While I started mileage running at the age of 14, I only really got into hotel loyalty at the age of 18 (given that prior to that I couldn’t technically stay at hotels). My first hotel status was with InterContinental back when Royal Ambassador referral certificates were “recyclable.” Basically those that earned Royal Ambassador status (InterContinental’s top tier, invitation only status) could nominate someone else to Royal Ambassador. The “trick” was that the nominated person could also nominate another person to Royal Ambassador status, basically making a never-ending chain of Royal Ambassadors.
InterContinental was spectacular at the time, and to this day I still think the actual hotel recognition is the best of any top tier status. My biggest issue with their program is that there aren’t that many InterContinental hotels, and while they also belong to Priority Club, that doesn’t leave much middle ground. So you can earn points at InterContinental hotels and Holiday Inn Express hotels, but I really do wish they had a more intermediate brand, like Hilton/Marriott/Hyatt/Westin/Sheraton.
In many ways InterContinental was a leader at the time, though in the meantime much of the competition has caught up, with benefits like guaranteed late check-out, complimentary internet access, confirmable suite upgrades, etc. It’s still a good program, but given the fact that qualification criteria are unpublished, it’s really not realistic or worthwhile to maintain. It would suck to put in 55 nights at InterContinental/Holiday Inn hotels, only to be downgraded to Ambassador status, which can be bought for $100 otherwise (or $200 for those that previously didn’t have the status). Another huge frustration of mine is that they don’t honor Royal Ambassador benefits on award stays. It sucks to work hard to earn points in the program, only to be treated like a Priceline guest when you go to redeem your points.
But there are some InterContinental properties I’ll really miss not being a Royal Ambassador at, like the InterContinental Berchtesgaden and InterContinental San Francisco, which are among my favorite hotels. So with InterContinental I feel like my loyalty is more to a few of there hotels which I love, as opposed to the chain as a whole.
While at the time I wasn’t really in a position to maintain top tier status with two programs, Hyatt really lured me in with their “Big Welcome Back” promotion in early 2010, whereby they offered one free night at any Hyatt worldwide after every two stays. The deal was so lucrative I couldn’t afford not to take advantage of it. My local Hyatt was $80 per night and had a closed club lounge on weekends and G3 bonus. At Hyatt when a club lounge is closed on weekends you get 2,500 bonus points as a Diamond member, and the G3 bonus gets you 1,500 bonus points. Furthermore, as a Diamond member I earned a 1,000 point Diamond amenity, meaning I was earning about 5,500 bonus points plus half a half free night at any Hyatt in the world for every $80 stay. Yes, $160 got me 11,000 Gold Passport points plus a free night. That’s an outrageously good value, and the Grand Hyatt Tampa quickly became my second home.
Unfortunately since then Hyatt hasn’t offered any promotion even nearly as lucrative, though at the same time I feel they’ve added enough new perks to still justify requalifying with them, between the best breakfast benefit of any hotel program, four confirmed suite upgrades per year, guaranteed 4PM late check-out, and most importantly (for me) very reasonable redemption rates for their highest end hotels. Hyatt is a program where I really do feel rewarded for my loyalty, based on the number of Park Hyatt properties I’ve been able to redeem points at (including the ones in Dubai, Melbourne, Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo).
Then last March I status matched to Starwood Platinum. On April 1, 2011, they stopped offering outright status matches, so I figured I might as well use my Hyatt Diamond status to match over to Starwood. They previously had one of the most generous status match policies, since as long as you requested the match after March 1, it was valid for two full years. So it was a total no brainer for me.
I really didn’t think I’d like Starwood. Their hotels are managed very loosely, leaving a lot open to interpretation by the individual hotels. That’s especially frustrating when they offer perks like “unlimited suite upgrades subject to availability,” which is very much open to interpretation by the hotel and tough for the member to enforce.
But I actually have liked being a Starwood Platinum, especially after they added a bunch of new benefits in March, including free breakfast, which I’ve found to be well executed on the whole.
Anyway, after I’ve written this it occurred to me that the post reads a whole lot like a post I made a month ago about how I’m feeling about my hotel elite status as of now, but I just wanted to add a bit of historical context on my loyalty thus far, because I’m seriously considering something, per the title of the post.
Rather than make this post a novel, I’ll have part two of the post tonight. In the meantime, Diet Coke with lime and hot nut coupons* go to anyone that can finish the sentence in the title of my post. I promise part two of this post is more original than part one.
*Terms and conditions do apply, including the fact that they’re invisible and can only be redeemed in conjunction with a $10,000 donation to the Lucky Travel Fund