Earlier in the month I surveyed the various hotel programs and their ability to get you into suites and upgraded rooms using points, not just status.
The two best programs for this are Starwood Preferred Guest and Hyatt Gold Passport. In fact, Hyatt is insanely generous. If you’ll book the ‘Hyatt Daily Rate’ then you can confirm a suite, at time of booking, for up to four nights, for just 6000 points. I asked a bit later, why ever stay in a regular room at Hyatt?
Here’s how much more generous Hyatt is with suite upgrades (with points, available even to general non-elite members) than the second best program for suites, Starwood:
[W]hile a hotel like the Westin Tokyo will cost an extra 20,000 Starpoints per night for a suite, confirmed only five nights in advance, Hyatt Gold Passport will let you confirm an upgrade at the much nicer Park Hyatt Tokyo for just 6000 points. Total. For four nights. At time of booking. Crazy.
The category 6 Westin Times Square would cost 80,000 Starpoints to upgrade for four nights. The Andaz 5th Avenue costs 6,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for those four nights. And the Andaz upgrade is confirmable at time of reservation. And I generally consider Starwood to offer the second best program for upgrades.
But what happens if things go wrong? You confirm a suite at booking because you really, really want that suite. It may be pivotal to your hotel experience, maybe because you’re traveling with a child or because it’s your honeymoon. You travel all year on business and want one special trip with your family. You go with Hyatt because you don’t want to take any chances, no arguments or negotiations at check-in, you really want that suite.
What happens if the hotel just gives your suite away? It’s ‘confirmed’ but when you get there they hand you the keys to a regular room. What do you do? What are you entitled to?
Now, there are legitimate reasons this can happen. The suite the hotel had assigned you to has to be taken out of service for a deep cleaning or repairs, who know what those guests before you did to it! And if the hotel is completely sold out, they can’t just give you another suite.
The first thing they should try to do is give you a better, bigger suite. But in a true sellout they may not have that option.
There are also more nefarious reasons this can happen. They just decide your reservation is less important than someone else’s they want to give a suite to. You’re the unlucky one they bump, they figure they’ll just deal with you as an unhappy customer in order to make someone else’s stay better. That’s probably what happened to me about a week ago.
My Downgrade Experience at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco
Reader Michael reports getting a suite at this hotel for a $20 tip to the clerk at check-in. Maybe I should have tried that instead of confirming my suite with a Diamond suite upgrade certificate. 😛
I checked into the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, the one down on the Embarcadero, at about 9pm. A late arrival, when the hotel is sold out, makes it probably more likely that a downgrade is going to happen to you. If they are going to wind up downgrading someone, checking in after everyone else puts you in a worse position (if all the suites have actually been given away, being the squeaky wheel doesn’t get you a suite and someone else downgraded instead).
I walked up to the checkin desk and the clerk simply issued me keys. He wrote down the room number and that’s when I realized something was up. I had decided to burn my last Gold Passport Diamond suite upgrade that was expiring at the end of February. And I even knew which specific room I was supposed to have – the hotel was putting me in one of their least desirable suites (3rd floor, balcony over the cable car) and had wanted to make sure I would be happy with that before we confirmed the booking. I was fine with it. So when I had a room on an upper floor, I asked the clerk at checkin what kind of room I was given? He said it was a club floor room with a balcony. Ummmmm…..
I explained I had confirmed a suite, and he went to get the manager on duty.
She came out and introduced herself, extended her hand to shake mine but barely took it (weakly) before pulling away. This wasn’t the manager least wanting to interact with me at checkin — that was years ago at the then-Westin Rio Mar in Puerto Rico where no room was available for my checkin after 4pm and I wasn’t happy just buying myself -drinks until they decided to make one available, a manager came out and wouldn’t look up at me while he typed away at a keyboard and gave me a giant suite (rather than comping my drinks). But she was close.
The manager told me not to worry, she would ensure that my suite upgrade is returned to my account.
Me: that does not make it ok.
Then she claimed it was “Hyatt’s fault and not the hotel’s since it wasn’t ever confirmed here.”
Not true. Not only was the suite upgrade certificate taken from my account, but space had only opened up a week before and the suite upgrade was confirmed with the hotel into a specific room. She then backed off the claim. And what difference would it have made anyway?
As far as I was concerned the suite was confirmed, whether by Gold Passport or the hotel was immaterial, something should be done to make it right and the hotel pointing fingers to resolve itself wasn’t helpful. If they wanted to go back at Hyatt, that’s between them and Hyatt and shouldn’t be an issue for me to deal with.
The conversation shifted to how to fix this, I asked about better suites and was told the hotel was completely sold out. I believed that, and also that all suites were checked into.
Manager: Well, I would be happy to have us buy you dinner in the restaurant.
I had no plans for dinner on-property. And a dinner doesn’t, to me, make up for not having a suite for my stay.
Manager: We could do a $150 room credit instead.
To me, and maybe others will disagree on the value of a suite or what I should have been entitled to, but $150 doesn’t even come close. Maybe $150 per night.
I push back and she offers 15,000 Gold Passport points. Then she ups it to 21,000 points (adding the number of points that would confirm a suite on a Hyatt Daily Rate booking although this stay was on a conference rate).
She kept insisting that I was actually not out anything at all because I could simply use the suite upgrade at a different time. I would still get a confirmed suite, just not on this stay, so nothing is lost.
I kept insisting that what I lost is a suite (and I would be getting four more suite upgrades shortly, plus could confirm suites whenever I wished with points if they were available so getting back a suite upgrade isn’t valuable to me). And now I spend 3 nights in a non-suite, even though I had confirmed a suite. What I was ‘out’ was the suite on this stay.
So I tried a different tact. I asked her what the difference in price was between a regular room and suite? She wouldn’t give me a number at first, and of course it’s true that it can vary. I asked though, “what’s the minimum, the lowest you’ve seen?” and she said $200.
So we agreed that I am receiving — at the bare minimum — $600 less of room on this stay because they aren’t honoring my confirmed suite. So I said the hotel should compensate me at $600. She countered with 45k points. Perfectly fine. I was going to bed….
But first I made her put it in writing. It was such a hassle to get to the solution, I didn’t want any more drama. She was new to the property and didn’t have business cards yet, so couldn’t give me her card, but wrote down what was going to be done for me and signed it. At least I had proof, in case she decided later that she had been too generous.
What Should Have Happened?
It shouldn’t have been an argument or hostile negotiation at check-in, but it turns out that it wasn’t wrong for it to be a negotiation.
I reached out to Hyatt to find out what the procedure is supposed to be — What can a member expect? What are they entitled to?
I was told,
Yes, certainly confirmed upgrades should be honored. From time to time, there may be unforeseeable circumstances at a hotel that make a suite unavailable. In the event the hotel is not able to honor the award at the time of arrival, it is at the hotel’s discretion to make it right for the Diamond member. Hyatt Gold Passport and Hyatt associates value our loyal guests, and we do our best to exceed expectations during each member’s stay.
So in short, you were right to express frustration that your award was not honored; this is never intended. I’m glad to hear that after discussion you were eventually taken care of properly. Advice for members would be to inquire about the cause for not being able to honor the award and speak with a manger if needed so it’s made right.
I followed up on the email with a phone call. I really did want to know what the hotel was obligated to, whether there were any penalties for hotels that confirmed an upgrade but didn’t honor it.
What I was told is that they are expected to honor it. That there’s a solid training program and ‘followup’ although I didn’t get specific details on what the followup entailed.
Hyatt insisted there wasn’t a one size fits all rule for how to compensate a guest. And that makes sense, some people might prefer a room credit or meals, maybe daily breakfast or late checkout over points as a way to make that stay better rather than compensating by way of future stays.
The good thing is that the hotel is supposed to make it right. The bad thing about a lack of clear guidance on how to do it is you can face a check-in situation like I faced: you want to get to your room, a manager tells you that you aren’t actually entitled to anything, and you have to debate them on the value of what you’ve given up.
Although I was certainly happy with the result. Frankly on this stay, where I was burning a suite upgrade just so it wouldn’t expire, I was happy to have traded it for 45,000 points (and if I had been given the upfront option to ‘trade’ the suite upgrade certificate for those points I would have happily taken it). So I was more than made whole.
But if this had been a ‘special’ stay, a week in Hawaii perhaps, I might have felt differently.
What is Appropriate Compensation for a Downgrade?
Hyatt wouldn’t provide me guidance on what I should have asked for, again suggesting that each situation is different. Honestly I really hadn’t thought through in advance what I should have been asking for, so I was a bit taken aback at the checkin desk. I had some sense that a dinner was insufficient, that 15,000 points was insufficient (it equated to 5000 points per night), but I didn’t actually have a good idea of what should have made things ok.
The Hyatt Regency San Francisco is a Gold Passport category 4 hotel, so a free night is 15,000 points. There’s a certain symmetry to enough points for a free night for each night I was downgraded.
Has this ever happened to you? What kind of compensation were you offered? What should I have been happy with?
I know now at least that a hotel provided me with points equal to each night of my downgrade, so that would probably be my starting point in the future, but on this stay that might have been too generous while on another stay I’m not sure it would make me happy. What would you see as reasonable?
Ultimately I was quite happy with the stay, I’ll follow up with a report on the hotel and have an upcoming stay at the Grand Hyatt as well so will be able to contrast the two. The best part was the club lounge, which had quite a bit of substance to the food offerings and just an amazing view.