It would seem that, despite my best efforts, I’ve managed to maintain hotel status through my own actions. I don’t really believe much in the value of hotel status for personally paid stays, mostly because I couldn’t care less about the "free" lounge, the "free" breakfast or the "free" internet service that the status affords. Ditto for suite upgrades. Plus, I like the character and charm of independent hotels in foreign countries way more than the western-branded ones as a general rule. Yes, I have SPG gold via my AmEx Platinum card, but even that barely gets used.
So imagine my surprise when I received an email this week congratulating me on getting status with a hotel program.
FIVESTAR is the program for hotels.com users, and I’ve been a pretty heavy user for a while now. I suppose that if I knew about the program I probably would have been surprised that I hadn’t qualified earlier (it only takes 10 nights annually) but I never knew about it so I never cared. Still, now that I’ve got this status I should figure out what the benefits are, right?
So I click the link lower down in the email and I start reading. There is a PDF file for both the FIVESTAR and FIVESTAR Plus (25+ nights) on their site and I tried to figure out what’s special about the programs. I still haven’t figured it out. There is this one section that purports to be part of the benefits:
Plans change. Now, so can your reservations–with the Hassle-Free Travel Guarantee. If you need to change your reservations for any reason – weather, schedule change, or even personal preference–our FIVESTAR Plus agents will do their best to help you make new travel plans right away, without any Hotels.com change or cancellation fees.
With Hassle-Free Dispute Resolution, we will work to fix any problem that you may have during your hotel stay. Just call your members-only phone number or email us at FIVESTAR@hotels.com.
Here’s the thing about these benefits…they’re not actually unique to the "status" level. Hotels.com has a no-fee cancelation policy for all their reservations. They advertise it really big on their home page:
So that’s nothing special. And their promise to "fix any problem" is also something that seems to be available to all customers. I know that they took care of several successive fiascos with reservations in Kochi, India well before I had the special status.
They also promise a price match guarantee for FIVESTAR members, but that’s also advertised to all customers really big on the homepage. Maybe there is something to be said for the special deals that they supposedly offer for members, but I haven’t seen any of those yet. I’m not holding my breath.
I get that they want to make their most frequent customers feel special by providing them extra value for their loyalty. After all, that’s what these programs are all about. But it doesn’t really work so well when you’re not offering any tangible benefits as part of the program. I’m certainly not going to call up and complain that they gave me a worthless "status" but it is also not going to change my booking patterns, which is what these sorts of programs are supposed to do.