Skift Take

For those already wealthy, loyalty isn't about points. It's about feeling special.

A funny thing happens when you’re so wealthy that currency doesn’t matter anymore.

At a dinner for top-tier members of Intercontinental Hotels’ loyalty program last month, Skift’s Greg Oates spoke with Lara Hernandez, VP of digital, loyalty & partner marketing Americas, about what customers expect out of high-end elite status.

“For those really top tier members who stay with us the most, like those who will be here tonight, they’ve been members for many years across multiple brands, and events like this are an opportunity at the property level to give them an elevated experience and thank them for their business in a new way,” she told Mr. Oates.

IHG plans to curate a spectrum of elevated experiences like this dinner for top tier “Spire” members as its loyalty program gains steam. They’re not the first hotel brand to woo high-end travelers with personalized experiences either. Starwood’s Moments program offers a range of engagements from courtside seats at basketball games to private concert tickets, while Hilton offer a similar Golden Moments program.

In offering these experiences, brands hope to create a connection to customers that’s more than meaningful than just a hotel room or a bucket of award points: They’re trying to create an emotional and visceral bond — one that goes beyond business and into family.

“Starwood has been focused on building real loyalty, not just transactional loyalty, with our members since SPG’s inception,” says Chris Holdren, SVP Distribution, Loyalty and Partnership Marketing for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. “Points are a gateway to a memorable experience with friends and loved ones. We create even deeper relationships with our members by offering access to truly ground breaking experiences like learning how to play trumpet from Chris Botti, throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, or getting a kitchen tour from Thomas Keller before you eat a delicious feast at Per Se.”

Visa, MasterCard and American Express have done something similar. By curating and sharing unique experiences they build brand loyalty and future business.

And for high-volume users, those experiences make sense. The one-percent of loyalty program members, just like the one percent of any economy, often exists in a world that’s irrespective of a few dollars here or a few private jets there. For those already wealthy, loyalty isn’t about points. It’s about feeling special.

Indeed, as the major hotel players continue to grow in size and become similar in product, one way in which brands will become distinctive is through their added incentives or curated experiences. And though the points-wealthy may currently be the target market for many of these events, the general loyalty peloton may also soon reap the benefits. Skift’s report on Millennial business travelers reports that younger generations value experiences and product over strict award nights.

For them and for the future of loyalty programs, the focus may soon shift from elite status to personal status.

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Tags: ihg, loyalty

Photo credit: Musician Nate Ruess and guests of Starwood at an experience event for SPG. Starwood Hotels

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