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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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?
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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15 Oct 2010, last update
28 May 2011
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