Why I won't chase Hyatt Diamond status

[Update 6/22/15 8:17 pm: This post originally said the Hyatt Diamond status challenge requires 12 qualifying stays. It requires 12 qualifying nights.]

The travel hacking blogosphere seems to be in a tizzy lately over the return earlier this month of the Hyatt Diamond status challenge. The challenge awards Diamond elite status after 12 qualifying (i.e. not award) nights within 60 days, and the status is good through February of 2017 — a pretty long time!

People who like Hyatt Diamond status seem to value it most for the 4 confirmed suite upgrades and lounge access (or full breakfast at properties without a lounge).

Let me start by saying that no one doubts that it's possible to design a vacation schedule for the next 20 months that maximizes the value of those benefits and makes it well worth arranging to credit 12 paid stays to Hyatt in 60 days in order to earn them.

But personally, I won't be participating. Here's why.

Hyatt is a terrific transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards

Hyatt is almost the only Ultimate Rewards transfer partner I take advantage of, since I don't fly United or Southwest. I transfer points to Amtrak once or twice a year for long-haul sleeper-car redemptions, but that's a rounding error with respect to my earning rate. On the other hand, where Hyatt properties are available, they frequently have extremely affordable points redemptions, like the Hyatt Place New York/Midtown-South, which costs 20,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night.

Since Hilton properties in New York start at 60,000 HHonors points (a $222 imputed redemption value) and Club Carlson's Radisson Martinique on Broadway costs 70,000 Gold Points (a $310 imputed redemption value), paying $200 in Ultimate Rewards points offers a relatively good value.

Hyatt has a small footprint — but that's not the problem

It's frequently noted that Hyatt has vastly fewer properties than Hilton or Marriott: just 587 hotels. But I don't actually treat this as much of a drawback. Since I only transfer points to Hyatt when I plan on making a reservation, it's not like I have an ever-growing supply of Hyatt Gold Passport points that I can never redeem. When there's a Hyatt property that's a good value, I stay there, and when there isn't, I stay at a Hilton HHonors (or, until recently, Club Carlson) property instead.

Furthermore, as I pointed out above, you can just plan a vacation around one or more Hyatt stays! Sure, people will look at you strangely when you explain that you're visiting Ekaterinburg in order to stay at the Hyatt Regency, but if we cared what people thought of our hobby we wouldn't talk about it all the time.

The problem is that Hyatt's footprint is a subset of Hilton's

Some light Googling allowed me to compile a list of some of the Hyatt properties travel hackers (and affiliate bloggers promoting the overrated Chase Hyatt Visa card) believe are the best Hyatt properties in the world. My value-added here is adding the closest equivalent Hilton property and points required:

  • Park Hyatt Beaver Creek (no close equivalent);
  • Park Hyatt New York (New York Hilton Midtown, 60,000-80,000);
  • Park Hyatt Sydney (Hilton Sydney Hotel, 60,000-70,000);
  • Park Hyatt Tokyo (Hilton Tokyo, 50,000-60,000);
  • Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa (Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, 95,000);
  • Park Hyatt Paris (Concorde Opéra Paris, 80,000)
  • Park Hyatt Milan (Hilton Milan Hotel, 50,000-70,000)
  • Park Hyatt Zurich (no close equivalent)
  • Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa (no close equivalent)
  • Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort and Spa (Hilton Odawara Resort & Spa, 70,000-95,000)
  • Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow (Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya, 40,000-60,000)

As you can see, with a few exceptions luxury hotels get built because there's a demand for them. And if there's enough demand for a luxury Hyatt property, there's likely to be sufficient demand to justify building a nearby Hilton hotel, as well.

Earning Hilton HHonors points (and Diamond status) is easy and fun

The point of this exercise is that unless you are planning a trip to Beaver Creek, Zurich, or Kauai — and tens of thousands of people do indeed visit those cities each year — the Hyatt property is not your only option: there's also a convenient nearby Hilton that will be happy to serve your award redemption needs.

But unlike Hyatt Diamond status, which requires paying at least some surcharge on top of the stays you'd otherwise book, Hilton Diamond status can be earned strictly as a by-product of manufacturing $40,000 in spend on their co-branded Surpass card offered by American Express, and I find it worth my while to manufacture that much (and indeed, more) spend with the Surpass card each year purely for the value of the HHonors points I earn. Diamond status is a nice bonus, but doesn't have any effect on my decision-making.

How to think about directing paid stays to Hyatt

I don't draw a neat distinction between paid and award stays; my imputed redemption value calculations are designed to make booking stays a seamless process of comparing hotel options, whether a given stay is paid for with cash or with points earned at the sacrifice of cash back.

In other words, if you have a Barclaycard Arrival+ MasterCard, every stay is an award stay: the only question is whether to pay for it with a hotel chain's own currency or Arrival+ miles.

This means that when you book a paid stay in order to secure Hyatt Diamond status under the challenge, you don't need to consider the entire cost of your paid stay as "payment" for Diamond status. The only payment you're making for (one twelfth of) Diamond status is the difference between the price you pay to stay with Hyatt and the price of the hotel you would have stayed at instead – the "surcharge" I mentioned above.

Who should take the Hyatt Diamond challenge?

So that's where I stand: I earn enough Hilton HHonors points to cover my mid-range and luxury hotel needs, and redeem my Ultimate Rewards points only for the Hyatt stays they make incredibly cheap, where breakfast is often included anyway.

But you're not me! So here's who should at least consider taking the Hyatt Diamond challenge:

  • You have 12 paid Hyatt stays in the next 60 days. This may go without saying, but that's what I'm here for.
  • You're planning a luxury vacation. At the very top end, Hyatt award stays are actually cheaper than the imputed redemption value of Hilton stays: $300 in Ultimate Rewards points versus $352 in Hilton HHonors points. If you're deciding between such properties (for example, in the Maldives or in Hakone, above) Hyatt Diamond status can add additional value by giving up to 4 people per room the benefit of lounge access or a full breakfast.
  • You really need a suite. If there's some reason you actually need a suite upgrade on a paid stay, and especially if you actually need 4, week-long suite upgrades, then paying a small upfront surcharge for Hyatt Diamond status can get you those suites at a vast discount. I've enjoyed every suite I've been upgraded to, but personally wouldn't assign any actual value to it. If you're traveling with a family, or need to host meetings in your hotel room, then you may assign a concrete dollar value to having a guaranteed-at-booking suite upgrade.

I want to stress that the second two categories are, while not mutually exclusive, also not complementary in any way: the suite upgrades in the third category cannot be applied to the award bookings in the second category, and at such expensive properties the idea of booking a paid, instead of award, stay merely to secure a suite upgrade is not rational behavior.

I don't fall into any of the above categories. But if one or more of them applies to you, you have my blessing to consider taking advantage of the Hyatt Diamond status challenge!