249 Hotel Nights Later: How Marriott, Hyatt and IHG Get It Wrong

An anonymous reader captures something in a guest post that I think is important, based on some pretty extensive experience on the road. Hyatt is great if you can stick to full service properties not owned or managed by bad actors, but there aren’t enough properties and too many limited service ones. So where you going to go? You’re stuck with Marriott, so Marriott can get away with failing to live up to promises and expectations. It’s still better than the alternatives.

249 Hotel Nights Later: How Marriott, Hyatt and IHG Get It Wrong

Over the course of 249 nights in hotels with Marriott, Hyatt, IHG and independent flags, I can say that the vast majority of stays this year were anything but good.

And judging from View from the Wing’s coverage, most readers seem to be experiencing what I’m experiencing.

Like a lot of frequent travelers, I have a complicated love-hate relationship with Marriott.

Marriott used to be a good hotel company. As launched, Bonvoy was a good loyalty program. Unfortunately, neither of those things are true today.

While Bonvoy has met or exceeded the expectations of Marriott’s real customers — the individual hotel owners — it has failed guests.

Operationally, Marriott not managing over 70 percent of the properties flying its flag has clearly eroded the consistency that defined Marriott when the Marriott family ran the company. It’s sad that shareholders and the board of directors allowed now-deceased CEO Arne Sorenson to jettison quality for quantity.

Given the particularly high threshold of 100 nights and $23,000 in spending for top-tier ambassador — a status I have had since 2018 — it’s beyond reasonable to expect tangible benefits better than titanium, Bonvoy’s second-tier status. In practice, however, ambassadors don’t get more than guests with third-tier platinum status, which is now given away with certain co-branded credit cards.

Worst of all, Marriott makes no effort at ensuring compliance with the breakfast benefit — a promised perk that is particularly valuable when not traveling on other people’s money. You know, that once-a-year trip to a resort or the anniversary trip with the wife.

The idea that a hotel owner or management company would cheat corporate’s best customers out of a meaningful breakfast that costs maybe a couple of dollars is crazy. Yet, plenty of properties cheat those guests out of something as cheap as coffee and orange juice with non-powdered eggs.

From telling operators of its flagship Holiday Inn brand to remove two pillows from guest rooms to denying elites access to club lounge amenities and services when receiving a complimentary upgrade, IHG is infamously all over the place, despite all of the publicity over the relaunch of the loyalty program.

Staying at Intercontinental and Kimpton properties — arguably the only desirable IHG brands — is often, as with Hyatt’s best brands, not an option.

Combined with the limited benefits of top-tier diamond at the Holiday Inn Expresses and Holiday Inns, it’s hard to justify spending 70 or more nights a year even if IHG’s footprint of 6,028 properties can give Marriott a serious run for the money.

While I have diamond and Intercontinental ambassador statuses, I can’t see myself doing anything more than periodic stays to use the two free nights that come every year from co-branded credit cards or deplete the nearly 1 million points that remain in my account whenever I need a room at some Holiday Inn Express in the middle of no-where.

On paper that leaves Hyatt and its World of Hyatt loyalty program as the most viable alternative to Marriott.

The breakfast benefit for globalists — the Hyatt top-tier status that requires 60 nights every night — is unquestionably better than Marriott since what constitutes breakfast is explicitly defined in the program terms.

Contrast that to Marriott. Literally, all they need to do is add some words to an already wordy section of Bonvoy’s terms to define breakfast as either the regular hotel restaurant buffet offered for sale to all other guests or a hot entrée from the regular hotel restaurant menu offered to all other guests with coffee, juice, water, tip and all taxes or fees. The “all other guests” part (however lawyers want to word it) is necessary because some properties are known to create special elite menus that have fewer options than a North Korean commissary.

There’s no doubt that Hyatt’s implementation of the benefit is also helped by the fact that Hyatt manages most full-service branded properties, unlike Marriott and IHG. At franchised Hyatts managed by the likes of Aimbridge Hospitality and MC Management, guests have been known to be cheated in the same way as many Marriotts openly violate the letter and certainly the spirit of the Bonvoy terms.

If breakfast is the singular measure of how a hotel loyalty program treats its best customers then World of Hyatt is the best loyalty program out there. But other more objective criteria show that the grass often isn’t greener on the other side.

For starters, Hyatt just doesn’t have enough hotels.

Staying 60 nights outside of A-list cities is impossible for many would-be customers. To illustrate the company’s limited footprint, there are entire states without a single property under any brand.

Yes, the company continues to acquire properties but most of the acquisitions are resorts or niche properties. I’m not seeing much growth among the full-service Hyatt, Hyatt Regency and Grand Hyatt brands in North America.

To maintain globalist, almost all of my nights were spent at a Hyatt Place, which is a truly awful brand.

Then there is the lack of points for food and drinks at certain undisclosed Hyatt properties. Ironically, Hyatt runs promotions that incentivize on-property spending at bars and restaurants even though customers probably won’t get points for spending money on-property.

So, what am I going to do in 2023?

Keeping globalist just isn’t a priority as my travels take me to markets where a Hyatt Place is never the best option. Even the allure of no resort fees on an award-redemption at some resort isn’t that attractive since resort fees are also waived at Marriott’s newish all-inclusive properties under little-known supplemental terms.

The only things that might cause me to reconsider Hyatt are more full-service properties or revised elite status benefits; think extending breakfast or lounge access to second-tier explorists or adding something of value, like free nonalcoholic drinks, for globalists at Hyatt House and Hyatt Place.

As bad as Marriott is these days, I’m just too invested in Bonvoy not to make it my first program of choice.

There is also the simple reality that Marriott’s footprint is too large to ignore. It’s not like Wyndham, Choice and Best Western are going to get my business.

Complaining about Marriott is a popular pastime, but in my experience the company does tend to do the right thing to resolve bad situations. It may take just take escalation within customer service or corporate management.

And as a lifetime titanium and ambassador, I know what brands, individual properties, franchisees and management companies within the Marriott ecosystem to avoid wherever and whenever possible. My black list includes any property affiliated with Aimbridge, the Kessler Collection, Diamondrock Hospitality and Pearl Hospitality.

Whenever Marriott isn’t an option, I’ll look at IHG because seemingly every town in America has a Holiday Inn Express.

But that doesn’t mean IHG will get 75 nights out of me since second-tier platinum — the credit card giveaway status — offers the exact same benefits as diamond at Holiday Inn Express, where breakfast is free for all guests. Some Holiday Inn Expresses in Europe and Asia have a bar, which makes that brand with its generally newer or more recently updated properties more compelling than an old Holiday Inn or a subpar Crowne Plaza. Plus, I can still get club lounge access if I choose a lounge membership from the benefit choices offered after crossing the 40-night threshold.

To supplement platinum, I will also buy ambassador to cover the one or two stays I have every year at an Intercontinental. Ambassador renewal is even more attractive if buying it with cash or points continues to extend diamond.

Given the size of IHG’s footprint, I could easily change my plans and do 75 or more nights. But that would require a serious investment to bring Crowne Plaza, which almost always disappoints, and a diamond benefit beyond just a mediocre breakfast at Holiday Inns.

My plan for 2023 is also based on the assumption that business travel continues to plateau due to uncertainties over the U.S. economy and continued remote work, the latter of which has really hurt those employed in business development and client or account management.

While another 249 nights isn’t realistic, 150 seems reachable as long as I still have a job and other people don’t run out of their money.

I’m not sure I agree that breakfast is the measure of a loyalty program, though it’s easy to compare. Unquestionably Hyatt’s terms are strongest (full breakfast, not continental, even spelling out what full breakfast means). Hyatt also has by far the strongest upgrade program, with suite upgrades that are confirmable at booking. But too few Hyatts are full service properties, too few have club lounges (or lounges that have re-opened). So the footprint matters. For those who travel to small towns, they need to look to a larger chain. [Fortunately I tend not to be a small town traveler.]

So do you choose IHG, Marriott, or Hilton? Unquestionably Marriott’s program offers the most, even when they fail to meet promises. For instance they’re the only one of the three guaranteeing late check-out at non-resort and conference properties. Although I do really like the changes that IHG has made this year, to offer breakfast to top elites, club lounge access as a choice benefit, and confirmed suites on non-prepaid revenue stays within 14 days of arrival. But there aren’t enough premium full service hotels to really enjoy these benefits at, compared to Marriott, for those who prefer those sorts of stays.

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