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Hotel frequent guest programs need to be viewed very differently to airline frequent traveler programs.

There is less reason to concentrate all your stays in one hotel program, and more reason to tactically shift your bookings around.

 
 
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Getting the Most out of Hotel Frequent Guest Programs

Working out the best hotel frequent guest program for you
 

Competing hotels might be lined up in a row, with similar exteriors, but their frequent guest programs might have significant differences.

See also our other article series on booking hotels for best value - links on the right hand side

 

 

Perhaps the most important thing to understand when evaluating different hotel frequent guest programs is that the strategies that work well for us when we're optimizing our airline frequent flier programs may not work so well for us with hotel programs.

The differences between hotel programs are sometimes less significant than the differences between the member hotels, and the extra benefits of becoming an elite level frequent guest are not always as valuable as the equivalent benefits are with elite level memberships in airline frequent flier programs.

So different strategies are called for.

Tactical versus Strategic Booking of Hotels

Your best strategy for getting best results from a hotel frequent guest program is very different your strategy with airline frequent flyer programs.

This is for three reasons.

Firstly, because the extra benefits to you of elite level hotel frequent guest programs are much less significant than the extra benefits to you of becoming an elite level airline frequent flyer member.  For example, an upgraded room in a hotel is not nearly as meaningful as an upgrade from coach to first class on a flight.

Secondly, because the occasional special deals that various hotel groups come up with are much more valuable than the occasional special deals that airlines come up with - in other words, the special deals can (and should) cause you to change favorites for the duration of the deal, whereas with airlines, if an airline is offering double miles on a certain route, you probably don't care if you have no elite status with them and no chance of gaining it.

Thirdly, because the trade-offs when preferentially choosing one hotel over another in any area can be potentially very much greater, both in terms of cost and convenience, then the type of trade-offs you typically make when choosing one airline over another.  The trade-offs in hotel choices can quickly eclipse the benefits of booking with your preferred hotel group.

With an airline program, you are quite appropriately focused on strategic (long term) goals.  You are very focused on achieving the most elite level of membership possible in your preferred airline program, and many times you will accept some inconvenience in return for being able to concentrate your travel on your selected airline partner.  The benefits to you for doing this generally more than justify the sacrifices involved.

Is it worth trying to get Elite status?

But with hotel programs, the benefits of becoming an elite level member of a hotel program are much less profound, and so the payback from becoming an elite member is less likely to outweigh the sacrifices involved in getting that elite status.

Of course, you should attempt to mildly focus your hotel business on one or two preferred hotel groups if you feel there is a realistic chance of achieving an elite level.

Beware of points and memberships expiring

Another factor to keep in mind is you should also be sensitive to the status of your accrued points and programs that have expiry dates associated with either your membership or your points.

Belong to all hotel programs, even if you very seldom stay with them

However, while having the strategic goals, you should plug into as many hotel programs as possible (assuming that you do travel on a somewhat regular basis) and pick and choose where you stay based not so much on your hotel frequent guest program membership (because in theory you'll end up belonging to most of the programs) and longer-term strategic issues.

Instead you should focus on immediate (tactical) issues, such as any special offers and special deals that the hotels may have, either extended only to their frequent guest program members, or perhaps extended to everyone at large.

A different approach to hotel programs compared to airline programs

The most important thing to do is to break out of the mental mindset that you probably have when booking airline tickets.  When booking airline tickets, you probably feel a great sense of loss any time you need to book on your non-preferred airline.  Please do not feel that same sense of great loss when booking away from your preferred hotel chain.  The short term upfront benefit to you of staying at a better hotel, in a better location, and with a better rate, as are all much more substantial and significant than the softer long-term benefit of getting a few more points in one hotel program compared to in a different one.

Most hotel programs offer the same airline mileage benefits anyway

furthermore, if you are taking the option offered by most of the programs to simply get immediate frequent flyer miles for each state, the benefit to you is close to identical whether the miles deposited into your airline account come from Hotel Group One or Hotel Group Two.

The Real Value of Hotel Frequent Guest Programs

The preceding is not meant to imply there is no value in belonging to any (or all!) hotel guest programs.  Quite the opposite.

All members of many programs get some instant perks, no matter how infrequently they stay.  These are things such as a free newspaper each morning, and perhaps a special line with less waiting when checking in and maybe even late checkout courtesies too.

There is a slight possibility you might be more likely to be upgraded too, even if a standard non elite member.

Get access to and information about special hotel deals

Another benefit is that when you join a hotel's frequent guest program, you get plugged in to the hotel groups mailing list to receive occasional special deals, promotions and offers.

For example, one of the groups was running a promotion where after any two stays during a qualified 10 week., you would immediately get one free night to be used as you wish in the future.  That is a great deal, but if you weren't a member of their frequent guest program, you probably would never know about it.

In the past, when offers were sent via regular mail, hotel groups were selective about spending money on sending the offers out, and would often only send special offers to active members.  But with email costing almost nothing, they are more likely now to send most offers to most members, whether they have been recently active or not.

Bonuses and Promotions

Some programs seem to have wall to wall promotions on an ongoing basis.

The hotel groups make good tactical use of their frequent guest programs, sometimes with incentive programs applying to all properties (eg 'get double points after staying five nights in the next three months') and sometimes at specific properties to mark new openings, renovations, or competitive pressures, or whatever.

But, just as not all airline bonus miles help you qualify for elite status, a key thing to look for with bonuses and promotions is whether the extra points will help you qualify for an Elite level membership or not.

Tie-Ins with Credit Cards

It is becoming increasingly common to find hotel groups promoting their own branded credit cards; for example I got a Hyatt offer in the mail just today, offering an extra 3 points for every dollar charged to the credit card at Hyatt hotels, and an extra 1 point for every dollar charged elsewhere.

Is that a good deal?  Let's do the calculation.

A worked example - good deal or bad deal?

Typically hotel programs allow you to convert their points to miles on the basis of 5 points buys you one mile.

On the other hand, credit cards aligned with airlines give you one mile for every dollar you spend, and perhaps 2 miles for every dollar you spend on airline tickets, and sometimes other bonuses too.

So, a hotel affinity card gives you 3/5th of a mile for every dollar you spend in a hotel, whereas an airline affinity card would give you 1 mile for every dollar you spend in a hotel.

When using either type of card elsewhere, you'd get 1/5th of a mile for every dollar spent on a hotel card or 1 full mile on an airline affinity card.

And if buying an airline ticket, you'd get 1/5th of a mile per dollar spent on a hotel credit card, but 2 miles with the airline's credit card.

So - good deal?  Absolutely not!

Set Your Own Priorities

Focus in on the elements of the programs that have the most meaning to you.  For example, if you travel with other people and may be booking and paying more than one room at a time, you will want to find a program that allows you to get credit for multiple rooms.

One more thing to consider.  These are not really either/or choices that you must make.  Because most of the programs allow you to instantly transfer credit over to an airline, and because all of the programs offer free membership, you should enroll in every program for every hotel you stay at.  There is no downside, and there just might be some upside.

Individual Program Details

Please move on to the next page in our series (links on the top right) for details of and an explanation about the information we provide for each hotel program, and then for the specific details of each of the nine hotel programs analyzed.

And note also the detailed comparison between the three most significant programs that most readily allow for direct comparison.

 

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Originally published 15 Oct 2010, last update 28 May 2011

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
Related Articles
Choosing the Best Hotel Frequent Guest Program
Analyzing the Different Hotel Frequent Guest Programs
Explaining the Individual Program Reports
Coming soon :  Specific Program Details - Accor, Best Western, Choice
Coming soon :  Specific Program Details - Hilton, Hyatt, IHG/Holiday Inn
Coming soon :  Specific Program Details - Marriott, Starwood, Wyndham
Special Spreadsheet comparing costs/benefits of Hilton, Marriott and Starwood programs

See also
How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Rate (4 part series)
How to Book Hotels for the Lowest Price through Priceline (4 part series)

 

 

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