I talked last week about why mileage running makes sense for some people, including me, and followed that up with some criticisms from Beaubo during the Chicago Seminars. Today I’m going to talk about mattress running and hotel elite status. I think many of you will find it more palatable. The benefits have greater (or at least more obvious) financial value in some cases, and hotels are something many travelers will use even if their travel doesn’t require flying.
I rolled “normal” status and mattress running into one because, unlike top-tier airline status, it’s quite possible to get top-tier hotel status as an infrequent to moderate traveler. Not necessarily easy, but possible. In addition, the way these programs are run is completely different, necessitating a different economic argument.
The perks of status with a hotel chain usually include some or all of the following:
- Expedited check-in
- Late checkout
- Free Internet
- Free breakfast
- Welcome amenities (food, drink, and/or points)
- Complimentary upgrades at check-in
- Confirmed upgrades at booking
- Earn more points for every dollar
Some hotel programs have several tiers, just like an airline. Some have just two. I will compare the major programs in another post, but for now I will talk only about Hyatt Gold Passport, the program with which I have the most experience as a current Diamond and former Platinum member. What I need here is really just an example; the same general rules will apply to any program.
Unlike airlines, which determine status based on the number of miles flown (distance) or the number of segments flown (individual flights boarded), a hotel will use nights and stays. Nights are straightforward. Stays are individual check-in and check-out events, and they must be non-consecutive.
In other words, you can’t make two separate one-night reservations for the same hotel, but you could make two back-to-back reservations at different properties, like a Hyatt Regency and a Grand Hyatt that are in the same city. This is called “hotel hopping,” which is an inconvenience on long trips but also a good way to requalify quickly. I won’t be staying in a hotel for 50 nights this year, but I will be staying at least 25, and breaking those up into individual stays will be enough.
Hyatt Gold Passport offers Platinum status to members with 15 nights or 5 stays in a calendar year, or to those who hold the Hyatt Visa credit card (one of my favorites, thanks to the annual free night each year). Diamond membership is offered to those with 50 nights or 25 stays. Personally, I think Platinum status is best obtained with the credit card, and if you are going to be spending 15 nights, try to turn that into 15 stays and do another 10 mattress runs. But as you can see, even a casual traveler who does some hotel hopping can probably hit 5 stays.
What do you get with Platinum status?
- 5.75 points per dollar spent instead of the usual 5 points
- Preferred rooms on higher floors based on availability (not club floors, but you won’t be looking at an A/C unit)
- Confirmed bed type at check-in
- Free WiFi
- Elite check-in lane and phone reservations
- Guaranteed room availability (at a higher rate)
- Late check-out at 2 PM
As you can see, a few nice perks, but nothing truly special. This is why I don’t recommend doing mattress runs for low- or mid-tier status with most hotel programs. You’ll find it hard to get your money back. But it is definitely worth showing some loyalty or hotel hopping if you can make it work, and nearly every hotel offers free status with one of it’s co-branded credit cards.
I value Hyatt’s Gold Passport points at a little under 2 cents each, so this is effectively a 10% rebate. Just remember you won’t earn points or stay credit for reservations made through an online travel agency, though sometimes making some room charges will help you get a stay credit anyway. Some properties will let you reserve rooms with a view for $10-50 extra per night, so this is a worthwhile benefit, and standard WiFi is typically $12-15 per night.
Top-tier Diamond status is another matter. I find this is well-worth an occasional mattress run or just paying a higher rate. With Diamond status you’ll get the same benefits of Platinum, as well as all this:
- 6.5 points per dollar spent
- Best room available excluding suites (though I sometimes do get a suite)
- Access to Regency/Grand Club and to rooms on the club floor
- Full breakfast in the hotel restaurant if there is no lounge
- Welcome amenity, such as a bottle of wine and a cheese plate, or 1,000 bonus points
- 4 annual suite upgrade certificates (paid nights only)
- Turndown service
- Late check-out at 4 PM
I should mention that you’ll also get 2,500 bonus points at check-in if there is a lounge but it’s closed. Many people have been known to seek out hotels with lounges and figure out when they close (usually weekends) in order to maximize their bonus points. A full list can be found on FlyerTalk. And as a Diamond, hotel hopping means you can earn a welcome amenity with each check-in, not just on the first night.
I have enjoyed many nice suites at Hyatt hotels, but I wouldn’t value any of them at more than $100 a night. Remember, it’s not what they list for, it’s what you would be willing to pay. I’m cheap. I stay at Hyatt hotels in the first place because even their standard rooms are very nice. But I love breakfast. It’s my favorite meal of the day and my primary reason for seeking Diamond status. I’ve been fortunate (?) that most properties I stay at have no lounge or one that’s closed on weekends, so I usually get a full meal. This is often a $25-50 credit per person.
Some properties are especially generous, like the Hyatt Olive8 in Seattle that provides a coupon for free breakfast for four people, even if they aren’t all staying at the hotel. If in doubt, add an extra person to your reservation and invite a friend to breakfast. And that welcome amenity is a good deal. It’s something you’ll actually want to eat (at least at Hyatt). The wine is more than drinkable, and the cheese and fruit are usually something I’d pay $10-20 for.
You will often find that the staff at a Hyatt hotel will bend over backwards for a Diamond guest. To a point. The joke is that a man walks into a hotel, asks for a room with no reservation with a helipad for his giraffe, and keeps repeating, “but I’m a Diamond guest.” Still, even when upgrade certificates should only apply to paid nights, they do sometimes extend to awards booked on consecutive nights. And I’ve received the friendliest service anyway. It’s not anything like flying on a plane, where some flight attendants don’t care if you’re in coach or first class.
Earning Status Cheaply
I already mentioned the benefits of hotel hopping. If you will be someplace with two properties that are part of the same rewards program, alternate between them every night. You’ll qualify by stays, not nights, which takes less time. Once you obtain status you’ll get more welcome amenities and other bonuses. And most hotels are happy to hold your luggage to make hopping easier even if you don’t yet qualify for a late check-out.
In addition you should consider a few mattress runs if you live near someplace (or will visit someplace) with cheap rates. Seattle is a middle ground. Sometimes good, but usually just over my threshold even though there are at least six Hyatt properties in the greater Seattle area. I’m not going to drive to Redmond just to get a rate under $100. Denver, however, has some great rates, and even Chicago has a few good ones near the airport. Properties attached to convention centers or surrounded by office parks tend to be very good deals on weekends–exactly when you have time to do this. Or do as my dad does. With his 2-3 hour commute, sometimes he just spends the night near his office.
Although Hyatt doesn’t do this, I’ll mention Starwood Preferred Guest, which allows you to earn status through award stays. You can book a night with points and still get a stay credit. Do this at a very cheap hotel and use cash+points reservations (even fewer points by using a co-pay) and you might only need to use 20,000-30,000 points to reach the top-tier. SPG also provides a few nights and stays toward elite status just for holding their credit cards.
A good time to make a run for status is during a good promotion. If you know you’ll be staying 10 or 20 nights at a cheap hotel all at once, look for an opportunity when the loyalty program is already offering a bonus like 1,000 points per night. If you have status with another program, see if you can get a match or trial before making your attempt. I was able to get status very cheaply with one program and free with a second. I then used these two programs to get a trial with Hyatt, which lets you have all your Diamond benefits up front for 60 days before you actually earn them for the rest of the year. Read about my Diamond trial experience here.
Once you have the points and status, use the hotel hopping strategy to maximize your check-in bonuses. It isn’t always inconvenient. I’ll be going to Dallas this weekend, and we have one night near the airport because of our late arrival and the free parking. It’s just a place to sleep. Our second night is closer to our actual destination downtown.
Since I travel with Megan, I usually get more value from our benefits. Two free breakfasts is better than one, right? If we arrive tired and hungry, the Diamond amenity gives us a snack before room service arrives. And she enjoys the nicer rooms. It always pays to keep your wife/fiancee/girlfriend happy.
Finally, seek out good redemption opportunities. Don’t redeem 15,000 points for a category 4 room that usually costs $100-150. Instead, pick the Park Hyatt Melbourne or Park Hyatt Goa. The Hyatt 48Lex in New York City regularly goes for $300-400 and costs the same 15,000 points. A category 6 hotel like the Hyatt Regency Maui seems like a good idea at 22,000 points, but while it’s a fine hotel, it only costs $250 in the off-season. I don’t need to worry about paying for a nice view because I’ll usually get one as a Diamond anyway. Instead, use your 22,000 points for a hotel like the Park Hyatt Maldives, which can cost several hundred more. Along these lines, not all suites are created equal. Some hotels have great suites, while others do not. Read up on FlyerTalk or call reservations to determine what kind of room you’ll get if you use one of your Diamond suite upgrades. Avoid wasting it on a mediocre upgrade.
All in all, it’s possible to obtain top-tier hotel status for only $2,000 to $3,000, and sometimes less, perhaps without even leaving town. This is easier and cheaper than trying to get top-tier status with an airline. The benefits alone might be worth $1,000 to $2,000. (I calculate the breakfast benefit at $20 per person, or about $1,000 per year over the 25 nights/stays I need to requalify.)
Although you can’t usually use your hotel points on a partner hotel, you can frequently transfer them to different airline partners. Sometimes at a good rate: SPG gives you a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 transferred. Me, I keep them for that next vacation splurge. Because the worst thing when trying to relax on vacation is worrying about how much you’re spending every time you rest your head on a pillow, eat a decent breakfast, or connect to your email…