|by Jason Steele|
To paraphrase the late, great, Rodney Dangerfield, hotels loyalty program don’t get much respect. When most people think of reward travel, the first thing that often comes to mind are airline frequent flier programs. The fact is that airline programs have been hugely devalued, and they remain riddled with bizarre rules and elusive availability.
Hotel programs, on the other hand, can be much more attractive. My favorite reward credit card remains to this day my Starwood American Express. Their program seems to operate in a manner that suggests a competitive marketplace. On the other hand, most airlines seem to act like monopolies.
When you think about it, there are good reasons for that fact. If you travel frequently for business, you are probably the best customer for both airlines and hotels. These travelers are not only frequent, but they often don’t care too much about what their hotel or flight costs, so long as it is within their company’s guidelines. If you live in most major cities, there is likely one dominant carrier that offers most of the non-stop flights out of your home airport. Unless you want to double your travel time and vastly increase your risk of delays and lost luggage, you will pay whatever it takes to fly non-stop to your destination on your city’s major carrier. Continental doesn’t have to compete with Delta for travelers in Cleveland, because they know that only Continental will fly them non-stop to most cities. In Cincinnati, the situation is reversed.
Hotels Are Different
Once travelers reach their destination, they can choose from one of several hotel chains that will likely have properties near any major business center. There, the traveler has lots of options that may be equally convenient. That is why hotel programs are often superior in value and service to airline programs. That, and the airline industry in this country remains second only to the automobile industry as one of the worst managed industries in the world, but that is the topic of another article.
Most reward travel aficionados agree that the best program out there is the Starwood Preferred Guest program. Case in point: Starwood had a policy where no-shows for reward bookings were charged the rack rate if they canceled late or failed to show up. According to this article, Starwood realized that customers were not happy with this policy, and they changed it. When was the last time you heard of an airline changing a policy in favor of their customers? Sometimes it happens when you are talking about startup discount carriers, but it never seems to happen for the legacy carriers. At one point, I even wrote an article about the contrast between them.
Hotel programs, like Starwood’s generally have far fewer strange rules and fees compared to airlines. That is not to say that they are all the same. Take the Intercontinental Hotel Group’s Priority Club system for example. They represent such brands as Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites, and of course, Intercontinental Hotels. While this might be a great system for business travelers who are not overly concerned with price, I have found this program completely useless for leisure travelers. Every time I book a room with them, I do not receive points because it is a discount rate. The only way to accumulate points in their system is to pay a higher rate, or get their credit card.
Credit Cards Are Crucial For Hotels And Airlines
I have noted in the past, that sometimes the hardest way to get points or miles is to purchase goods or services from the company offering them. That is another way of saying that the easiest path to an award is often through the credit card. I purchase rooms at Starwood, yet I have tens of thousands of Starwood Points. It is possible to get most of the way to elite status on many airlines with credit card spend alone. This article shows how the airlines can be very dependent on their credit card partners for financial support.
Consider Your Cards
Most airlines and hotels offer a credit card that ties into their loyalty programs. Many of the airline miles can be redeemed for hotels, while many hotel points can be redeemed for some kind of airline award. In short, there is a lot of overlap between these two industries. When I have my choice, I tend to go with the hotels. At least that industry that seems to have it’s act together in terms of customer service.