passport program better:
- Confirmed at booking upgrades to suites for Diamond members, rather than just an upgraded preference confirmed within 5 days of arrival.
- Full breakfast guarantee when there’s no lounge or lounge isn’t open (and closed lounge generates bonus points, too!) versus Continental breakfast for Starwood Platinums, and Hyatt Diamonds get their 1000 point amenity in addition to breakfast rather than as a choice to make between the two benefits
Still, Starwood has come much closer, Gold Passport is no longer quite as far ahead. While certainly the programs don’t want to engage in an arms race, I do think there are things that Hyatt can and should do to improve their program, to remain the clear leader.
- Cash and points awards. I understand they’re working on this. Starwood, Hilton, and Priority Club all offer it. And Hyatt uniquely needs it, because Gold Passport points are relatively hard to earn certainly compared to Hilton and Priority Club since there are fewer partnerships. Thus there’s a really strong desire to stretch the points further.
- Early check-in. Intercontinental’s Royal Ambassador level pioneered this, and it’s still arguably the best version of the benefit with 8am checkin guaranteed versus Starwood’s any time but subject to availability. Intercontinental will put its top tier members in a temporary room while waiting for their upgrade if needed. Hyatt doesn’t need to do 24 hour check-in, and they could limit the number of times a year a member does this, most will only do it a few times such as arriving on an overnight flight from North America to Europe. The challenge of course then is that it tends to cluster around a limited number of properties. But when it’s valuable to a member it’s reallyvaluable o a member, and with Starwood offering it we’re no longer just talking about the small Intercontinental program. I’d love to see 9 am checkin for Diamonds.
- Upgrades confirmable on award nights. This is probably the biggest elite benefit wish I hear from Diamond members, Hyatt already has the most generous upgrade program in the industry allowing top tier members to confirm at booking, from any Hyatt ratea suite. No more hoping at the front desk, you declare the times that the suite matters most and if it’s available when you book you confirm it. But it’s available only on paid rates, and certainly offering it on reward nights would increase costs and reduce breakage (expiring, unused suite upgrades). Starwood doesn’t distinguish paid versus reward nights and it would be a grand wish for Hyatt not to either. I don’t think Hyatt will count reward nights towards requalifying for status, but I’d love to see more than anything the ability to use all elite benefits on all rates, paid or points.
- Suite upgrades on availability at check-in when not confirming in advance. While Hyatt lets Diamond members confirm their suites 4 times per year, on those stays when suites aren’t confirmed in advance there’s no comparable upgrade benefit on other stays, Diamond members are not entitled to available empty suites at check-in. Not only Starwood offers this, even Hilton does now. This seems like it should be easy, the suites are empty anyway, this may not happen often with all the confirmed upgrades out there but upgrades to the best available room at checkin ought to include suites if those are indeed available.
Elite recognition when not a registered guest. This isn’t specific to Starwood. Eventually some chain will pick up on this idea. Before the rollout of Club Carlson, Radisson in Europe, Africa, and Middle East had a benefit they called “Our World, Your Lounge” where all elites were welcome in their hotels any time, to use wireless internet and have a coffee. An honored guest with a relationship to the chain is just that — an honored guest — regardless of whether they happen to be registered on a given night.