If your wallet is like mine, it is probably bulging with reward membership cards.
I have three airline frequent flyer memberships, nine coffee club cards, six retail store cards (yes, shopping is addictive), two for pet stores, an entertainment card that can be used at an assortment of businesses and I’ve lost track of how many hotel loyalty programmes I’ve joined over the years.
Navigating the maze of hospitality loyalty programmes can be bewildering. But bargains are plentiful at the moment so it’s worth taking the time to consider the benefits.
Hotel loyalty programmes
If you’re a frequent traveller it makes sense to join a hotel loyalty programme where ycou can accrue points through hotel stays. Most hotel loyalty programs are free to join and the points can be redeemed for rooms, upgrades, and even airline points.
The current economic climate has prompted many loyalty programmes to ramp up the enticements offered to customers.
Earlier this year, Hyatt redesigned its Gold Passport program to remove blackout dates. Platinum and Diamond members receive complimentary internet, and Diamond-level guests get guaranteed suite upgrades four times a year.
Hilton’s HHonors programme also has no blackout dates and has a Double Dipping feature that allows guests to earn hotel and airline points for the same stay.
A bounty of rewards
Free rooms are no longer the only type of reward offered to customers. Now you can cash in your points for a raft of benefits. For example, Priority Club Rewards (PCR) – the programme for hotel brands under the IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) flagship such as Intercontinental Hotels, Holiday Inns and Crowne Plazas – allows members to redeem their points through retail partners David Jones, Westfield and Coles Myer. PCR also has a flexible feature where members can cash in their points at any hotel that accepts American Express through its American Express-powered Any Hotel Anywhere card.
Accor introduced a new points-based system last year called AClub where members earn points for stays at Accor hotels such as Sofitel, Pullman, Novotel, Mercure and Ibis which are redeemed for Accor vouchers, airline points, Europcar or Club Med.
The 1865 Club at Langham Hotels International will credit points to your nominated frequent flyer account. But to be eligible you need to stay three times at any of Langham’s hotels worldwide within a 12-month period.
The downside of many hotel loyalty programmes is that accruing enough points for a free night seems to take forever. For example, a free night at the InterContinental Sydney requires 40,000 points. You would need to stay for 18 nights in City View room and spend at least US$4000 (at their earning rate of 10 points per US$1) to get those points. At first glance this many not sound attractive but special deals can help you rack up those points a lot faster. See www.hilton.com and www.goldpassport.hyatt.com.
Another type of programme is the hotel membership programme where you pay to become a member in return for accommodation and dining discounts. A good example is Accor Asia Pacific’s Advantage Plus which has 200,000 members in Australia and New Zealand. It costs $15 to join and you pay $289 each year. In return you get a free nights’ accommodation, dining and accommodation discounts and other benefits.
You could recover the cost of joining with one free stay at a luxury hotel such as Sofitel Gold Coast or Grand Mercure at The Vintage in the Hunter. When you add discounts on meals of up to 50%, and 10% off the best rate of the day (which is usually much lower than rack rates) it’s easy to see how you can save money.
The benefit of Advantage Plus is amplified when teemed with the company’s other promotions such as free breakfast for children under 15. Buffet breakfast for two adults and two children under 15 at Novotel Brisbane is a bargain at $28 (which is the usual price for an adult).
“We have some 300 hotels to select from and there are no difficulties with actually using the accommodation benefits,” says Accor Asia Pacific’s general manager communications, Peter Hook. See www.accorhotels.com.au.
Loyalty deserves luxury
Would you like your bath drawn? Your favourite champagne chilling by your beside? Or a Ferrari in the driveway ready for a spin?
Instead of rewarding customers with points, some high-end luxury hotel groups are showering them with VIP recognitions and rewards that make them feel pampered and special, and part of an exclusive club. Added-extras include complimentary room upgrades, early check-ins and late check-outs, welcome gifts, concierge services, exclusive offers and personalised service.
The Club of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which represents 480 hotels in 70 countries, is free to join and members are eligible for their personalised tailored service, complimentary upgrades and special offers. Leading Hotels of the World also has a programme called Leaders Club where customers fill out a pre-arrival dossier with detailed information about their stay. See www.slh.com, www.lhw.com.
Travel membership rewards
If saving money on dining, entertainment, activities and attractions is high on the agenda then it’s worth considering a hospitality pass such as the Welcome to WA Pass or the Entertainment Book.
The Entertainment Book is a restaurant and activity guide that provides 25% discount or 2-for-1 offers from hundreds of restaurants and other attractions such as cinemas, bowling centres and amusement parks throughout Australia and New Zealand. Accommodation discounts are between 30% and 50% off rack rates.
“Our programme is a way for people to try new restaurants and other businesses while saving money at the same time,” says Entertainment Publications of Australia’s managing director, Ben Johnson.
The books cost between $50 and $65, and are sold through non-profit groups as a fund raiser. Organisations such as the Cancer Council of New South Wales raised $5 million last year through book sales. There are no restrictions or blackout periods and the book is valid for one year. See www.wapass.com.au, www.entertainmentbook.com.au.
Join the club
An alternative to choosing one hotel group is to use a booking service with a loyalty program such as HotelClub. The group represents 48,000 accommodation choices in 126 countries. The free program allows you to earn member dollars which can be used to pay for part of your next booking. This way you are rewarded for loyalty but also free to choose from a variety of accommodation options, including internet specials and last-minute prices. See www.hotelclub.com.au.