The hotel loyalty program post I wish I had written

Seth at The Wandering Aramean made points about hotel loyalty in A bit of hotel loyalty program schadenfreude that instantly made me realize that I could not write a piece on the subject without ripping him off.

I stay at major chain on business trips when those are the company-approved hotels, I have some of the credit cards for their benefits such elite status that benefit me on those business trips, but otherwise only end up at them when I use Priceline. Most of my leisure stays are Priceline in major cities or mom and pop places everywhere else. I have never felt the cost premium for the major chains is worth it for me, and there is a further opportunity cost to me to be in sterile chain hotels over the warmth and quirkiness of mom and pop accommodations that I enjoy so much more.

In contrast, I value airline elite status and airline miles because options are so much fewer and they alleviate costs that I would actually incur in my travels.

Seth frames his argument:

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.

Some choice quips:

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.

and

…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

Even where there are such hotels available the cost to acquire the points is, generally, more than I’m willing to pay.

Seth has turned me on to the flexibility and benefits of hotels.com and its easy ‘stay 10 nights, get 1 free’ Welcome Rewards program. I use his wandr.me Travel Rebates for the 5% hotels.com rebate because it is at or near the top cash rebate available for hotels.com (rebates fluctuate on many sites) and I am happy to support his useful blog and travel tools. He does also support rebates for a number of chain hotels.

I used hotels.com several times on my recent Eastern Europe trip, once even in the lobby of the Maxim Boutique Hotel, Sofia, Bulgaria where the night duty manager did not have authority to discount so low, but did give me the hotel’s wi-fi password. I booked and the order popped up on his system seconds later.

Back to Seth’s piece, some great reader comments:

frequent churner said,

+1

I don’t get people who stress over suite upgrades, staying at the fanciest hotel they can get, or rearranging their whole plans around the hotel. For me it’s about the destination and local culture.

LarryInNYC said,

Amen. And let me add an intangible factor — when you have a policy of not paying more than $50 a night it’s almost impossible to be disappointed. If you’re staying in a $500 a night hotel (even for free), it’s almost impossible not to be.

Airline programs, at least until now, have been benefits *on top of* the cheapest price to get where you want to go. Hotel programs pretty much always require you to compromise cost to rack up the credits.

Ryan E said,

Very good post Seth. BoardingArea is so flooded with bloggers who fly around the world, stay holed up in their [insert “aspirational” chain hotel name here], taking pictures of the toilet and the bar of soap in the room. Affiliate links are a cruel master…

Voice of reason said,

An excellent commentary.

More generally, some mileage and mattress runners are so focused on “maximizing” their miles and points that the destination no longer is the primary interest.

And I do not say that with a judgmental demeanor. If you love playing the “maximizing” game so much that it overrides considerations of the destination and becomes an objective in and of itself, then by all means enjoy the game to its fullest.

But the average leisure traveler whose main priority is still to experience a destination shouldn’t be misled into playing the same game.

The discussion, pro and con, is fascinating through all 58 comments, check it out.

Note: while Boarding Area undergoes maintenance, comments are closed and some of the above links may not work. The Boarding Area team is hard at work to resolve this.

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  • andreas

    I have used priceline within the US. Maybe you can share your experiences finding hotels around the world and your approach to picking hotels. I’m still quite confused about hotel points, priceline, hotels etc. A lot of websites have horrible interfaces and it’s hard to know what is a good price to pay. Perhaps that confusion is intentional so that you they can confuse you with amenities/price/ratings!

    Paying for hotels with travelocity card gets you 10% off. Is there another trick that’s as useful? Priceline NYOP 5% is good but not great.

  • Laurel

    Very nice post, and likely a reason why your blog is so grounded. Possibly the most brilliant point ever made by Larry, “… when you have a policy of not paying more than $50 a night it’s almost impossible to be disappointed. If you’re staying in a $500 a night hotel (even for free), it’s almost impossible not to be.” So true. My favorite hotel was The Grand Motel in Williams, Arizona. I think it was $43.00 per night, and yes- booked thru Hotels dot com. If you only stay a fancy hotels, you’ll miss some of the great cities in Mexico and East Africa, simply due to lacking your hotel loyalty brand? Not worth it.

  • Yi

    I tried to use Priceline in Shanghai last year and it was a nightmare. The hotel I “won” was clearly not in the areas that I had chosen to bid on. You would think an error like this would be easy to explain but after hours on the phone with Priceline (and pointing them to the hotel’s website, google maps, bing maps, etc), they would not admit that it was in the wrong area (even though an idiot could see it was). And they wouldn’t let me email them any information to “see” its location. In the end, I had to get the money back from the credit card company. Despite the nightmarish experience, I will still use priceline. The prices are just too good to pass up.