The current Choice Privileges promotion is so stupid I expect it to become the norm

I was rummaging around on my Hotel Promotions page (check it out if you have any upcoming stays; current promotions are running as late as June 4, 2019) and noticed some funny language in the terms and conditions of the current Choice Privileges promotion. Once I understood what was going on, I groaned at both the idiocy and genius of the promotion design.

The first “top-up” promotion I’ve seen

How the Choice Privileges promotion works is that you are guaranteed to receive a total of at least 8,000 points when you complete two qualifying stays (a qualifying stay being one booked through the website, app, or over the phone). Your stays should still be eligible for the promotion if you book through an online shopping portal, where Choice has quite broad participation. You’re also guaranteed to receive a minimum of 5,000 bonus points. Here’s what the terms and conditions say:

“Registered members will be awarded a minimum of 5,000 to a maximum of 8,000 bonus points after the second qualifying stay. The number of bonus points awarded depends on the number of base points earned from the two separate qualifying stays, with points varying by hotel. The total of base points plus bonus points awarded, however, will be at least 8,000 points.”

To see how this works, take a real-life example: my two-night stay at the Quality Inn Harpers Ferry in October of last year. I paid $236.55 in room charges on that stay, which as a non-elite member earned me 2,360 Choice Privileges points (I guess they’re so stingy they round down).

If I’d had a second, identical stay, I’d earn another 2,360 points, for a total of 4,720 points, leaving me 3,280 points shy of the 8,000 minimum total points. In that case, I’d earn the promotion minimum of 5,000 bonus points, for a total of 9,720 points. If I’d booked a room rate half as expensive, earning just 2,360 points on my two stays, I’d earn 5,640 bonus points, for a total of 8,000 base points plus bonus points.

As this example makes clear, the value of the promotion (as opposed to the value of the program itself) is higher the lower your room rate: 640 bonus points higher.

A promotion design this dumb has to be a sign

Once I realized what was going on, I knew immediately this won’t be an isolated promotion. After all, despite the assurances of airline executives that they’ll never lose money ever again, nothing has fundamentally changed about the airline industry: it requires enormous, up-front, long-term capital investments and finances those investments by selling individual tickets to customers that are extremely sensitive to prices and the overall condition of the economy.

In other words, when the next recession comes, airlines will lose money hand over fist, just like they have in every previous recession, and will do anything possible to get more customers on their planes. The “rationalization” of frequent flyer programs into revenue-based earning will go out the window, and airlines will start shoveling miles towards anyone willing to buy a ticket.

The “top-up” promotion model is optimized to precisely target the marginal traveler: the airline can still award you 5 miles per dollar you spend on airfare, but, for example, guarantee you’ll receive at least one redeemable mile per mile traveled. Last-minute and business travelers can be handed a nominal minimum (like the 5,000-point minimum Choice is offering), while those buying cheap tickets and without elite status can have their balance “topped up” to the promotion maximum.

I wonder what's going on with all these Hyatt promotions

[9/29/16: edited to include base and bonus points earned on spend, hat tip to commenter VM.]

I just updated my Hotel Promotions page with yet another Hyatt promotion, meaning there are currently 4 concurrently running Hyatt promotions (although two are only available to co-branded credit cardholders).

The new Hyatt Regency promotion is pretty good

If you have a Chase Hyatt co-branded credit card and register by the registration deadline (turn off your adblocker if you don't see the credit card field) of October 31, 2016, and spend $500 in "net purchases" on the card at Hyatt Regency properties before December 31, 2016, you'll receive a $50 statement credit.

This promotion belongs to a category of promotion I typically blow off. For example, American Express periodically has Offers For You promotions for discounts off certain purchases at Hilton brand properties.

I'm normally not interested in these promotions because my goal is to pay as little cash as possible for my travel, which means redeeming miles and points I've already purchased at a steep discount to their ultimate value. Paying for travel with a credit card, which I have to pay off with cash, is an admission of failure to a travel hacker.

There are two big differences with this promotion:

  • The $500 purchase requirement doesn't need to be a single transaction. That means the cash co-pays for Hyatt Regency Points + Cash stays will count towards the $500 threshold.
  • 3 Hyatt Gold Passport points per dollar spent at Hyatt properties with the Chase Hyatt credit card is competitive with any other rewards-earning credit card.

That doesn't mean I'm going to "chase" this promotion, but it does mean I'm not writing it off as completely irrelevant. I'll take a look at my existing and possible Hyatt Regency reservations, and if the cash components add up to $500, I'll pay for them with my Chase Hyatt credit card. If they don't, I'll pay with a discounted Hyatt gift card instead.

This is yet another stackable Hyatt promotion

With the addition of this Hyatt Regency promotion, it's now theoretically possible to stack all the current Hyatt promotions by booking, before October 31, 2016, 10 non-consecutive Category 2 Points + Cash stays at Hyatt Regency properties through the Hyatt mobile app.

You would pay 40,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points and $550 in co-pays, plus tax, which I'll hand-wavingly assume comes to 10%, for a total of $605. I'll also assume you select the 1,000 Hyatt Gold Passport-point Diamond amenity during each stay. You would earn:

  • a $50 statement credit to your Chase Hyatt credit card account;
  • a 4,000-point rebate to your Hyatt Gold Passport account;
  • 10,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points in Diamond amenities;
  • 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points in "More Points. More Play." promotion points;
  • 1,815 Hyatt Gold Passport points for your credit card spend;
  • 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for booking 10 stays through the mobile app (see Michael's comment on receiving the promotion multiple times);
  • [edit: plus 3,575 Hyatt Gold Passport points earned on the $550 in cash co-pays.]

Your total out of pocket expense for 10 elite-qualifying stay credits would therefore be 4,185 [edit: 610] Hyatt Gold Passport points and $555.

Now, that's not a great argument for mattress running, and it's not intended to be. But I do think it's a pretty good argument for staying at a Hyatt Regency, or booking a Points + Cash stay instead of a points-only stay, if you're able to hit the relevant promotion thresholds (10 eligible nights and $500 in spend) at Hyatt Regency properties, and thereby re-qualify for Diamond status.

So what's going on with all these promotions?

To state the obvious, it is not usual for a loyalty program to be running 4 stackable promotions simultaneously. So what's going on?

I figure there are two obvious explanations. First, Hyatt might be trying to get their membership numbers and revenue up in the fourth quarter either to ward off a takeover offer after Starwood's acquisition by Marriott, or to fetch as high a price as possible in the inevitable merger.

Second, Hyatt might be trying to retain all the new Diamond members they acquired poaching from Starwood at the end of last year and beginning of this year. I'm someone who never would have considered staying at Hyatt properties as a non-elite member, but as a Diamond I started booking towards Hyatt whenever possible. And not just that, I also book Points + Cash stays, which I would never do at a chain with less valuable points, like Hilton, which I'm eager to burn.

So it may be that this aggressive push for paid and Points + Cash stays in the end of the year is an effort by Hyatt to retain their new Diamond members, who have turned out to be more lucrative than they expected when they began matching Diamond status back in November and December of 2015.

Mattress running for Hyatt stays and bonus points

Pure mattress running for hotel elite status rarely makes sense: you only receive status benefits for nights you stay, so the further away from elite status you are, the less worthwhile a potential mattress run towards status will be.

At the same time, mattress running for bonus points during promotions rarely makes sense because travel hacking makes hotel stays so cheap that any bonus points earned are unlikely to buy you much hotel than you can purchase any day of the week by simply manufacturing spend.

As a new Hyatt Diamond, I decided to see whether the current Stay More Play More promotion may make mattress running make sense for the combination of elite-qualifying stays towards renewing my status, and the bonus points earned.

How much does a mattress run cost?

To calculate the cost of a mattress run, I take the cost of a paid stay and, in the case of a Points + Cash stay, the cost of any points redeemed, then subtract the value of any points earned on the stay. Here are some sample calculations I scratched out last week, based on nightly rates at my local Hyatt property.

In words, I can pay $50.38 (after buying a gift card at an 18% discount) and 2,642 Hyatt Gold Passport points (4,000 minus the 1358 points earned on the cash portion of the stay), or I can pay $122.84 and earn a total of 1,872 points. A valuation of 1.61 cents per Hyatt Gold Passport point makes the two options a wash. If I value Hyatt Gold Passport points more highly than that, I should book an all-cash stay, and at a lower valuation, I should book a Points + Cash stay for my mattress run.

The question is, it possible for the Stay More Play More promotion to make mattress running cheap, or even free? The answer, it turns out, is yes — for a certain definition of free.

Stay More Play More makes mattress runs cheaper the more nights you stay

Stay More Play More is really 5 distinct promotions, and it's essential to grasp that to make any sense of this calculation:

  • one promotion offering 5,000 points on your 5th eligible night;
  • one offering 10,000 points on your 10th night;
  • one offering 15,000 points on your 15th night;
  • one offering 20,000 points on your 20th night;
  • one offering 25,000 points on your 25th night.

Keep in mind that no other nights are bonused in any way under this promotion: only these multiple-of-five eligible nights between April 1 and June 30, 2016, earn any bonus points at all.

The first promotion may be marginally worth a mattress run if you have access to a Category 1 Hyatt property. You'll earn 5,000 bonus points plus, as a Diamond, 6.5 points per dollar on the cash portion of your stay, plus 500 bonus points (at Hyatt Place and Hyatt House properties) or 1,000 bonus points (at other Hyatt properties).

A Points + Cash stay at a Category 1 property will thus cost $50 plus tax and earn a net of 3,325 Hyatt Gold Passport points, or 1.5 cents per Hyatt Gold Passport point at Hyatt Place and Hyatt House properties or 3,825 points (1.31 cents per point) at other Hyatt properties.

If you value Hyatt Gold Passport points at 1 cent each (when transferred from Ultimate Rewards), that's like paying $11.75 or $16.75 for a stay credit, which may be worth doing if needed to secure Diamond elite status the following year.

The promotion for later nights shifts the balance even more in your favor. Booking your 10th night on a Points + Cash stay in Category 1 gives a net cost of 0.6 cents per point and at Category 2 a net cost of 0.8 cents per point.

The deeper you get into the promotion, the more lucrative it becomes. If your 25th night happens to be at a Category 7 Park Hyatt on a Points + Cash stay, you'll pay 15,000 and $300 for the night — then get 27,950 points back, leaving you out of pocket just $170.50 for your Category 7 night.

Think twice before mattress running unbonused nights

The flip side of the structure of this promotion is that unbonused nights (all but the 5 bonused nights) make little sense for mattress running. Even at the very top of the promotion earning 5,000 bonus points per night leaves you paying 1.5 cents per point at Category 1 properties, which is 50% more than you would pay simply transferring in Ultimate Rewards points.

But even more importantly, if you are staying that many nights in a single 3-month period you're unlikely to need the elite-qualifying stays at all — you'll probably requalify for Diamond status on the stays you'll naturally book during the calendar year.

Your humble blogger's IHG Rewards Club Priceless Surprises datapoints

Since November, IHG Rewards Club has been running a promotion called "Priceless Surprises." Under the terms of that promotion each time you stay at an IHG Rewards property, starting with your second stay, you are entered into a sweepstakes to earn at least 500 bonus IHG Rewards points, and potentially much more valuable prizes.

Since the promotion is a sweepstakes, there's a way to enter without staying at an IHG Rewards Club property, which many travel hackers have been taking advantage of.

How to enter (1)

In order to enter the Priceless Surprises sweepstakes, you must register your IHG Rewards Club account for the promotion at https://pricelesssurprises.ihg.com/. Go do that now, I'll wait here.

How to enter (2)

Once you've registered, you can enter the sweepstakes by doing the following:

Hand print on a 3" x 5" piece of paper:

  1. your full name
  2. complete mailing address
  3. day and evening phone numbers
  4. valid email address
  5. member number
  6. the first six (6) digits of your MasterCard
  7. and date of birth

Then mail that piece of paper in an envelope with proper postage to:

“IHG and MasterCard® Priceless Surprises® Promotion"
c/o HelloWorld, Inc.
P.O. Box 5996, Kalamazoo, MI 49003-5996

You don't have to number or label the 7 required pieces of information in any way: you can just list them in the designated order on a 3" x 5" piece of paper. But you must submit each entry in a separate envelope.

You can enter the sweepstakes using this method a total of 94 times.

What happens once you enter

Once you enter the promotion, you wait. Even though the promotion's rules say that "Once your mail-in request is received, you will receive an email within five (5) business days from the Administrator inviting you to play the Game," that is false.

You will wait, and wait, and wait.

And then one day, a month or so later, you will receive all your contest entries simultaneously:

I mailed my entries in on or about December 14, 2015, and received all my e-mails overnight on January 20, 2016.

Each e-mail has an entry link, which takes you to an animated elevator. You click "play," then a floor button, and you're told whether you won 500 IHG Rewards Club points (almost every time) or some other, higher-value prize.

Incidentally, each e-mail entry doesn't have a unique URL attached — as far as I can tell you can keep clicking the same link in the same e-mail until you run out of free entries (you'll receive an error message when that happens).

What are the prizes

There are a variety of prizes, but every entry receives at least 500 IHG Rewards Club points.

Today I won 39 prizes of 500 IHG Rewards Club points, and one prize of a $1,099 Bose home stereo system. So the prizes vary in value considerably.

How to claim prizes

If you win anything besides 500 IHG Rewards Club points, you'll immediately be sent an e-mail with a "declaration form" for claiming your more valuable prize. You have to list your Social Security number and mailing address so they can send you an IRS 1099 form declaring the value of the prize you won.

Oddly, they claim to need to receive that form within 5 calendar days of notifying you of your prize, or they'll give the prize to someone else. It's unclear to me whether that language is actually enforced, since it's obviously amateur hour at this sweepstakes administrator. To be on the safe side, I mailed my "declaration form" by priority mail, with a tracking number showing it will be delivered on January 22, 2016.

Conclusion

That was my experience mailing in entries to the IHG Rewards Club Priceless Surprises sweepstakes. Let me know if you have any questions or additional datapoints in the comments.

My Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond tier match experience

Background

As my regular readers no doubt already know, on November 19, 2015, the official Hyatt Concierge Twitter account sent out a tweet asking, "Looking for a new loyalty program? DM us and let’s talk."

The travel hacking blogosphere subsequently went absolutely nuts. Things then seem to have proceeded in three stages:

  1. In Stage 1, the first few hours after the tweet was sent out, Hyatt was matching all elites in other hotel loyalty programs to their Diamond status. So a Hilton HHonors Gold elite could be matched to Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status, as long as they could show a stay with HIlton in the last year.
  2. The door quickly shut on Stage 1, and in Stage 2, only Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum elites were being matched to Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status. Elites with programs besides Starwood Preferred Guest could be matched only to Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum status (the same status that comes with their co-branded credit card).
  3. Shortly after that, even Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum elites were only being matched to Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum status. As I understand it, this is the current state of play, and Stage 3 continues to this date. For way, way more datapoints read the FlyerTalk thread on the topic, starting at the end for the most recent datapoints.

My tier match experience

I sent my first e-mail to Hyatt Gold Passport on November 20 with my Hilton HHonors Diamond status information. Since the door had already closed on Stage 1, I was told that only Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum elites were being matched to Hyatt Diamond status, and that I could only be matched to Hyatt Platinum status.

Since I wasn't at home, I replied with a screenshot from the SPG app on my iPhone. A few days later, they replied that they couldn't use that to match me to Hyatt Diamond because it didn't have my Starwood account number.

I replied again with a screenshot from the desktop version of the Starwood Preferred Guest website, and again a few days later they replied that they couldn't read the file I sent them.

Finally, I printed the screenshot as a PDF file and they were able to open that. Again, after waiting a few days I finally received a response that I had been matched to Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status, which was immediately reflected online.

The total time my tier match took was 23 days from my initial submission on November 20 to my final tier match confirmation on December 13, 2015.

The key lesson is that it seems people were entitled to treatment based on the "Stage" during which they submitted their original request. In other words, even if they required additional documentation, the earlier you submitted your first request, the more likely it was to be honored.

Life as a Diamond

After being notified that I'd been matched to Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status, I had three priorities:

  • Where it makes sense, rebook stays I currently have with other chains at Hyatt properties instead. For example, for our upcoming trip to New York City, I was able to replace a $473.90 Hilton reservation with a $503.12 Hyatt reservation which will earn me 3 elite night credits and an elite stay credit.
  • Where possible, apply suite upgrades to my paid Hyatt reservations.
  • Match my Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status to Mlife Platinum status.

Suite upgrade rules are confusing

Much digital ink and already been spilled on this topic, so the only point I'll make here is that each Hyatt brand — and even property — refers to their "base-level" suite differently. The Grand Hyatt Berlin has a "Grand Suite King," the Grand Hyatt New York has a "Junior Suite," and the Grand Hyatt San Francisco goes straight to "Executive Suite."

In other words, unless you're familiar with a particular property, you don't have any way to easily check whether the suites for sale online are the suites that are eligible for Diamond suite upgrades.

Mlife Platinum status doesn't seem to be instantly available

As soon as my Diamond tier match was processed I went to this page to request a match to Mlife Platinum status. While the request was processed successfully, my Mlife status wasn't updated!

I asked around on Twitter and my guess is that Hyatt only occasionally updates the database of Gold Passport elites which it makes available to Mlife. Since that process isn't instant, you won't have immediate access to Mlife Platinum benefits.

Since Hyatt Gold Passport is offline until December 19, I haven't been able to try again, but I'm optimistic I'll be matched to Mlife Platinum once the system comes back online.

Conclusion

I've mentioned to multiple folks going through the process of tier matching that this offer, while woefully mishandled and generating a lot of ill-will on the part of people who felt they'd been cheated, is still going to be a business coup for Hyatt.

That's because people like me who are already top-tier elites in multiple programs would never consider earning up to Hyatt Diamond from scratch, but as matched top-tier Hyatt Diamonds will make sure we requalify each year with 25 stays or 50 nights, which have to be either paid or "Points + Cash" reservations.

Do this now: register for IHG fall promotion

Between September 1 and December 31, 2015, IHG is awarding a range of points for completing a targeted set of offers. Here are the offers I was targeted for:

Without applying for the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, I could complete the rest of my offers with two, 3-night stays at Holiday Inn hotels (including at least one weekend) and earn a total of 48,000 bonus IHG Rewards points.

If you like the IHG Rewards Club program and have two 3-night stays planned during the promotional period, this promotion might make it worth directing those stays towards Holiday Inn properties.

Personally, I consider IHG Rewards Club to be tied with Marriott in the category of "worst hotel loyalty program," so I won't be participating.

Either way, you should still register now, before you forget.