Nick predicts: Hyatt & Marriott’s elite status plan for 2020

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Yesterday, we learned that Hilton will extend elite status to 2021 or even 2022 for some. Radisson announced the day before that they are extending elite status. IHG announced two weeks ago that they are reducing 2020 elite status requirements due to the current COVID-19 situation. What about Hyatt and Marriott? Will we see an extension of elite benefits? What are they waiting for in announcing it? We don’t yet know — and in my opinion, we probably won’t know for a while. This post is total conjecture, but as we get this question often I figured it was worth addressing it here.

Similar announcements, similar inaction so far

Both Marriott and Hyatt have addressed the fact that elite status requirements for 2020 will need to be adjusted. From their COVID-19 statements:

Marriott statement (link to statement):

We understand that earning status for 2021 may also be on your mind. As the current situation is still evolving, it is too early for us to make any changes. We will keep you updated on all loyalty program changes through our Marriott Bonvoy member benefits website.

Hyatt statement (link to statement):

Given the quickly evolving nature of the situation, it is simply too early to suggest revised elite tier qualifications and award expiration beyond members in Asia Pacific. However, we know that adjustments will need to be made, and we are committed to communicating these as soon as we can.

Both programs have recognized that changes to elite status qualification will need to happen, but unlike IHG, Radisson, and Hilton, we haven’t yet heard what those changes will be.

Why not just extend everyone’s status?

The easy and customer-friendly solution here would be to follow in Radisson and Hilton’s footsteps and extend status for all. The year 2020 is a total anomaly beyond anyone’s control with weeks to months of flight cancellations, hotel closures, and stay-at-home orders preventing most people from traveling in the near-term and making it difficult to plan for the long term. It’s certainly possible that we won’t see companies lifting their corporate travel bans before mid to late summer at the earliest, which would mean travel really getting back to “normal” in the fall — with just a few months left in the year. Can’t we just get a do-over on the year from loyalty programs? It’s not as though they have lost our loyalty — we’ve just lost our ability to travel for the time being.

Truthfully, that’s the solution I’d like to see. At this point, I still feel confident enough to make 2021 travel plans. I imagine that things will clear up at some point in 2020, but I can’t really predict when that will be, so it’s hard for me to commit to 2020 nights right now. I’d be happy to start committing 2021 nights to a loyalty program though. Surely I’m not alone.

However, I don’t necessarily expect that’s the solution we’ll see.

At the end of the day, the entire purpose of a loyalty program is to drive repeat business, so it’s not altogether unreasonable that brands would use their program as a tool to bring people back in the fold when travel returns to normal. Hotels (and travel providers in general) have essentially gone down to near $0 in revenue in many situations (quite a number of hotels are now closed for a couple of months because of this). When they reopen, their goal (obviously for their shareholders and hotel owners but also for their thousands of employees and those outside vendor employees that count on the hotels being open for their jobs, etc) will be to get as many heads in beds as possible. If they automatically extend status, they may assume they are selling themselves short by taking away the incentive to stay with them when travel returns to normal. We don’t know when life will be “normal” again, but if we imagine a scenario where things re-open in June and Hyatt/Marriott announce double elite night credit on all stays through the end of the year, people will still have six months to stay half the number of required stays ordinarily required. If the pandemic drags on and properties remain closed and international flights remain cancelled into August and/or companies continue to ban corporate travel before the fall, maybe these programs will reduce tier requirements by some percentage and also offer double or triple elite night credit or something like that. Maybe it will eventually get to the point where they’ll decide there is little they can do to encourage business this year and then they’ll call it a wash and extend status into next year. There are quite a few possibilities.

And that’s a predicament for those making decisions: Which of those scenarios will be the right path? To take a guess today about when travel will resume and announce some different qualification requirement that may end up being unreasonably difficult (because stuff stays closed longer) offers little upside for them. Further, taking the chance that their announcement gets misinterpreted as trying to encourage people to travel today rather than stay at home offers potential backlash. All things considered, it’s not like an announcement about updated elite status requirements is going to change a member’s choice of hotel next week or next month since in most cases their members aren’t traveling right now. Rushing an announcement while we have no end in sight to current restrictions probably isn’t prudent.

I don’t think we’ll see announcements on the reductions of elite status requirements from Hyatt or Marriott until we round the corner on the pandemic and start seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just too hard for them to predict what will be reasonable without knowing when hotels will be open and flights will be operating and people will be comfortable traveling. Personally, I wouldn’t expect an announcement on this front until mid-April at the earliest but more likely it won’t come until May.

That is unless they decide to extend status and give us that do-over on 2020. That kind of certainty would obviously be welcomed by customers and could be announced at any time. An elite stauts extension could still be combined with promotions that encourage stays later this year when travel is once again feasible and lead to a win-win. Hopefully Marriott and Hyatt will see that opportunity.

Will new requirements bring new opportunities?

Personally, I’m not terribly concerned with the timing of the Marriott and Hyatt announcements on elite night requirements for 2020. Whatever decisions they make, there are likely to be opportunities for us to find.

For example, if Hyatt reduces the number of elite nights required to earn Globalist status, the World of Hyatt credit card will increase in value since every $5K spent earns 2 elite nights. That could make it very easy to spend your way to status.

If Marriott offers double elite night credit and award stays count, I imagine there will be a nice opportunity for those with low-level Marriott properties in their vicinity. After all, it is likely we will see off-peak pricing available at near-empty hotels for months after things return to normal. A 5-night stay at an off-peak Category 1 property costs 20K points. Imagine if they offer double elite night credit and that 20K points actually scoops up 10 elite nights. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Marriott offer points on sale for a reduced price again, offering an opportunity to potentially buy cheap elite qualifying nights.

I think it is further likely that we’ll see some generous promotions in terms of point-earning from stays. Will it be like “the old days” where you could sometimes earn points that were worth more than the cost of the room? I don’t know, but it’s not impossible.

Those are a couple of small examples, but the point is that there will likely be enhanced opportunities with reduced requirements. Combined with automatic credit card elite nights and such, there could be opportunities to pick up status with little effort — and we’ll surely be keeping our eyes peeled for those opportunities.

While I would love to see a free extension of status for all members, I think it is more likely that we’ll see a multiple of elite status nights — at least double and perhaps triple. I imagine programs would rather keep the numbers consistent (i.e. Titanium requires 75 nights or Globalist requires 60 nights) if possible. I think they will likely give members the opportunity to earn those nights with fewer stays (by offering double or triple elite night credit for each night you stay). It essentially reduces the number of nights required to earn status without diluting the way people think about the requirements.

If this drags on into the summer, they may need to consider reducing those elite night requirements after all while also giving additional elite nights credit for new stays. That would represent opportunity for those who do travel later this year — if we’re able to qualify with fewer nights and get additional elite night credit, that could be a solid deal for those members who travel this year.

Unfortunately, changes that merely reduce the number of elite nights required or offer extra elite status credit would leave behind those who opt to wait a few extra months to plan unnecessary travel and/or those whose ability to plan leisure trips gets crunched with the back-to-school schedule and less appealing weather in many popular destinations in late fall and early winter. That’s to say nothing of the folks who will travel less in 2020 due to economic uncertainty but who will hopefully be back in position to travel regularly again in 2021. I think programs that don’t essentially offer a do-over of 2020 will lose some of those customers to Hilton given Hilton’s stance on status — both the extension and the fact that “free breakfast status” (i.e. Hilton Gold) can be easily bought with a credit card annual fee.

Bottom line

We haven’t yet heard about what the new elite status requirements will be from Hyatt and Marriott for 2020 earning (2021 elite status year), but we do know that they will very likely be reduced. It is doubtful that we’ll know exactly what that looks like for at least several more weeks and perhaps it will be a longer wait than that. However, if they do not intend to offer an extension to all members, I’m hopeful that it will mean generous promotions that give us opportunities to earn outsized value while also supporting those folks who will be looking forward to getting back to work at our favorite hotels.

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T. Jones
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T. Jones

Last year I received a targeted promotion from Marriott that offered me double elite night credits. This helped me to achieve Platinum Elite status by the end of 2019. I only received the bonus nights on paid stays, so I paid for at least one stay that would have been less expensive on points. I think it’s entirely possible that Marriott’s response might be to extend the same type of promotion to all members. I would even consider it more likely than offering status extension outright. Heck, I’d love to see them bring back the whole elite status buyback thing!

It seems to me that Hilton wanted to get something out there fast and ahead of the rest. Without knowing exactly how this thing unfolds, the only real option that seems viable for a hotel group is to simply extend status – no muss, no fuss. However if a hotel group takes a “wait and see” approach, more options become available as there will presumably be better clarity later. I think the fact that Hyatt and Marriott have not yet announced an elite status plan indicates that they are less likely to offer an extension of current status and instead find another way to encourage stays.

I guess we’ll see what happens in the next few days. If Hyatt and Marriott do not chime in soon, it’s likely they have chosen to forego elite status extensions in favor of some different incentive.

Michael Tarlow
Guest
Michael Tarlow

I am looking ahead as an opportunity to shed the golden handcuffs of my Bonvoy titanium status. For the 1st time in 30 yrs I’m looking at other brands for my 2021 travel. This is a time for Marriott to reward customer loyalty and not piss on us as the have often done.. Businesses of all types are showing appreciation for their customers. If Marriott doesn’t extend status through next year, I will book elsewhere.

Stevelpaso
Guest
Stevelpaso

what about the airline industry? I’m A-list Preferred on SWA (southwest air) and my wife is Executive Platinum on AA(American airlines. Obviously we won’t be flying enough to keep these statuses. Also, on SWA & AA you can ” buy your way” up to help get closer to status(although you still need to fly to get to the higher status. Anyone have any comments?

Jamie
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Jamie

Or the SW companion pass you can’t use for months on end…

Chris
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Chris

But why should last year’s status be extended? Nothing happened last year that would have affected the qualification period. As someone who travels a ton for work, and easily qualifies for status, it would be super frustrating for me to have another year of bloated Marriott top-tiers after the super-easy-to-qualify situation for last year.

Mark M
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Mark M

I have been a Marriott LIFETIME Platinum for about 20+ years (now Lifetime Titanium Elite) and fired Marriott (for their greedy not customer friendly approach) many years ago and switched to SPG (Lifetime Platinum) and was extremely happy with SPG where my loyalty was recognize every time I stayed on a SPG property. Once again I found myself in a less happy place with Marriott, how many more levels of hotels, peak and off peak and switcharoo will they continue to employ?

Why would Marriott consider their customers at all in making decisions with regard to CV19? They have proven once again that they value money over their customers loyalty as evidenced by the BONVOY experience (or lack of). Marriott is NOT loyal customer friendly, nor will they take into consideration this horrific situation that not only we (USA) but the world faces with CV19. Marriott could have demonstrated to their loyal customers that they care about them instead they are laggards. The ONLY thing which might change their attitude is voting with our dollars since they do not care about our loyalty, feelings, time or doing the right thing by their customers. I for one have FIRED them once again and have take my business to HILTON where I feel valued as a frequent customer (typically I spend between 100-150 nights in hotel rooms annually). BTW, I have the same feelings about United Airlines and have gone back to Delta (lifetime medallion, 1.7 million miles all domestic btw.)

Marriott, WAKE UP and remember who puts those dollars in your pockets! Start doing the right thing for your customers, you have forgotten that their are other hotel chains that will pick up your slack.

William
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William

Nick I really appreciate your optimism. I want to travel again to but I’m going to make a couple points and you let me know how it will affect your idea of a possible June or even august reopening. (I’ll cite my sources)

1. Governor Cuomo just said NY is likely going to reach an apex in cases in around 21 days (around April 16th)

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.axios.com/cuomo-coronavirus-apex-21-days-fccee3ca-1b40-45eb-a6c3-a175aa5e2086.html

2. Ohio (middle America) Director of Health just estimated that they are 7-14 days behind NY in regard to apexing in cases. Let’s call that at worst May 1st.

https://www.cleveland.com/news/2020/03/ohio-health-director-dr-amy-acton-ohio-is-7-14-days-behind-nyc.html

3. Dr. Fauci just pointed out that the Southern Hemisphere is just going into winter and their seeing an increase in cases meaning coronavirus could be seasonal. Hotels will need to adopt more transparent sanitization policies that are made clear to all guests since so many elderly travel.

https://mobile.twitter.com/cspan/status/1242951238318198790?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1242951238318198790&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.businessinsider.com%2Ffauci-warns-coronavirus-can-come-back-cycles-us-needs-prepare-2020-3

Based on these three pieces of information and the amount of cases slowly building across the country on different timelines but at similar speeds and with different outcomes based on statewide preparedness (ICU beds) it would seem very unlikely that even August would be attainable for travel and if a vaccine takes 18 months we will have to endure another winter of this and I’m not sure how much some will want to travel knowing that.

Draconian or not unfortunately I feel like unless we have an Italy, China, India style lock down these cases will steadily build and how many people want to risk traveling when you don’t know the level of preparedness the hospital is in if you happen to get injured or something goes wrong.

All this to say I really think hotels will have to adjust their elite qualifications entirely and airlines will possibly have to change the dollar spend model back to something more like the old butt in seat qualifications.

What is your (or anyone reading) opinion?

rich
Guest
rich

Extending expiration dates of certs makes sense to me, the status thing doesn’t matter to me. I think more than a few people will be re-evaluating books speculative trips since getting your points/money back in some cases wasn’t easy. In other cases it was but it would be safer to avoid that. And once things get closer to normal, there is no guarantee virus hotspots won’t pop up again and you may want to avoid making plans unless you really need to or plan to use the tickets.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

We lost our Globalist status a couple of years ago. But my wife loved it so much she was determined to get it back this year. She already had 19 nights. But take away say 4 months, and then 60 nights (which is already a great stretch) seems undoable. So I hope they don’t leave her out with just a status extension. I’m really hoping they do the smart thing which is to offer double qualifying nights. If we assume a June date to normalization, then that would level the field. Even a July date with that would work. Just extending customers status doesn’t help the brand in terms of revenue. But double qualifying nights would definitely drive occupancy levels.

mulbry
Guest
mulbry

Nick,
Do you get any sense that the OTA’s will follow along this path and start giving credits for future travel? I’ve booked a series of hotels in Sicily and Northern Italy this summer (Yikes) and it’s a mixture of refundable and non-refundable stays at VIP properties with Expedia points. I don’t know what kind of contract Expedia has with their third party hotels, but I’m assuming Expedia doesn’t pay the hotels until after the stay is completed. I haven’t contacted Expedia yet, but i’m wondering what you think Orbitz and Priceline and Expedia etc. might do to try and match the rest of the travel industry.
Thanks

toomanybooks
Guest
toomanybooks

Not knowing what airlines and hotels will do means I have cut way back in spending on branded CCs like Hyatt. Why accrue status nights for 2020 renewal if Globalist is possibly to be extended anyway? Flexible points and cashback seem the way to go for now.

Blue
Guest
Blue

Laugh. Marriott didn’t even soft ;and.