Scottrick’s Christmas Thanks and Wishes

It’s time for my reflections as we come to the end of another year of travel. What am I thankful for? What do I want to see in the next year? I don’t have the ear of any corporate honchos, nor do I have any business experience in the travel industry. But I do like to make wild speculation!

Improvement at United

My major loyalty program, United improved significantly year. Now, United started out low and had a long way to climb. Things got rough after the merger and I’m glad that they are starting to turn around. My opinion is with fewer issues merging two companies in the back office, they have been able to focus more on the customer. Fortunately I haven’t been a 1K for long, so I didn’t feel like too much was taken from me. But now that they are turning the corner, I don’t regret my decision to requalify for 2013.

Steady as She Goes at Hyatt

I also have top-tier status with Hyatt, which was already pretty good. Gold Passport members are seeing a few things taken away, including Passport Escapes (which included free meals) and Platinum Extra certificates. I don’t really mind. Few people booked Passport Escapes and those certificates seemed like an overcomplicated way over delivering incremental benefits to Platinum members. What I like about Hyatt is that their loyalty program is pretty simple to understand, and they are making an effort to continue that simplification.

In my opinion, Platinum status with Gold Passport was and remains one of the most generous mid-tier hotel achievements, and I love the perks of my Diamond status. Looking at the chain’s growth overall, new hotels continue to be opened and announced in development.

Hyatt Can Make Easy Changes

It would not be too difficult to replace the Hyatt’s occasional Platinum Extra certificates with a menu of smaller bonuses that guests could choose from at every check-in, much like Gold members receive with Starwood Preferred Guest. I would especially like to see an offer for free breakfast. This would be similar to the Diamond welcome amenity, but on a smaller scale.

I’d like to see more transparency in some of Hyatt’s bonuses and promotions. For example, these 24 hour sales that keep coming out never come with a list of participating properties unless I specifically ask @HyattPR. The list used to be automatic, so what gives? I’d also like a return to some of the property specific bonuses. Hyatt took many of these away due to issues with fulfillment, but I hope that as they continue to improve their IT systems.

If they feel like putting in the extra effort, what I’d like to see from Hyatt is the advent of some features a la Starwood Preferred Guest, like cash + points awards or the ability to earn status with award stays. They’ve said they’re interested in this, but the IT just isn’t there. Hopefully that changes soon. As in, 2013 soon. I don’t want to wait another year.

Pulling more stuff out of the bag, I’d like to see Hyatt offer 500 points per night if you skip housekeeping, just like SPG. And I don’t really intend to write about Starwood here, but I’d like to see SPG guarantee a full breakfast in the morning. I like Hyatt for lots of reasons, but my guaranteed breakfast each morning as a Diamond guest is the reason I joined Gold Passport, just like EconomyPlus seating is the original reason I joined United’s MileagePlus program.

United Should Find Fewer Ways to Annoy Me

United seems likely to continue making incremental improvements in how they design and target promotions. This is a mixed blessing and has generally been bad for me. United knows I fly them a lot. They know I don’t pay much for those tickets. So I don’t get targeted for these generous offers along the lines of “fly twice and get 5,000 miles.” I often end up deleting their promotional emails because they aren’t worthwhile.

But I don’t think they do United much good either. I never use the MileagePlus Shopping portal because the promotions I get are so bad. That has nothing to do with having elite status or buying cheap tickets. United gets the same commission from your purchases and mine, so why am I on the bottom of the barrel? Others I know get much, much better incentives.

Similarly, I can understand United’s reasons for fare restrictions on Global Premier Upgrades. At least they aren’t as bad as Delta. American’s lack of fare restrictions seems more fare, but if United has every right to sell business and first class seats instead of giving them away as upgrades. That’s why the fare restrictions are in place, to dissuade people from buying cheap coach tickets.

I would at least like more transparency about where I’ll find myself on the upgrade list before I buy. If my W-fare ticket and GPU still put me at #40 for a business class seat, I’ll pass on the upgrade lottery and choose either a cheap economy ticket or a real business class ticket. If I know in advance I’ll be at #2, maybe the game is worthwhile.

I’d like to see something similar with companion fares, too, on domestic routes. Tell me in advance where we’ll be on the upgrade list before I decide if I want to split our PNR. If we have no chance, I’ll keep up off the list. I don’t want to find myself upgraded and my companion left behind.

Other things, like reported improvements to the United Club network, are promising. I don’t mind if membership fees increase if we actually get changes we like. At the very least, it gives me incentive to keep my MileagePlus Club Visa since that annual fee is not changing, making it a better deal.

Conclusion

A lot of it comes down to transparency. Let me know what I should expect, and then deliver on that promise. Hyatt does an amazing job at this. I love staying at Hyatt hotels because I always know what kind of treatment I should receive as a Diamond guest and am rarely disappointed.

I am strongly considering attempting Platinum status with Starwood Preferred Guest next year (in addition to Hyatt), and my biggest concern is all the reports I hear about inconsistent upgrade benefits. If they are going to promise a suite based on availability, then they should provide one. Hyatt only promises a better room, and I’m always very happy when that room happens to be a suite.

This is where my frustrations occur with United. I think they have a pretty good program. I think they know how to run their business. But every time I think I know my benefits as a Premier 1K, I find myself confused. Part of this is the loss of “unofficial” benefits. Maybe United actually is sticking to the letter. But any inconsistency, even in simple matters like pre-departure beverage service, can be frustrating.

Anyway, we are clearly in the realm of #firstworldproblems. My goal as a travel hacker is to travel more often and in better comfort. Every year I do better than the year before, and this year was no different. I was extremely fortunate in some of the trips I was able to take, and in my ability to share some of them with you through this blog.

So Merry Christmas to all, whether you’re already with family or still find yourself en route, trapped by some of the horrible weather this week. Because that’s ultimately the point of travel, to connect with other people.

Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • http://www.batteredluggage.com/ W Brian Duncan (aka IPBrian)

    Merry Christmas Scott!

  • Haloastro

    Using upgrade certificates at DL is actually pretty good – when it’s coded correctly, you know you’ll be at the top of the upgrade list if it doesn’t clear in advance, and it only requires K+ domestically. You do have to buy M+ internationally, which is a lot more than the AA/UA-eligible fares, but then there’s no co-pay either.

    • Scottrick

      Yup, I think I would pretty much only use them domestically, which would make them comparable to United’s RPUs. I think I pointed out earlier when I made my airline comparison tables that this may be how Delta intends you to use them given how many they make available to their Diamond elites.

      • AKold

        I plan on hitting PM next year and wouldn’t mind choosing SWUs for my choice benefit if it secures upgrades on transcontinental 767/777 flights. Upgrades are tough out of LAX, but I’d forgo 20k miles/$200 to guarantee 4 upgrades. I already end up buying HQK fares when I fail to plan properly.