Best Strategies for Hotel and Airline Loyalty Programs

LoyaltyWorking loyalty programs for airlines, cruise lines, hotels or rental car agencies can be tricky business. Core benefits of one program are often overshadowed by promotional offers from another. Navigating our way around them in an organized manner to get the most benefit, then keeping track of what we earn can take a lot of time that few are willing to invest. Those who do not travel all that much often find themselves belonging to a bunch of programs with little value racked up on any of them. Still, the benefits of being a member can be worth our time, even for an occasional traveler, armed with the right strategy.

“To make sure you get more benefits, either in free flights or elite traveler perks, consolidate your miles into as few airlines as possible,” recommends iFly. “The more miles that you can build on one card, by using that airline or its partners, the faster you get your rewards.”

That strategy works for hotel chains as well and focusing on programs that offer more can help. Third-party web sites like FindTheBest rank airlines, hotels and others for us, consolidating benefits, perk thresholds and more to easily see which programs are a good fit for an individual’s travel profile.

“At FindTheBest, we present you with the facts – stripped of any marketing influence – so that you can make quick and informed decisions. We present the facts in easy-to-use tables with smart filters, so that you can decide what is best,”says FindTheBest on its web site.

Once points start coming in, another helpful website, AwardWallet, can make keeping track of them easy. AwardWallet is a free service that helps us manage reward balances, supporting over 400 loyalty programs. AwardWallet is also used by businesses to manage their corporate reward balances.

Loyalty pays off, but as new offers come along, getting in on them can be to our advantage as well. Another site, BoardingArea, features the latest offers for airlines, hotels and more.

Occasional travelers can also benefit from being a part of a loyalty program at work. Hotels are going after businesses with bonus programs that give top-tier benefits, normally reserved for heavy users to occasional travelers signed on under the company program.

Best Western, for example, has a new Business Advantage program where members get an across-the-board 10 percent discount off the hotel’s lowest rate, automatic elite-level membership benefits and a 10 percent bonus of all the points earned. When these programs initially roll out, expect extra value too.

A special bonus offer through April 8 gives Best Western Business Advantage participants who stay with the chain just one night during its Spring Promotion a free membership to Trip It Pro (normally $49), a personal program that helps business travelers keep track of their trips and their rewards.

Frequent traveler programs are a hot topic and relationships with hotel loyalty programs run deep, often causing members to lie, cheat or pose as someone else to get ahead said a survey Gadling reported on earlier this month.

In a survey by Starwood Preferred Guest respondents said they would try subterfuge to get upgrades and were not above telling little white lies to get a better hotel room or a hotel/airline travel upgrade,” Starwood said in TravelAgent. Nearly half of respondents claimed they would pretend it was their honeymoon to get an upgrade. 25 percent would pretend they had a family emergency and 20 percent would pretend to be someone important.

All they really had to do was have a strategy for their loyalty program participation that included joining the right program, keeping track of awards and taking advantage of other offers that may come along.



How to Get Travel Perks with Loyalty Club Membership

Flickr photo by Larry Johnson

Westin rolling out new gyms

westin fitness centerIt’s time to get your workout on. Starwood Hotels and Resorts announced this week that they are revamping the fitness studios at its Westin-branded hotels. WestinWORKOUT fitness facilities at 186 Westin hotels around the world are getting new equipment and blue light therapy throughout the course of the year.

New equipment we can understand – after all, people are pounding away on the machines all day long. But the redesign stems from Westin’s in-house design team’s studies of guest behavior that found Westin guests desired a more well-rounded, holistic fitness experience, including more options for stretching, yoga and fitness classes.

To capitalize on this trend, Westin is removing select pieces of equipment that guests were not using as frequently in order to provide more floor space for these types of activities. Don’t worry, this won’t include the treadmills! Pulley machines are also being added to smaller fitness studios to further maximize space and provide a greater range of workout options.

More natural design
The custom-created design of Westin’s new fitness studio, a departure from the typical gym aesthetic, was also driven by the changing trends of how people work out. Instead of black rubber floors, the Westin design team chose to use a natural, soft-tone color palette and organic materials including textural woven flooring.

Inspired by nature, each fitness studio will also display a full-size art mural entitled “Step Up,” a reflective image of people running up a grassy hill. We’re not sure it will get us through this extra mile, but hey – it’s better than a blank wall.

Look for the blue light
Westin worked with Philips to introduce ActiViva Lighting, Philips’ new energizing fluorescent lighting, into its gym facilities. Supposedly their blue light technology positively influences well-being and will help to make guests feel more alert, awake and energized in target workout areas such as the cardio zone. Additionally, the lighting will be customized in all workout zones to coincide with the type of exercise taking place in each specific area.

More guest perks
In December 2010, Westin a partnership New Balance. The chain provides footwear, apparel and fitness program content to its guests to borrow. Later this year, the brand will also be expanding its in-room SuperFoodsRX menu items for breakfast to also include lunch and dinner options.

The gyms are currently open at Westin Jersey City, Westin Riverwalk, San Antonio, Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and the Westin Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego.

Starwood first to launch user ratings and reviews on its hotel websites

Reader-generated hotel reviews – and the sites that host them – have gotten a bad rap lately. But, it’s for a good reason. In July, TripAdvisor came under scrutiny when it was revealed that some hotels were paying TripAdvisor users to post positive reviews of their properties. There have also been concerns that hotel employees and management were posting positive reviews of their properties in order to improve their online ratings and, thus, improve their rankings and visibility.

Knowing that a few bad reviews can break a hotel, hotel companies understandably have been resistant to allow customers to post reviews on their websites. This week, however, Starwood announced that it will be the first hotel company to host reader-generated ratings and reviews on its websites. Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the parent company of such brands as Westin, Sheraton, W Hotels, St. Regis, and Le Meridien, will allow hotel guests to post both positive and negative reviews in order to provide a more honest and transparent relationship with its customers, particularly members of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program. In turn, potential reviewers must have verified hotel reservation confirmations in order to post a review. Customers will be able to post reviews and ratings on room comfort, staff helpfulness, cleanliness, and SPG recognition, among other factors, as well as provide context to their reviews, such as purpose and frequency of travel. Users also will be able to share Starwood reviews on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Starwood’s move to allow reviews on its websites is a way to bring more customers directly to the source rather than via third-party booking and review sites. Says Chris Holdren, Senior Vice President of Starwood Preferred Guest, “Our goal is to provide everything a guest needs to select and book their best hotel experience and there’s no better place to offer this information than on our own websites.”

Enjoy Chinese hospitality at Hilton and Starwood hotels

In an effort to cater to the surge of tourism from China, both Hilton Hotels and Resorts and Starwood, which includes the Sheraton, Westin, and W brands, are launching Chinese hospitality services in their hotels. The welcome program includes special breakfast items, such as congee rice porridge, fried rice, and dumplings; in-room amenities like tea kettles, a selection of Chinese teas, and slippers; and a fluent Chinese-speaking staff member to assist Chinese visitors.

San Francisco, where tourism from China increased more than 50 percent between 2009 and 2010, will be one of the first cities in the U.S. to roll out the test programs. Hilton Huanying (“Huanying” means “welcome” in Chinese) will launch in three San Francisco hotels and at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on August 16. Starwood Personalized Travel, the pilot Chinese welcome program from Starwood, is currently being tested in 19 properties across the globe, including San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis and the W in New York’s Times Square. Starwood plans to offer this service at all of its hotels by 2012.

While these free hospitality programs are aimed at the Chinese traveler, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a little touch of China during your hotel stay, too. So next time you’re planning to stay at a Hilton or Starwood, check to see if they are offering the Chinese welcome service. Then sit back and enjoy a little chai and congee. It’s an easy way to make a typical hotel stay a touch more exciting.

[Photo credit: Flickr user sparkieblues]

Starwood makes checking in a social affair

Starwood and foursquareStarwood Preferred Guest, the rewards program for such brands as Sheraton and Westin, just took “checking in” from the front desk to the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. The hotel company is launching a new program with social media company foursquare to increase member benefits.

According to foursquare’s blog, this partnership is “the first truly global loyalty integration of its kind,” an appropriate statement for a corporate blog, of course. Here’s the upside for you: when you check in (on foursquare) while checking in (at a Starwood), you can pick up more points, get free nights and win contests.

In the past, foursquare has worked with Heineken, American Express and others, but this appears to be its first foray into travel, a natural fit for a company that has built its business around location.