Why I’m Not Taking The Hyatt Diamond Challenge

Travis posted an incredibly informative post yesterday (with killer graphics, may I add) outlining why the savvy traveler should take Hyatt up on its Diamond Challenge, and calling me out by name to encourage me to do the same.

Well, my first reaction was, “I think that’s adorable that Travis thinks I have 15 nights to spend at a Hyatt between now and the end of July.”

So yeah, unless Travis wants to impersonate me and check into a Category 1 in Colorado Springs for two weeks, I think I’m going to have to give this one a pass. A “hard pass,” as the cool kids say.

But Travis did make some good points. However, it’s also worth a discussion as to why the Hyatt Diamond Challenge isn’t right for me, and may not be right for you, either.

I Don’t Live Anywhere Near A Category 1 Hyatt (And You Probably Don’t, Either)

Right off the bat, it’s unlikely any of us have a 15-day vacation planned in July where there’s a Hyatt Category 1 property available (much less a Category 1 hotel you’d want to spend two weeks in). Perhaps I could see spending a while at the Hyatt Regency Bali (somehow, a Category 1), but that’s closed for renovation until 2017.

As for me, I live in the Los Angeles area. The only two Category 1 Hyatts in the entire state of California are in Sacramento. The closest Category 1 Hyatt, as it turns out, is in Phoenix.

The Hyatt House Minot, North Dakota, a typically inconvenient Category 1 hotel
The Hyatt House Minot, North Dakota, a typically inconvenient Category 1 hotel

So Category 1 is not happening for me.

Let’s look at Category 2. Now, for most of you, there’s probably a Category 2 kinda near you. There’s a Hyatt Place in Emeryville, California just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, for instance.

But for me, the closest Category 2 options are in Cypress, in Orange County (about a 45 minute drive without traffic, and about the elapsed time of a Dallas-Hong Kong nonstop during rush hour), or in Valencia, near Magic Mountain, also a very long haul with or without traffic.

The Hyatt House Cypress/Anaheim, a Category 2 Hyatt 45 minutes from L.A. (on a good day)
The Hyatt House Cypress/Anaheim, a Category 2 Hyatt 45 minutes from L.A. (on a good day)

So those aren’t options, either.

There are three Category 3 options in and around LAX, which isn’t in my backyard, but at about a half an hour from my house, are within the realm of possibility if I were to take Travis’ challenge.

Under the Points + Cash scenario Travis described, a Category 3 hotel would require 6,000 points + $75 per night.

Of course, there’s the 20% points rebate which I’m eligible for. But this would require an initial outlay of 90,000 points (which I don’t have), even if in the end I only “spend” 72,000 points… plus $1,125.

By Travis’ math, I’ll earn 42,469 points based on the various bonuses, credits and Platinum earning calculations. In his scenario, when I only spent 30,000 points, I came out ahead.

But at Category 3, I’m still in the hole 29,531 points. So for this exercise, I’ve lost points. Those 32,000 points I ate just cost me $487, per Ben’s 1.5 cent valuation. All in all, I’m out $1,600 and change.

The-Concourse-Hotel-at-LAX-W001-Exterior-Rendering-1280x427.jpg
The Concourse at LAX, a (not very good) Category 3 hotel only 30 minutes from me

And if I wanted to just pay cash outright, the cheapest option would be the Concourse at LAX, A Hyatt Hotel, advertised at $139 a night. For 15 nights, including taxes and fees, that works out to $2,409.63. Granted, I’d walk away with 47,989 Gold Passport points, but that’s still only worth $720 according to Ben’s valuation, which still leaves me $1,690 “out of pocket.”

Diamond Status Isn’t Worth $600 For Me, And It’s Definitely Not Worth $1,600

If you’re a business traveler, you probably stay in hotels very frequently, and Diamond status becomes hugely valuable.

Then again, if you’re a business traveler, it’s probably fairly easy to complete a Diamond Challenge, and your employer’s paying for your hotel room anyway.

If you’re a leisure travel, the math is quite different. The truth is, I’m probably only staying at a hotel (or rental apartment!) 15-20 nights a year, at most.

I have Platinum status on Hyatt through my Chase Hyatt Visa, which, for the $75 annual fee, gives me great perks when I do stay at a Hyatt. So why would I spend $1,600, or even $600, for the incremental perks (suite upgrades and free breakfast) that come with Diamond?

Let’s discuss those perks. Travis says I can save $50 a head on breakfast with the Diamond free breakfast amenity.

Is this breakfast worth $50 to you?
Is this breakfast worth $50 to you?

I’d be quite a sucker indeed if I was paying $50 out of pocket for breakfast.

Unless I’m at a secluded resort, where perhaps hotel breakfast is the only option, I’ll probably hit up a Starbucks and grab a breakfast sandwich and coffee to go anyway. After all, I don’t normally cook myself pancakes and eggs and bacon and sausage for breakfast and have a glass of orange juice when I’m at home, so why do I need it when I travel?

A ~$4 breakfast at Starbucks (just fine with me)
A ~$5 breakfast at Starbucks (just fine with me)

“Okay,” Travis will say, “but what about those suite upgrades?”

Well, Travis travels with his family, where the extra space and sleeping arrangements that come with a suite are particularly helpful.

At a maximum, I’m traveling with a husband and two dogs. Usually the dogs aren’t with us. I don’t “need” a suite.

But even if I wanted to bling it out and really luxuriate in sitting on a couch in a separate room from where my bed is located, I could pay for a suite out of pocket, or use Gold Passport points to get a suite if it was especially pressing. In either case, I’m unlikely to spend more than $1,600 — again, or even $600 — on the price differential between a standard room and a suite in those instances where it actually matters.

I Don’t Want The Diamond Handcuffs

So let’s say I convince someone to check into a Category 1 Hyatt for me somewhere in North Dakota for 15 nights in a row, and I’m “only” out of pocket $750, and I come out ahead on points. Boy, I went through a lot of trouble for that Diamond status. It would make me feel obligated to stay exclusively within the Hyatt chain.

Ben's pair of (gently used) Diamond handcuffs?
Ben’s pair of (gently used) Diamond handcuffs?

Let me tell you why that’s problematic.

adore Hyatts, and I stay in them when it makes sense with my travel plans. If I am staying at a Hyatt, I rarely pay out of pocket for a Hyatt since I accrue points through spend on my credit card and have anniversary nights every year. (An exception is the Andaz Wall Street, which as a Category 6 is a points-eater but often has reasonable rates well under $200 a night on weekends.)

Not to mention, even if I wanted to stay at Hyatts exclusively, Hyatts aren’t everywhere. Let’s say I’m traveling to Brussels. Dublin. The entirety of the Iberian peninsula. Sorry, no Hyatts to be found.

Moreover, unlike airlines, where it’s worth sticking with one airline for loyalty purposes since, for all intents and purposes, you can count the number of domestic airlines on one hand, there are lots of hotels. Boutique hotels. Independent hotels.

And let me explain what I mean since I can already sense the grief I’m going to get from Ben, Travis and Tiffany on this. I have the choice of 190 hotels in Atlanta, according to TripAdvisor, but I only have 3 airlines to choose from if I want to fly nonstop from LAX. I know what product I’m getting on the flight, so it makes sense to consolidate my travel and pick one airline so I can score upgrades to first class. On the other hand, the product I’m getting in a hotel room varies widely from city to city, no matter the chain, and loyalty gets me, at best, a suite upgrade. Suites are great, but a suite upgrade from a standard room isn’t at all comparable to a first class upgrade from the economy cabin. If loyalty to a Hyatt meant that I could be “walked” from a $89 room at a Hyatt Place to a $795 suite at the Park Hyatt, then yes, sign me up, but that’s not how it works.

I appreciate charm, character and a “local” feel when I’m traveling for pleasure, so if I am staying in a hotel, I’ll take rates into account first and foremost and then look at what appeals to me. As “cool” as the Andaz chain is, it can’t hold a candle to the hugely stylish American Trade Hotel in Panama City, by way of example. I don’t want to feel that I’m missing out on an experience because of blind loyalty.

The American Trade Hotel in Panama, NOT available with Gold Passport points
The American Trade Hotel in Panama, NOT available with Gold Passport points (or SPG points, or Hilton points…)

Bottom Line: It’s Not For Me

If you stay at hotels 30+ nights a year, the Diamond Challenge may be perfect for you. If you just stay at hotels occasionally, but you get off on elite status and salivate at the thought of an overstuffed breakfast buffet on the regular, and you have 15 straight days where you can just chill in a Hyatt Place in suburban Green Bay plus $750 in walking around money you don’t mind spending (not to mention 30,000 Gold Passport points in your existing account), then this is the challenge for you!

Ultimately, spending 15 nights in a bare bones Hyatt is neither convenient, nor cheap, nor geographically possible for everyone. 

It certainly isn’t for me.

So I’ll keep that $750 in my bank account, thanks, and I’ll spend those 15 nights in my own comfortable bed. $750 buys a lot of scrambled eggs and coffee.

And when I travel, I’ll stay at a Hyatt, maybe. Or I’ll stay wherever offers the right combination of value, local flavor and style that appeals to me. No need to obligate myself.

For $75 a year, my Chase Hyatt Visa gives me Platinum status, which gives me room upgrades, free wifi, and a 2 p.m. late checkout. The value proposition there is undeniable. Spending 10 times that for breakfast, suite upgrades, a welcome amenity and a checkout time two hours later just seems silly to me.

Comments

  1. It doesn’t have to be by end of July right? You could start the clock anytime during challenge period.

  2. @Blake: correct, but the 20% rebate on points + cash expires at the end of July, which was the basis for Travis’ original value proposition.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. My wife and I live in hotels and this challenge still doesn’t even make sense for us. Thank you for pointing out that the value of free breakfast is insanely over-hyped. For us, a sandwich and a coffee from Starbucks is the most we’ll ever eat for breakfast. But more often, we’d just have a granola bar and the coffee from the room–meaning the free breakfast saves us about $2 compared to our normal morning. Even at Hiltons (where our breakfast is always included) we generally skip it or sleep though it.

    The only place we ever thought the complimentary breakfast had a real value was at the Conrad Maldives. In fact, the only reason we considered the Hyatt Challenge was to get free breakfast if we went to the Park Hyatt Maldives next January–but we’ll probably just go back to the Conrad.

    As for the suite upgrades, to really get value out of them you have to be staying at a really high end Hyatt (note: the suite upgrades aren’t useful at the Park Hyatt Maldives) so that means either coming our of pocket for a really expensive base room in a place like Paris, Tokyo or Sydney or paying a ton of points. I just don’t see the value.

  4. Great analysis for the other 90% of readers that do not travel for business.
    Thank you for putting it is perspective

  5. I agree! I’m a leisure traveler and I don’t want those diamond handcuffs either. I would enjoy the Diamond status In fact, I think BoardingArea as a whole would be so much better if so many bloggers didn’t have those handcuffs… it’s a big world out there and Hyatts are not present in a very large part of it. And even some places where there is a Hyatt, I find I don’t necessarily want to stay there because maybe the location is not as good as some other hotels for just walking out my door and being in the part of the city where I’d like to be. Maybe you’ll have some postings on some of your non-Hyatt stays!

  6. Per the Travis perspective. Spent $750 and earn 10,312 points and Diamond status.

    If you were to buy 108 Visa Gift Cards at Staples for $200 + $6.95 each, your out of pocket costs would be $750.60, and you would earn 111,753 UR points. For example, at a category 5 hotel. 111.753 points will get you 16 days Regency/Grand upgrade or 9 days Suite upgrades. The upgrades get better or worse depending on the Category.

    But diamond status would get you Regency/Grand upgrade and 4 suite upgrades up to a week each, potentially 28 days for 18 months on a paid or ‘cash and points’ stay.

    Don’t know what’s more work, mattress run or Walmart run.

  7. I agree. I live in Laguna Niguel. Is Hyatt Place in TJ an option for our SoCal residents? Thanks

  8. @slomichael: It may be worth it for you, but spending $22,350.60 at Staples, and then — rather than using credit cards for the rest of the year — dividing $21,600 in spend over 108 Visa gift cards (where on earth do you put them? How many do you carry with you in your wallet at once?) seems like a hassle that’s just not worth 9 days of suite upgrades for me.

  9. To be fair, I never once suggested you should consider this if you can’t make it work for about $600 out of pocket. And even then, I posed the “is Hyatt Diamond status worth $600?” on your behalf and concluded that it would depend on your travel patterns for the next 18 months….

    You make lots of other interesting points that will be fun to debate in the future…..

  10. Definitely valid points and a good read, thanks Nick. From MY perspective though… (have done the old challenge twice, the wife and I, plus requalified the hard way) the Breakfast amenity is more valuable to my family.

    For example(s) my kid eats like an adult, so 3 of us having a late breakie is almost the only meal we need sometimes!! Brunch at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek in the summer sitting outside enjoying the stunning view and ambience, absolutely delicious healthy stuff = more expensive than the awesome room rate we got, $150+ but zero to us. Same at the Park Hyatt Maldives at 11am till past midday every day, order as much as you want, and just amazing gourmet food. We definitely didn’t need to see any food till 6pm before free canapés and drinks, then a light dinner. I almost feel guilty… Nah, they offer it and I stay 50+ nights. Just stayed in a lowly Hyatt Regency in Denver and the club was manned by the best concierge I have ever come across, he organized a chef to bake cookies with a high definition edible image of son on them! That was just one of his touches. The lounge there for 3 was least a $100 a day value if you want to save money and eat the hot and cold appetizers provided every night plus breakfast in the morning.

    We have had outstanding suite upgrades, through the years. Including the Grand Hyatt Bali, which was a massive villa with it’s own lake. We could have hosted a party for 30 people in there. We didn’t of course 😉

    Anyhoooo…It’s all relative and varies so much for each traveler. An interesting discussion though.

  11. It really just depends on what your future travel patterns are. My wife and I recently stayed at the Park Hyatt Maldives, and easily spent over $300 total in breakfasts. That, along with evening canapés and a chance of an upgrade would surely make this worth it. We also have 2 kids, so the possibility of a suite upgrade and guaranteed club access at some high end properties could make it worth it. We live in ATL, so there are category 1 properties. Nice to have the option, just depends on future travel plans..

  12. Looks like it’s just Nick and I who have not stayed at the Park Hyatt Maldives on this entire blog ;-).

  13. You don’t have to physically check into a hotel. I don’t live near a Category 1 Hyatt either but a simple call to the front desk asking them to check me in remotely because I’m a few nights short of achieving status has worked in the past.

  14. Superb post, Nick! Handcuffs is the right term here for 90%of the leisure travellers. I for myself don’t spend more than 20nights a year in hotels including longer stays in resorts. Thus, the only valuable programs for me are Hhonors and LHW leaders club.

  15. Leo, add me to the non PH Maldiives list. Never been, never intend to. I’d be bored out of my mind in 5 minutes.

    Nick, you make very good points about status and handcuffs. As you say having that status hanging over your head does influence decisions, I know I am a SPG Plat50 with zero stays for the year and am trying to work out whether I try and requalify or just let it go. The analytical part of me says it’s time to focus on staying where you want but then the ego part tells me what about the free breakfast. I also considered doing the Hyatt challenge, but the poor Hyatt coverage in my destinations for the rest of the year would mean it would be a struggle to even do 12 nights. I’m in SF and there is nothing cheap locally and I’ve got better things to do than to catch BART to Emeryville.

  16. I love Hyatts, but I agree with other posters who mention that the almost blind adoration of Hyatt and other Western chains by so many bloggers is annoying. (And please spare me from another post about the Maldives 🙂

    When I travel, I want a clean, comfortable, safe, reasonably priced hotel in the best possible location. As in the world of real estate, my mantra in selecting a hotel is location, location, location, with good value being another important deciding factor. For me, it is pretty rare for a Hyatt to be able to compete with interesting local hotels.

    If I was staying 2-3 weeks at a Hyatt resort property each year, then the diamond status might be worth it. And more power to those who get good value out of it. But I’ll pass.

  17. Thank you for your post Nick. As a fellow leisure traveler for most of the time I need to constantly remind myself not to chase that status, although being in Australia does tend to limit what I can achieve.

    I also think you’re right in that if you solely focus on big hotel chains, you can miss out on some very nice properties. My case this year is the Parkhotel Schoenbrunn in Vienna. I managed to get a Junior suite for 300 Euros less than the cost of a classic room at the Intercontinental for the same amount of time.

  18. It was a close call for me as I am going to be at the PH Maldives for 5 nights. But I’m very close to lifetime platinum on Marriott (already lifetime SPG plat), and in 2016, I’ll be using up all my Club Carlson nights in predevaluatin bookings. If they had the best hotel where I do most of my business travel, I might, but the golden handcuffs chafe to much.

    By the way, the alternative perspectives is a super format (even if you don’t write “I’m not Lucky!” In 36 point type!)

    Nice going OMAAT team!

  19. I did the Diamond challenge last year. While I got nowhere near the number of days required (strictly a leisure traveler), I did use my four suite upgrades when booking 11 Hyatt nights between now and the end of September around the US – a combo of paid stays and cash+points. Plus, I have the Hyatt Visa and will, in conjunction with my anniversary free night, book at least a 12th night in September, probably Park Hyatt Milan. So for me, this is doable to get those four suite upgrades for late 2015 or early 2016 travel.

  20. I think Travis must’ve been playing devil’s advocate. His assumptions weren’t realistic, and most (sane) people (i.e. leisure travelers) would not partake.

  21. As a very casual traveler with limited time to travel, I also appreciate the new perspective. BUT, as one who chased and caught the last Diamond challenge, I see it this way: I have a LOT of countries on my bucket list. For the next 18 months, I’m heavily leaning toward countries with nice Hyatts. Sept. will give me suites in HK, Singapore and Bali. I hope to manage a Maldives trip before I lose status, but it I don’t I don’t. I’ll get to at least one more nice Hyatt destination. Then, I’ll move onto Conrads or Ritzs or ICs. Whatever. This way, the handcuffs don’t really chafe. One status at a time. That’s all a casual traveler can manage. And, I owe it all to Lucky and a few other bloggers. Thanks guys (and Tiffany).

  22. Very sensible analysis Nick, and concurs with Lucky’s comments (made earlier) that airline loyalty programs are often are worth chasing, less so hotel loyalty programs.

    Sure, it’s a laugh saying “But I’m a Diamond Guest” (lol) but there are always opportunity costs with these programs, so you need to carefully consider how such promotions work for your individual circumstances rather than relying on general examples.

    Great to see a measured approach to the great status game – sometimes you can get lost in the hype.

  23. Great perspective, Nick! While I’m a business traveler who practically lives in hotels, I find that Hyatts are very rare finds in the cities that I frequent. And more than that, there are other properties I prefer in each location for different reasons (service, location, etc.). Your post injects some valuable common sense into the whole status/points chasing hobby by pointing out that we’re all unique with unique needs and chasing status with one brand just because it’s the “It” brand doesn’t make sense for everyone! Thanks!

  24. I like this take on things. I fought last week with a choice…use my current 17 night business stay to earn Diamond with Hyatt (staying at a sub-par Hyatt House at a higher cost) or earn double Hilton points (staying at a better-than-the-Hyatt Homewood Suites, costing my employer less $$). I didn’t examine the points bonus upside and I chose Hilton for several reasons. I have no plans currently for any big blowout trips which would really make Hyatt Diamond pay and my leisure travel takes me places I can only find Hilton brands. This really was a no-brainer for me, and even as I say this I know I’ll get backlash for my choice 🙂

  25. I’m really tempted to do this… But I have to remind myself I can buy breakfast cheaper. 🙂

  26. I can’t believe I’m the first one to point out that the Green Bay Hyatt is not in the suburbs (it’s right downtown) and it’s a regular Hyatt not a Hyatt Place. 😉
    But I’d also love it if they opened a Hyatt Place in the “suburbs” of Green Bay.

  27. My Hyatt Diamond Status (earned Nov. 2014) has been AMAZING for our family. We’ve shared 3 Hyatt Regencies in 3 different states with our daughter’s family, + shared one Suite Upgrade with 3 other friends for a girls’week away trip to SFO, + enjoyed 4 other Regency and Andaz Upgrades in Amsterdam, Miami, New Orleans, & Bellevue WA, with just the 2 of us rattling around in amazing digs. The best part for us is the Regency Club Room. We only eat 2 meals a day anyway — so ZERO food expense (and unlimited Starbucks lattes in the Club Room) during our Regency stays is awesome (especially when 4 people/room can utilize it!). Not to be ignored is the extra effort to accommodate your needs during any Hyatt stay when you are Diamond. We make good use of the 4pm checkouts too. My current status expires Feb 2016. So figuring out 12 stays in 60 days to get another year’s Diamond Status is a no brainer for us — it’s paid HUGE dividends for us in the past and we look forward to more! (All this because folks like you share your wisdom, advice and experience! Thanks!!)

  28. Has there been any hint of what the new Diamond Challenge might look like after April 30? If I do the challenge now, I’ll get Diamond status through Feb 2017. If I wait to do it after April 30 do you think it might extend through February 2018?

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