Tuesday 24 September 2013

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Hotel Loyalty Programs: Confusing the Cards

Without bragging, I consider myself a reasonably bright guy. I did really well in high school, I've got a business degree, and I actually enjoy helping my kids with the word problems and brain teasers that their teachers seem to think makes for great homework assignments. Most of the time if there's something that I decide to set my mind to, I can figure it out. With one exception. Hotel loyalty programs confuse the heck out of me. 

Club Carlson Hilton Hyatt Fairmont Best Western loyalty cards

Now let me be clear...I understand the basics of the programs. You stay...you earn points...you redeem points for free nights. That's pretty simple. I also have a working knowledge of some of the more obscure parts of the programs. Point Breaks, Points & Cash Supplements, Axon Rewards...I've worked with each of these in the past and while they can be complicated, I understand how they work. When I say I don't understand the hotel loyalty programs, I'm referring to the names.

You see, Lori and I are members of more than a dozen different hotel programs. Each of these programs have their own unique names for the levels of their loyalty program. During any given stay we may be welcomed to the front desk as a valued Diamond member, a Platinum member, a Gold member, a Red or Blue member (those are not the same program by the way), a Silver member, or a Classic, Preferred or Club member. I believe one program card even refers to me as Tutankhamun the Boy King of Egypt, yet surprisingly that isn't good enough to qualify for a free breakfast.

The importance of keeping these levels straight is huge. Being a gold member at Hilton or Starwood will possibly get you a nicer room and a free breakfast. Pulling up to a Hyatt with a Gold card puts you on the same level as the dog sleeping behind the counter. A Platinum card can get you the world at a Fairmont property, but it will only earn you blank stares from a Best Western agent. Even properties where it sounds like I should be important by being a Gold Ambassador will quickly turn their attention from me if a Platinum Ambassador should arrive at check-in. If a Platinum Royal Ambassador shows up, I believe we're all required to bow. 

Entrance to Fairmont Suite in San Francisco

Some programs even manage to take shots at you with their loyalty program. Kimpton names the two levels of their program as Inner Circle and In Touch. Since I don't stay with Kimpton enough to qualify for either of those titles, does that make me an Out of Touch member who can't hang with the cool kids? Club Carlson concerns me even more as their top level is called Concierge. Every time I wander through a Radisson I glance over at the concierge desk and wonder if that's an employee or just somebody who's stayed here one too many times.

Even though it confuses me, for now I guess me and my fistful of loyalty cards will just keep on traveling. One day I hope to get a better grip on these programs as there's something slightly embarrassing about standing at the counter of a Marriott and fumbling through a half dozen cards from other chains while looking for the right one. At least most of the time my correct status, whatever it may be, is included on any reservation that I make. I wish I could say the same thing about the airline programs. I guarantee you that I'm not in the Inner Circle of any of those programs.

Written by Steve Pratt