At the recent FlyerTalk Chicago Seminar DO, we noticed one person repeatedly raising a hand when the speaker of the hotel seminar was asking who in the room was a top elite in the various hotel loyalty programs. Over and over again, we noticed that FlyerTalk’s SanDiego1K raised a hand. We knew that this was a person who had a vast amount of knowledge and someone we would like to have a conversation with. We recently caught up with SanDiego1K, to ask a few questions. Go online at InsideFlyer.com to read an extended interview.
Please give us a list of the hotel programs in which you are an elite member. Do you have a favorite? Why is it your favorite?
Through a set of fortunate circumstances, I have status in a broad range of hotel chains.
InterContinental (Priority Club) — Royal Ambassador — through the generosity of a colleague sharing his referral certificate.
Marriott — Lifetime Platinum — through the generosity of Bill Marriott giving those of us who enrolled the first year lifetime status when the program celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Hilton — Diamond, through a fast track to give folks back recently lost status.
And those earned the old fashioned way, by stays:
Starwood — Platinum.
Hyatt — Diamond.
Hyatt has leapt into first place in the hotel loyalty game. In April 2009, it significantly enriched its program, offering four confirmed suite upgrades on paid stays, free breakfast and free Internet. It has lovely aspirational properties, and is truly committed to customer service. However, it is the smallest of the major hotel chains.
Starwood is a solid complimentary program. I’ve just gone to Greece and stayed at marvelous Starwood properties, including the Grand Bretagne in Greece and its beautiful new luxury property, Romanos, in the Peloponnese. I have good success getting the suite upgrades abroad that Starwood offers on an availability basis.
How long have you been a member of a frequent travel program?
Since their inception. I joined Marriott, UA and AA during the first year of each program.
Which frequent flyer program is your favorite, and why?
I’m a 1K one million mile flyer on United. I bought a lifetime RCC spousal card in my early 20’s for just $250. I had a lengthy affair with TWA in the 80’s. With its passing, I returned to United. Its route network, treatment of elites, mileage awards and my club access has kept it as my primary carrier.
What hotel elite benefits are most valuable to you?
Free Internet is essential these days. I am very grateful that Hyatt created competitive pressure by launching that benefit for elites last year. Starwood then succumbed, and so did Hilton and Marriott. I think that Priority Club is the last major standing who needs to get on board. I love suite upgrades, which is where Starwood, Hyatt and InterContinental rock. And I like free breakfast, which is a Hyatt and Hilton benefit.
Hyatt, Hilton and Starwood give the same benefits on awards as they do for paid stays. InterContinental does not require that properties give elite benefits on award stays. That makes me unhappy. I worked hard to accumulate those points, and want the benefits regardless of my currency I use for the room.
Do you have any favorite hotel promotions?
I love the promos that give free nights for paid stays. This year, we’ve had choice for free night promos: Hyatt (two paid stays for one free night, promo run twice), Starwood (three paid stays for one free weekend night), Hilton (four paid stays for one free night with lengthy expiration), and Priority Club (two paid stays for one free night). It’s a great way to leverage paid stays at moderate properties into free stays at luxury properties.
Do frequent flyer or hotel loyalty programs offer the best value?
Ticket costs and hotel costs tend to be roughly equivalent for international travel. Don’t neglect either. For airlines, figure out which alliance offers flights to places you go and places you’d like to go. Your choices are Star, oneworld or SkyTeam. Then choose one carrier within that alliance where you credit all your miles. Look into credit card offers for that airline as a way to augment your miles. For a hotel program, Hyatt and Starwood are the best for top tier. Hilton has decent benefits for mid tier. And Priority Club is great for the random hotel stayer, as you can accumulate a lot of points on sporadic stays. It also has the ever-popular PointsBreak list, where you can stay at a handful of hotels announced every two to three months for just 5,000 points instead of their regular 15,000 to 40,000 points.
For anyone new to frequent travel programs, what would be the one piece of advice that you would share with them regarding making the most of the programs?
Figure out what suits your travel pattern and stick to it–but don’t get so enticed by the thought of a pretty metallic card that you spend money needlessly.