At the end of our fantastic stay at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, I stopped at the front desk to check out. We had booked 5 nights with points & cash, for 12,500 points + $150 per night. After taxes and a few charge-to-the-room dining expenses, the total came to over $1,000. I whipped out my $1,000 Hyatt gift card to pay for the bulk of it.
I had previously bought the gift card for 14.5% off. 10% off was due to using a coupon code that had been handed out at Frequent Traveler University events. The extra discount came from Amex OPEN Savings, a feature of their small business cards, which offered a 5% rebate on Hyatt stays. I’ve always had luck getting the rebate even when buying gift cards from Hyatt. Unfortunately, Hyatt dropped out of the OPEN Savings program as of January 1 2016. Thanks to mathematics, a 5% rebate on top of a 10% off purchase combines to a total of 14.5% off.
Hyatt gift card hacked
The desk agent on duty swiped my Hyatt gift card and reported that it was empty. The total balance: $0.00. Uh oh. I told the agent to leave the charge on my credit card while I tried to figure out what had happened.
I called the support number on the back of the gift card and learned that the card had been used up in October. They said that their systems were down at the moment, though, so they couldn’t tell me where it had been used. My mind raced to figure out what had happened. Had I used the card? I was 99.9% sure I hadn’t, but I popped open Trip It to see where I had been. I had stayed at a Hyatt in New York City around that time, but I clearly remembered having booked the hotel with points.
Then, I vaguely remembered having read a blog post warning people about this issue. While I couldn’t remember the blog, a Google search quickly led me to this FlyerTalk thread where many people reported the same issue. The first post in the thread, by FlyingDoctorwu, sounded exactly like my situation:
Just wanted to let everyone know about a potential issue with Hyatt gift cards and to check their cards.
Background; bought a gift card months ago. When I went to use it; didn’t work. Checking the balance revealed it to be zero. Paid bill with CC and contacted Hyatt.
Pretty quickly they issued me a new gift card and promised to investigate. I haven’t heard anything from them but I was pretty happy with the resolution.
One thing to consider: it is no longer possible to check GC balance online. Only over the phone. I wonder if someone designed a brute force app to check for GCs until it found a balance. I’ve heard it’s possible to buy GCs on the underground marks for cheap.
I called Hyatt Customer Support to report the issue. The woman I spoke with was very nice and understanding. She even mentioned that this had happened to a number of people back in October and November, but that they hadn’t seen the issue recently (it was now February). She submitted a ticket to their fraud team and promised that I would get a new gift card within a few business days.
About a week later, I received the following email from Special Person:
Greg, Special Person has just sent you a Hyatt eGift Card
Awesome. I contacted the Hyatt Carmel Highlands and asked if they could retroactively apply the gift card to my stay. They readily agreed and promised that my credit card would be reimbursed once the gift card was applied. They gave me a resort manager’s email address and I sent the gift card number to him. Problem solved… Or, so I thought…
Hyatt gift card hacked… Again!
A few weeks later, I was still waiting for the $1,000 credit to my credit card, so I contacted the resort manager again. He replied with this:
Dear Mr. Davis-Kean,
I contacted Hyatt Relations because the E-Gift Card did not go through, it shows it has been already redeemed at another property. Our accounting department was unable to complete the refund process until the card is redeemed. I was asked to give you Hyatt Relations phone number so they can help you out,
Please let me know if there’s anything I may do to assist you,
I called Hyatt Relations and learned that this new gift card had been used up at a property in Hawaii! Somehow someone had used it before the Hyatt Carmel Highlands could. Once again, I called Hyatt and they promised a quick resolution.
Problem finally solved
This time 9 days passed between reporting the second gift card issue and receipt of a new email from Special Person containing yet another $1,000 e-gift card. Again, I sent it to the hotel manager. This time, he was able to apply the balance and I did get the money refunded to my credit card.
Take Away: I’ll no longer buy Hyatt gift cards.
Something is seriously wrong with the Hyatt gift card system. They recently stopped selling e-gift cards, perhaps because of these issues, but they still sell regular gift cards. And, the first gift card I tried to use was a regular physical gift card, so I’m not sure how the removal of e-gift cards helps.
The situation worked out for me in the long run, but it was a hassle. I think that it helped that I had bought the gift card directly from Hyatt originally. I’m not sure how things would have played out if I had bought the gift card from a reseller.
If given the opportunity to buy Hyatt gift cards again for 14.5% off, I won’t do it. Unless/until I learn that Hyatt has fixed their gift card system, I think that the chance of having to deal with fraud is simply too high to make it worth the hassle.
But, I’ll still buy Marriott gift cards
On the same trip described above, I had two occasions to use a Marriott gift card that I had bought for 20% off by taking advantage of Amex Offers. Our flight into the San Francisco airport arrived late at night at the beginning of the trip and departed crazily early at the end of the trip. The Hyatt Carmel Highlands is a fairly long drive from the airport, so I bookended the trip with one night stays at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront. The timing was great because Marriott had just started a new MegaBonus promotion for a free night after 2 stays. I booked the stays by clicking through whatever portal was offering the best cash back rates at the time (found here via CashBackMonitor) and booked the state government rate (which my wife qualifies for). Since I have Marriott Platinum status, we received a welcome amenity (I took the bonus points) and lounge access. Paying with the gift card at the end of each stay was seamless. And, the MegaBonus free night appeared in my account soon after.
I realize, of course, that two little data points isn’t much evidence that Marriott gift cards really work better than Hyatt gift cards, but that’s all I have with respect to recent evidence. I have used Marriott gift cards successfully many times further in the past, but the same is true of Hyatt gift cards.
Anyway, my point is that I have no reason to believe that Marriott gift cards are compromised in the way that Hyatt gift cards appear to be. So, I will probably try to get in on the May 3rd Daily Getaway offer for 20% off Marriott gift cards.
Have you used hotel gift cards? Was the experience good or bad? What issues have you encountered?