My Conversation With Hyatt’s New EVP Of Loyalty

Filed Under: Hyatt

Today Mark Vondrasek was appointed Hyatt’s new executive vice president and global head of loyalty & new business platforms. I was excited about Mark’s appointment, given that he spent over 15 years with Starwood, where he oversaw SPG, mobile applications, digital initiatives, etc. (if there’s one area where Hyatt could use some help, it’s with technology).

Anyway, I just had the chance to speak with Mark about his vision for his new role. I asked you guys in the previous post if you have any questions, and I tried to ask as many of them as possible. So while I won’t be posting a transcript or anything, here are my general takeaways from the conversation:

Why Hyatt and Starwood are similar

Mark feels like Hyatt and Starwood have similar DNAs, they’re both passionate about creating new experiences, and they both drive the true spirit of loyalty.

I agree with Mark on this, and it’s a reason I’ve been loyal to both brands for so long.

What does Mark make of World of Hyatt?

As a platform for engaging guests, Mark thinks that World of Hyatt is spot on. I think it’s important to differentiate this from the actual points and elite program. In other words, World of Hyatt is intended to be Hyatt’s broader approach to how they interact with guests, and Mark likes the idea behind that.

What are the immediate priorities?

It’s day one for Mark, so it’s understandable he didn’t have a specific answer here. He explained that loyalty is about continuous improvements, so it’s too early for him to know exactly what he wants to do. Instead he wants to do a lot of listening and act based on that.

I commented on the things that impressed me about SPG and their technology and partnerships, and he said that SPG did a great job creating a feedback loop and building capabilities through mobile apps, etc., and he hopes to take a similar approach at Hyatt.

When will World of Hyatt have a new SVP?

Mark is the new EVP of loyalty & new business platforms. World of Hyatt specifically still needs an SVP, though. Mark said they’re actively looking for someone to fill this role, and hope to have it filled before the end of the year.

Is World of Hyatt a failure?

I tried to ask this question as delicately as possible. I explained that most of the members I hear from aren’t thrilled with World of Hyatt, and asked if he thinks that represents the general sentiment of members, or whether we’re a vocal minority.

He didn’t provide a direct answer to this, which I don’t blame him for. It’s not nice to show up at your new job on day one and say negative things about what has been done before. He did say:

  • It’s day one for him, and the voice of the members is critically important; if members are frustrated by the program, it’s absolutely being picked up on and understood, and will be looked into
  • He emphasized once again that continuous improvements and structural changes are always being made in loyalty programs, and that these will reflect the sentiments of members

What gives me a lot of hope

Secretly do I wish he had said “there were so many screw-ups with World of Hyatt, and we’re going to change them?” Sure. But I wouldn’t expect him to, and in many ways, that wouldn’t be cool of him to do.

However, there are a couple of things I really appreciated:

  • At the end of the call he said he’s in listening mode, and asked me for my take on the program, and what can be done to improve; that means a lot, as it’s rare that happens when I get on one of these calls, because often it’s just executives going through their talking points and then hanging up
  • He ended the call by acknowledging the feedback and saying he’ll look into it, and if something can’t be done, he’ll share why

What changes would I like to see from World of Hyatt?

Mark’s role goes far beyond the loyalty program, though personally it’s World of Hyatt that I’m most passionate about. In hopes of being constructive, I figured I’d share a few areas where I think there’s room for improvement. To me the below are no brainer changes:

  • Count award stays towards status. Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, etc., all do so. In the past I’ve been told this was a technological limitation, though it’s just uncompetitive not to offer this anymore, especially as the elite thresholds have been increased.
  • Offer promotions. Hyatt has offered a single global promotion all year, which ran for three months. This is uncompetitive compared to all other global hotel chains. Hilton has offered global promotions for exactly 12 months in 2017. Heck, the most generous promotion Hyatt has offered is to disloyal members.
  • Have Globalist Suite Upgrade Awards expire at year-end. Globalist members earn four confirmed suite upgrades per year, and they expire 12 months from when they’re issued. This simply makes no sense, because for some members it makes it advantageous to stay elsewhere, so you can have those expire later in the next year. These should expire at the end of the membership year, just as they have with Starwood.

Then there are things that it would be nice to see, including the following:

  • Introduce meaningful mid-tier elite benefits. Explorist status requires a significant number of nights, though doesn’t come with competitive benefits compared to what other programs offer at the mid-tier. It would be nice to see Hyatt add more.
  • Don’t expire free nights after 120 nights. Hyatt is offering all kinds of opportunities to earn free night certificates, though they expire after 120 days. For many members that isn’t enough time to use them, but that’s probably by design.
  • Add the ability to transfer points into miles at a favorable rate. With hotel occupancy quite high, you’d think this is something they’d want to do, since presumably their cost of points redemptions for free nights is going up. Both Marriott and Starwood make it possible to convert hotel points into airline miles at a lucrative ratio. Surely Hyatt could introduce something similar.

Bottom line

I’m confident Mark will do a great job at Hyatt. I didn’t expect to get straight answers on any of my World of Hyatt questions, which is fair enough, since it’s day one for him. However, between his background at Starwood, his desire to listen, and his general background with creating partnerships and supporting technological innovations, I’m excited to see what he does.

Now we’ll have to see who Hyatt appoints as the new SVP of World of Hyatt.

What would you like to see from World of Hyatt going forward?

  1. Would be nice if they had a consistent standard for earning points. I just got told I don’t earn points for alcohol I had at a hotel. They state that you can earn for dining and spa at Hyatt even when not staying there, however determining which hotels are eligible is difficult and varying. Consistency is important. I don’t trust that Hyatt will get my points earning correct, and I don’t want to have to think hard about these things.

  2. As mid-tier member, formerly diamond, my biggest beef is never knowing if I will get breakfast.

    You have to check to see if the property has a club, and if they do have a club, you need to call and apply an upgrade cert. Which is just ridiculous, IMO.

    Hilton is breakfast always, no matter what, and simply from having their cc, amex, etc.

    Big step down for a medium-frequency traveler like me.

  3. “Mark feels like Hyatt and Starwood have similar DNAs, they’re both passionate about creating new experiences, and they both drive the true spirit of loyalty.”

    He would say that, wouldn’t he, especially since I am sure he is well aware of travel bloggers’ inexplicable infatuation with the two programs. The only problem? Both programs that purportedly “drive the true spirit of loyalty” faltered: one is now known simply and fittingly as WOH! and the other, the one Mark oversaw, is likely to be called Marriott Rewards in the very near feature. What he unquestionably got right is that the two programs have similar DNAs — not fit for survival 😉

    It’s time to wake up and smell the real coffee!


  4. @DCS – I don’t see the picture that you see. So either you’re cynical, or I’m Pollyanna, or we’re both partially or totally right (or wrong?), but my thought as I read this piece was that this guy was brought in to fix what WOH broke. Starwood was always seeming to improve when it was SPG, even as other loyalty programs were beginning to nosedive.

    My hope is that instead of Marriott-ifying WOH, he looks for ways to fix what was broken with the WOH introduction based on what he helped accomplish at SPG, and enhance the program further.

    Also, WOH really needs to revisit awarding status based on stays, not just on nights. I know a LOT of disgruntled former WOH members who left when this change was introduced, only allowing status based on nights.

  5. Nice – that’s encouraging to hear about Hyatt. I’ve always wanted to become more actively engaged with Hyatt, and if they’re going to head in an SPG direction I would eagerly begin steering more of my stays there.

    The one thing I’m surprised you didn’t mention in your “things I’d like to see” list is “Achievable status tiers”. Selfishly it’s frustrating to me how unreachable the top tiers are, but even from a business standpoint it can’t be good for them to have alienated all but their absolutely “most loyal” customers – at least to the point that I feel they have. I’m top-tier in 4 programs and Hyatt has completely cut themselves off from my consideration list for paid stays – I have to wonder if there are others in the same boat…

  6. @Daniel – I agree with your points. However, as someone that has transitioned from Hyatt Diamond over to Hilton Diamond (and taken many of my stays with me), Hilton actually is difficult to know about breakfast benefits. Many Waldorf Astorias (all?) don’t have breakfast included. I’m still newish to Hilton, but having a hard time understanding when and where I’ll get free breakfast.

  7. Change the name back. The new branding of the program is just silly. It’s dumb being labeled a “Globalist” earning top tier in a chain with most of its properties in the US.

  8. @TravelinWilly — No cynicism, tea leaves or crystal balls to read or need to be a rocket scientist. Hyatt GP and SPG were never the stellar programs that they were touted to be by self-anointed travel gurus…unless you believe in reverse Darwinism or the demise of the strongest.

  9. The #1 thing I want to see back with World of Hyatt is qualification based on stays. I made diamond every year and would with 25-30 stays, but getting 60 (or 55) just isn’t possible for me given the fact that they have such a small portfolio. At least half of the places I travel don’t have a Hyatt. Bring that back and they’ll have my loyalty again.

  10. Agree with @D Kine, stayed at a Hyatt in TPA instead of my normal Westin and didn’t earn points for my dining and beverage purchases at the hotel restaurant. At the Westin I always do. Due to prices of hotels and food/beverage I frequently earn more points on the F&B than on the room (otherwise I wouldn’t bother with the restaurants and bars which are generally more expensive and less interesting than those an Uber ride away).

  11. @Alan — No, Hilton is NOT difficult to know about breakfast benefits. You just get it. Trotting out the tired case of Waldorf Astoria, where free breakfast is NOT an elite benefit, does not make your point. It counters it because you’re pointing to a brand where one knows ahead of time not to expect free breakfast… which is why it is always wonderful to stay at WAs in Asia (China) and get free full breakfast that’s nothing short of a royal feast at the hotel’s discretion. That is one unpredictability I can live with…

  12. Stay qualifications. Otherwise I’m just a free-agent looking for the best return…typically that means split stays depending on promos and price. Stays pulled most of my business (when there was a Hyatt nearby) to Hyatt.

  13. @TravelinWilly – if you don’t know already, DCS is the uber-Hilton troll who just can’t stand the fact that the eternally mediocre HH program gets (rightfully) ignored by the experts, and loves to disrupt every hotel thread with his anti-SPG/Hyatt/all non-Hilton rants.

    Frankly, the fact that Marriott is taking so long bodes well that the combined program will look more like SPG than MR once launched. Can’t be as bad as HH (hey, we can use points on Amazon!!! but we can’t get any late checkout guarantee)

  14. @ D Kine & @DLPTATL,

    The reason for this is because alcohol laws vary by state & by country. In many places, to provide “incentive points” on alcohol spend would be against the law.

  15. I just stayed for 5 nights as a SPG Gold at Westin Miyako in Kyoto, Japan, and spent, excluding taxes:


    Question: Could someone who knows the SPG system well tell me how many BASE points I should earn on that amount, which included drinks and food (breakfast!!! and dinner) in bars and restaurants within the property? I am asking because I feel like, contrary to what someone just claimed above, I earned no points for some of the “incidentals”…

  16. To Mark & WoH

    What changes would I like to see from World of Hyatt?

    – Globalist Suite Upgrade Awards can actually be applied to available suites – make this benefit tangible.
    – Waive parking and resort fees for Globalists even on paid or P+C stays – this could be as much as $75 plus tax per night added to the rate.
    – Count award stays towards status, as Lucky suggested.
    – Bring back the welcome amenity.

  17. @UA-NYC — “Uber troll”, “Hilton is mediocre”, “ignored by experts”

    Only one who is truly clueless, uber stupid, would make such statements, considering the shape SPG is in. That is especially true when he appeals to self-anointed “experts” who were still touting SPG and HGP even after the programs had already collapsed, because they’d drunk too much of their own kool-aid to see it coming.

    If you have not noticed, the one program standing tall is, yes, HH — unless you believe in reverse Darwinism (wouldn’t surprise considering how clueless you are): survival of the mediocre and weakest…

    The short of it: Get lost.

  18. Your dogmatic, garbage, factually incorrect rant of course shows your bias yet again. SPG continues to go strong. And it may for another year at this rate. And the future MR may end up being MPG (aka, the better benefits that Starwood had). The only “collapse” is in your own mind.

    Nobody talks about HH because it basically is the lowest common denominator in the industry. Bashing every other program won’t change that. But of course you’ll keep doing so.

  19. * I think WOH should keep the 60 nights qualification to allow only the most loyal customers to be Globalist, but with the following changes……..
    – waive resort fee and parking for all globalist members.
    – count award night/stay towards elite status.
    – offer exclusive discount rates for globalist members.
    – 5th award night free
    – bring back the welcome amenity
    – partner with an airline(s) (maybe Alaska) and have reciprocal benefits.
    – encourage and provide incentives to stay at Hyatt properties instead of making the customer book away, for example: I received a free night award by visiting 5 different properties, but it expired so quick that it went to waste. I haven’t had time to use it. When I’m at 9 visited properties, I will book SPG, Hilton, or Marriott instead even if a Hyatt is cheaper and available due to the fact that the award received from Hyatt by visiting 10 different properties will expires before I even have a chance to use it.

  20. @UA-NYC — You are completely free to go around believing what you wish, head deep where “the sun don’t shine”, but you cannot remake factual reality. In the real world, SPG is on life support, and so-called “better benefits that SPG HAD” (past tense is yours, indicating some realization of the program’s demise even in your fog) were never real. Most garden variety benefits offered by other programs were elevated above all others by self-anointed “travel gurus”, whose kool-aid you seem to have drunk too much of. Truly pitiful…

  21. Hi Lucky,
    I was confused about your argument here because it would seem that you are arguing for a more restrictive and limiting policy than currently exists:

    ‘Have Globalist Suite Upgrade Awards expire at year-end. Globalist members earn four confirmed suite upgrades per year, and they expire 12 months from when they’re issued. This simply makes no sense, because for some members it makes it advantageous to stay elsewhere, so you can have those expire later in the next year. These should expire at the end of the membership year, just as they have with Starwood.’

    Unless I am missing something, then I strongly disagree with you. Would you care to elaborate?

    And by the way, now that I have your attention, please let me know if you are still going to Macedonia where I could be very helpful.

  22. Bring back the Diamond/Globalist amenity.

    Abolish targeted promotions without any qualification criteria, aka “secret sauce”. Also, get rid of “inspire and delight” gifts that alienate the loyal customers that were not included. Plain and simple, don’t discriminate.

  23. DCS apparently lives in a fact-free world – he is so delusional that he doesn’t recognize the laundry list of benefits SPG offers (and has offered) compared to HH:
    – guaranteed 4pm check-out
    – suite upgrades actually written in as a benefit
    – more benefits at the top tier the more you stay (SNAs, Your24, Ambassador, etc.)
    – creative Uber / Delta partnerships
    – Make a Green Choice
    – Oh, and while Starwood and not SPG, high-end and unique properties one actually wants to stay at

    You are a guru in your own mind (just like 45…amazing coincidences). You seemingly only are able to quote yourself, because no one with half a brain goes around talking how amazing HH is as a program.

    Now back to the Hyatt talk that you as usual disrupted with your rants…go back to drinking your own kool-aid.

  24. I will make Globalist again this year because, frankly, Hyatt still provides the most bang for the buck in terms of luxury award stays. I’ve noted that the hotels have really stepped up in recognition this year. Most important to me is the time limitation on free nights. That must change to have any value. I also seriously miss the welcome amenity. 1,000 points per stay really adds up. Certainly more value than free nights that expire in way too short a time period.

  25. @UA-NYC — Like I said: “Most garden variety benefits offered by other programs were elevated above all others by self-anointed “travel gurus”, whose kool-aid you seem to have drunk too much of. Truly pitiful…”

    I just stayed at the Westin Miyako Kyoto for 5 nights. At check-in I was asked if I wished to request a late checkout — a benefit I have never been denied for 7 straight years as a Hilton Diamond and have even been approved for checkout times as late as 6pm — and I said I had an 11 am departure and did not need to check out late. Then I asked if I would have free breakfast as a SPG Gold AND Marriott Gold, and I was told free breakfast was not a SPG Gold benefit. So, for 5 days I paid for my own breakfast @ ~$30/day. No big deal since I would be reimbursed anyway, but it really hit me just how much more valuable HH Gold is compared to SPG Gold, and, transitively, how much more generous HH is compared to SPG. One has to climb to the very top status in SPG (or WoH for that matter) to enjoy a perk as valuable and PRACTICAL as free breakfast! I would pick free breakfast over “guaranteed” 4pm checkout any day.

    And, please don’t get me started on the claim that SPG Plats are “guaranteed” suite upgrades [and elites are not] because I will, for the nth time, link to a post where I utterly destroyed and ridiculed that bogus notion.

    The purported superiority of SPG as a frequent-guest loyalty program was always and remains a fiction created by self-anointed “travel gurus”, who invariably claimed for their favored programs benefits that were more expansive than the programs actually offered. Remember how DSUs used to be “the single most valuable suite upgrade in the business”? Well, that seems to have changed now that WoH has decided to offer complimentary suite upgrades, y’know, like those that HH Diamonds got and were ridiculed.

    Also not too long ago, the best hotel and airline loyalty programs, according to “travel gurus”, were HGP, SPG and AAdvantage, and now look at what’s happened to all three programs. There is no such thing as reverse Darwinism or the demise of the best!

    ‘Nuff said so…G’day!

  26. And as is typical, DCS will come along and proclaim that he is the only one who is permitted to have an opinion on just about anything.

  27. @Mike – and will quote himself as his own evidence, and never present anything else to the contrary 😉 nor acknowledge any evidence to the contrary (like how the word “suite” literally does not show up on the HH Diamond benefit landing page).

    He’s also too dumb to read about the benefits he enjoys – no, SPG Gold doesn’t have free breakfast, it’s a level you can get in as little as 10 nights. Maybe he should have stayed at a Marriott or Hilton property. Interesting that he is now not defending the high tiers in each programs…no one has ever said HH Gold isn’t a bad deal for $90 a year.

  28. “I was told free breakfast was not a SPG Gold benefit.”

    I thought DCS always read into T&C meticulously (according to their claim). Yet this person doesn’t even know that the free breakfast is not a benefit for SPG Gold… very weird.

  29. @CP — Everyone here but you knows that I know that free breakfast is not a SPG Gold perk, but those of us who travel a lot in Asia know that many or most properties there ignore T&C when it comes to free breakfast [see my comment above about getting breakfast at Waldorf Astorias in China], hence the query. Also, considering all the talk about SPG- MR “reciprocity”, I truly wanted to know if a MR Gold who gets free breakfast in his program would be eligible for breakfast at Starwood properties.

  30. @UA-NYC – Ugh!

    Thank you so much for the reminder; that explains the aggressive response I received from my comment.

    I remember now, and again, thanks for the heads up. It sucks to write a measured reply only to realize we have replied t o troll. What a waste of time…


  31. @TravelinWilly — LOL. You seem to be new here so beware. You’ll do a lot better using coherent arguments to support your positions, or a troll you’ll fast become if you decide to cast your lot with the forum’s “village idiot” simply because he appears to be on your side!

    Good luck!

  32. Will be great to introduce “reserve value” whereby excess qualifying stays may be brought forward. Customers will continue to book with Hyatt after achieving the required stays/nights.

  33. @DCS: “You’ll do a lot better using coherent arguments to support your positions…”

    Even more evidence of DCS’s narcissism – if he doesn’t agree with someone, he takes that disagreement as a personal attack and throws out barbs like the above.

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