When hotel booking engine PointsHound started up late last year there were some notable limitations to the service. Most significantly, like other OTAs, bookings made through the site would not earn points or stays in the hotel loyalty programs. While that’s no problem for some customers (like me) it is a deal-breaker for others. Earlier this year the company quietly introduced a limited collection of hotels where they are now able to offer elite benefits and points earning for stays, in addition to the airline miles for bookings. It turns out Hilton HHonors is no longer the only way to “double dip.”
That initial work was more a proof of concept than a final product. This past weekend the PointsHound team finished a major update to their site and one of the big changes was that they now have more than 3,200 hotels across 115 US markets where their customers can “Double Up” on bookings.
Searching their list of hotels you may come across an orange icon at the bottom of the entry which looks like this:
Book that hotel and you’ll earn both the airline points from PointsHound for the booking and also all the traditional benefits which come from direct booking through the hotel’s website.
Here are the rates for a PointsHound-only room and a double earning rate (and, just for fun, the direct booking rate) at a couple hotels on the same night for the same room:
For the same per-day rate you can walk away with 2600 free United Points (based on being a Level 2 PointsHound user). Or take slightly fewer points and a non-refundable rate and save some cash on the nightly price.
A Hyatt Place:
In the case of the Hyatt Place stay you are potentially giving up 100 airline points in favor of earning your Hyatt Gold Passport points. In the case of the Marriott you actually get MORE points by booking it as a stay which also earns Marriot Rewards points. And in each case you’re getting more benefits than just booking directly through the hotel’s site directly.
Of course, there is the rather notable catch that the option doesn’t exist in all cities, much less all hotels in any given city. Still, if the option works for the location you’re in and the property you’re interested in that’s a nice win. In cases where the price and earnings are otherwise the same this might even be enough to sway someone like me – a skeptic on the value of hotel points – to go for a booking engine which allows lots of earning options.
Also worth noting is that PointsHound has a promo out for some bloggers now whereby you can get a 60-day trial of Level 2 status (more points earned per night) and 250 bonus points for
signing up completing your first stay and the blogger gets 250 points. I’m pretty sure Gary even negotiated that the user can get all 500 if you want to sign up there. If you want the bonus points and Level 2 status you can use my referral link here. The main link atop the post is a generic one.
Looks like registration for the Delta/Starwood Crossover rewards opened up a couple days early. The program goes into effect on March 1st but the registration opened up this morning.
Some more coverage of the Crossover rewards benefits can be found at the links below. In the meantime, go ahead and get the registration done. You probably want that anyways.
The past few weeks have seen two hotel loyalty programs shake up their award charts in a big way. For members of the Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors programs, the points tucked away for some future plans were suddenly a much different asset, and mostly not in a good way (though I maintain there are still some gems in the HHonors reboot). And, while I can sympathize with people who have been squirrelling away points, saving up for "the big one" at some point in the future who have now seen their plans change significantly, I’m also rather bemused by their plight. Call it schadenfreude, if you will. It isn’t because I take joy in the setbacks they’re experiencing; it is because I think more and more people are finally discovering the truth: The value proposition of hotel loyalty programs is crap for many travelers.
I used to be a traveling consultant, on the road for work 2-4 nights per week for 35+ weeks a year. That’s how I first got in to the point and miles game. And I accrued a lot of points and miles. I also had top-tier hotel status as a function of all those nights on the road with an expense account. I got upgrades on occasion and the other elite benefits the programs offered. Then I quit my job to travel more. I had hotel loyalty back then, or so I thought. After my first few trips I realized that I was losing that game. BADLY. Once I had to pay for the rooms myself rather than getting reimbursed the math changed dramatically. Skipping out on hotel loyalty was a phenomenal way to save money, it turns out. At least for me.
There are two main types of benefits I see that come from hotel loyalty: on-property benefits and point redemption. It turns out that I cannot really find value in either. Here’s how I came to that conclusion based on my travel patterns.
"Free" upgrades to a suite, "free" breakfast and "free" internet are the main areas where loyalty programs provide benefits on-property. For some there are also lounges with snacks/drinks in the evening. And, with very few exceptions, it turns out that none of these are actually worth much to me. Finding a hotel which offers free breakfast and internet to all guests rather than to only elites isn’t very hard to do, it turns out. As an added bonus, these hotels are often available at a lower price than the properties where the benefit has "value." On the off chance that the breakfast is not free, I’ve yet to find myself in a scenario where the on-premises breakfast was a better choice than walking around in the neighborhood for a few minutes and finding a local shop. Whether it is dumplings in Beijing, sushi in Tokyo, noodles in Bangkok or pastries across most of Europe, getting breakfast out rarely breaks the bank and it provides a much better sense of place than being holed up in the hotel.
Suite upgrades are another area where I just don’t get the value. Maybe it is because I live in a small apartment when I’m home so I’m used to it, but the idea of a huge suite for my sleeping needs is one that I struggle with. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t turn them down – but the value of a suite upgrade to me is roughly nil. Especially when I’m traveling solo. I spend so little time in the room; I actually somewhat prefer one I cannot get lost in.
And the snacks/drinks in the executive lounge as a replacement for dinner is something I just do not understand. I have read far too many trip reports of people taking their meals in the lounge, "because it is free." I’ve cringed when traveling with a group and hearing that some were doing the same and suggesting that their partner join them rather than going out for the local fare (we actually invited the plus one out in that instance). Even in Europe or Asia where the lounge spreads are generally rather more impressive they still are not necessarily local food nor are they free, just included in the rate. For this category I almost see the value as negative. Failure to get out and actually experience the local dining scene should count against travelers; I know it does on my scorecard.
Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that with all my travels the number of nights I’d even consider redeeming points for a stay are pretty low. I don’t actually go places where the redemptions are such great value. My travels this past year probably had me in towns without a western-branded hotel more than 30-40% of the time anyways. So even if I wanted to redeem points for a hotel that wouldn’t have been an option. Even where there are such hotels available the cost to acquire the points is, generally, more than I’m willing to pay. The Hyatt in Kiev, Ukraine, for example, is a lovely property. But we needed four nights in town and it was cost-prohibitive to stay there as a revenue booking. Even on points it was rather costly, far more expensive than taking a room at another hotel not far away. Sure, a credit card may have helped offset the points accrual costs but that’s not a long-term strategy for realizing 75+ nights in hotels annually.
Cash is king
At the end of the day I’ve found that realizing ~15% back on my bookings – 10% as credit towards any future hotel stay and 5% in cash – is a better value for me. I’m able to book in at less expensive properties to begin with, hotels that I’d rather be staying at thanks to the local flavor. They offer the free breakfast and internet that I want and, with very few exceptions, are perfectly suited to my sleeping needs. And when I add up the amount I save per night, multiplied across the 75+ nights and combined with another 15% off, well, I just don’t know why I’d care about points or status.
I realize that rate of return by using hotels.com and their Welcome Rewards program. That covers the 10% back (after every 10 nights). It is a direct credit and there are minimal hoops to jump through. Of the booking engine-based schemes it is the best I’ve come across so far. For the extra 5% cash back I use a cash-back booking portal. I happen to be partial to my own travel rebates site, but there are others available, including TopCashBack, ebates and more. Check the rates on those sites; they can vary and different sites may offer better or worse deals on any given day.
If you really are committed to getting the hotel points – something that a hotels.com booking will preclude – these cash-back booking portals can still work for you. I know that Marriott, SPG, IHG and Accor participate in many of them (I have Accor on mine). Just make sure that your brand loyalty isn’t costing you more money in the long term.
This past week saw perhaps one of the most significant announcements in the evolution of loyalty programs in recent years: Crossover Rewards from Delta and Starwood. The two have teamed up to change the way hotels and airlines work together to reward their most loyal customers, and the implications could be quite far-reaching across the industry. Airline and hotel programs have partnered before, but none to this depth of integration.
Crossover Rewards is focused on the elite members in each program, the type of customers which the programs work hard to attract. From time to time hotels have offered trial elite status promos to airline elites. That can build a short-term bump in customer base but it doesn’t seem to have the long-term effects that the hotels are looking for. The new Crossover Rewards program is built to be a long-term solution, not a flash-in-the-pan change to the numbers.
For elite members in either program the main bonus is getting to earn both hotel and airline points for activity on either of the partners. The only thing close to this historically was Hilton‘s Double Dip program and that meant earning airline points in lieu of extra hotel points, though it is also available to everyone rather than just to elites. Crossover Rewards allow for elites to earn points in both programs without sacrificing earning on either side; that’s a pretty significant step forward.
For top elites in both programs – Platinum elite on the SPG side and Platinum and Diamond Medallion on the Delta side – the benefits are even more significant. Rather than a one-time status gift which the customer must maintain through "natural" qualification activity the Crossover Reward program will be granting an elite-light level of benefits. For Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion members Starwood will offer many of the same benefits as the SPG gold tier, including priority check-in, complimentary room upgrades (no suites) and free internet. For SPG Platinum members Delta will offer many of the same benefits available to Silver Medallions, including one free checked bag, priority check-in and priority boarding. It is not a full elite status – no bonus elite points or priority service other than on the day of travel – but it is definitely more than what everyone else gets. And, more significantly, the benefits are valid so long as the partnership survives, not just for a trial period.
Finally, it is worth noting that the earning rates for points on the Crossover Rewards partner are based on spend. While this is normal in the hotel loyalty world it is decidedly not in the legacy airline loyalty programs. For SPG elites the earning will be one Starpoint per dollar spend on the base fare, excluding taxes, fees and surcharges. It is not much of a surprise that Delta has the ability to track this data; they recently announced intentions to put similar metrics on elite qualification in coming years. For Delta Medallions the earning will be based on room rate only at Starwood hotels; ancillary spend will not earn SkyMiles. While not groundbreaking overall, this approach is definitely another move in the direction of tying elite benefits to revenue. No surprise that Delta is on board with that given their recent announcements regarding similar plans for 2015 Medallion qualification.
Perhaps the most impressive thing to come from this change is that there doesn’t actually appear to be anyone who will lose with the changes. Starwood has committed to prioritizing their own elites over the Delta Medallions for room upgrades and there will be no competition for Delta upgrades as that isn’t one of the benefits. Earning crossover points doesn’t cost customers earning opportunities in the main program; it is purely additive. And the other benefits – waived fees for various services and priority access – doesn’t really cost anyone else anything.
The two companies would seem to have almost nothing but upside from the changes, too. Yes, they will forgo some revenue on the ancillary fees side of the ledger. And there will be some costs to handle the points earning. But the partnership opens up a strong marketing avenue to top travelers without significantly diluting the benefits for their existing elite customer base.
This may prove to be an enhancement which is actually beneficial to both customers and companies. There are far too few of those happening these days.
Partnerships between hotel and airline loyalty programs are not particularly rare, but they are mostly focused on earning airline points for stays at hotels, and then generally in lieu of earning with the hotel directly. Starwood and Delta have launched a new Crossover Rewards program, allowing SPG elites to earn points towards their Starpoints balance for flights taken on Delta. The SPG elite status will also translate into elite benefits on the day of travel, including free bags and priority boarding.
On the points earning front, SPG members with linked accounts will earn one Starpoint for each dollar spent on Delta base fares. This correlates with the recently announced idea of MQDs and Delta’s ability to track spending on a per ticket basis. It seems that they are quite happy to leverage that new technology both for internal bits and for partnerships.
On the day of travel front, the benefits are limited only to SPG Platinum members; gold elites are excluded. The benefits include one free checked bag (up to four passengers on the reservation), Zone 1 boarding (up to nine passengers on the reservation) and SkyPriority access
and day of departure upgrades on routes where complimentary upgrades are offered (Platinum elite only).
The benefits for SPG Platinum elites rest somewhere between Delta AmEx cardholders and Silver Medallion status. That’s not to shabby at all, especially for basically no additional effort on the part of the SPG member. The only real drawback I can see is that it requires crediting the points to Delta rather than Alaska Airlines, which is how I normally roll with my Delta flights. Then again, I’m not SPG Platinum so the extra point/dollar isn’t really all that valuable to me anyways.
Did you catch the latest episode of the PointsHoarder podcast? If not you missed Stephan, Fozz and me talking about a bunch of changes to hotel loyalty programs for 2013, mostly regarding it becoming harder to qualify for elite status. And, believe it or not, one of the three actually thinks it is a good thing. We also talked a bit about American Airlines getting their pilots on board with a contract and the potential that leads to with respect to the theoretical merger with US Airways somewhere down the line. You can listen to the episode here.
In addition to the podcast there have been a few useful posts over there including:
Give it a listen (or read) and let me know what you think. There’s some pretty good stuff over there these days…
Want to access your hotel loyalty account information quickly and easily via the iPhone Passbook application? If you’re a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest program then that option is now available to you. The company announced today integration of their loyalty program data with Passbook in the form of a digital member card:
The card information includes account balance, elite status, year-to-date nights and stays and the requirements to hit the next status level.
The "back" of the card also includes contact phone numbers and details on upcoming reservations. The ability to add a Passbook "card" for individual upcoming stays will be made available in the next version of the SPG iPhone App.
I suggested that "applet" views of account information like this would likely be coming in a couple previous posts on the Passbook platform (here and here). It is great to see one loyalty program making the leap to support the technology. Hopefully others will follow soon.
If you’ve read my stuff here much you know that I’m not particularly into hotel loyalty programs; I generally don’t find the value proposition to meet my needs. An unfortunate side effect of that is I don’t spend quite as much time focused on those programs. So I was quite surprised when a friend asked me if I could put together a version of my search tool to provide alerts on Cash & Points award availability from the Starwood Preferred Guest program. It hadn’t occurred to me that finding that availability was a challenge. Apparently it is, however. The good news is that the challenge was reasonably easy to conquer.
I’m happy to present the SPG Cash & Points Award Search & Alert tool on the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools site!
Fill in the parameters for your search requirements in the form:
Click the Search! button and check out the results:
Because I know that there are often other hotels in the area which might not meet the specific search request parameters I will also return those results, though under a separate heading:
And all the way at the end of the results page are the hotels with no award rooms at all:
For users who have upgraded to First Class there is the option to filter by specific brands:
And the results are similarly broken out:
Like most of the tools, there is also an option for alerts, just in case the award you’re looking for isn’t available when you are searching. Like the other tools the alert results com in the form of an email which isn’t too pretty right now but also a link back to the site for more details:
And, like all the tools, I’m pretty sure it actually works most of the time. Of course, if you find that it isn’t working on any particular search let me know (as much detail as possible would be helpful) and I’ll try to figure out what broke. I’ve already had some great support in the beta testing from a core group of users and I’m pretty confident that this one is ready to go live.
Give it a try and let me know what you think.
I’ve become something of a slacker when it comes to hotel bookings. It is not at all uncommon for me to pick my hotel after arriving in a city, walking around for a while and getting a feel for the town. This is especially true when I am visiting a new (to me) city but even with some places I’ve been many times before I’ll take my chances on a walk-up rate or try to find something new. It has always worked pretty well in the past and never really could come up with a reason not to go that route. Until this past Saturday night when I arrived in Honolulu around 6:30pm and was unable to make a booking for a hotel.
I tried the websites of a couple different hotel booking engines – Hotels.com and Starwood – and both failed. Neither would let me choose to check in that night. In their world it was already tomorrow, even though it was just getting to be dinner time in Honolulu. So I did what anyone would naturally do: I tweeted my frustration, knowing that it actually wouldn’t change anything.
I also called Hotels.com to see if they could book the hotel for me over the phone instead. They could not. It turns out that their systems decide it to be "tomorrow" at midnight eastern time. The rest of the time zones apparently don’t count. The agent was willing to make some phone calls for me and check availability at a few local hotels but their computer systems could not do anything. And even if they could find a room for me I would still have to be a walk-in customer so no Welcome Rewards points. Better than nothing, but not what I was hoping for.
SPG was impressively responsive to my concern. It took a couple days to make direct contact with someone but they actually reached out to me over the phone and we talked through the issues I encountered. I’m not betting on it actually changing – I can understand why they do it the way they do – but it was good to see them reach out and try to address the issue I had booking a room. Then again, as the rep I talked to noted, it is in their best interest to get as many rooms as possible booked every night and cutting things off a couple hours early limits that.
This little snafu wasn’t the first time I had issues with time zones and bookings and it probably won’t be the last. And I doubt that it will change the approach I take too much. Though I’ll try to make sure I get in a couple hours earlier when heading to Hawaii.
I know that I have not been posting much in the way of "points" news here lately. That’s not because there is no news – far from it, actually. Truth is I’m moving more of the points content over to the PointsHoarder site. I’ve long debated the fact that I basically run something like three or four different blogs here all worked into one and sometimes I find that a challenge to keep focused and consistent. I’m not giving up on points or the frequent flyer game and I’m definitely not going to stop sharing deals and promotions when I find them. But, more often than not, they’re going to start out on the PointsHoarder site rather than here. I have no idea if this is a good idea or not (and hopefully some of y’all will let me know your thoughts on the move in the comments) but I am headed down that path, at least for now. I think that the end result will be better content, both here and there. We’ll see how well that plays out.
That said, there are a few deals and promotion which came up in the past 10 days or so definitely worth noting. If you’re reading about them here for the first time I’d be a bit surprised as I don’t think any of them are new, but still some decent (and some great) things going on out there. Here are highlights:
There’s more over there but these are the main ones worth highlighting. And there will continue to be more there over time. Check it out (and give the podcast a listen, too).