Hotels going all out in bid to build loyalty

Published On Thu Apr 12 2007

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By Heather Greenwood Davis Homes and Travel Reporter

When it comes to choosing a hotel, are you monogamous? A “Delta” woman? A “W” man?

While playing the field might net you a deal here and there, those willing to demonstrate brand loyalty get perks ranging from faster check-in to Superbowl tickets.

Hotel loyalty programs have come a long way from the days when the most you could hope for was a Wednesday night stay and a mint on your pillow. These days, hotels are pulling out the stops in an effort to grab your repeat business.

And it seems to be working.

“We know that once they get into the program, they’ll seek out Starwood properties,” says Robin Korman, vice-president of loyalty marketing at Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

“And if the hotel of choice is not available, they will use the Starwood program to determine what other hotels are in the network and say, `Well, I can stay at a Westin and still earn my points.’ ”

But the program can’t work in a vacuum, Korman says. Hotels need to understand the interests of their guests in order to gauge the types of rewards that will keep them coming back.

Starwood recently launched its “Moments” incentive rewards – unique opportunities for those who have the points to compete in online auctions. The program hit pay dirt with guests, who launched bidding wars for things such as a private sound-check session and VIP concert tickets for Justin Timberlake. (The minimum bid was 20,000 Starpoints; the winner offered more than 120,000 – the points’ equivalent of a 12-night stay at the Le Meridien Cancun).

A Superbowl package, including tickets to the game and access to several private pre-game events, netted more than 500,000 points. It’s clearly a winning situation for the hotel. A Starwood base-level customer would have had to spend about $250,000 (U.S.) on hotel rooms to earn those points. (They could have also earned it by spending on a Starwood Preferred Guest credit card or purchasing time-share.)

Despite the cash outlay, consumers seem to feel they are getting value, says Korman, who credits the loyalty program with a 120-per-cent increase in the number of members who stay in Starwood hotels more than 25 times per year.

Fairmont hotels don’t have points, but members of the President’s Club seem to prefer it that way.

Brian Richardson, vice-president of brand marketing and communications, says surveys show that Fairmont guests like being treated as individuals, aren’t keen on collecting points, are health-conscious and want to be productive and efficient while at the hotel.

So, instead of collecting points, President’s Club members register their likes and dislikes (from newspaper preference to type of pillow), allowing the hotel to create a profile and a customized stay for every visit. They have access to Adidas workout gear and golf clubs (so they don’t have to carry them from home). They get free high-speed Internet and local calls and have a dedicated reservation and check-in line.

“It’s really about recognizing the individual and understanding the individual more fully and translating that understanding into what you do for them,” Richardson says.

The program now boasts 800,000 members, with more than half of them in the base-level club status, which is free to join and requires no minimum night stays.

In the end, knowing which hotel program is right for you depends on your personality and what you’re looking to get out of your hotel.

  • Anxious to get to your room? Delta Privilege members have a one-minute check-in guarantee (members get a free night’s stay if the check-in takes any longer). Hyatt’s Gold Passport gives program members late checkout/early check-in options and cheque-cashing privileges.
  • More interested in a new power tool than an extra night at the hotel? Members of the Days Inn Trip Rewards program collect traditional points that can be redeemed for merchandise at Canadian Tire, HMV, Future Shop and other retailers.
  • Looking to save the world or have an adventure? Hilton Hotels let you donate points to charity, transfer them to friends or participate in “Experience Rewards” such as motorcycle touring, skydiving, hot-air balloon rides, private yoga or cooking lessons and in-home massages.Most hotel reward programs also offer you the option of either collecting the air miles of your choice during your stay or converting them.
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