I spent the past weekend in Denver for the close of the Star Mega DO, landing minutes ahead of the charter flight. My job was to get everyone onto buses while another group went immediately over to United’s training center for flight simulator time. Once everyone had their checked bags, it was out to the taxi/limo booth to have our buses called from the waiting pen, got everyone on, and then I was on my way over to the Avis for my rental car. One of the funniest moments for me of the trip was as I was arriving on the Avis lot, my cell phone rang. Tommy, the event organizer, asked…
- Tommy:Have you left the lot yet?
Me: No, what’s up?
Tommy: What kind of car do they have for you?
Me: Cadillac, why?
Tommy: See if you can get something bigger.
Me: How big?
Tommy: Biggest thing they’ve got!
It seems there was a mixup on the transportation to the United training center, and I’d need to circle back and help people get over there.
The manager of the Avis location as standing there at my car, engine running and trunk open, waiting to take my carryon.
- Me: Thank you so much, this is a great car, but I'm really hoping you can help me out. There's been a bit of a transportation mixup and it would really help if I could have something bigger.
Avis manager: Are you thinking something like a Suburban?
Me: Any chance for anything even bigger than that, what’s the biggest thing you have?
Avis manager: (mostly joking) Well, I have a 12 passenger van….
Me: I’ll take it!
So off we went. And having that 12 passenger van, I spent much of the weekend shuttling folks around, but it was a great time to meet tons of new people. And I haven’t driven a 12 passenger van in a long time. Talk about an upgrade, hah!
When I wasn’t driving the bus, I was popping into several tours, tons of things going on simultaneously on Saturday. Among the most popular were the cooking demonstration (everyone got desserts!) and the wine tastings (everyone got to drink!) offered by the hotel. This is a crew that can drink, apparently the charter flight itself was loaded with four times the usual stock of ‘refreshments’.
Last night, at the closing event of the SMD3, we heard stories of what a fantastic person Captain Jason Dahl was from those who knew him. Jason had traded flights with another pilot so that he could take his wife Sandy to London the following weekend to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.
And so the Fund raises funds to support the studies of aspiring pilots. Dahl himself was a training supervisor, supervising the requalification of United’s pilots, so flight education was at the core of his life. To me it’s more than a feel good charity, and I suppose I have my own reasons for supporting its idea that likely are different that most others, given my own personal politics I’m enthusiastic about alternate paths towards a career as a pilot which circumvent the need for time in the military. But that’s just me.
There was a silent auction component of the evening, I haven’t heard the results but I do know that the Mega DO trip itself raised over $30,000 for charity.
Jeff Zidell gave a great talk, that I think was really useful for the audience, since every frequent flyer there was either an existing or new Hyatt Diamond member. I still can’t believe that Hyatt gave everyone on the trip Diamond status, many of my conversations with folks over the weekend were about the ins and outs of the Hyatt program and how to make the best of the new benefits folks have.
With 160 Diamond members on this trip alone, plus who knows how many amongst other guests, and in addition to two weddings going on Saturday evening, there certainly wasn’t any way that a hotel without all that many suites could offer complimentary upgrades to everyone. And many newly minted Hyatt Diamonds may not realize that Hyatt offers four confirmed at booking suites per year, valid on any published, paid rate, but that when not using one of those upgrades, suites at check-in aren’t a benefit of the program. Some hotels do go above and beyond, but the Diamond benefit is otherwise club access when available (breakfast otherwise) and an upgrade to the best available room below a suite category. With that many Diamond members, any hotel’s resources would be taxed. I didn’t have a suite for the weekend, for instance…
The Grand Hyatt Denver opened up a dedicated club lounge for the group, in a large space off the lobby, and set up breakfast and other refreshments throughout the day in lieu of providing access to the entire group to the otherwise too-small lounge. And of course in the evening, Hyatt hosted a cocktail reception and full dinner. So no doubt folks received their share of benefits from Hyatt. But some understanding was necessary as the hotel scrambled to see to what extent they would be able to honor 4pm checkout for the entire group, from a logistical standpoint, and not everyone was able to have that.
So the best moment of Jeff Zidell’s talk had to be playing a video that made the rounds back in January, about a Diamond hotel guest’s insistence on their benefits.
This had the group laughing uproariously.
Jeff went through some of the new hotel openings, the most aggressive expansion is in China and India, I had no idea really that with near-term openings they’re rounding towards 500 properties. That’s still only half the size of Starwood (and much smaller of course than Hilton, Marriott, and Priority Club) but in my mind I still had Hyatt in the low 300s.
The number of hotel properties in the Hyatt portfolio was one of several trivia questions that were an opportunity to receive bonus Gold Passport points throughout the evening. The couple that got engaged on the charter flight were given 25,000 points. When the group was asked to name 5 things that had changed in Hyatt Gold Passport since April 2009, some of the initial answers struggled and my table egged me on to answer. I did, but I didn’t turn the card I was handed in for the bonus points, not really fair for me to win points on this trip I think.
Question and answer time was interesting. Everyone wanted to know about the “G bonuses” which Hyatt no longer offers, those were property-specific bonuses that went away about six months back. As in the past, Jeff explained that they weren’t well-executed and thus not serving their purpose, the whole thing was a manual process and too often had to be dealt with after stays. That meant unhappy members. Of course, Hyatt Gold Passport hasn’t replaced them with something else at this point, and my take there is two-fold: (1) Frankly they don’t need to be as generous, just as other chains really haven’t been this year, with hotels really quite full (though props to Starwood Preferred Guest for their free resort night promo over the late spring and into the summer), and (2) It’s also fair to say that Hyatt is working on other benefits and improvements, which may ultimately please members quite a bit, even if they aren’t directly a replacement for the G bonuses. Still, members never like fewer bonus points than they’ve receive in the past, though it’s hard to imagine the generosity of 2009 that each and every one of the chains were offering — at least without returning to the same depths of the Great Recession in order to warrant it.
The group learned a good bit about the hotel program that they suddenly had top tier status with, but I thought the absolute most impressive thing was Zidell posting his email address for questions. And then his cell phone number. Seriously.
A huge thanks to Hyatt for their partnership on the Star Mega DO, really going above and beyond for everyone on the trip and for spending time with the group.
I can’t believe that this is all going to happen again in January, this time with the oneworld alliance… (and Hyatt again as a sponsor as well).
See also Million Mile Secrets with his recap of the event, including a lead photo of himself along with me, The Points Guy, and Mommy Points together at Saturday evening’s reception.