Day One Insights From Hyatt’s New Head of Loyalty

I spoke with Mark Vondrasek, Hyatt’s new head of loyalty (and ‘business platforms’), this afternoon. Vondrasek’s primary experience is as a Starwood executive overseeing loyalty and other functions.

Readers have several questions about how Hyatt is going to become competitive below the top tier (this is a common sentiment among people who used to earn top tier based on 25 stays a year). There are also questions about short expiring free nights in the new program, and that suite upgrades expire 12 months from when they’re earned making it tough to upgrade winter bookings far in advance.

Sky check-in lobby of the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur

There’s only so much that the new head of loyalty is going to say on day one. So the most important thing isn’t anything that he said, but what Hyatt has done in making and structuring this hire.

  • The status quo at Hyatt is represented by Chief Marketing Officer Maryam Banikarim. She’s the senior marketing executive and she remained when Jeff Zidell left in May.

  • Mark Vondrasek will report directly to Hyatt’s CEO not to the CMO

While that doesn’t in and of itself guarantee a different direction, it means that the program is freed up to have a new direction or at least fresh thinking. And though publicly Hyatt has claimed that World of Hyatt is doing well, I’ve suggested that what reasons they’ve given for that belief don’t add up. The structure of this hire tell me they may not be fully convinced themselves.

Park Hyatt Hadahaa Maldives

Here, though, are the important takeaways from my conversation.

  1. This was Mark’s first day on the job, though of course he’s spent time looking at and thinking about the program to get to today. He already knows there’s a member issue with elite status qualification. He said he isn’t going to reset how elite status is earned “by the time I leave today” but his priority is “listening and understanding what’s working and the challenges” and ensuring that he “listens to and understands what matters to members.”

  2. He’s not running the day-to-date. The program reports up to him, but he’ll be hiring a Senior Vice President for loyalty who would be thought of as the “Jeff replacement”

  3. His context at this point comes from Starwood, so he knows about the member focus groups they did, the process of rolling out benefits. And he likes continually offering more to members who stay more (Starwood added 50, 75 and 100 night benefits for Platinums but without taking Platinum status away from those staying 25 times) and he likes doing that below the top tier, too. He doesn’t want members to hit a goal and then leave.

  4. His role is head of loyalty and business platforms so I asked what those are. The new investments Hyatt has made in Miraval, Exhale, and its minority investment in sharing economy company Oasis Collection report up to him.

    Oasis is expected to eventually be integrated into loyalty and distribution at Hyatt, and the Miraval and Exhale brands are plays to integrate “wellness, mindfulness, and being the best you” as part of Hyatt’s offerings across their hotel portfolios. That should mean more experiential offerings, which is something Starwood was good at. (At a minimum think “Westin Workout Powered By Reebok” but here Hyatt owns their version of Reebok.)

  5. He sees loyalty as crucial to winning business because, like with Starwood, Hyatt lacks scale of Marriott and Hilton. “It’s an incredibly competitive space” so they have to do more.

Top tier elite room service breakfast at the Park Hyatt Vendome Paris

While we know that Chase and Hyatt are considering updating their credit card now that they’ve re-signed as partners Mark hasn’t had meetings yet on the co-brand card so wasn’t prepared to answer specific questions there.

It’s only his first day, and he still plans to hire the day to day lead, but so far he’s got a free hand, wants to listen to members, has a charge to integrate Hyatt’s offerings with their new lifestyle brand acquisitions, and plans to draw on his experiences at Starwood.

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, 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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  1. Such a wonderful day for Hyatt loyalists. A real pro’s pro is running the ship now, the ex-Gannett folks who stumbled badly with WoH are out of the reporting chain now, and the future is looking rosy.

  2. I’m guessing this was mostly on-background since there are really no direct quotes. That’s kind of disappointing, but I get this was more a familiarization discussion than an actual interview. With that said, look, I think the big things Hyatt needs to do:
    1) Restructure its loyalty and status program so Hyatt is once again the best hotel loyalty and status program.
    2) Get rid of the stupid names.
    3) Do something about its weak foot print.

  3. I’m a die hard Starwood fan and nothing that Hilton (or Marriott for that matter) ever did made me second guess my choice of loyalty programs.

    But then Hyatt comped me Diamond status and blew me away on our 8 DSU stays. Hyatt was a lot like Starwood, with a few things I liked even better (like lavish complimentary room service breakfasts & “assumed” 4 pm checkout without me asking for it). I still haven’t 100% decided if I prefer SNAs which can apply to Award stays or DSUs which are guaranteed in advance but are always cash, but they each have their definite benefits)

    But the bottom line is that Hyatt intrigued me during our test run, and with the uncertainty of the Marriott merger I began to wonder if it was worth it to go for top status at Hyatt too.

    But then – right as I began to consider this option – they totally overhauled the program and nipped that idea in the bud.

    I still don’t know why they made the play for SPG loyalists and then tightened the program to make it so much more difficult to achieve.

    It felt completely opposite to my first impressions of Hyatt.

    I would be shocked if the changes they made have resulted in increased revenue. It definitely felt like a slap in the face for many longtime Hyatt loyalists and a disincentive for newbies like me.

  4. I was lured in by the visa sign up free nights combined with status match & DSU and in return Hyatt got a loyal customer! I stayed at Park Hyatt Paris & Tokyo & New York while having Diamond and each experience was special and memorable. Using mostly cash + points nights and eating in the on-property restaurant at least once per stay resulted in a fair amount of revenue for Hyatt each time. The meal at the PH Tokyo New York Grill was spectacular. Now I try to book Hyatt as my first choice for business and vacation. These “give away the farm” deals can (and do) attract new loyal fans.

  5. I just hope the new leadership will get rid of the ghastly WORLD O F HYATT logo, which is a typographical nightmare. It irritates me every time I see it. The average high school student could do a better design.

  6. You may have already done this, but have you thought about asking your readers to provide feedback on the number of times Globalists have been upgraded to a suite without having to ask.

    As I sit here at the Hyatt Regency DTC and read your article I am reminded that I have only been upgraded to a suite two times this year (out of six). Once I had to ask and once it was proactively given. Tonight I had to ask, and even though they have a suite available on line, it was not available to me.

    I only have my experiences to go on, but do not feel the new program is improved. Not just based on suite upgrades, but having well trained front desk staff that proactively let me know the benefits of my stay. I hate having to ask for an upgrade, ask about lounge access, breakfast, etc. I usually stay 40-50 nights at Hyatt. This year I will have to stretch to reach 30.

    Oh, and has anyone else noticed that if you make a reservation for several days and need to cancel one day the reservationists will adjust the remaining days to a higher rate (if it has gone up)? Have they always done this? I now make one day reservations so if I need to cancel a day, no problem.

    While I have lost some of my enthusiasm for the Hyatt program, I am hopeful that some changes will improve it. Many of my favorite travel experiences were at Hyatt’s.

  7. Hyatt lost me at 60 nights for top tier. Nope. I’ve had 7 nights now this year, and 3 of them were booked before I realized the change. The new offer of top tier after 20 nights is too little, too late for me: I have 11 nights of Hyatt booked before year end, but the majority are reward stays, and won’t count. I am figuring I’d have to either have a major project in another city appear (one with a Hyatt that I could get) (unlikely), or I need to take 8 spurious trip or vacation nights (again, where they have a hyatt). Now, this is despite the fact that I’ve spent 29 nights in a Starwood this year, and another 13 at various and sundry other places. Wish they’d thought this over a little earlier. Perhaps, like my AA EXP status, I should just say goodbye and become a hotel free agent, with lifetime Starwood status (as long as this lasts).

  8. I haven’t totally said goodbye to Hyatt, but they lost a chance to replace Starwood as my #1. Somehow, I wound up elevating Hilton from my backup to #1, so you know how bad Hyatt F’ed up. I’ll stay here 10 nights (I’m in a Hyatt typing this) so that I keep some status, but I’ll go Diamond at Hilton in a couple of stays, recoup and see what to do for next year. I all of a sudden have a sweet new Westin and about to have a sweet new Autograph Marriott in my primary stay market, so Marriott is suddenly looking better (I’m lifetime gold at Starwood and regular old Gold at Ritz).

    Hyatt, you messed up and could have had me for 75 nights a year. Fix. It. Now. Please.

  9. All valid comments, but consider yourself lucky if you do not live in Europe as Globalist.. Because for European Hyatt based Globalists it’s close to impossible to maintain status.

  10. @Leo I feel your pain. Try living in the USA and trying to maintain LeClub Accorhotels top tier status.

  11. As a top tier (104 nights so far this year) I am really annoyed that the benefits stop at 100. At least if every 10 additional nights resulted in an upgrade or 10K points it would be useful, but as it stands I feel like I have topped out and now see little gain for the additional 30-40 nights I will stay this year. M

    aybe something for 100+ days a year (upgrade to the second level suite for example, or additional free 1-7 certs, or Suite upgrades which expire end of next year etc.).

    Also a perk where if you hit a certain level (hell even at 120 nights I would push for it just for this alone) there is no longer a capacity controlled award nights requirement. So for example I realized last week some meetings I had in the Middle east had delayed which would have left me with 4 nights available I could pop over to the Maldives, even though every night had plenty of capacity I could not use my points for a Maldives stay. If I had been able to book for any available room (call it super diamond/Glob benefit or something it would have made this super loyal Hyatt member very happy). Instead now I will go home early and not make that spend.

    Also I as a real “blood diamond” or globalist I hope they don’t continue to give away status matches as I have had great success in the middle east and Europe in scoring upgrades, I would say on the last 10 stays it was 9/10 but keep in mind these are mostly PH and GH hotels so they do tend to be a bit more proactive then the HP/HH/HR brands. Also, I think it best not to give the suite upgrades away for free either (make people earn them). I do think lounge access for mid tier, is a competitive benefit and also I should be able to bring a non registered guest (business associate) to the lounge if I want to do so.

  12. Also, just like the PH Vendrome why do many of the PH hotels not offer free in room Diamond/Glob breakfast, that would also be a great Super Blood Diamond/Glob benefit. 🙂

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