A rather worthless hotel status


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.

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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:

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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.

I’m a big fan of their Welcome Rewards program in general (even with the devaluation not too long ago), but this FIVESTAR program is pretty much worthless from what I can see.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

16 Comments

  1. If they can’t offer anything, they shouldn’t have a rewards program. Don’t insult the intelligence of loyal users. Or offer them an actual incentive, like 5% off their next reservation, etc.

  2. Expedia has a pretty good program. Having worked at a property that had Expedia “VIP” benefits, I can vouch that it’s worth it. Expedia even sends out their employees to test whether or not properties are giving their customers the benefits while rating them.

    1. Somewhat interesting to hear that the Expedia program is any good, especially since hotels.com is actually an Expedia venture so it is basically the same company.

      I’m not disappointed in the rewards program – the 10% return on my stays works pretty well for me – but the FIVESTAR bit is a complete joke from what I’m seeing.

  3. Thanks for the info on the hotels.com program in general. Good timing as the major chains’ programs become less rewarding (no more “stays count double” promos for elite status, and fewer promos applying to one-night stays).

    I do value hotel status as it increases the chance of a “best view” room, while the free internet and breakfast have tangible worth to me. Suites less so, but they do eliminate corridor noise.

  4. Five Star members get HASSLE-FREE services. For everyone else, I guess that means it’s a hassle to get anything done?

  5. Amen/Agreed. Especiall for personal travel in Europe, I much prefer the one-off guesthauses or hotels over the mega chains. WIth the little guys, it gets personl and quickly becomes fun. The better stays don’t take cards at all, let alone “Status Programs.” The difficulty is FINDING them. A very different world, but well worth the effort and the cash. These small hotels are a big part of personal travel in Europe – and always have been.

  6. I could not disagree more with all your comments.

    Just like you, I first thought Fivestar status (or Fivestar plus here for that matter) was a complete joke, well it’s not! I recently went on a 2 weeks trip with friends and made all the hotels reservations throught hotels.com.

    It is hard to make everyone happy and so it happened! some guys wanted to do an early check-out, whilst clearly not allowed as per the hotel policy but the Fivestar team made it work without a problem – even though, it was clearly pass the check-out deadline for that day (in the end, early check-out @3pm and full refund received).

    Also, I had to call to cancel non cancellable bookings many times and I never had a problem; they first state that the booking is non cancellable and then: “but as you are a loyal Fivestar customer, we will make an exception and refund you… bla bla”. Always very professional, polite and very very arranging.

    Another time, we had 5 rooms booked for 3 nights in a hotel and it was fully booked, I could not rebook for 1 night only (as our plans had changed) and cancel the old reservations. In one phone call, all arranged, but as there was no inventory for the “standard rooms”, everyone was upgraded to junior suites.

    I am a Fivestar plus memeber and very glad to be. The only joke about this program is how easy it is to qualify!

    1. I’m glad that you’ve realized some benefits from it, Alex. It does sound like some of the benefits you’ve received are beyond the published policies so it is nice to hear that there might be some flexibility there. Still, with only what they have published, it is of questionable value IMO. I hope I never have occasion to need to use those benefits, but if I do I hope they work as well for me as they did for you.

  7. I agree the status benefit statement appears to offer the same to non-status users. My FIVESTAR+ status has proven invaluable… Definitely NOT worthless. The dedicated, US-based FIVESTAR+ team (their standard customer service call center is in the Phillippines, and they’re not empowered to do much) has helped me cancel non-refundable rooms, change reservations in sellout conditions, and much more. Every time I’ve needed help, they’ve answered and resolved brilliantly.

  8. I had horrible experiences with hotels.com in the past
    I am scared to use them for anything
    And one would have to face the awful contact center outside the US until you become elite
    Thanks but no thanks
    I’d rather drown using direct booking chanels then try and deal with these crooks

  9. I agree with Alex. I’m guessing they don’t want to advertise this too much because they don’t want people to abuse it (and presumably there is some limit), but if you have “status” with Hotels.com, they will waive a certain number of cancellation fees for you and pay the fee themselves even if the hotel refuses to allow cancellation. You also supposedly get a slightly better customer service rep.

    It’s not huge, but I do think it’s a fairly valuable benefit, considering that (at least at some hotels) you can still get whatever rewards the hotel offers for your booking. I don’t really stay at the same chain all the time, so this is a helpful benefit for me.

  10. Agree that the “above and beyond” benefits of Gold are a joke. Too bad they wasted $$$ on all the marketing materials for the program. (Oh, and you actually do get customer service– as opposed to the unwashed masses who do not.) WR’s 10% credit toward a future reservation is still decent, but I do miss the days when the not-too-business-savvy creators gave you a free room(up to $450) after 10 stays that was not based on what you actually spent.

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