Loyalty programs are everywhere, and chances are if you were to go through your wallet or email inbox, you will find that you are a loyal member of more companies than you would like to admit. You may find yourself signing up without even meaning to – sometimes it is because of the promise of a competition or tangible benefit such as a steep discount. And let’s admit, having that loyalty card for a certain luxurious hotel makes us feel very special. There are loyalty programs for anything and everything – if a service or product is offered, then chances are it is connected to a loyalty program. Your local cafe, airlines, any retail shop and of course, hotels all have loyalty programs.
Hotel loyalty cards are all the rave, and all the major global hotels offer a form of loyalty program to their customers. It is always good business. Savvy travelers are realizing the benefits of these loyalty programs and often choosing between different hotels all comes down to their loyalty offerings. The frillier it is, the better for the customer. So if you are planning on upping your travel game and join one (or many) hotel loyalty programs, then this is the article for you! The following guide will highlight what to look for when choosing a hotel loyalty program, tips on how to get the most value, and also what to avoid and be aware of to make sure that you do not get scammed or get into trouble.
While different hotel chains do have their unique properties, at the end of the day, a hotel is a hotel
. You will get the unusual and quirky of course like the Japanese capsule hotels, the tree house hotels in Sweden or the igloo hotels in Iceland, but generally a hotel is a hotel. It will offer a room with varying levels of luxury and have standard facilities such as a gym, pool, games room, business areas and restaurants. So by offering loyalty programs, they are able to separate themselves from their seemingly identical competitors. It is a battle of the benefits – each hotel chain is competing against each other to offer the best deals and win your business.
Hotel Loyalty Programs – Are they Worth It?
In a nutshell, hotel loyalty programs exist to be mutually beneficial – basically they want to offer you (the customer) incentives so that you choose to stay and spend your money with them over a competitor. The way that they see it is that if they can save a customer a certain amount of money or offer tangible benefits, then that customer will become loyal and ‘pay it back’ to the hotel. In an ideal situation, it is win-win. The hotel benefits because they have a loyal customer (who will hopefully tell other people about how great they are and be a repeat visitor), and the customer benefits because they feel like they are getting some sort of benefit or saving money. And for travellers, these benefits and money savings are often seen as very important and will be the determining factor in which hotel they stay at.
As for whether they are worth it, this will really depend on the needs of the traveller and what they consider to be a ‘benefit’, and of course what the individual hotel offers. If someone is looking to save money and is not fussed about things like free breakfast, room upgrade or the accumulation of points, then a hotel loyalty program that is going to be of value to them will be one that provides an actual dollar saving. As they say, someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure so what one person thinks is an amazing deal, another might turn their nose up at. So if a particular hotel’s loyalty program offers something that you hold value to, then to you, it is worth it. And that is really all that matters.
Benefits of Hotel Loyalty Program
As mentioned previously, whether a particular hotel’s loyalty program is seen as beneficial is all in the eye of the beholder – what one person may see as a great benefit might mean absolutely nothing to another. Hilton HHonors for example offers all members free Wi-Fi – which is amazing if you are waiting to use Wi-Fi and don’t want to pay. But someone who is not planning on connecting to the internet at all will likely not be impressed at being offered it for free. So it is good really that there are so many different hotels with so many different loyalty programs. If you are willing to take the time and look, chances are you will find a program that really grabs your attention and makes it worth staying there over the others.
Some hotel loyalty programs offer immediate benefits – such as an upgrade in room at no extra cost, free buffet breakfast or free Wi-Fi. Most hotels will offer a points scheme – so for every dollar you spend at a particular hotel, you get a certain number of points which accrues over a period of time. So the idea is if you spend enough time and money at a particular hotel chain, then you will have accumulated enough points for something really good (such as a free nights stay).
Typically on average, it takes around an expenditure of approximately $2,000 or more in order to get enough points for a free nights stay (valued at around $150 on average). This can certainly be beneficial if you travel often and find yourself staying many nights in a hotel in a single year. In only a short amount of time you could find yourself with a free night. If you only stay a couple of nights a year in a hotel, however, then it will take a very long time to see any real benefit. All hotels with a loyalty program will have points rewards including all of the big names such as Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, Accor, Intercontinental and the Wyndham Group. Some points do expire after a certain period of time, so this needs to be a consideration when choosing.
Some hotel loyalty programs offer more immediate and tangible benefits upon joining. These often do not require a minimum spend. Some of the rewards for the biggest hotels are listed below.
Hilton – Free Wi-Fi, room discounts, online check-in.
Intercontinental – Free Wi-Fi, priority check-in, late check-out, room upgrades.
Hyatt Diamond Membership – Free lounge access, suite upgrades
Keep in mind that not all rewards will be automatically accessible – some memberships have different levels and they require a certain minimum spend or length of membership in order to upgrade to a level that unlocks certain benefits. For example you may only get a room upgrade if you are Gold status – and it may take a lot of points to get that status.
What to Look for When Choosing a Hotel Loyalty Program.
When shopping around looking for a loyalty program to join, there are some key things that could influence your final decision.
- How often will you stay
If you are a frequent traveller and stay in hotel rooms for many nights in a year, then your choice will be easier as most will appeal to you. The best rewards for some loyalty programs (such as Hyatt) are unlocked after a certain spend or membership period. If you only stay a couple of days a year away, then something like the Hilton or Intercontinental could be better as you will receive some benefits such as free internet on the very first night stay.
- How important are points to you
Most hotel loyalty programs have one thing in common – they will use a points system. The way that they use the points will differ between them, but generally the idea is the same. Some people do not join loyalty programs for the points, they are after the instant benefits. While others look to the long term and realize that by joining a good program now, they will reap very illustrious rewards in the future. Yet there other people who simply get the kicks out of accumulating so many points?
Ever heard of the Miles Millionaires and their amazing lifestyle? For these people, collecting hotel and airline rewards points is simply an end itself. It is like a hobby that they enjoy partaking of.
Their glamorous travel lifestyle is aptly captured in the movie “Up In the Air” starring George Clooney.
So ask yourself how important points are, and this will determine which programs are the best for you.
- Do they have a linked credit card
If you are looking to upgrade or change credit card companies, then you can really benefit from having a linked branded credit card to a hotel loyalty program. There are many additional benefits to being a credit card holder and being a loyalty member, and it means that the hotel in question will be more likely to look after you. Here is a look at some of the best hotel loyalty programs that you really should try out:-
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card – AMEX – Reward points for every dollar spent, and significant bonus points if a minimum spend it reached. Can be used at the Westin and Sheraton hotel chains.
Hilton HHonors Surpass® Card – AMEX – Reward points for every dollar spent. Bonus points when used to pay for a room at any Hilton hotel. Free baggage protection and 24/7 roadside assistance.
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card – VISA – Reward points for every dollar spent. Can be used ay any Carlson Hotel. Automatic upgrade to Gold Elite which mean you get a 15% food discount within the hotel. If you spend a certain amount on the card in a calendar year you get a free night’s stay.
Tips for Getting the Most Value from Hotel Loyalty Programs
If you have decided to join a hotel loyalty membership program for a hotel chain, then there are some tips that you should follow in order to ensure that you get the most out of it.
- Not all perks are clearly written: Some of the better benefits might almost be hidden in the fine writing, so the best way to find out exactly what benefits you are eligible for is to ask! You could be pleasantly surprised to learn that there is a food and beverage discount if you eat in the hotel, or that Wi-Fi is complimentary. Read the paperwork you will be given when you join and make a note of the most appealing benefits and perks.
- Keep track of your points: It can be easy to forget that you have a membership to a loyalty program, and will tend to ignore any correspondence that may be sent via mail or email. But it can definitely be beneficial for you to keep track of your points, and more importantly know about if there are any blackout periods or expiry dates for certain benefits or points. There is nothing worse than missing out on a great reward simply because you forgot or missed the notification. Check your junk mail – often there are great deals emailed that are exclusively for loyalty members. And if you have enough points to redeem for a free night or upgrade, make sure that you use them before they disappear – as some loyalty programs don’t rollover points from previous years.
- Only book through the actual hotel: You might not realize that most hotel loyalty programs do not recognize bookings through third-party sites (or through travel agents) such as Expedia or Travelocity. So if you are looking to redeem points or wishes to take advantage of the perks that your membership offers, then make sure you book and pay directly through the hotel website booking engine itself.
Are there any Loyalty Programs that are a scam?
This is a common question, as people are suspicious by nature over anything that requires them to hand over their personal information. However as long as you are careful and understand basic internet security precautions, you should be ok. The only scams that you are likely to encounter online with regards to hotel loyalty programs are phishing scams. These are scammers pretending to be from the hotel, so you should only open action emails or correspondence that you know to be from the hotel directly. If you sign up in person at the hotel or from their actual website (not through a third party), then you can be sure of the security and safety. After all, the hotel needs to keep their customers happy, so they go to great lengths to protect personal information.