Guaranteed room availability elite benefit: Hyatt vs Starwood
Both Starwood and Hyatt promise “guaranteed room availability” for their top tier elites. I was forced to put this to the test on a recent business trip to Charlotte where I already had a few nights booked but needed to add an extra night on the front end of the stay. As a result of the conference and a Monday Night Football game downtown (thanks for nothing, Carolina Panthers), ALL Starwood and Hyatt properties in ALL of the Charlotte area (yes, including those 20+ miles from Downtown) were sold out.
The official policy at Starwood is “guaranteed room availability when your room is booked by 3 p.m., 72+ hours prior to arrival” with the caveats of:
- “Applicable to one standard room booked by 3 p.m. local time 72+ hours before day of arrival at participating hotels.”
- “Member must pay regular RACK rate.”
- “Black out dates apply.”
- “Not available at resorts.”
- “Room upgrade and Free Night Award redemption do not apply when this benefit is utilized.”
- “Minimum length-of-stay requirement must be met.”
When contacting Starwood, I prefer to use their chat feature. It generally allows quick and easy access to a customer service rep and leaves a paper trail so there will never be any dispute in what was promised/offered to you. Before contacting Starwood, I did a search to see how other members have fared by using this amenity and it was clear that Starwood had written the terms and conditions in such a way that it would be virtually impossible to ever make use of the “guarantee.” I mean, they have so many outs that it is almost designed to NOT ever work. To have success, you’ll have to request space in a “participating hotel” that has not blocked the guarantee by applying a “black out date” and must meet the “minimum length-of-stay requirement” which could be 30+ days if the property wanted it to be.
So the chat went a little something like this:
-ME: Hi, I need a room for Nov 18-19 at The Westin Charlotte, NC.
-SPG: Unfortunately the hotel is completely booked.
-ME: Yes, I understand that, the reason I am contacting you is to exercise the “guaranteed room availability” amenity that I have as a Platinum member.
-SPG: Sorry, that property has a black out date for that night and I see that your account already has a stay at that property for that night.
-ME: Yes, I made a reservation for my co-worker a long time ago but now I need a room for myself at that property.
-SPG: Sorry, there is nothing I can do to help.
-ME: Hmmm, ok. What about another property in the area?
-SPG: Sorry, I am not seeing availability at any other property in the area, they are all sold out.
-ME: All 9 properties in Charlotte have blocked “guaranteed room availability” for Platinum members?!
-SPG: Yes, that is correct.
-ME: Well what do you suggest I do, I need a room in Charlotte on Nov 18-19. I already have a reservation at the Westin Charlotte for Nov 19-21. I am just missing the first night.
-SPG: Hang on, I do see that there is availability at the Aloft Charlotte Uptown at the EpiCentre for Nov 19.
-ME: Great, that’s perfect! What is the rate?
-SPG: Well, they have instituted a minimum stay of 3 nights and would require that you check-in on Sunday Nov 17.
-ME: That won’t work. I don’t need a Sunday night stay, and already have rooms booked at the property I need for Tues/Wed nights. I just need a room for Monday night.
-SPG: Would you like for me to book the Aloft Charlotte for you?
Truly exhausting getting the runaround for so long.
The policy at Hyatt is similar to Starwood’s but with noticeably fewer restrictions: “Ensure a room is always available with our 48-hour guarantee” with the caveats:
- “Guarantee valid for one standard guest room when paying the hotel’s Hyatt Daily Rate.”
- “Not valid at Hyatt resorts, Hyatt Residence Club resorts.”
- “Not valid during extraordinary room demand.”
My call to Hyatt went A LOT smoother:
-ME: Hi, I need to book a room in Charlotte on for Mon., Nov. 18, just a 1-night stay at either the Hyatt Place Charlotte Downtown or Hyatt House Charlotte/City Center.
-HYATT: Ok, I am seeing that both of those properties are sold out for your desired dates.
-ME: Right, I understand that, I was calling to make use of the guaranteed availability feature of being a Hyatt Diamond. Here’s my Diamond number.
-HYATT: Oh ok, great. Thanks for your loyalty etc… I can book you into either property which would you prefer?
-ME: The cheaper of the 2, please.
-HYATT: Ok, all set I’ve got a rate of $xx at the Hyatt Place Charlotte Downtown for 1-night. Ready to book?
-ME: YES! Perfect, thanks for much!
Smooth and painless. Hyatt really came through on this one and honored what they advertise to their members. They didn’t use any loopholes to wiggle out of what they promised and left this customer much more satisfied than Starwood.
I find that making a promise that you have no plans to deliver on is much worse than simply not making the offer in the first place. I would probably still be pleased with Starwood Platinum features if they did not even offer “guaranteed room availability,” but, instead, they’ve offered it, made it virtually impossible to use and now have an unhappy customer.
BOTTOM LINE: While both Hyatt and Starwood loyalty programs have written the T&Cs to protect their interests, in my (limited) experience, Starwood went out of their way to not honor the basic pledge whereas Hyatt did the right thing and stood by their guarantee. The value I place on Hyatt Diamond status has gone up as much as Starwood’s value has gone down in my book.