The Small Carrot and Big Stick of Branded Hotel Loyalty Programs

Hyatt Place no breakfast for you

What if when you checked into the Doubletree Hotel they said you could only take a cookie if you filled out a detailed loyalty program survey with personal information?

What if the bartender at Embassy Suites said there would be no cocktail hour for you unless you tell him the last 10 times you stayed at a Hilton branded hotel and how much you paid?

What if you were told you could only fill up your plate at the breakfast buffet at a roadside Hyatt Place hotel if you joined the World of Hyatt loyalty program so they could get at all your data?

The High Stakes of Big Data

Two of those scenarios above are fictional, but the third one is not. Hyatt recently announced there’s no breakfast for you if you don’t bend to their demands and join their loyalty program. They want your personal information so badly they’re willing to extort you via coffee and muffins to make you submit.

We’ve seen them head down this slippery slope before. After a continual torrent of outcry about having to pay for Wi-Fi, the big international chains figured out a loophole: you could get that Wi-Fi for “free” if you simply signed up for their frequent guest program. The aim wasn’t really to gain more loyal customers—an estimated 80% of those customers don’t stay at the same chain more than once per year. Only the sales rep road warriors are loyal enough to get big benefits. The real goal is to get what Facebook and Google have: more information about you and your habits.

You’re no longer just a customer with these companies: you’re the product too. When you sign up for these programs—and I do—you’re part of an ongoing research experiment. Apparently that’s worth the wrath of customers who come down to breakfast and are told they can’t eat unless they turn over their data. You need to pay to play, but with your personal information, not your money.

Hyatt loyalty or else no breakfast
Now with free breakfast! (That used to be free anyway.)

The only way to opt out is to stay somewhere else or complain loudly on the review sites.

The latter can work: when Marriott revamped its award program after acquiring Starwood, one change made everyone happy. Regular non-loyal customers get free Wi-Fi at most properties, but loyalty members get the faster “enhanced” service. Loyalty earns something extra, but the regular paying customers aren’t extorted into it for a service now as expected as hot water.

You Do Have a Choice

You can always choose to stay somewhere else, of course, and that’s what we strongly advise. Just as customers are starting to shun resorts that charge a gotcha “resort fee” just for using the gym and pool you can also avoid this latest ploy.  Just as you can fly Southwest to avoid baggage fees and having to pay for a decent seat.

There’s no sign yet that other chains are following Hyatt’s lead and you can bet that the actual hotel owners are going to rebel after feeling the heat on this one. They want all customers, not just the ones giving the managing corporation customer data. They’re not going to be happy when the angry TripAdvisor reviews start pouring in.  As the blog One Mile at a Time pointed out, what’s the point of staying at a hotel brand like this without the breakfast?

Hyatt Place is one of Hyatt’s limited service brands. When I think of limited service hotels, the first thing that typically comes to mind is free breakfast.

So for now, we advise avoiding participating Hyatt Place hotels if you’re not a member of their loyalty program and don’t like the idea of being forced into it against your will. Every city in the USA is saturated with chain hotels, so there are always plenty of others to choose from. As we mentioned in this article about overwhelming brand choices, the combined Starwood and Marriott have more than 30 just in that company.

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

How to Win the Hotel Game No Matter What

There’s one sure way to come out ahead no matter which hotel chain you choose: book through Bonwi. You’ll earn points that can be redeemed two or three times as quickly as ones from Hilton, IHG, or even Hotels.com. If you don’t need a hotel stay, you can book a flight with those points instead. Or get a gift card from Amazon or Best Buy for gadgets or gifts.

You don’t have to let the corporations push you around and treat you like a collection of marketing stats to be bartered and sold. Book with Bonwi and keep your travel habits to yourself.