Marriott’s CEO and VP Loyalty Express their Commitment to Starwood Customers and Benefits

Marriott members are going to make out like bandits in the acquisition of Starwood. And there are more Marriott customers than Starwood ones. Marriott members get a whole slate of high end properties at which to use their points that they didn’t have before. And their elite benefits may get better but certainly won’t get worse. Starwood customers on the whole have been less enthusiastic.

St. Regis Bali

Late last month Travel Skills attended an influencer forum put on by Marriott Rewards in Los Angeles. Chris reports that 15 “writers/bloggers/influencers” attended a meeting with Marriott’s Vice President of Loyalty and several other executives.

The meeting was held at the JW Marriott at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles. Upon arrival, the group attended a nice networking dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s glitzy WP24 restaurant on the top floor of the neighboring Ritz-Carlton. The following morning, the forum ran for about 3-4 hours and included lunch on the hotel’s pool deck, in unusual 85-degree winter heat.

I didn’t attend the event, but I did have a chance to sit down with Marriott folks at the beginning of the week. For avoidance of doubt I covered my own travel expenses though I did have a salad and free water in their company cafeteria.

I met with Marriott’s CEO Arne Sorenson and also with Marriott’s Vice President of Loyalty Thom Kozik in Marriott’s Bethesda, Maryland corporate offices. Mostly they had questions for me, there wasn’t a lot of information shared with me because

  • The Starwood acquisition hasn’t closed yet. So it’s still early.
  • They don’t yet have full access to the books and internal metrics of Starwood Preferred Guest.
  • There are restrictions on what they can say and do in advance of the shareholder vote on the deal.

Marriott Seattle Airport Atrium

As a result I don’t have a lot to report on the future of the combined company. However I certainly shared with them the major anxiety issues from a Starwood customer standpoint.

  • Elite benefits: Upgrades, Late Checkout; 24 hour checkin; how lifetime Gold and Platinum status will be honored; breakfast at resorts, courtyard, and Ritz-Carlton properties.

  • Transition: the value of points Starwood points if converted to Marriott Rewards, advance notice of changes

  • General members: the value of points transfers to airlines; the value proposition of the Starwood co-brand American Express product; the kind of customer service, problem resolution, and assistance via social that Starwood is generally better at.

That said, it was one thing for Kozik to make time, but to have over half an hour of Sorenson’s time suggests he has a real interest in engaging the question of loyalty. I’m not important enough of a skeptic for him to spend time meeting with me for my edification. That he could just leave to staff.

Sorenson thinks loyalty will be more important going forward, not less important. He insists Marriott explicitly considered the loyalty of Starwood’s customers in valuing the deal. I asked him about a quote from the Wall Street Journal where he said “Loyalty in business really comes down to two things: quality and value.”

I pointed that I read that as transactional, a reason to pick a product in a given instance, but that loyalty – recognizing and rewarding customers over time – gets customers to make decisions beyond the single instance, to choose your brand even when you aren’t the best package of quality and value on that purchase decision. Sorenson says this sort of loyalty is subsumed by the equation as he described it.

I’m not sure that’s right, and his argument didn’t make much sense to me that loyalty is more rather than less important for a large chain in our conversation. I’ve said for some time that you can pretty much walk out of an airport and stumble into a Marriott or an IHG property, but it took effort to be loyal to Starwood or to Hyatt. So they had to work harder at it and invest more.

However a fair counter to my narrative may come from an unlikely place. This week Doug Parker made an argument at JP Morgan’s aviation conference. He says consolidation means they have to invest more in a better product. Before consolidation there were gaps in each airline’s network. Now ‘there are three global hub and spoke carriers that can take you anywhere in the world’ so you don’t get business just because you have the route in large measure. So Parker says ‘we have to have a better product’. (I wish he said ‘we have to have a better loyalty program’.)

Marriott gets bigger, gains a more global presence. And they’re slugging it out with IHG, Hilton, and even increasingly Accor across the world since Starwood had more of a worldwide footprint than Marriott. So they have to be better, when they aren’t differentiated on footprint.

My sense is that Marriott was genuinely surprised by the reaction of Starwood members to the acquisition — that they didn’t realize how fiercely loyal so many of Starwood’s customers are. And they quickly saw value in that.

I hadn’t met Thom Khozik before. I certainly knew Ed French, who left Marriott Rewards for Ritz-Carlton. French was a past President of American AAdvantage. Kozik came from technology, outside of loyalty. His perspective doesn’t start as a hotelier, on hotel guests, but on every interaction they have with customers.

For instance, Marriott Rewards should be rewarding guests and valuing customers not just on their spend when checked into a hotel, but also when they dine on-site while they aren’t registered guests. Hyatt and Starwood both already do this of course, it isn’t revolutionary. He did share he didn’t think guests should have to rely on dealing with the front desk to ensure benefits like late checkout.

Starwood members have been concerned. Sorenson seemed genuinely curious when he asked me why I’m skeptical when he says that Marriott values the loyalty of Starwood members and wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.

I do remain skeptical that Marriott will transform itself in a way that will make Starwood elites happy to become Marriott elites, because the Marriott program comes out of the Marriott culture and that’s the corporation that will survive. I’m hopeful they get creative. They certainly say they want to. Whether or not they ultimately do, they come across as committed.

Perhaps they retain three programs at least for awhile — Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest. Or they could do as Randy Petersen suggested to me, combine all three programs into a brand new program the way that Starwood Preferred Guest itself was created with the combination of Westin Premier and Sheraton Club International.

Regardless it’s going to be an interesting next couple of years.

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. I remain skeptical that many of the prized elite benefits from SPG will carry over to Marriott. We have to remember that these large hotel management companies really have two sets of customers– the guests who stay in the hotels, and the property owners that pay them hefty management fees. Likely, many property owners discount the benefit elite benefits have in drawing guests to their properties, focusing instead of the costs they incur. (Free breakfast means less revenue from business travelers who might otherwise dine on property and expense it; late check-out often means having to juggle housekeeping schedules to ensure rooms can be turned after 4 pm.) It will likely be very difficult for Marriott to turn to many of these property owners and say, “Sorry, though we’ve been doing things one way for many years and that is what you have come to expect and rely on, you’re going to start having to provide free breakfast to elites (full service resort properties, Courtyards) and provide guaranteed late checkout (all properties)”.

  2. The answer to “why I’m skeptical when he says that Marriott values the loyalty of Starwood members and wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that” is pretty simple.

    I do not believe they want to do anything to make MR/Ritz Rewards better nor do I think they could *even* if they wanted to. Follow their own actions, the 2016 category changes were pretty brutal and these annual stealth devaluations really show where the program is headed in general. This happened *after* he went on record to say that devaluing benefits and value of points isn’t the way to go. So it was a complete incongruence in words and actions.

    If Marriott is so impressed with SPG’s loyalty that it was a big factor in the takeover, why isn’t their own program more like it? SPG’s loyalty isn’t due to secret sauce and customer loyalty isn’t rocket science. What incentive do customers have to believe that SPG members will be taken care of when their own Marriott Rewards members haven’t been?

    Finally lets assume that they *do* want to change and get better, they will then fail at the implementation level because the property owners will never buy into it. Courtyard, Ritz Carlton, Edition, resort and most other brand property owners signed an agreement with Marriott for a certain rewards program, now by acquiring Starwood, Marriott is introducing a lot of internal competition (hotels from the same brand are the most direct competitors and are vying for the same elite pool of guests from the same program) and on top of that Marriott will goto them and say umm….yea you also have to give them breakfast now……and confirmed late check out…..and space available suites. What incentive do property owners have to listen to Marriott? The power rests in their hands, not Marriotts.

    Even keeping the program separate is out of question since what was the whole point of the merger in the first place if they don’t have a larger combined customer base to aim at? Marriott’s customers are the developers who pay them to manage hotels. Their product is… (customers that they can pull in for the property owner). Why merge if their product doesn’t get better?

    Ritz Rewards and Marriott Rewards are really the same program, just different branding, since the benefits are exactly the same, SPG will have to be re-aligned as well.

    So that’s why we don’t believe Marriott’s CEO 😛

  3. What Vineet said. WORDS. Their “promises” are not like you and I use the word.

    Time to get SPG Amex cards, and spend them like their’s no tomorrow. Because there isn’t.

  4. I’m lifetime Platinum in both chains. I am one of the anxiety laden loyal Starwoods; if they had a place in Boca Raton, I wouldn’t have high status in Marriott.

    How could they be surprised? It reflects very poorly on them. Marriott has cut benefits- the Platinum amenity wad reduced sharply, Bogo’s were eliminated, and most of all, they are turning their full service hotels into Holiday Inns by eliminating desks, night stands and dressers.

    So are they clueless or just fibbing?

  5. @DWT

    You beat me to it. Good points.

    I’d actually say follow the money and you realise we are not customers of the hotel chain at all. We are customers of the property owners (our money goes to them) and property owners are customers of the chains (they buy their management service).

    Put another way, the chains are employees of the property owners hired to manage their hotel for them. Owners listen to advice of their management, but owners do not take orders from management. So the leverage the chains have here in arm twisting properties into honouring benefits that they did not even sign up for is pretty weak.

    Also here is a list of Marriott brands that *may* provide breakfast for elites (but won’t necessarily in case of resorts and exceptions):
    JW Marriott
    Autograph Collection (interesting that independents have agreed)

    Here is a list of brands that don’t:
    Any resort from any brand
    Ritz Carlton
    AC Hotels

    I’m not sure what Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn, Towneplace Suites, Gaylord, Springhill suites and Protea do. It isn’t clear from the website or T&C either though some of the lower end ones presumably have breakfast for everyone even if they came via OTA channels.

    So not only are there more brands opting out of breakfast than in, but there are probably more hotels that opt out in the system than opt in (thanks to Courtyard)

    Most worrying? Moxy. That’s a new brand and Marriott could have sold it to property developers with enhanced benefits for guests, but din’t or couldn’t

  6. I have no idea why people are ranting about Elite benefits being eroded at Marriott. Do I like the idea of getting less? Of course not. The reality of it though is Marriott was able to fill rooms and make great revenue and profits without having to give as much. That is simply doing business, and making a profit. People who say the BOGOs are gone and are upset about it should realize that if Marriott doesn’t do them and can fill rooms for cash why give them away for free? They wouldn’t. When hotels were half empty in 2009-2011, they had to drum up leisure travelers to stay at their properties, now that the economy is good, they can fill rooms with little effort. It’s simply business strategy and the economy driving these policies. And lastly, for the 100th time, why are people wigging out over what MIGHT happen. There is no point in losing sleep over something you aren’t even sure will happen.

  7. @Captain Kirk
    You say that, but clearly the ‘wigging out’ is having an effect. Marriott’s CEO just spent 30 minutes with Gary discussing SPG Member concerns. The company is going to have to make a lot of decisions about the loyalty plans…these types of forums and discussions can influence some of those. Don’t just sit back and let things change on you by saying it’s out of your control.

  8. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There are too many properties in the Marriott/Ritz Carlton brands that are almost identical to brands within Starwood. So why not keep the Starwood branded hotels as one unit with it’s own loyalty program – much like Marriott did with the Ritz Carlton acquisition?

  9. @Gary sez: “I’m not sure that’s right, and his argument didn’t make much sense to me that loyalty is more rather than less important for a large chain in our conversation. I’ve said for some time that you can pretty much walk out of an airport and stumble into a Marriott or an IHG property, but it took effort to be loyal to Starwood or to Hyatt. So they had to work harder at it and invest more.”

    You’re the one who has never made sense, but made the claim so often you fell for it — the propagandist falling for his own propaganda…

    I told you and other SPG/HGP-kool-aid-drinking bloggers that the canard by “the SPG and HGP programs are more rewarding because they are small” was total bunk that never had a shred of evidence to support it other than bloggers saying that it was so. On the other hand, when reputable companies like JD Power conduct surveys of customer satisfaction with hotel loyalty programs , the bigger programs (MR, HH) almost invariably come out on top; HGP is somewhere in the middle; and SPG is always at the very bottom or thereabouts.

    So why the discrepancy? Simple. The perceived superiority of smaller programs is due to the fact that their members are almost all psychopathologically loyal, which means that they would aggrandize their programs meaningless perks like 4pm checkout or a supbar benefits like HGP’s DSUs as “best in the business”, while completely overlooking their many limitations like HGP’s chronic IT problems.

    That this MR executive does not buy into the notion that smaller programs are more rewarding means that SPG as you have known it won’t survive. It is on the chopping block and will be unrecognizable once the merging of the programs is completed. You heard it here first 😉

  10. Higher margin products can give more away to retain customers. They paid above book as Starwood generated rates of return > cost of capital, which is a result of goodwill in the brand. Marriott will likely recognize that and not dilute it too much. If they do Hyatt… will continue to try and pluck away better customers.

  11. Don’t believe it. Been there, done that! When our company was taken over (in business lingo it is called “merged”), we were told that “rest assureed, nothing will change, because you guys ran such an outstanding operation” (which, in fact we did. We knocked the socks out of them in competition). It took no more than three months to see drastic, severly negative changes reported by CLIENTS, let alone the employees.

  12. @DCS:

    “which means that they would aggrandize their programs meaningless perks like 4pm checkout or a supbar benefits like HGP’s DSUs as “best in the business”, while completely overlooking their many limitations like HGP’s chronic IT problems.”

    I don’t know if you don’t fall for your own propaganda too though. Literally no one overlooks Hyatt’s IT issues, they’re the laughing stock of the industry and everyone has called them out on it.

    Why are 4 pm checkout and DSUs “subpar”? Both are the strongest benefits available of their type in the entire industry. This is not a subjective matter open to debate and opinion.

    As a decade long elite across chains, I have been denied late check out that late repeatedly at Hilton and Marriott, especially during peak occupancy. Maybe I can wrangle 1 PM out of them, may 2 tops. In the past 3 or so years, I have never once been denied 4 pm checkout at a Hyatt or SPG property. Plus there is no question of denying, its not a benefit that is the hotel’s to give, the program has it confirmed in writing, no request necessary.

    DSUs are confirmable way out in advance for upto 7 days at a time. I prefer SPGs unlimited suite chance myself but for family vacations planned in advance, no one touches Hyatt.

  13. That all sounds great – and perhaps combining the programs would allow them to create a new program that did elevate the benefits without admitting that Marriott benefits have sucked forever (which elevating benefits to SPG level would essentially do).

    But the problem is still that these benefits have real costs to Marriott flagged hotels. The hotels under management are ultimately the program’s most profitable customers–not a few thousand 50-100 night elites that have no choice but to travel (and even if they did something insane like quit their job over it, their company would just replace them). And if the hotels don’t like it, it won’t happen. So maybe Marriott is able to convince them they’ll be able to command a higher rate by offering better elite benefits, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  14. Seems like people are getting all twisted up about hypothetical events . Why volunteer for unneccesary stress ? Take it easy and we’ll see what happens eventually .
    Certainly not enough reason to be getting angry or calling names .

  15. @DWT & Vineet You guys make some pretty sharp points. DWT especially the point about late checkouts and such. Marriott property owners will not want to do that. The problem is that it would be hard to do something on the SPG side of things. So it is hard to keep the operations split. I tend to think the SPG Plat members like myself will be most unhappy. For some strange reason I think the Marriott customers will have increased value and or benefits from what they previously got from Marriott in the past.

  16. Since it has been mentioned here by many others 4PM checkout can be a valuable perk. A few years ago I would have said for the most part that would not be something I would care about. But my travel patters changed over the past few years. I often run marathons or races around the US. Having a 4PM checkout means I can get back to my hotel relax etc. I was at a trade show this past weekend. I had the the ability to get back to my room take a shower etc. I cant say how may times in my trips overseas I have that half day to do things prior to getting an early evening flight. One issue is taking away the perks the members have been getting all along. I am also testing Hyatt and their program for Diamonds. There are definitely some good things in that program as well for me.

  17. One point here – among the many excellent points about who Marriott’s “real customers” are – is something folks often overlook.

    Another person mentioned that if they don’t merge the loyalty programs, what is the “point” of the buyout at all? Well, if you believe the business press and others, the point of the buyout is getting more leverage with the booking websites (OTAs) and other travel booking channels and controlling that cost.

    What I’m getting at is that merging the loyalty programs is NOT the key reason, nor really probably near the top of the reasons for buying SPG. It will be a factor in wringing costs out of their operations (as a bunch of folks could be made redundant) but I wouldn’t say it’s the top 2 or 3 things they’ll be executing on to make this make financial sense on Day 1.

    Day 100 on the other hand, they’re probably coming for our Starpoints, 4pm checkouts, and free breakfasts.

  18. @Ahmed Al Hashimi — I feel your pain but you have got to understand where I am coming from: a HHonors Diamond for years entering this “twilight zone” in which the smallest SPG or HGP perk is characterized as “best in business” when that it’s demonstrably not that the case. The abuse of superlatives in describing SGP or HGP benefits that I have enjoyed for years as a HH Diamond as much superior [ not to mention the rampant misunderstanding/mischaracterization of the relative values of loyalty points and the HH program] turned me into a “crusader” determined to right that wrong 😉

    — Years as a HH Diamond, I have never been denied a late checkout request either, and was even approved three times for 6mp late checkouts at Hilton Buenos Aires in as many years.

    — DSUs: Glad that you referred to them correctly as “confirmable” and not deceptively as “confirmed”! However, with ONLY 4 DSUs/year I would run out of them by the end of Q1 and have to pay out of pocket to see the inside of a suite again for the rest of the year. HH DCSUs (Diamond Complimentary Suite Upgrades), on the other hand, are tailor-made made for my a pattern of long stays because they are UNLIMITED in numbers; good for the duration a stay, no matter how long [you would need to burn 2 DSUs on a stay of just 8 night as HPG Diamond!!!]; good on any eligible stay, including PURE, i.e. points-only, award stays. How about availability of DCSUs? I have cleared better than 90% of mine since 2012, when they became a stated HH Diamond perk (12 of 12 or 100% in 2014, i.e., 8 more than HGP could clear DSUs before they were out]. Now DSUs just got gutted again by limiting their availability to their expiration date, and new ones not being issued until after the end of the program year rather than on (re)-qualification.

    See why I rebelled against the constant drumbeat of HGP as “best in the business”, when I viewed the program as, at best, a work-in-progress; at worst, a cruel joke? Having stayed at Park Hyatt Seoul, Park Hyatt Saigon, Park Hyatt Siem Reap (x3), Grand Hyatt Taipei, Grand Hyatt Jakarta, Grand Hyatt Singapore, Grant Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, to name just a few, I clearly enjoy staying at Hyatt properties. That’s because of they are generally tastefully done and have service that is second to none. But that’s Hyatt the hospitality company. It is a shame that they do not have a loyalty program to match! However, owning most of their properties, money spent on HGP comes out of the companies own bottom line. That is in contrast to, e.g., HHonors,which is supported by money contributed by individual franchised properties, which used to opted out of various HHonors activities and promos. But with the company posting great earnings and being the fastest growing in the hospitality business at the moment, the franchisees appear to have been told by Hilton’s current CEO (Nassetta), who is pro-loyalty and credits HHonors with driving 50% of their bottom line, to shape up or shape out, and they are playing ball (none, zero, have opted out of HH promos since early last year)

    SPG is better than HGP in many respects but with awards that are BY FAR the highest priced in the business, especially for their top-tier hotels, I found the program to be the least rewarding as a “hobbyist”, so I’ve invested little in it.

    Long post so, sorry in advance for any typos , syntactic or grammatical errors, or mangled sentences that cannot be fixed on this site…


  19. @Ahmed Al Hashmi, you hit the nail on the head, I have booked a trip to BOS, BKK, DXB, and AUH from late Dec 2016 through mid Jan 2017. I have CONFIRMED suite upgrades using Hyatt points and cash rates for the entire trip, Included in this trip are both Xmas and New Year’s Eve, yet I was able to CONFIRM a suite upgrade for those high demand dates nearly a year in advance. There is , in my opinion, nothing “subpar” about my DSU benefit. I am an HHonors Diamond and tried to utilize Hilton for part of my trip. I could have booked some decent hotels, not Park Hyatt quality, but decent, with Hilton, Unfortunately, the best that program has to offer is the opportunity to show up and beg for an upgrade upon arrival. I didn’t consider my odds to be very good for New Year’s Eve. In my opinion, the true subpar program is the one that subjects their top tier members to the whims of a desk clerk. I’ii stick with Hyatt and use Hilton when my travels take me to destinations where Hyatt does not yet have a footprint.

  20. Distinctly

    Keep traveling with your laminated copy of your mediocre program’s T&Cs

  21. @UA-NYC — Does it not bother you or get old even for you, that anything that comes out of you is puerile name-calling or schoolyard taunting. That can only mean one thing: limited mental capacity. Therefore, why don’t you do yourself a favor and go to where you would be among your peers, i.e., others like you who are completely free of the “ravages” of intelligence? There is something enviable about those who are like that, y’know…


  22. ” yet I was able to CONFIRM a suite upgrade for those high demand dates nearly a year in advance”

    All that means is that there was availability. It has little to do with DSUs. There can be availability at booking or at check-in or none at all. That is the lottery that’s common to all elite upgrades, both in the airline and hotel loyalty programs.

  23. If DCS does not understand the difference between locking in a suite at the time you book (when you can still make a choice across properties) and making your lodging commitment up front and then hoping to get lucky at the front desk, then he should continue to stay with a chain the promises do little as he does. For the rest of us we will focus on what we value more. I respect his choices they work for him but certainly would not work for most who care about upgrades.

  24. @dCS, it has everything to do with DSU’s! When I tried to get suite upgrades at Hilton for my trip they pointed out to me that Hilton doesn’t have any way to confirm a suite upgrade in advance and that if some other hotel chain would confirm an upgrade, I should grab it. That is exactly what I did. Because of my Hyatt DSU’s i don’t have to play the upgrade lottery at checkin. If it were not for the DSU’s, Hyatt suite upgrades would be a crapshoot just like Hilton and SPG.

  25. @Gary — I get the difference just fine and it is nice, but DSUs are no more “confirmed” than are any other elite suite upgrades: they all, without any exception, depend on availability, which could be there at booking or at check in or not there at all. That is the lottery that you’d like to ignore that decreases the “confirmability” advantage of DSUs. You knew this so you decided to start referring to them as a “confirmed”, a fait acompli, which it ain’t by any stretch of the imagination.

    My DCSUs are not confirmable but I am batting better than 90% on 3-4 times as many “pitches” (ain’t that baseball metaphor right on the money!) as one can make to try to confirm DSUs, which tells that the confirmability sounds good, but it is not such a great advantage in practice.

  26. @DCS “DSUs are no more “confirmed” than are any other elite suite upgrades: they all, without any exception, depend on availability, which could be there at booking or at check in or not there at all.”

    Sorry you are simply wrong.

    Being able to confirm a reservation for a suite at the price of a regular room 3, 6, or 12 months in advance is a big deal.

    If no suite is available at a property (and booking far out, in my experience, more often than not it is available) then I can simply choose another property if a suite is important to me.

    If I am stuck begging at the front desk for a suite, or cajoling for one, as you have explained that you do then I may not get one at all and I am still stuck staying at that property.

    Indeed, with Hilton HHonors if there are open suites at the hotel and you are not given one then the hotel has not broken any rule of the program whatsoever. You aren’t due any kind of compensation even.

  27. I should add that being unlimited, good on any eligible rate including “pure” awards, good for the duration of a stay and the flexible terms and conditions that favor “creative” elite members, “conspire” to make HH-type DCS upgrades a great perk that @Gary and other HGP-kool-aid-drinking travel bloggers simply under-appreciate. 😉

    Gotta go.

  28. @Gary — It is tough to argue against empirical evidence, which is what I have offered year after year to back my claims since 2012.

    Go on preaching your gospel and abusing superlatives, even as DSUs continue to be gutted.

  29. The only reason any merger or acquisition happens is to increase profit through efficiency. With two programs, the most profitable and efficient program — loyalty program or otherwise — will take lead. It was over the day Marriott and Starwood announced. The same day I stopped putting points on my SPG Amex.

  30. More of the same, but I have said this before: In 2015 I cleared 13 of 15 suite upgrades. 54% of which were not in Asia. Too busy so far this year to do post at InsideFlyer on my 2015 suite upgrades successes and failures, but it will happen and you’ll be the first to know… That’s a promise.

  31. @DCS even you, as a overstuffed mental midget, must eventually get you are basically the ONLY reader on these blogs continually pumping up HH…take a hint, it’s just not that good.

    (oh, and I’m embarrassed my alma mater employs someone like you…please go back to bumble-F Texas)

  32. @Gary remember that DCS has admitted he/she carries around a glossy copy of the HH T&Cs and waves them in FDC’s faces if (unpromised, unpublished) room upgrades don’t come through. He/she is he town fool commenter on these blogs, all too easy a punching bag due to a hilariously dogmatic (and ill-informed) mindset.

  33. @DCS:

    I don’t understand it, do you truly not see a difference between DSU and SPG’s upgrade regulations and those of HH?

    If you want to book something during a busy time (Easter/Christmas/New year) in a popular destination (NY/London/Paris/Dubai) and/or during convention time, Hyatt DSUs are the only, the only way to confirm them.

    I live in Dubai and there is no way in hell that the Conrad and Waldorf are going to have any availability of any sort at check in time if you leave it that late. Where Hyatt DSUs are objectively and crushingly superior to everything else is in their ability to let me lock in a suite *now* for 6 months or 12 months or even farther later when there *is* availability. Availability isn’t a constant lottery chance thing. There will be availability the farther out from the stay date you get, there will be no availability closer to the date for a popular period in a popular destination (and/or the price will be prohibitive). You won’t be able to use point that late at Hilton specifically because HH will have doubled the points requirement for their now remaining premium rooms to astronomical levels. SPG on the other hand will allow you to redeem at 10% premium to base, Hyatt is closer to SPG than to HH. No one punishes you for booking late quite like Hilton, their premium rewards are just ridiculous.

    It is plainly obvious Hyatt DSUs are the strongest benefit of their kind.
    Ditto for 4 pm late check out (a “confirmed” benefit)

    Even SPG’s suite upgrade policy is stronger than Hiltons and for me that bears out in practice too (as it should). With SPG, the hotel is required to give you an available suite, if it doesn’t, it is in violation of the program and SPG will come down on the side of the guest and yes it can sometimes be a gamble but you are gambling with the program on your side.

    Hilton does *not* require the hotel surrender a suite to you and frequently they won’t. Conrad Dubai which is very very good with suite upgrades otherwise (They’re a huge hotel) will also withhold them if occupancy spikes and they think they can sell them on revenue, as a regular guest, they will admit as much. There is *nothing* you can do about it. The program is *not* on your side and will support the hotel. The Grand Sheraton next door will keep issuing suites until they run out of their last one, then they will start issuing non-standard suites for regulars until they run out of those too, then they will start offering you their 1 bedroom apartments in the residence wing as upgrades. their dedication to upgrading is insane.

    Anecdotal data is largely useless anyway, I’m including it here since you do seem to appreciate even a single data point then just the rule re-stated.

  34. To some of the posters above who brought up the monetary cost to properties of the extra benefits:

    I think we need to look at the data here. Data available to every hotel loyalty program.
    I remember reading that breakfast (of the buffet) type costs a property a couple of dollars per incremental guest (this is a marginal guest for an extra guest walking in), they’re still going to have to cover the fixed overheads of having the buffet for other guests (paying, package, breakfast inclusive rate, corporate rate, group etc). So we cannot approach the cost by taking total cost and dividing by number of people since it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

    The real cost is sandwiched between the cost of providing the service (marginal cost = couple of dollars) and the opportunity cost (the total retail price which is perhaps close to 40-50 $ at the high end). Here the Resorts’ costs will arguably be closer to 40-50 since the guests can’t just walk out of a resort and into a city and are likely to pay up if they want breakfast. Also the base cost of providing the food is higher

    However, for Courtyards and their other brands (Moxy!) the opportunity cost (Full retail which would be closer to 20-25 here) is irrelevant since the guests would rather walk outside into the city than pay the higher cost at the hotel for a sub-par buffet. Here the relevant cost is the marginal cost of providing the food which is a couple of dollars. .

    This is for breakfast where you don’t compete amongst guests for a limited resource (the hotel can just produce more food).

    For limited resources like late check out and suite upgrades, the cost when someone else needs the same limited resource is closer to the opportunity/full retail cost. In this case you could simply say that the benefit applies till the hotel is in high occupancy (80%). Below this, the cost to the hotel is absolutely free! Above it, the cost is significant and I don’t think anyone would complain about not getting it because the situation would still be an improvement on our current situation.

    So the cost to the program if handled well would be free for late check outs/suite upgrades for all times except peak occupancy (and they could write that into the program) and the cost of breakfast would be a few dollars per stay in non-resort properties.

    So at the very least, they should be granting breakfast at Courtyards, Moxys and downtown Ritz/Edition locations.

    The conclusion is that the lack of benefits isn’t due to the prohibitive costs, rather it is from the Management culture at Marriott and their views towards loyalty.

  35. @UA-NYC: “even you, as a overstuffed mental midget, must eventually get you are basically the ONLY reader on these blogs continually pumping up HH…take a hint, it’s just not that good.”

    Let’s stop the presses to recognize and admire the incisively stupid revelation that readers of VFTW unanimously love HGP and/or SPG and loathe HH!!!

    One thing I had not come accomplish when I willingly entered the “lion’s den” almost two years ago was to change any reader’s mind because — borrowing from George Will of all people — it is axiomatic that one cannot reason a person out of a position that the person has not been reasoned into. The adhesive that binds VFTW readers to their messiah can be dissolved by neither facts nor eloquence, so it would be foolish to try to break it.

    However, it is clear from this poster’s “stream of unconsciousness” that it is possible to reveal the thoughtlessness in the most rabidly “partisan” of the lot by providing opposing facts that overload their limited intellect and create cognitive dissonance 😉

  36. @Ahmed Al Hashimi: “I don’t understand it, do you truly not see a difference between DSU and SPG’s upgrade regulations and those of HH? If you want to book something during a busy time….Hyatt DSUs are the only, the only way to confirm them.”

    I already responded so I will amend slightly and repost the same thing, but the short of it is that if one desperately needs to confirm a suite then one should do it with points or cash because ALL other upgrade instruments are a lottery game. DSUs would be the king of the hill if they were truly “confirmed”, meaning a “fait accompli”, but they are contingent on AVAILABILITY like any such instrument in the hotel or airline loyalty programs. There was a heated debate precisely on this at One Mile At A Time, where many HGP loyalists came out and stated what is often swept under the rug: DSUs can be tough to confirm especially during busy times when there limited AVAILABILITY…

    So, I do get the difference just fine and it is nice, but DSUs are no more “confirmed” than are any other elite suite upgrades: they all, without any exception, depend on availability, which could be there at booking or at check in or not there at all. That is the lottery aspect of all elite upgrades that is ignored in touting the “confirmability” advantage of DSUs. @ Gary understood this so he decided to start referring to them as “confirmed”, deceptively implying a “fait acompli”, which it ain’t by any stretch of the imagination.

    My DCSUs are not confirmable but I am batting better than 90% on 3-4 times as many “pitches” (ain’t that baseball metaphor right on the money!) as one can make to try to confirm DSUs, meaning that confirmability sounds great, but it is not such a great advantage in practice.

  37. @DCS:

    “but the short of it is that if one desperately needs to confirm a suite then one should do it with points or cash because ALL other upgrade instruments are a lottery game”

    I think you are misunderstanding how they work entirely. If a suite is at all available through even cash/money/points, then it was available via DSU as well. The pool for DSUs is every single standard suite at the property. They cannot set aside any for revenue guests only.
    So if a room was available on cash, it is available via DSU.
    The availability thing is a complete distraction because revenue rooms are also subject to availability. So DSU’s are not at all a lottery game, not anymore than reserving a normal room/suite with normal money would be.
    By reasonable definition, they cannot make DSUs any more confirmable than they already are. They put you on the same exact level as someone purchasing the suite with cash outright.

    “DSUs can be tough to confirm especially during busy times when there limited AVAILABILITY”

    Then it would have been not possible to buy that room with cash either. If it was, then the DSU would have worked.

  38. @DCS
    I can see that you have not invested in SPG…I have…
    For the last 14 years I have traveled the world staying at more than 100 Spg properties. I get most of my points through my Spg business card, putting the majority of my business expenses through it.
    There is no comparison of what you can get/ how you get treated from Spg with the other programs. I have found extreme value specially overseas. Couple of examples…
    I booked a hotel in Portugal, convento de espínhero a couple years a go using 7000 points per night (I think is 10000 now). Got an amazing suite upgrade and full bufet breakfast. A comparable room with any other chain would have been a minimum of 30000+ points.
    Tambo del Inka in Peru cost me 3 years a go 4000 points and $60 (cash and points nowadays cost more but it is still a fantastic redemption when used at the righttime). Again a beautiful suite upgrade and full bufet kra la carte breakfast.. comparable rooms in any other program would have been 30000 plus points without those benefits.
    Over and over again I have been given upgrades and fantastic benefits for half/third of the points that I would have used at other chains…which by the way I have also used.
    It’s not even close, what you get/quality of hotels, if you compare spg with the rest.

  39. @Ahmed he understands perfectly well, he is just so myopic that he refuses to believe both the overall superiority of other programs, as well as the specific benefits of each of them that he can’t wrap his mind around.

    Better of us all to just ignore the dogmatic troll!

  40. @Ahmed — One more time, I understand it completely. Here is the short of it. You can try to confirm your DSU at booking but may not because there is no availability; conversely, I could just waltz in and get upgraded at check in because there is availability. Availability, availability. availability. If there is availability, then sure, you can confirm at booking. It is the “if” that reduces the confirmability advantage of DSUs, especially since every year so far I have pitched for complimentary upgrades 3-4 times more than HGP Diamonds try to confirm the four DSUs, and I have batted better than 90%. Availability, availability availability!!!

  41. @Ricardo — I too have reported on my travels and the tremendous status recognition that I have enjoyed over the years around the world as a HH Diamond . I suspect that every program has members who swear by their superiority, so it is pretty much a wash…really. That is the root of my beef with the constant drumbeat and superlatives by travel bloggers about how anything HGP or SPG is “best in the business”…

    A great example is your satisfaction with SPG. That’s great, but it does not change the fact that their top tier awards are BY FAR the most expensive out there. Practically anyone who has done the math, including the host of this site, knows this. If you get most of your points through significant business travel for which you are reimbursed, it really does not matter much that SPG awards are so expensive. But for those who play the game on their own dime, to fall for claims of how great SPG is or how “valuable” starpoints are, is to play the game with less than a full deck.

  42. @DCS a Hyatt Diamond can get upgraded any time between booking and check-in. You can get upgraded only at check-in. And you have to pretty much jump on the check-in desk to do it. Most people aren’t willing to do that. So it works for you, but your experiences aren’t generalizable. And there is a real value in the certainty of a suite vs the hope of it. I’ve certainly secured suites far in advance where the whole hotel winds up sold out and I’d have never have gotten one if it hadn’t been confirmed at booking.

  43. @DCS

    I’ve said before, availability isn’t a constant thing. You talk of it as if the chances of walking up on a peak date at a popular location and finding availability are as good as finding availability 12 months out. The actual difference is 100 to 0, as in 100% chances of availability with Hyatt if you book far in advance and 0% with Hilton.

    To make it crystal clear, consider the pattern (for ANY and EVERY hotel in peak dates in popular locations):
    100% availability with ANY hotel 12 months out
    75% 12-3 months out
    50% 1 month out
    10% 2 weeks out
    Skeletal remains one week out
    0% on the day

    Now which chain allows you to book during 100% availability: Hyatt, ONLY Hyatt
    Which chain comes next? SPG with SNAs, much weaker benefit
    Which chains come last? Everyone else (including Hilton)

    I have locked in suites for both Eids, Easter and Christmas-New year period (got em both in one shot) at Hyatts this year, from previous years I know for a fact that the Conrad and Waldorf (and just about any big hotel here) will sell out 100% guaranteed if you turn up on the day and ask for a room.

    It really is just that simple. The “confirmed” aspect has to do with the fact that you have suite confirmed 12 months in advanced, Hilton offers no level of confirmation, this is why they refer to those as confirmed (once booked) or confirmable (before booking).

    Same with late checkout, 4 pm means 4 pm means 4 pm with SPG and Hyatt, find me a member who was wrongly evicted, reminded the hotel and was not compensated by program.

    EVERY hotel can grant 6 pm or 8 pm checkout if they feel like it, SPG and Hyatt do too, but they are also REQUIRED by program to give AT LEAST 4 pm, not the case with Hilton. They can and will evict you earlier if necessary

    It really is that simple.

  44. @Gary: “a Hyatt Diamond can get upgraded any time between booking and check-in.”

    Are you sure about that? Maybe the HGP T&C have been surreptitiously modified?
    “Suite upgrade awards must be redeemed at time of reservation. Member must call 800.400.2261 or their nearest Global Contact Center to redeem upgrade award. ”

    It seems to me that if there is no AVAILABILITY at booking, as is often the case, you’re out of luck 😉

    Anyway, we have beaten this one to a pulp, I think. We each have our own experiences, positive or negative. Abuses of superlatives and the pushing of bloggers’ biased experiences with a program or two do not allow for that varied experience and must be stopped.

    I now have 6 confirmable UA global premier upgrades that I can try to use between booking and 24h before departure. If there is no availability, the fact that those upgrade instruments are confirmable does me no good in practice. All they have is potential. I suspect that the frustration of UA 1Ks who cannot clear their confirmable upgrades is not unlike that of HGP Diamonds with their DSUs. At least many admitted as much at OMAAT.

    Availability, availability, availability. That’s the name of the game.


  45. @DCS I have better luck getting suite upgrades without using a confirmed instrument as a Hyatt Diamond than I do as a Hilton Diamond. Neither Hyatt nor Hilton promises suites if available at check-in, so it’s at the discretion of the hotel. The difference is that if a standard suite is for sale at a Hyatt property, a Diamond can use a DSU to confirm that suite in advance. And in fact any member can use 6000 points per night for that suite when paying the Hyatt Daily Rate for a standard room at most hotels, for a premium room at resorts.

    At Hyatt your reference to ‘availability’ means ‘room is for sale’ at time of booking or any time prior to check-in.

    At Hilton your reference to ‘availability’ means ‘room is unoccupied at time of check-in’ and ‘you can convince hotel to give it to you’.

    Those are very different things.

  46. @Gary: “I have better luck getting suite upgrades without using a confirmed instrument as a Hyatt Diamond than I do as a Hilton Diamond.”

    Must we keep going back there. All that means that you are not qualified to pontificate about HH suite upgrades or the program in general. You saw my pictorial report at MilePoint/InsideFlyer on my 100% success clearing HH Diamond Complimentary Suite Upgrades in 2014, because you’d commented there and attributed it to my preferential Asian destinations, another claim debunked by the fact that 54% of my 13 of 15 DCSUs cleared in 2015 were not in Asia. Talk is cheap, and you know the second half of that saying…

  47. IIRC, if Hyatt has suites for sale, a Diamond can always use one of their certs to confirm the space, correct?

    Assuming that – it again shows a lack of mental comprehension by DCS (a common theme across posts). UA has plenty of business seats for sale, but they don’t have to offer upgrade availability. Hyatt has plenty of suites (aka business seats) for sale, and thus they HAVE to offer said suites as upgrades.

    DCS’ talk of guarantees and availability is just him putting up smoke and mirrors…

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