Are most hotel loyalty program members ready to switch allegiances?


According to one recent study the answer to that question is – somewhat shockingly – yes. The report says that 54% of members find the programs are so out of touch with the needs of their guests that it is enough to drive them away. Putting aside that most customers feel this way, suggesting that the grass isn’t any greener elsewhere, this raises some interesting questions about hotel loyalty programs in general, mostly about whether they are valuable or not.

Also according to the report, biggest complaints about the hotel programs include:

  • “Too much spam and junk email” – 44%
  • “Too many conditions and restrictions” – 38%
  • “Rewards that lacked real value” – 37%

I’ve made no secret of my general distaste for hotel loyalty programs. I rarely find the value proposition a smart play for me. And while I’ve heard a few others chime in recently with similar views I’ve never seen numbers this bad. But I certain understand the sentiments expressed regarding the junk mail. Just looking at the past three weeks I’ve received, on average, one email every work day from Hilton.

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Apparently their data mining isn’t very good as they cannot figure out that my dream vacation wouldn’t go anywhere close to Hawaii, I have no desire to visit one of their spas and Puerto Rico, London, Paris, Rome or a Grand Prix aren’t high on my list at all. Hilton has taken a shotgun approach to marketing, just hoping that something sticks. Just like spammers. And while this is not enough to drive me away that’s only because I’m already gone.

The survey reveals that only 40% of the members are even opening the emails sent to them. That number may seem disappointing but I’m not sure how it compares to other markets or industries. I would hazard a guess that it actually isn’t all that horrible. As much as the customers hate the misguided targeting and the marketing of services already subscribed, they are still opening at least some of the messages.

Reports like this always give me pause. If the programs really are missing this badly then is there a chance of them being fixed? The institutional momentum in this case will make it very hard for any one program to become significantly different and alter the course. Airlines are in a similar bind but a few have made changes in their programs which are relatively drastic. Hotels may have to do the same.

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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 .

5 Comments

  1. Hilton seems particularly awful. I get so many emails and offers, I don’t even know what’s “normal” anymore. It’s the same reason I don’t shop at Macy’s. When everything is always on sale, there’s no way to judge special offers–they end up ignored. Half of my emails from Hilton go straight to the trash.

    United is creeping this way, too. I get a lot of fare “sale” emails that don’t seem to have many sales at all. Or at least not any that are applicable to me. (Do I really care about discounts from Houston to El Paso when I live in Seattle?)

  2. The value is there for me, but I view the hotel as part of the overall travel/getaway experience. I’m typically inclined to book 4* to 5* properties when traveling, and value the ability to cancel without penalty day of travel or 24-48 hours in advance, as work sometimes likes to throw a wrench in my weekend travel plans.

    So, priceline or similar OTAs may save me around $50/night per stay, but with SPG or Hyatt I can usually count on:

    Upgrades (A broom-closet with no view kind of takes the shine off a weekend or longer trip for me, where all I want is a relaxing atmosphere away from the weekday grind)

    Lounge access and other program or property-specific perks (spa access, late checkout or early arrival, breakfast, etc.)

    Points, promos and bonuses (and convertibility to many airline programs at 1:1 plus 20K—>25K with SPG, which is paying dividends this weekend to the tune of LAX-HKG-JNB in F on CX)

    Additional bonuses via co-branded credit cards

    To me, the value proposition is there, but I can understand that hotel programs don’t necessarily appeal to everyone’s tastes or travel patterns.

  3. Fascinating. Even though I’m 90% leisure travel, I’ve switched entirely to chain hotels from independent/FHR/virtuoso bookings over the last couple of years.

    Hilton, especially, is fantastic for those of us who don’t have enough paid nights to qualify for top tier with SPG or Hyatt. Weekends at business hotels in city centers yield some fairly amazing upgrades — suites with views, even as a lowly promo/credit card gold member staying on a heavily discounted rate.

    So they can spam me all they want so long as they keep the upgrades coming!

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