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2017: The Year of Lodging Dangerously
December 15, 2016 -- With two weeks remaining in the points-earning season, you may be looking at your hotel program balances and weighing a "mattress run" or two to get to some elite level or other.
I say don't bother. And not just because I always emphatically say "don't bother" whenever someone suggests they need a mileage or mattress run. This year is different. Or, more accurately, next year will. It'll be the Year of Lodging Dangerously.
In 2017, Hyatt kills its much-admired Gold Passport plan and begins its already much-derided World of Hyatt program. Marriott in 2017 will outline what it'll do in 2018 and beyond with its stable of plans for Marriott, Starwood and Ritz-Carlton. Hilton will surely have to react to (or try to preempt) whatever Marriott does. How long can InterContinental justify separate programs for Kimpton and InterContinental while the IHG Rewards Club lags? For 2017, Accor quietly extended Presidents Club, the loyalty program of its new Fairmont division, but changes will surely come to Le Club now that Swissotel and Raffles are in the corporate house, too. LaQuinta will relaunch its program next year. The Asian chains Shangri-La and Taj are also due to tell us about their combined scheme in 2017.
So rather than chase status that may be meaningless even in the medium-term, why not maximize your hotel loyalty with the tools already at your command? While we wait for all the metaphoric shoes to drop, some smart moves will make next year relatively comfortable and rewarding.
YOUR PAL IN PLATINUM
Smart business travelers don't spend much on an American Express Platinum Card--it is a comparatively weak points and miles earner--but the built-in perks are literally unmatched. That's especially true in the hotel arena. A Platinum Card gets you automatic Gold Status at Hilton HHonors and that's really Hilton's elite sweet spot. It gets you free Internet, late checkouts, some upgrades and free breakfasts. Amex Platinum also has a proprietary scheme that gets you breakfast, food and beverage vouchers, early check-in and late checkout at hundreds of independent hotels and resorts.
But the Marriott-Starwood merger made a Platinum Card even more valuable this year. The card has long come bundled with Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status. That means upgrades, late checkouts and free high-speed Internet. And since Marriott and Starwood are one big happy family now, SPG golds get Marriott Rewards Gold status, too. Marriott golds receive late checkout, faster Internet, room upgrades and lounge access or free breakfast at many properties.
All in all, that's a lot of hotel elite status for $450 a year.
FLY INTO THE LOBBY
You can also get hotel status perks based on your elite airline status. Delta Diamond and Platinum Medallion members receive Crossover Rewards at Starwood properties. That includes late checkout, room upgrades and free Internet. Through the RewardsPlus promotion, United Airlines MileagePlus Golds and higher automatically receive Marriott Rewards Gold status. And, as previously established, if you have Marriott Rewards Gold, you have SPG Gold, too.
We could spend hundreds of words on this, but let's keep it simple: Credit cards aligned with hotel programs generally get you at least lowest-level elite status at the lodging chain. At Hyatt, for example, the $75 Hyatt Card offers Gold Passport Platinum status. That's good for late checkout, some upgrades and faster free Internet. (You'll also score Platinum if you hold the $450 Chase United Club card. That card even has an Amex Platinum-like privileges program at hundreds of other hotels.)
Another example: The platinum version of Barclays Bank's new Wyndham Rewards card. For the $75 annual fee, you'll get 45,000 points (good for three free nights) as an acquisition bonus and Wyndham Rewards Platinum status. That'll get you early check-in and late checkout and some upgrades.
THE MATCH GAME
Lastly, as we wait for 2017's changes, you might as well leverage your current hotel elite status into status at one or more other chains. Many are actively soliciting business.
Best Western Rewards will match your status in nearly any other program simply by filling out a form and hitting its fairly easy terms. BW's elite levels aren't particularly rich--wishy-washy upgrade terms, no guaranteed flexibility on check-in or checkout times--but it never hurts to have.
Choice Privileges will also freely match to its elite levels. All Privileges members receive late checkout but upgrades are reserved for Diamond Level elites. The problem there? Choice doesn't seem to match to Diamond, which otherwise requires 40 nights a year.
Club Carlson, which covers Radisson, Park and Country Inn hotels, will match to its lower elite levels. That'll get you some upgrades, late check-in and early checkout. But free breakfast is reserved for members of the Concierge Level (75 nights or 30 stays) and Carlson won't match to Concierge. Send an E-mail request for details.
Sonesta will match to the elite levels of Travel Pass with an E-mail to customer care. The program has solid benefits. Early check-in and checkout is available and there are some upgrade and food and beverage benefits, too.
Omni Hotels is a sleeper. It is a small chain, but coordination with the Global Hotel Alliance gives it a worldwide presence. And the elite levels of Omni Select Guest are surprisingly rich and useful. The chain has a reputation for refusing status-match requests, but I've found that isn't true. They may require a stay or two before granting elite status, but it can be had. Try an E-mail and be prepared to document your current status and willingness to give them hotel nights.
Chains such as InterContinental and Accor won't status match. Which is odd because both liberally dispensed top-tier status in the past. Wyndham and Loews don't status match. Requests to Fairmont are invariably quashed--albeit politely and with a room-upgrade certificate deposited in your Presidents Club account.
The other big guys--Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt, Hilton--tend to make status-match decisions based on individual criterion. Call their respective service centers and inquire. And since three of those four are in flux, don't expect much. But if you don't ask, you don't give them a chance to say yes.
This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.