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Those who are not ‘into’ miles, points, credit card rewards, and loyalty programs often are not in the game not because they don’t want to travel more for less, but because they have the perception or experience that either it is all too complicated and time-consuming, or it is basically one big load of pooey where you can never really redeem what you want when you want. While we all know this isn’t always true, I hate when a program proves them right. When that happens, everyone from the loyalty program to the customer, loses.
When a traveler goes so far as to sign-up for a loyalty program, earn miles or points, and get the co-branded credit card, they are a good chunk of the way there to being converted to a loyal customer. What they need is one good redemption under their belts to fuel their dopamine responses and get them wondering how to earn more points for the next stay. That can be good for them, good for their wallet, good for the company, good for the bank that issued the co-branded card, etc.
However, if they have done all that, and then at the end of the rainbow have a bad first experience trying to use their points, then the risk of losing them increases significantly.
It’s like going from expecting this…
To finding a big fat pile of this…
From a bird’s eye view, everyone loses in this scenario from the customer to the loyalty program to the bank. Sometimes this is unavoidable as the awards the customer wants really just aren’t there for the dates they are searching, but when they are there but unnecessary roadblocks are put up that makes them too difficult to book, my blood starts to boil. This is what happened last night.
Mother Nature Starts the Problem
My parents have a ‘bucket list’ travel goal of seeing the cherry blossoms in Washington DC. They have talked about wanting to see the Tidal Basin come alive with shades of pink for years, but they hadn’t pulled the trigger on this particular trip in part because this is something that varies based on weather and is hard to plan very well in advance. This year they decided to roll the dice, picked some travel dates based on historical average bloom dates in early April, and crossed fingers and toes that it would work out for them. Well, Mother Nature is running ahead of schedule this year, way ahead of schedule, and the historical average peak bloom date of April 4th will be moved up by at least a couple of weeks. The forecasts are currently pointing to somewhere between March 17 – 27th for peak bloom, meaning their originally booked dates would certainly miss the target.
Not seeing cherry blossoms at their peak wouldn’t be a huge deal for most trips to Washington DC, but if the trip is based around going to see the cherry blossoms, unfortunately, it means moving the entire trip. We can talk more about the trip and the process of moving the airline portion another day, but the real problem wasn’t moving the flights so much as the hotel.
Last summer, my mom got the Hyatt Visa while the sign-up bonus was still two nights you can use at any Hyatt property, assuming standard award availability. I had hoped they would get to use the nights somewhere exciting like an all-inclusive property, or a high-end Hyatt Resort, or at the slopeside Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, at least in a city where award and paid rates are high. However, it is looking like their best opportunity to use the nights before they expire will be in Washington DC for the cherry blossoms. My thoughts first went to the Park Hyatt Washington DC, but since they have stayed at the Grand Hyatt Washington DC a few times before, and like the familiarity and location of the property right on the Metro, that is where they want to use their award nights.
I really like the Grand Hyatt Washington DC too, though as a Category 4 it certainly isn’t where I would want to use my super valuable Hyatt credit card nights (here is where I am using ours), but this isn’t my trip, this is theirs, and I’m just here to help.
We checked online to see if standard award rooms were available for their new dates, and they were. Paid rates of $400+ per night made me feel a little better about the value of their redemption. We weren’t able to make modifications to their reservation online, so we called Hyatt last night to do it over the phone. There was apparently some widespread AT&T phone outage here last night, so when the phones weren’t working reliably, we switched to communicating with the normally stellar @HyattConcierge via Private Message on Twitter from my mom’s account.
Loyalty Program Then Make it All Worse
I anticipated an easy transaction from the old dates to the new, but almost two hours later with no resolution, I was proven very wrong. If I were almost anyone else, I think I would have already given up and written this program off as a dud.
As shown by our online searches, the Grand Hyatt Washington DC has standard rooms available for 15,000 points per night on their new dates, but at first, we were told via Twitter that there were no standard rooms available for our dates at all. This is where I’d guess way more than 1/2 of folks would have quit. However, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were multiple types of standard rooms available, so we pressed on.
We explained that based on the searches, it looked like there was a two-night minimum stay requirement in effect those dates since availability only displayed if we searched both dates together. We asked that they try the two nights together instead of one at a time. Ultimately, they agreed that yes, there are standard rooms, but a two-night minimum stay is in effect.
Great, so we figured out the issue and can now book the two nights together and call it good, yes? No.
Not only were we first given incorrect, or at the very least incomplete, information about available awards, we were now told that because of the way the credit card nights have to be booked one at a time, we can’t book a two-night stay when a two-night minimum is in effect.
This. Is. Where. My. Head. Exploded.
At that moment I was not upset for my parents, as they have plenty of options and I’m sure we can push on until we get this sorted if that’s the goal (Update: just before hitting publish this was resolved, details at the end), but I was borderline furious for everyone else that does not live, breathe, and eat miles and points.
To get to this point of trying to book award nights, someone has trusted a company enough to join their program, spent thousands either earning points the old fashioned way or to hit a spending requirement on their credit card, planned a trip, and in this case opened an entirely new credit card account, only have access to a website with limited functionality, be given bad information, and then told that they can’t book a two night stay when a two night minimum is in effect because of a technology issue that is 100% not their fault. This is inexcusable.
This isn’t a case of trying to book some amazing over-the-top hotel or first class suite or begging for award space that isn’t there to be opened. This is just trying to book a relatively mid-range hotel when space is available. Yet, it still took hours of back and forth and us figuring out the problem and ultimately pointing out that it wasn’t fair for the customer to be punished for a technology issue. I have to imagine almost every other sane person would have already walked away well before a resolution was reached, and it shouldn’t have had to ever get anywhere near that point.
Take a Deep Breath and Don’t Accept the First No
I really try to not get worked up about this sort of stuff because some of it is inherent to life in general and hiccups will happen within this hobby specifically. However, there has been a recent pattern with Hyatt that has become harder to ignore or excuse as a series of one-offs. I think the Hyatt loyalty program and company as a whole is still very solid at the core with a good value proposition for the customer, but whatever is in play that is making such basic loyalty transactions a miserable challenge isn’t helping anyone, including Hyatt.
My mom and any other casual traveler should have been able to make this simple transaction on their own in five minutes or less, and the reality is that without me (or someone as stubborn and in the points world as me) it never would have happened. However, I can’t change Hyatt or anyone else, I can just rant a little and then make sure that you know not to give up easily if you think you are right. Don’t believe everything you are told at first when it comes to booking awards. No one agent can know everything, mistakes are made, folks are in a hurry, technology isn’t always great or logical, and to get what you want you may have to try, try, and then try again.
Be polite, but don’t give up at the first no, especially if you have done your homework and are being reasonable. My parents are now finally re-booked with new dates and back to hoping that the cherry blossoms cooperate with the revised schedule.
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.