All right, the Mile High Canuck has his methodology set for hotel point and elite status valuation. The spreadsheets have been cooking all weekend long, filling the house with the warm, inviting smell of fresh-baked statistics, just like grandma used to make. It’s time to start looking at the hotel programs in greater detail. I’m going to take them two at a time (that’s what she said) and discuss some of their distinguishing highlights and lowlights. And I’ll also discuss the relevant credit card that I used to value each hotel’s entry-level elite status. In some cases, I exercised artistic license, and didn’t price out the absolute lowest so-called elite status if it proved to be essentially useless. Everyone set? All right! Release the hounds!
Starwood Preferred Guest – 2.29 cents per point
The first rule of Frequent Flyer Club is – no, it isn’t “do not talk about Frequent Flyer Club.” For years, the first rule of FF Club has been to sign up for a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card and charge everything to it. With their eleventy kajillion airline transfer partners (not to mention the 25% transfer bonus), Starwood has been the closest thing going to a universal Frequent Flyer program, and that’s the reason that I previously valued Starpoints at 3.7 cents apiece. They’re still plenty valuable, even when used solely for free hotel nights – still the most valuable hotel point currency in the game, and that’s without considering additional perks like fifth night free, suite upgrades, or cash & points. It’s not a question of should you get an SPG AmEx, but a question of: how can I sign my Labradoodle up for an SPG AmEx? (Legal Dept: Frugal Travel Guy Inc. strongly condemns the act of bank fraud and non-human credit card abuse.)
But while Starpoints are still safely in first place, their lead over Chase/Hyatt is shrinking. Regular hotel category inflation and a major price increase in the cash & points program are combining to take the shine off of Starpoints’ luster. Back in the day, tales of ten cents’ value per SPG point were not uncommon; those kind of bargains will be a lot harder to come by now. And the biggest complaint (okay, my biggest complaint) about Starpoints is that there are so gosh darn few ways to earn ‘em, outside of living in a Sheraton. Wouldn’t a Starwood Shopping Portal be nice? Eh? Mmm? Eh?
Curiously, although Starwood has perhaps the most popular hotel-branded credit card in the game, it’s the only card in our little study that does not convey automatic elite status upon the owner. There is, however, another back-door way to instant status: the American Express Platinum Card. One of its seemingly endless benefits is Starwood Gold Status for as long as you hold the card. While the Platinum card does come with an intimidating $450 annual fee, it’s easy to effectively cut that down to $250, thanks to the card’s airline fee reimbursement allowance. If you want to get Starwood Gold the hard way, it’ll take ten stays or twenty-five nights in a calendar year.
Hyatt Gold Passport – 1.92 cents per point
I’m going to come right out and admit my bias here. I love Hyatts. And it seems like a lot of point collectors agree with me, because the luxury Park Hyatt hotels in Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, and elsewhere are consistently ranked as some of the finest hotels in the world (that you can stay at for free). With Hyatt’s generous awards pricing, it’s not difficult to get three or four cents of value out of every point; in fact, it’s not hard to get that much out of a modest but spacious room at a humble Hyatt Place. And since Hyatt partnered up with Chase’s lucrative Ultimate Rewards program, it’s not hard to earn enough points for a week at a five-star Park Hyatt, in a hurry.
So what’s the catch? The catch is finding a Hyatt in the first place. If you’re traveling to the center of a large A-list city or its airport, you’re probably okay. But if you’re traveling the Midwest or the Plains, you’ll have a better chance of spotting a jackalope. The Hyatt footprint is also pretty light in the Caribbean, South America, Africa, even Australia. There’s only about 500 Hyatts in the world; that’s one for every nine Priority Club properties. No matter how much you like Hyatt, you’re going to need a backup chain to share your mattress loyalty with.
Hyatt’s entry level elite status, the confusingly named Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum (any more precious metals and you could trade futures on it), is granted after only five stays or fifteen nights. For the impatient, you could simply apply for the Chase Hyatt Visa card, which gives you Platinum status for as long as you hold the card. The Hyatt Visa does come with a $75 annual fee, but what a kicker; after a $1,000 minimum spend, you earn two free nights in a Hyatt – any Hyatt in the world. The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, which routinely runs $1000 a night? Yup, free. The card’s a keeper, too; every year, on your anniversary, you get one free night in a Category 1-4 Hyatt. That can easily be worth double, even triple the annual fee.