Hotel chains suffered during the pandemic to secure and maintain elites. With travel roaring back, Hyatt is back to pre-pandemic levels while Marriott appears to struggle.
Marriott Elites Are Getting a Soft Landing
Good news for Marriott Bonvoy members came this week as the global hotel brand announced that it would not drop those holding its hotel status more than one level below what they held the prior year. This is welcome for business travelers who have not returned to pre-pandemic levels and may not have renewed at the level they typically do.
The move raises the question: Did Marriott experience a dramatic shortfall in expected elite members. This is not the first time Marriott has made such a move as nearly all travel providers (hotel/car rental/airline) extended during the pandemic. It’s also no secret that business travel has struggled and leisure travelers would face considerable challenges earning meaningful status levels without corporate travel.
Marriott Gives Credit Card Users A Huge Headstart
For those holding “the right” Marriott credit card combination, some Bonvoyers will begin the year with as many as 55 elite qualifying nights. That’s a strong headstart to Titanium status (75 nights) where the best Bonvoy benefits begin. While those who are solely seeking Marriott Gold status could simply carry the American Express Platinum card rather than a combination of Bonvoy cards (or earning the 50 elite status nights), those aiming higher start the year in a good position to achieve the upper echelons within the program.
As Delta famously said, when everyone’s elite, no one is.
Hyatt Globalists Returned?
One Hyatt elite group on social media had circulated the notion that Hyatt had 40% fewer Globalists this year than expected. It would make sense as securing the World of Hyatt Globalist status is one of the hardest given the limited footprint (about 1,100 properties, 1,500 through its SLH partnership) and high number of Hyatt stays (60 nights.)
I reached out to a Hyatt executive with knowledge of the World of Hyatt program participation this year who said,
“Globalist numbers are in fact in line with pre-pandemic requalification and World of Hyatt program membership has increased by 20% in the past 12 months alone.”
Naturally, adding 20% more World of Hyatt members while maintaining pre-pandemic requalification would mean that there was some drop in those who earn Globalist status (top tier status in the program) relative to its new larger size, but certainly nowhere near the 40% shortfall that some had suggested.
Some of the reasons why so many Globalists were able to requalify would be down to new business World of Hyatt credit card offers that granted double stay credit as well as new all-inclusive property promotions that also doubled stay credits.
Holders of the personal version of the World of Hyatt credit card earn 2 status nights for every $5,000 you spend on the card, further shortening the distance to the top tiers. Along the way, Hyatt members also receive milestone bonuses like bonus points or free night certificates as well as club lounge awards. Now that Hyatt allows award stays to count toward status, even Chase Ultimate Rewards members can use points earned in that program to redeem for nights that count toward status accrual as a way to back in to status.
For Globalists, that means a lower likelihood of securing an upgrade of Free Night Award at premium properties like Park Hyatts, and fewer that qualified by 60 nights or earning 100,000 base points.
Still, that’s good news for Hyatt generally speaking and relative to the industry. For what it’s worth, American Airlines and United Airlines are both running status matches out of the gate in 2023.
Yet Hyatt Appears To Target Elite Qualifiers
The one confusing data point that factors into this otherwise resounding affirmation for Hyatt and its most frequent guests is that some Hyatt concierges have already distributed a double status night promotion to Globalist members through the first quarter of the calendar year. That points to a softness that the Hyatt executive didn’t match in their statement.
Hilton Already Running Status Challenges
This week I called Hilton’s Diamond Desk to extend my status another year despite failing to requalify. It’s a great perk of the program and one I haven’t used before. I know I could just carry the Hilton Aspire card as it comes with the status and maybe I’ll add it this year, but I haven’t needed another $450 card in my wallet to this point.
The Diamond Desk was unhelpful in extending my status (I qualify, they simply didn’t know the answer and I didn’t have the time to go further) but instantly offered me a challenge. The challenge for Diamond (18 nights in 90 days) didn’t appear to be targeted in any way and I had to clarify a couple of times that I wasn’t looking for a challenge.
Add Hilton to the list of providers offering a status challenge before the end of the first week of 2023.
So What Is The State of Business Travel and Elite Status Qualifiers?
I have mixed opinions based on the limited data points I have received. The Hyatt executive I communicated with was quite pleasant and reflected that they really don’t have any issues with retaining Globalists at the moment. The speculation that the numbers of new members might not be trending toward that end of the status spectrum is my assumption based on the number of new members but the statement that they were maintaining elites where they were at.
The unannounced (and “leaked”) accelerated status earnings suggest that maybe there is a need for more elites to fill out the ranks than simply to requalify. Marriott, however, is showing a soft belly as are American, United, and Hilton. Without a pandemic, how do those brands roll back their requirements in a meaningful way? How do they drive the incremental revenue that elites and engaged program participants deliver?
I suspect we will see lots of promotions this year as providers grapple with fewer business travelers for the long haul and look to engage new customers as the brands expand to even more consumers traveling for personal reasons.
The rumors of the death of business travel may have been greatly exaggerated, but that conclusion is hard to draw conclusively at the moment. Hyatt has some great data points, but their new actions suggest there is still something afoot with elite qualifying for their status. Marriott, United, American, and Hilton are much clearer that they are not maintaining the ranks and that points to both problems (for the brands) and opportunities (for travelers.) It should be a very interesting year ahead.
What do you think? Do Hyatt’s data points suggest confidence? How important are credit cards in replacing lost corporate travel? Are the other travel providers simply being aggressive or revealing market concerns?