“No One Who Pays Their Own Way Should Belong To A Hotel Loyalty Program”

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That, or words to that effect, were the brief post that I read recently on FlyerTalk.   I thought about it and decided that it is some very powerful and concise statement.  Loyalty programs with airlines and credit cards are largely freebies.  You get points or miles by default, there are no real discounts available if you forgo the points.   Likewise, you still earn airline points when you book through a third party.

Hotel Points Are Different

There are a lot of hotels that offer discounted rates that are not eligible for loyalty points.  I am thinking in particular about the Priority Club program that includes Holiday Inns and Intercontinental hotels.    If you accept any kind of discount, you will not earn points on your stay.    I don’t know of any hotel that will offer loyalty points when you book through a third party site like Expedia.

If I were a business traveler and I was being re-reimbursed, I am sure I would book directly at the going rate and rack up all the points I could.     Sadly, most of my travel these days is on my own dime, and I have been taking liberal advantage of various “best rate guarantee” programs through third party booking sites.    Needless to say, I am not earning any hotel points, other than through my Starwood Amex.

Perhaps All Loyalty Programs Are Just Bribes

It has always occurred to me that there is little incentive for business travelers to shop around for the lowest prices on hotels and airfare.   In fact, when I traveled on business, I received double miles on each dollar when I purchased my airfare on my airline affiliated credit card.   Let’s just say I wasn’t too sad when forced to travel at the last minute and pay outrageous walk up fares.   I was single back then and the idea of flying at the last minute was exciting.

The same is true of hotels.   When I was traveling as a consultant, I would stay at whatever hotel offered me the best deal in terms of loyalty points.   I didn’t care if I had to drive a bit further or pay a bit more, as everything was being re-reimbursed.

Will The Airlines Ever Catch On To The Hotels?

I have a very low opinion of the management of the major airlines in this country, with the possible exceptions of Southwest and JetBlue.    They never miss an opportunity to piss off their customers with high fees and poor service.   They love taking away an existing benefit.   Therefore,  I can only speculate if one of them will start offering discount fares that do not include frequent flier miles.  Some foreign airlines already do.   I think their problem is that companies might quickly dictate policies that require them to purchase these discount loyalty free fares.   If that were to happen, the gig would be up and travelers might stop patronizing a single airline for the miles.

Hotels get away with it because their discounts are optional.   They have AAA discounts, AARP discounts, military discounts, and government discounts.    Rental car companies play the same game.    No one needs volunteer their AAA membership when traveling for business, and their travel department won’t expect it.

Lessons Learned

If you are paying out of pocket like me, always look for the hotel discounts.   If you are getting loyalty points for your stay, you are probably paying too much.

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