Hyatt is burying Small Luxury Hotels, so keep an eye out for good values

Over at Running with Miles, Charlie Barkowski has been doing yeoman’s work tracking the “Small Luxury Hotels” eligible for Hyatt Category 1-4 free night certificates, meaning properties that cost up to 15,000 points per night. Check that out if you’re struggling to figure out where to redeem your Hyatt free night certificates.

Today, I want to make a few unrelated points about Small Luxury Hotels.

Non-Globalist World of Hyatt members should slightly prefer Small Luxury Hotels

All else being equal, World of Hyatt members, and Explorist and Discoverist elites, should prefer Small Luxury Hotels stays over otherwise-identical Hyatt properties. That’s because World of Hyatt reservations at Small Luxury Hotels come with continental breakfast for two, and at least the possibility of a 2 pm late checkout.

That shouldn’t be decisive for Globalist elites who receive breakfast and late checkout anyway, or if the Small Luxury Hotel property is more expensive, a worse value, or is much more inconvenient. But as a tiebreaker for the casual Hyatt traveler, it’s worth keeping in mind.

Hyatt buries Small Luxury Hotels at the end of search results, but it’s worth digging

If you search for Hyatt stays in New York City, you’ll see an ocean of properties stretching from the Grand Hyatt on East 42nd Street to the Hyatt Place in Princeton, New Jersey, before you’ll see the HGU NEW YORK, at 34 East 32nd Street.

That’s because all Small Luxury Hotels results are buried at the very end of the search results, long after most people stop looking. Slightly better is the map view, which shows all the properties in a given city, but which makes it more difficult to compare their relative value.

In destinations without Hyatt properties, Small Luxury Hotels are a potential game-changer

Since Manhattan offers a range of Hyatt properties, Small Luxury Hotels aren’t likely to play a huge role in a travel hacking strategy there. But in other areas, they’re potentially decisive. Consider a stay in the center of London next month. There are only two Hyatt properties, the Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill and the Andaz London Liverpool Street, both at 25,000 World of Hyatt points.

But there are 6 Small Luxury Hotels properties, ranging between 20,000 and 25,000 points, in or near the center of London. On a smattering of sample dates, I saw redemption rates at those properties between 1.58 and 2.84 cents per World of Hyatt point. Not breathtaking, but properly calibrated to the value of the program as a whole.

Compare that to Hilton’s central London properties on the same dates. From a high of 0.61 cents per point at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London - Kensington (50,000 points for a 231 GBP stay) to a low of 0.45 cents per point at the London Hilton on Park Lane (80,000 points for a 273 GBP stay), what you see across the board from Hilton is replacement-level redemptions. There’s nothing wrong with those redemptions — I would make them myself in a pinch, and a 5th-night-free redemption would improve the value further — but the Small Luxury Hotel redemptions offer the kind of outsized value we’ve come to expect from Hyatt points.

Conclusion

The addition of Small Luxury Hotels as a redemption option in World of Hyatt hasn’t increased the value of individual Hyatt points (still worth between 1.5 and 3 cents each), nor has it increased the value of individual Hilton points (still worth about 0.5 cents each).

What it has done is increase the value of a portfolio of both Hyatt and Hilton points, allowing Hyatt points to be redeemed more readily in cities like London and New York where Hilton points are typically redeemed at their replacement value, while allowing Hilton points to be saved up for redemption at the very few properties and redemptions where they get outsized value.

Hotel benefits by length of stay

The other day I was looking at hotels for an upcoming weekend trip with flexible dates. I settled on a convenient Hilton property, and was immediately annoyed that I only really needed 4 nights, even though the fifth award night would be free. I vented on Twitter and Milenomics contributor Robert Dwyer pointed out that if I had a Citi Prestige card I'd be sitting pretty with that card's fourth-night-free benefit.

That got me to thinking about the connection between length of stay and optimal booking options.

One-night stays

One-night stays are great because they're opportunities to redeem free night certificates at chains where you don't otherwise have any points or status. For example:

  • Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier cards offer an anniversary free night certificate good at properties costing up to 40,000 points;
  • the new suite of Marriott and Starwood credit cards will offer anniversary free night certificates good at properties costing between 35,000 points and 50,000 points, depending on the card;
  • Chase Hyatt credit cards offer anniversary free night certificates good at category 1-4 properties (up to 15,000 points per night).
  • For stays within the United States, the US Bank Radisson Rewards ($50 annual fee) and Radisson Rewards Premier ($75 annual fee) cards offer up to three anniversary free night certificates valid only at Radisson Rewards properties in the United States when spending $10,000, $20,000, and $30,000 on the cards each cardmember year. If you're going to spend $30,000 on one of these cards my general feeling is that you may as well pay the extra $25 annual fee and get 75,000 additional points annually between the two additional points per dollar the Premier card earns and the 15,000 additional anniversary points.

For longer stays, I don't like free night certificates because they force you to overpay for the nights that aren't covered by the certificate, or move between properties during your trip. But for one-night stays they're ideal, and I often use them for things like airport properties before an early morning flight.

Another option for one-night stays, depending on the property, is booking through one of the luxury travel portals:

  • the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection offers a package of benefits including free Wi-Fi, breakfast for two guests, and a $25 food and beverage credit. If the price is the same as through other booking channels, then on a one-night stay the food and beverage credit can handily offset things like resort fees (which would also be owed on award stays), while on longer stays, the resort fees continue to mount while the food and beverage credit can be used only once.
  • likewise American Express offers a Fine Hotels and Resorts booking channel to their Platinum cardholders, which offers a more generous $100 food, beverage, or spa credit at some properties. Just as above, on a one-night stay that credit naturally goes further than on longer stays.
  • Finally, you can use a Virtuoso travel agent like classictravel.com to secure similar benefits while booking with the card of your choice.

Two- and three-night stays

This is the real wheelhouse of hotel points and fixed-value points, especially if you're able to redeem cheap fixed-value points like US Bank Flexpoints against your stay (if the total cost is above $500), since you'll also earn points on the room rate you pay. If you'd otherwise pay cash, redeeming points is usually a good idea in this window, since easily-earned points like Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, and (under certain circumstances) IHG Rewards Club points don't offer any advantages, and the resort fees at luxury properties eat up the potential value of the food and beverage credits discussed above.

Some third-night-free offers may also be available through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, but unless you've done your research in advance I wouldn't sign up for a Platinum card just in hopes of capitalizing on third-night-free offers.

Four-night stays

At the four-night mark, three additional opportunities open up:

  • fourth-night-free booking options through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts. These are somewhat more common than third-night-free offers, so for four-night stays in cities served by Fine Hotels and Resorts this may be worth checking since the free night and on-property benefits may lower the total cost below any points redemption you'd otherwise consider.
  • the Citi Prestige fourth-night-free benefit allows you to book four-night stays while only paying the room rate on 3 nights (although taxes and fees are still owed on the fourth night).
  • the Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier card fourth-night free benefit on award stays, which means that otherwise-marginal redemptions may be worthwhile, if the free fourth award night boosts you well above your points' imputed redemption value.

Five-night stays

Presumably because their Top Men told them that virtually no one books five-night award stays, Hilton Honors, Marriott Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest all offer the fifth night free on awards stays (Hilton only in the case of elites, but if you're not a Hilton elite I don't know what to tell you).

Seven-night stays

Finally, if you actually have a seven-night stay with Marriott planned at a Category 5 or higher Marriott Rewards property, you should consider booking it with a Hotel + Air Package before August 1, 2018, in order to receive 120,000 or more airline miles alongside your hotel redemption.

Conclusion

I give most people the benefit of the doubt that they understand their travel needs better than I do, so I try not to tell people what they should or shouldn't do. The flip side of that is that you should take the time to assess your own travel needs and figure out which configuration of airline, hotel, and credit card programs works best for you.

For example, if you take the occasional five- or seven-night international trip, but are putting your manufactured spend on a Radisson Rewards credit card, that's not an indictment of the program, it's a mismatch between what you're doing and what you need to be doing to pay as little as possible for the trips you want to take.

Likewise, if your travel consists of taking the occasional road trip to Chicago, you may well want to be earning free night certificates and points you can redeem at the Radisson Blu Aqua, one of the few really great hotels in the Radisson Rewards program in the United States.

A funny window for stacking World of Hyatt promotions in Las Vegas

I was updating my Hotel Promotions page with the latest Hilton, Starwood, and Marriott promotions when I noticed some overlapping dates during which you should be able to qualify for 3 separate World of Hyatt promotions:

  • Between May 7 and July 31, 2018, earn 20% Bonus Points on eligible spend when you stay at Hyatt Place Las Vegas or any participating MGM Resorts destination in Las Vegas. Register for the promotion here.
  • Between February 20 and June 30, 2018, earn 1,000 American AAdvantage miles per qualifying stay at Hyatt Place and Hyatt House properties worldwide. Register for the promotion here by April 30, 2018.
  • Between February 15 and May 15, 2018, earn either 500 or 1,000 bonus World of Hyatt points for each qualifying stay you complete worldwide. Registration closed March 31, 2018.

If you registered for all three promotions, then for one-night stays between May 7 and May 15, 2018, at the Hyatt Place Las Vegas you should be able to earn 1,000 AAdvantage miles, 500 World of Hyatt points, and 20% bonus points on your room rate.

I also looked up room rates for the relevant dates (these are after tax):

  • May 7, $142
  • May 8, $193
  • May 9, $172
  • May 10, $142
  • May 11, $137
  • May 12, $152
  • May 13, $132
  • May 14, $132

These rates obviously aren't worth flying out to Las Vegas for, but if you were planning a trip to Vegas anyway and didn't mind moving between properties one night at a time, the three promotions mean that on a $132 night ($116 room rate) a Globalist member would earn 1,370 World of Hyatt points (5 base points per dollar, 30% Globalist bonus, 20% promotion bonus) and 1,000 American AAdvantage miles, which is a decent discount even if you value the points at just 1 cent each.

I'll never be a Hyatt Globalist again, but for folks who are chasing it and like visiting Las Vegas, targeting a stay or two at the Hyatt Place there may be worth considering.

The Hyatt-Oasis partnership is live, and won't work for travel hackers

All the way back in October I wrote about the announcement of a partnership between Oasis, a luxury short-term home and apartment rental company, and the World of Hyatt loyalty program. I thought the tie-up could possibly work if Oasis was willing to sell some of its inventory at a slightly lower profit margin in exchange for access to a much broader pool of customers.

They decided to go in a different direction.

You can redeem World of Hyatt points for a fixed value at Oasis properties

When you redeem World of Hyatt points for stays with Oasis, you get a $200 credit towards an Oasis reservation for every 15,000 World of Hyatt points you redeem. You may see folks in the community rhapsodizing about how much more valuable World of Hyatt points are than that, but I don't think they're more valuable than that.

If you can get a better value redeeming World of Hyatt points for Oasis redemptions than on other possible redemptions, or than holding them speculatively, then I think you oughta go ahead and redeem them.

There are structural obstacles to these being good redemptions

However, one factor that adds to the value of hotel award redemptions is that such redemptions cover both the cost of the room rate and any taxes and fees associated with the reservation (usually — the Hilton in Evian-les-Bains charged me a couple bucks in local taxes that I disputed vigorously until I lost interest and gave up).

That means a 1.33 cent-per-point redemption against a room rate is actually worth 1.47 cents per point in an area with a 10% lodging tax: 15,000 points are worth not $200, but $220.

But Oasis reservations include not only taxes, but also cleaning fees, which can be substantial. Being forced to redeem hotel points against the full price, after taxes and fees, of your stay puts such reservations at a fundamental disadvantage compared to traditional redemptions.

For longer stays the impact of fixed cleaning fees will shrink, but for shorter trips those per-stay charges constitute a big part of your total bill.

Oasis has a tiny footprint

This is the thing that surprised me most now that the World of Hyatt-Oasis partnership has launched: they still have the same tiny footprint in the same big tourist destinations they had before the partnership.

It's true that Hyatt doesn't have any properties in Barcelona. But Barcelona has plenty of hotels, including Hilton and Starwood properties.

That makes it seem like Hyatt is offering a consolation prize to people who earned their points accidentally instead of purposefully, and the partnership may indeed make sense for folks who don't take any interest or pleasure in aggressively managing their loyalty accounts.

But, for obvious reasons, that doesn't describe most travel hackers.

Earning with Oasis is a no-brainer, if the price is right

At a basic level, you should be suspicious of any company that has to team up with a major brand in order to move their product. If Oasis stays are so expensive that they can afford to buy Hyatt points to reward their customers, Oasis stays are probably too expensive. And if Oasis stays are so unattractive that they need to buy Hyatt points to entice customers, Oasis stays are probably too unattractive.

But if you're visiting a city where an Oasis property is available at the right price (including all taxes and fees) compared to all your other possible paid or award stays, I don't see any reason not to credit your stay to your World of Hyatt account.

But, in all honesty, I don't think it'll ever happen to me.

Some recent redemptions, from good to mediocre

I usually try to write up a post for each award trip I take, both to share my thinking about my points and miles strategy and to keep myself honest about the value of the rewards currencies I earn. I've been doing quite a bit of redeeming lately, so I thought I'd cobble together those redemptions into an overview of the value I've been getting from my points lately.

Hilton Prague Old Town

After spending a few days in Karlovy Vary, we're going to return to Prague to use as our base for the last part of our trip this summer. Back in the days of last-night-free Club Carlton stays my go-to property in Prague was the Park Inn, but that property has no appeal whatsoever if you're not paying half price (although cash rates are just $166 for the nights of our stay).

That left a few options:

  • InterContinental Prague for 40,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night, or $260 per night if buying points at 0.65 cents each.
  • Hilton Prague for 40,000 points per night, or $200 per night if buying points for 0.5 cents each.
  • Hilton Prague Old Town for 36,000 points per night, or $180 per night.

There are also two Marriott properties in the city centre, but a quick glance showed both their points and cash rates were too high, as usual.

The Hilton options were especially appealing because our stay will be exactly 5 nights, making this possibly the first time I'll ever have taken advantage of Hilton's fifth-night-free benefit on award stays.

By the way, I'm using 0.5 cents per point as the price I purchase Hilton Honors points at, since a dollar spent at grocery stores earns either 6 Hilton Honors points or 2 US Bank Flexpoints, worth 3 cents towards travel. In other words, the opportunity cost, not the out of pocket cost, of the Hilton Honors points.

In this case the decision was easy to redeem 180,000 Hilton Honors points for 5 nights at the Hilton Prague Old Town. The actual paid rate for the room I booked was almost $2,000 after taxes, giving a shocking 1 cent per point redemption value, but even using the more realistic $1,200 total at the Hilton Prague yields a redemption value of 0.67 cents per point, or the equivalent of 4% cash back on grocery store spend.

One interesting thing this highlights is the difference between the absolute number of high-value redemptions you make and the volume of high-value spend you do. For example, if you only make a single high-value Hilton redemption each year, whether it's the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island (3.8 cents per point in December), or the Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria (1.9 cents per point over New Year's), you may be earning a substantial return on a high amount of spend — $63,000 in the case of those two properties, which cost 380,000 points for a 5-night stay.

Many travel hackers think of Hilton as a "backup" chain to their preferred program, whether that's World of Hyatt or Starwood Preferred Guest. What I'm trying to point out is that Hilton Honors points may be worth earning even if it's just for the occasional stunt redemption, and not as a core part of your travel hacking practice, precisely because those high-value redemption turn the Hilton Honors Ascend American Express card into a powerhouse for uncapped grocery store bonus spend.

Park Hyatt New York

Since my World of Hyatt Globalist status is ending this month, I decided to put together a final stunt redemption as a Globalist and took the train up to New York City for Presidents Day weekend.

The Park Hyatt New York costs 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night, and the cash rate for our stay was about $860, giving a respectable 2.9 cents per transferred Ultimate Rewards point. We were upgraded to a one-bedroom suite and abused the hell out of the breakfast benefit, so in terms of maximizing the value of Globalist status, mission accomplished.

However, I can't imagine any reason to go back to this hotel. Besides the unavoidable Hyatt service gaffes, the room's elaborate electronic bells-and-whistles were a source of constant frustration, and the location doesn't have any particular advantage over the 25,000-point Andaz 5th Avenue a mile away.

Obviously a $300 hotel night in New York City isn't unreasonable, especially with $100+ of breakfast included every morning as a Globalist, but there's no way to argue the Park Hyatt New York is a value play.

Hyatt Regency Lexington

For an April trip to Lexington, Kentucky, I booked four nights at the Hyatt Regency Lexington, which is my preferred place to stay in Lexington during Keeneland. They didn't have points-only award availability, but I was able to book a Points + Cash stay for 16,000 World of Hyatt points and $255. A cash stay would cost $900, for a respectable 4 cents per transferred Ultimate Rewards point.

The Hilton across the street wants 160,000 points for my stay, which would give a value of just 0.56 cents per Honors point, so the Hyatt was clearly the way to go.

Note that if points-only award space was available for 8,000 points per night, I would have made a Guest of Honor reservation instead, even though the per-point redemption value would fall to just 2.8 cents each.

Mediocre Delta redemptions

Finally, I've made a few sad-sack Delta redemptions lately:

  • I redeemed 80,000 SkyMiles and $55 for my partner's roundtrip flight to Prague. As I noted in my original post about the redemption, the price jumped from $953 to $1409 while I was watching it, which changed it overnight from a terrible 1.12 cent per mile redemption to a mediocre 1.7 cent per mile redemption.
  • For my flight to Lexington I redeem 23,000 SkyMiles for flights that would have cost $321 in cash, for a 1.4 cent per mile redemption. It would have been narrowly superior to redeem US Bank Flexpoints for the flight at 1.5 cents each, but I chose not to in order to build a bigger, more versatile Flexpoints balance. Since Flexpoints can only be redeemed for the full price of an itinerary, the risk of having too few Flexpoints is the total inability to redeem them, while the risk of having too many is having some leftover for a future redemption. Delta SkyMiles, on the other hand, are not valuable enough to hoard, so redeeming them is always my first choice, within reason.

Can you use this one weird old trick to get more value from World of Hyatt Globalist status?

Last year in one of my subscribers-only newsletters I suggested the possibility that you could enjoy the benefits of top-tier World of Hyatt Globalist status after the official expiration of your status.

In principle, World of Hyatt status expires on the last day of February, and your status drops to the tier you earned during the previous calendar year. Suite upgrade awards expire on the same date, and can't be redeemed for reservations taking place after the expiration of your status (even if you requalify as a Globalist).

However, when Hyatt Gold Passport transitioned to World of Hyatt, they introduced a new benefit called "Guest of Honor," which allows top-tier Globalist members to share their elite benefits (room upgrades, breakfast and lounge access, waived resort fees, late check-out, and a few others) with friends and family when booking points-only award stays.

Astute readers may have identified the key question by now: if a Globalist member no longer receives Globalist benefits after the expiration of their status, and Globalist suite upgrade awards are not redeemable for stays after the expiration of their status, might it still be possible that Guest of Honor benefits are honored after the expiration of their status?

Having booked a number of such stays, I now believe the answer is yes. On the reservations I have booked, the "GUEST OF HONOR" designation appears on the reservation under "Preferences and Policies." I don't know whether that's manually entered by the reservation agent (you have to make Guest of Honors reservations over the phone) or is applied to the reservation some other way, but I believe it's more likely than not that it won't be automatically removed once the Globalist's status expires.

For folks who travel as a pair or more, nothing could be simpler than making a Guest of Honor reservation in your companion's name rather than your own. But even when making plans for solo travel, remember that many parents and children, aunts and nephews, uncles and nieces, also share the same name.

Finally, note that most Hyatt properties see vanishingly few Guest of Honor reservations, which fact combined with the very recent introduction of the benefit means you should anticipate maximum confusion when checking in on any Guest of Honor reservation.

Hyatt Globalist or Hilton Diamond for reimbursed business travel?

If you are primarily focused on hacking leisure travel, "choosing" between Hilton and Hyatt doesn't make much sense: earn Hilton Honors points with manufactured spend at grocery stores with an American Express Surpass/Ascend card, and earn bonus transferrable Ultimate Rewards points on office supply spend with a Chase Ink Plus or unbonused spend with a Freedom Unlimited. Then you can simply choose the right currency to redeem for each stay, and over time adjust each currency's earning rate accordingly.

Reader AG wrote me the other day to ask a different question: for a frequent business traveler with fully reimbursed hotel stays, "Which program do you believe offers the best value for loyalty when dealing with reimbursed business travel?"

Earning and Redeeming

The easiest way to compare the value of two programs for reimbursed travel is the amount of spending required in order to earn a free night. Since AG has enough paid travel to reach top-tier status in the program of his choosing, this simple result is easy to calculate and present side-by-side:

Note that this chart reflects the changes coming to Hilton point earning in April, 2018.

The chart shows is that you can pretty closely map the amount spent on room rates and charges at properties in each chain with the number of free nights you'll earn at them.

The mapping isn't perfect, and if you were convinced that, for example, 95,000-point Hilton properties are not, in fact, the equivalent of 30,000-point Hyatt properties but instead mere 20,000-point properties, then you might conclude that Hilton in fact requires 50% more spend for an equivalent night. That's not a conclusion that's going to fall out of the math, but rather from your own experience and preferences.

Bonus thresholds

An additional consideration is what bonus thresholds will be triggered by a frequent paid traveler. Both Hilton and Hyatt offer bonuses after staying a certain number of nights. What I've done in this chart is convert those bonuses into an equivalent amount of spend:

I've converted the Hyatt Category 1-4 and Category 1-7 awards into the equivalent number of points if the certificates are redeemed at the highest tier property possible (adjust for your own redemption preferences).

If you have 100 paid nights planned and intend to spend an identical amount of money at either Hilton or Hyatt, this chart shows that Hyatt essentially "tops up" your actual spend with an additional $13,077 of what you might call "synthetic" spend, almost enough for 3 free nights at top-tier properties (although $2,308 of that synthetic spend can only be redeemed at Category 1-4 properties!). Hilton adds just $5,000 in spend-equivalence, barely enough for a single top-tier night.

Paying

Note that this discussion has completely ignored the points earned by the credit card you choose to use to pay for your stay. Might the bonus points earned by using a chain's co-branded credit card change the calculation?

Going from earning 20 Hilton Honors points per dollar to 32 points per dollar (actually slightly more since the Ascend's bonus points are earned on taxes in addition to room rates and charges) reduces the amount of spend required by 37.5%, while charging Hyatt room rates to a Chase Hyatt credit card reduces the amount of spend required by just 31.6%. Since Hyatt stays required somewhat less spend than Hilton stays to begin with, the advantage of the Ascend card over the Hyatt credit card has the effect of narrowing or eliminating that advantage, depending on the category of your desired redemption.

Conclusion

Looking at these results, it seems clear to me that holding all else constant, Hyatt offers frequent reimbursed business travelers superior value to Hilton, especially when they intend to redeem their points at properties in the top half of each chain's redemption chart. Points earned on purchases at each chain are roughly equivalent, while Hyatt offers considerably more lucrative bonuses to very frequent travelers.

This conclusion should naturally be adjusted according to your own situation:

  • will Hyatt's smaller footprint keep you from booking all your reimbursed stays with them, forcing you to split your paid nights between two or more chains?
  • will Hyatt's smaller footprint keep you from redeeming your points, or force you to settle for less desirable destinations or properties?
  • have you checked for award availability at the properties and destinations you're interested in? Does one or the other chain tend to have more or less availability at the properties and during the seasons you're interested in?

No single hotel chain, or airline, or rental car company, or cruise line works for everybody. And thank God! If it did it would be overrun and the value would be killed immediately. A hard look at the numbers can make it easier to make an informed decision, but it can't make the right decision for you.

Assorted 2018 hotel news and program updates

Quite a few changes have been reported to hotel loyalty programs in 2018, so here are a few brief thoughts in case you're wondering what to make of them.

70,000-point IHG Rewards Club properties

IHG Rewards Club has announced the following hotels will cost 70,000 points per night in 2018:

  • InterContinental Paris - Le Grand
  • InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa
  • InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora
  • InterContinental Hong Kong
  • InterContinental - ANA Manza Beach Resort
  • InterContinental London Park Lane
  • InterContinental The Clement Monterey (California)
  • InterContinental San Francisco
  • InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco
  • InterContinental The Willard Washington D.C.
  • InterContinental Boston
  • InterContinental New York Barclay
  • InterContinental New York Times Square

I did some award searches and where I found availability, these hotels are still pricing at 60,000 points per night, so the pricing changes seem not to have gone into effect yet.

Using the Points + Cash trick (book then refund Points + Cash reservations until you have enough points for an all-points reservation) you can buy IHG Rewards Club points for 0.575 cents each year-round (and often somewhat cheaper than that), so a 70,000-point property costs roughly $402 per night. The only properties on this list where I'd even consider spending that much money are the French Polynesian resorts in Bora Bora. If you and a partner each had a $49-annual-fee Chase IHG Rewards Club credit card free night certificate, you could combine those with a couple free nights at $402 each and get a 4-night stay, for example, for a total of $902, or $225 per night, which compares favorably to the cost of an award night at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui (without drawing any conclusions about the respective quality of the properties).

Note that award space at those properties can be very difficult to find.

Improved transfer ratio from Membership Rewards to Hilton Honors

Also widely reported has been a permanently improved transfer ratio from flexible American Express Membership Rewards accounts to Hilton Honors, up from 1:1.5 to 1:2. Judging by the complaints I hear from readers, Membership Rewards points are the most difficult flexible points for non-expert users to redeem, so increasing their value when transferred to one of their simplest transfer partners is obviously an unalloyed good.

I don't think Membership Rewards points should be earned speculatively with the intent to transfer them to Hilton (if for no other reason than Hilton Honors points are easier and cheaper to earn with a Surpass/Ascend card), but I also don't think anyone should pay cash for a hotel stay while they have access to cheap and plentiful Hilton Honors points, since the least valuable point is always the one you don't redeem.

Award nights now count towards World of Hyatt elite status

Historically, Hyatt Gold Passport and World of Hyatt elite status could only be earned with nights (and until last year, stays) that had a cash component: only cash and Points + Cash stays earned elite-qualifying credit.

That changed this year, so award nights will also count towards elite status qualification. Unfortunately, it takes 60 nights to qualify for Globalist status, so I doubt this will have much effect except on the margin. An average of 5 nights per month doesn't seem unreasonable in general, but an average of 5 nights per month at Hyatt properties would require booking away from cheaper or better properties, which is a funny way to save money.

Of course, it's easier for some people than others.

Continental breakfast for Gold and Diamond elites at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts

Hilton has updated their "My Way" choice of benefits for Gold and Diamond elites at Waldorf Astoria properties to include the option of "a daily complimentary continental breakfast in the hotel's designated restaurant for you and up to one additional guest registered to the same room each day of your stay."

Interestingly, they have updated the elite benefits page to reflect the change but have not yet updated the actual My Way options in the app or online, presumably because the only guy who knows how to do so hasn't worked there for years. Hopefully Waldorf Astoria staff have been notified of the change, but I expect elites will have to do some haggling until the system is fully updated.

There are some cool Waldorf Astoria properties but the only ones I can see an obvious reason to choose are the Hawaiian, Caribbean, and Park City locations. Does anybody have a favorite Waldorf Astoria property?

Anatomy of a (partly) award trip: France, Switzerland, Germany

This week I'm on my first big vacation since last summer's Club Carlson-financed trip around Central Europe, which means it's time for one of my patented anatomies of an award trip. You can find previous entries in the series here.

Getting there: United to Munich

Booking this flight was the occasion for a post in August about never finding a good enough excuse to redeem points for premium cabin travel. After writing that post, the price of our nonstop flights from Dulles to Munich fell even further, and I ultimately redeemed just 30,000 Flexpoints for a $599.76 roundtrip ticket.

Total cost: 30,000 Flexpoints. Total value: $599.76. Value per point: 2 cents per Flexpoint.

Getting around (1): train tickets to Lausanne

We arrived in Munich on Saturday, and don't have to be back in Germany until Thursday, so we decided to visit a friend currently working in Lausanne, Switzerland. After taking the Munich subway to the main train station, we popped into the "traveler's assistance" room to buy tickets.

Interestingly, at the Munich train station there were automated kiosks that sold tickets within Germany, but our itinerary required us to travel to Zurich, then switch to another, Swiss rail company for the second leg, and the kiosks wouldn't accept Lausanne as a destination (I believe they would have sold us tickets to Zurich if that were our final destination).

However, in the "traveler's assistance" room we walk up to the extremely friendly, extremely fluent English-speaking counter and were able to buy the exact tickets we wanted in a matter of minutes.

Total cost: $236.02. Note that we expect to pay this amount, or somewhat more, on the return trip to Zurich and then back to Munich.

Getting around (2): taxi from Lausanne to Evian-les-Bains

Once in Lausanne, it's easy to get from the train station to Evian-les-Bains, where we're staying. It's easy, that is, if you arrive before the last ferry across Lake Geneva leaves for the night. In our case, we were arriving on a Saturday, so we needed to be on board by 8 pm. Our train was scheduled to arrive at 7:40 pm. This was, obviously, cutting it pretty close, but it's not like we had any choice: we had to cross Germany and Switzerland after all, and we were on the only train that would get us to Lausanne that night.

Ultimately, our train arrived a few minutes late, at 7:47. We sprinted through the station looking for signs for the Lausanne metro, jumped onboard without paying (sorry, Lausanne), and managed to make it to the dock just in time. Just in time to see the last ferry pulling away from shore, that is.

At that point our hands were tied. We'd been traveling for 24 hours, we had no internet connection or hope of an internet connection to call an Uber (if they even have Uber) or research bus or car transportation. So we dragged ourselves up from the dock to the nearest taxi stand, where a car was waiting.

I asked the driver if he could take us to Evian-les-Bains, and he shrugged and said, "oui." Assuming this was a fairly regular occurence at 8:01 pm every night, I asked him how much it would cost, and he said he didn't know, but he would use the taximeter. Figuring I couldn't do much better than that, I finally asked if he could take credit cards, and he said he could. We hopped in and were on our way.

Now, I don't mean to be critical. Maybe it was his first day on the job. Maybe no one has ever missed the last ferry before and needed to be driven to their hotel on the other side of the lake. Maybe Swiss and French tourists carry hundreds of dollars in cash as a matter of course. But this is what happened next.

We drove along for 5 or 10 minutes, when the driver was suddenly struck by a realization: "I'm not sure my card reader will work when we get to France." I remind him I had asked if he could take cards, and he repeats that the card reader works on Swiss Telecom, and he doesn't know if it will work on the French mobile network. He says he'll drive me to an ATM, and I politely decline. Finally, he comes up with the idea of estimating the fare based on the distance to Evian. This seems sensible, and we settle on 220 CHF for the ride, which he charges me while we're still in Switzerland. We get back on the road, and I tell him to turn the taximeter back on. He agrees to pay me the difference it the fare ultimately ends up being less than 220 CHF.

The taximeter ultimately ended up around 260, so I guess the guy's confusion saved me 40 francs. I never did find out whether his credit card reader worked in France.

Total cost: $224.44 (two one-way ferry tickets would cost $42.85, so I "wasted" $181.59 on this part of the trip).

Staying there (1): Hilton Evian-les-Bains

For our first three nights, we're staying at the Hilton Evian-les-Bains, which is one of the only two properties in the area that participates in a loyalty program (the other is a Best Western Plus in Lausanne). The Hilton Evian-les-Bains is a beautiful, well-maintained spa/resort hotel a very short walk from the ferry terminal. They have a big, comfortable executive lounge where breakfast is served during the summer high season, and which offers desserts in the afternoon and hors d'oeuvres in the evening (you read that right, dessert first, then hors d'oeuvres). In the evening they also set up an open, unsupervised bar in the lounge, from which you are definitely not supposed to fill up the takeaway coffee cups with the liquor, wine, or cocktail of your choice.

During the low season (right now) Diamonds can take breakfast in the restaurant, which has an extensive buffet they call "continental" but that struck me as a pretty good take on an English breakfast, right down to the grilled tomatoes.

Total cost: 99,000 Hilton Honors points. Total value (comparable stay): $401.89. Value per point: 0.41 cents per Hilton Honors point.

Staying there (2): Park Hyatt Zurich

I don't always stay at Park Hyatts, but when I do, I redeem suite upgrade awards. In this case, I actually redeemed the suite upgrade attached to my customer service case number after the Hyatt Regency Lexington gave my "confirmed" suite upgrade to a bridal party instead (and refunded the entire cost of my stay back to my account).

The Park Hyatt Zurich is one of Hyatt's 13 Category 7 properties, and the first Category 7 property I'll stay at (I hope to visit at least the Park Hyatt New York before my Globalist status finally expires in March).

Total cost: 60,000 World of Hyatt points. Total value: $1202.31. Value per point: 2 cents per World of Hyatt point.

Conclusion

As you can see, the cost of this trip hasn't really been hacked at all.

For our hotel stays, I used the balances I had to guide where to stay during the trip. For example we're staying in Evian instead of in Lausanne, where our friend lives, because of the presence of the Hilton here, and at the Park Hyatt Zurich in order to try to wring some value from my Globalist status and Hyatt points balance.

While that means I didn't have any out-of-pocket expenses for my hotel stays (except 12,000 Ultimate Rewards points I had to transfer to World of Hyatt), on the other hand if I were absolutely focused on cost I probably could have spent far less by simply booking far in advance and staying at the absolutely cheapest properties in each city. The flip side, however, is that then we'd be staying at the absolutely cheapest properties, and not at this lovely Hilton or at the Park Hyatt Zurich.

Additionally, I got somewhat less value than I generally hope to from my Hilton Honors points: just 0.41 cents per point, meaning my grocery store spend with the Hilton Honors Surpass American Express earned just 2.46% in rebate value. I didn't hesitate to redeem points anyway since having already earned them, they were worthless until redeemed. However, if I find myself consistently redeeming for less than half a cent per Hilton Honors point, I can use that information to adjust where I allocate my manufactured spend.

My US Bank Flexpoints redemption, on the other hand, was just a few cents away from the maximum possible value, making me feel great about the Flexpoints I earn throughout the year (and bad about the upcoming devaluation).

How might the World of Hyatt-Oasis partnership work?

Via Travel with Grant, I saw the other day that World of Hyatt is planning to partner with a luxury home rental company called Oasis (and that you can use discount code "UnboundxHyatt" for a $100 discount if you book before October 31). Apparently at some point in the near future you'll be able to earn and redeem World of Hyatt points on these stays.

When I first saw this tie-up described, I thought there was no way it could possibly work. After doing a bit of digging, I've actually come around to the idea that it's possible, if well-executed, for the partnership to make sense for customers.

Let's take a look.

World of Hyatt points are very valuable because of the low maximum points redemption

Setting aside for the moment the value of the World of Hyatt program (it's comparable to the other major programs for paid stays, contingent on your elite status and credit card) and focusing on the value of World of Hyatt points, you see that World of Hyatt points are uniquely valuable because of the very low maximum number of points you need to redeem: the most expensive Park Hyatt properties in the world cost no more than 30,000 World of Hyatt points.

Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to World of Hyatt, that puts a hard cap of $300 per night in cash value on the cost of your hotel stays in destinations with Hyatt properties, subject of course to award availability.

Across all redemptions Hyatt presumably turns a profit

While an award redemption during a particularly busy or expensive weekend may require World of Hyatt to pay properties close to retail, most of the time Hyatt pays just a small fraction of the retail cost of your stay (properties sometimes accidentally print on your folio the amount they're paid by Hyatt so it's worth taking a look at your folio on award stays if you're interested).

I don't have any special insight into the economics behind this process, but across all award stays I think it's safe to assume Hyatt makes a modest profit: Chase pays them more for World of Hyatt points than Hyatt pays out on award stays, and Hyatt properties pay more in licensing fees than they get paid for award redemptions (hopefully making up the difference by being able to charge more and attracting customers loyal to the program).

How could World of Hyatt redemptions work with Oasis?

I did some clicking around Oasis to get a feel for the prices these properties typically charge, and they span a pretty wide range. I searched for the 6 US cities on Oasis, for a 3-night weekend stay in November. Here are the rates I found:

  • In Austin, prices range from $110 for a one-bedroom to $1,200 for a 4-bedroom;
  • In New York City, from $222 for a one-bedroom to $1,350 for a 5-bedroom;
  • In Chicago, from $140 for a one-bedroom to $2,160 for a 5-bedroom;
  • In Los Angeles, from $144 for a studio to $6,000 for a 6-bedroom;
  • In San Francisco, from $152 for a one-bedroom to $519 for a 2-bedroom;
  • In Miami, from $180 for a one-bedroom to $4,995 for a 7-bedroom.

To synthesize these rates, in the US market Oasis charges between $110 and $222 per bedroom on the low end, and between $259 and $713 per bedroom on the high end.

My mistake when I first glanced at the Oasis website was to think that there's no way Hyatt could square the circle of paying $4,995 per night to an apartment's owner while charging a low enough number of World of Hyatt points to make the redemption reasonable to their members (who only pay 30,000 points at the most luxurious properties in the Hyatt portfolio, remember).

The answer, of course, is that they'll charge per bedroom per night, as Wyndham Rewards currently does for redemptions at their vacation properties.

If I had to guess I'd say redemptions will start at 12,000 or 15,000 points for the cheapest apartments, and top out at 30,000 points for the most expensive, on a per-bedroom, per-night basis. Redeeming 210,000 World of Hyatt points per night for a 7-bedroom house in Miami obviously isn't something you'd do for a weekend getaway, but for a wedding, bachelor party, or other special occasion it would offer 2 cents per point compared to paying cash. There's no question there would be some takers at that rate (and since each property can only accommodate one reservation per night you only need to book a maximum of 365 nights per year).

I could see this working for family trips

Right now Oasis doesn't have very many participating cities or properties, but presumably they're intent on rapid expansion to new cities and signing on more properties within their existing footprint. Once World of Hyatt redemptions are live, we'll see what kind of value redemptions ultimately offer. The obvious value of these redemptions will be for folks traveling as a family who want additional living, kitchen, and dining space compared to what they'd get at a hotel.

If the alternative is booking multiple hotel rooms and eating out for every meal, or having to spend a lot of time driving between your hotel and your destination, then being able to stay in a single unit, in a good location, with a kitchen and other amenities could be very valuable.

The devil will be in the details

Obviously since the partnership hasn't launched yet, it's impossible to say whether it will "really" be a good deal or a bad deal. There are a lot of ways it could go wrong:

  • World of Hyatt awards include all taxes and fees. Will taxes and fees be included on Oasis awards? If not, they'll become a significant co-pay on award stays, since in addition to taxes Oasis reservations also charge a cleaning fee.
  • Will award availability match paid stay availability? Most (all?) Oasis properties have minimum stay requirements, but will they be longer for award stays than for paid stays? Will there be blackout dates for award stays, or will you be able to book with points any nights available with cash?
  • Will award rates be too high? You can imagine Hyatt investing nothing in this partnership and simply allowing you to redeem World of Hyatt points for one cent each towards Oasis stays. That's an extreme case, but if they set redemption rates too high on a per-bedroom, per-night basis, the whole thing will be a meaningless embarrassment.

Conclusion

While I doubt I'll ever book an Oasis stay with World of Hyatt points, over the course of writing this post I slowly came around to the idea that, if well-executed, the Hyatt-Oasis partnership might provide good value to families under certain circumstances.

But until redemption details are announced, all we can do is speculate.