The life of a business traveler is not necessarily a glamorous one. I sure thought it was when I started traveling regularly 6 years ago, but I quickly found out I was wrong. Broken planes, dirty planes, uncomfortable beds, loud neighbors all add up with dozens of other issues to make business travel a real grind sometimes.
The airlines and hotels do their best to make it more tolerable for their loyal guests by giving them perks like miles and points they can redeem for free vacations as well as nicer hotel rooms, first class seat upgrades and many more.
For some of their most frequent guests, hotel chains have stepped up the game even further.
Hyatt Gold Passport has, for a number of years, provided me with my own Private Line Agent, a concierge of sorts who can handle all my bookings and any problems I encounter. Now, I’m not some millionaire jetting around on my private plane from my private boat in the Cayman Islands to luxurious resorts around the world (sure wish I was!). So, I didn’t quite know what a concierge was supposed to do for me. Over time, I’ve enjoyed having someone to help book rooms and advocate for me with hotels to make my travel less stressful. I consider this service invaluable.
A few years ago, Starwood Preferred Guest rolled out their Ambassador program. I was curious when it was announced. Could this be as good as what Hyatt offers me? While Hyatt’s program is by invitation only, Starwood has another path in addition to the folks they invite. You just have to stay 100 nights at Starwood properties in a calendar year. Simple, right? Well, in 2012 I hit the number right at 100, stretching at the end of the year so I could try the service.
Admittedly, I got off to a rocky start. I just didn’t hit it off with my first Ambassador. Some of that is my own independence, in that I’m usually fine booking my rooms directly on the website and communicating with the properties about my needs. After a handful of stays where my needs weren’t met after advising my Ambassador of what I was looking for, I just wasn’t seeing the value.
Fast forward a few months and I was assigned a new Ambassador. We really did hit it off and I was starting to see some value in the service. But, I still can’t say it was a huge change in overall value since I’m somewhat independent when I book hotels.
In 2014, I’ve really started to see the value. We’re planning a summer vacation to Italy and Starwood has great properties there. We had our sights set on the St. Regis in Rome and the Hotel Danieli in Venice, both places we had visited previously. It’s less common to find European hotels that will allow 3 or 4 folks in a room (and the rooms tend to be a lot smaller). But, that was one of the items on our list, along with being able to redeem points.
My Starwood Ambassador made quick work of the project. Not only did he get exceptions for us where we needed it to accommodate the kids in our room with us, but he was able to find cash & points availability for virtually all of our nights. We’ve got suite night awards applied and are hoping they clear to make for an even more pleasant stay (though I’m not counting on it, since those have been tough to use).
But now, my Ambassador has really outdone himself. I’ve always said that the best way to my heart is through my kids. And, this is what showed up in the mail for my son’s birthday, courtesy of Starwood Preferred Guest.
He’s been riding it around the house for days now, ecstatic. His sister is mortally jealous. At first, she wanted a suitcase, just like his. But, then, when she saw the “Member In Training” part, she said, “I want to be a member, just like Daddy!” God, I love some of the anecdotes that come out of my kid’s mouths.
The bottom line is that my Ambassador took the time to get to know me and figure out what made me tick. I don’t think I’m a very demanding traveler, though I do have my quirks. He’s spent the last 8 months or so figuring out those quirks and finding ways to make my relationship with Starwood more special. And, it’s working. I have a couple upcoming stays that I might otherwise have given to Hyatt but I’m rebooking them to SPG properties while I think about that 100 night goal. They’re bribing me for my business, and right now it’s working!
Starwood is spoiling my kids and making my travel planning easier, which certainly makes me want to work to get to 100 nights again. It’s easier with Starwood than it is with Hyatt, since award nights count to your total, you can get credit for up to 3 rooms per night and can get an easy head start on status with 10 nights as a result of having both Starwood Amex cards.
Starwood was a leader by a mile in terms of hotel loyalty for quite some time last decade. They came back to the pack a bit as other programs upped their game. Starwood’s revamp about 2 years ago was meant to push them out in front again. My Ambassador benefit is paying big dividends for our family. I’m really hoping they can get the suite night award benefit worked out, as it would be a big differentiator for them as well.