Hyatt changed their very popular loyalty program in 2017 and may have upset their best customers. Hyatt has made a series of changes to the program that walked back some of the restrictions keeping elites from qualifying for the program.
From Diamond to Globalist
Late in 2016 changes were announced to the beloved Hyatt Gold Passport program (Matthew actually broke the story on PenAndPassport.com). The phoenix that rose from the ashes was the World of Hyatt program that in some ways was an improvement but for most seemed to fail to realize the limitations of its own brand.
The most egregious change for leisure travelers was likely imperceptible for Hyatt loyalists in control of their travel plans with no corporate oversight and convenient trips to Hyatt only cities. Diamond status was previously offered to Hyatt guests that completed either 25 stays or 50 nights in a year and for leisure travelers with some business trips to huge cities, they could just scrape by with 25 stays. Matthew has written about how he had trouble re-qualifying, I personally mattress ran to lock it in for two years because I was nearly certain I wouldn’t re-qualify. The new “Globalist” status requires 60 nights in the first year of the program then 55 to renew but removed the possibility to achieve status with stays.
This was met with uproar from many Hyatt Diamond guests who go out of their way to stay at Hyatts when Marriott/SPG, Hilton and IHG tend to be less expensive and more widely available. Hyatt hotels now number just over 700 properties worldwide but are sparse when compared to Marriott/SPG, Hilton and IHG which each offer 4,000-6,000 properties per brand. Some areas are completely barren for coverage. Do you have business in Lima, Barcelona, or Rome? Sorry you’re out of luck. Those aren’t small markets. There are just two hotels in Beijing, a handful of properties in Africa, one in Rio (opened for the Olympics), one in Mexico City – the most populous city in North America!
As you can see from my meandering rant, it was difficult for many long-time Hyatt loyalists to stay loyal before the new requirements went into effect. Considering that some were staying at as many Hyatt hotels (on single night stays) as they could, they scraped by with just 25 stays/nights due to lack of available properties and then paid a premium for the privilege.
In a nutshell, spending 60 nights in Hyatt hotels with the same limited footprint was about as attainable as eating Chick-Fil-A on Sundays unless market conditions were perfect.
Corrections to Requirements
As it turns out, market conditions were not often perfect and Hyatt clearly lost an awful lot of business. I have written before about how the brand has a tendency to swerve and overcorrect their mistakes. On the one hand, it’s great that they correct them at all, but on the other hand, is the brand afraid of polling their elites or doing a focus group?
After the changes were rolled out for elite night requirements in 2017, the brand quickly gave a number of exemptions to the requirement essentially lowering them by 17% from 60 nights unconditionally to generally 55 nights – a change in clear response to elites with pitchforks.
Hyatt announced new perks, which I personally loved, a pair of free night certificates and the ability to earn additional ones throughout the year. These certificates were good for (1) night at a category 1-4 hotel and (1) free night at any Hyatt in the world (category 1-7). But like any good backhanded compliment (“You hit pretty hard… for a girl”), they didn’t really shout from the rooftops about their expiration date which some people found out the hard way. At 120 days from earning (not from status renewal) the certificates would expire, and Hyatt recently walked this change back to 180 days, which was an improvement on the back-handed compliment (“You hit pretty hard… for a beautiful woman”) but still not the benefit it should be – just have them release at the beginning of the status year and expire at the end of it… like every other benefit.
Included in the same press release about the aforementioned change was another regarding award stays. Hyatt will now count nights spent purely on points as elite-qualifying. This groundbreaking development may be a huge improvement for Hyatt – it is – but it simply now puts the brand on par with every other major hotel chain that already allowed this. In fact the last major program to change from not allowing award stays to count, to then counting them was IHG which reached the conclusion in 2011.
This is clearly in response not to matching benefits of other programs to remain competitive; Hyatt Gold Passport was far superior (and World of Hyatt still is) to IHG’s Rewards Club for example. This came down to the loss of elites in the ranks. Hyatt overestimated the loyalty or flexibility of their top-tier elites (I had been one for a few years) and assumed that they would thin the ranks (after they were previously too generous with awarding status on challenges) and started to lose too many of them. By January 1st the verdict was already in on 2017 and the announcement was made regarding award stays counting. Clearly things had not gone as planned.
Adjustments Made in Retrospect
If it were not clear enough through all of these changes, Hyatt leadership found a way to qualify elites without them even knowing. The brand decided to retroactively allow award stays to count towards elite status in 2017. That’s a welcome adjustment, but it still keeps the requirements far too high for their footprint. It is starting to look like Hyatt is desperate for top-tier elites… because they are. Who would have thought that increasing elite qualification requirements by 20-240% in one year would have back fired?!?
Keep your eyes peeled for ‘Double Elite-Qualifying Nights’ and ‘Welcome Back’ promotions to lure elites back. When I was just starting out as a manager in a local pizza chain the owner of the business gave me sage advice.
“Never let your customer taste the competition.”
You never let the customer try something else. It’s not because you believe your product is inferior, but perhaps the competition does something different, offers something more – perhaps your customer no longer wants to pay a premium for your product because it simply doesn’t differentiate enough from the competition. Once they have had a taste of what else is out there, you may never get them back.
I, for one, was an extreme Hyatt loyalist – once I experienced Diamond status I did everything I could to retain it. But over the last year, I have been able to try Hilton and SPG and found that sometimes the competition does things better. Hilton, SPG and Marriott properties are certainly more prevalent and often they don’t cost as much. I can’t fault a Hilton loyalist and snub my nose at them like I once would have because I genuinely get treated very well and they haven’t betrayed me in the way that Hyatt did.
With the latest walk back, Hyatt is openly acknowledging that they went too far and lost more elites than they expected to with the changes this year. They are retroactively qualifying guests simply to get them back and inflate their elite numbers again, but I am not sure that it is the answer. While I don’t think they will ever lower the requirements back to 25 stays or 50 nights, I would bet that they find a way to qualify members around the same level or close to it.
I am certainly not going to cheer Hyatt on for making changes to the program that cost me money to stay with them this year, and should have been there all along.
What do you think? Am I just sour grapes over the requirements? Do you agree that the verdict is in and loyalists are voting with the dollars?