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Wyndham Rewards is now the latest hotel loyalty program to jump on the "experiences" and "membership levels" bandwagon. But will these new additions, especially the member levels, threaten to disrupt the program's more egalitarian approach to hotel loyalty? Probably not, as long as Wyndham sticks to keeping this program as simple and easy to understand as it has been since it launched last year.

Wyndham Rewards, the revamped loyalty program from Wyndham Hotel Group, is adding two new features to its program: member levels and experiences.

When Wyndham Rewards debuted┬áin May 2015, it signaled a major shift in hotel loyalty program structures by adopting a straightforward, simple approach to earning and redeeming points: 15,000 points to stay at any one of the group’s 7,800 hotels around the world, with no blackout dates, at brands that include Wyndham, Ramada, Tryp by Wyndham, Days Inn, and Super 8.

That strategy appears to be working. Since May, 5 million new members have signed up for the program and there has been a 70-percent increase in property redemptions, according to Wyndham. Last year, just under 75 percent of all redemptions were for hotel stays. By comparison, in 2013, the same year when there was massive consumer backlash to program restructuring, only 55 percent of redemptions were for hotel stays. Today, Wyndham Rewards has more than 45 million members.

With the addition of the four membership levels (Blue, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond) and special, curated local experiences, however, it seems Wyndham Rewards is borrowing some ideas from other hotel loyalty programs such as Starwood Preferred Guest, Hilton HHonors, and Marriott Rewards, which also very recently added branded experiences and more elite-level perks.

So why did Wyndham decide to add these elite experiences and levels? And how is this different from all the other hotel loyalty programs out there?

“We had originally planned on rolling out our new rewards program out along with a member level program,” Josh Lesnick, Wyndham Hotel Group CMO said. “We made a strategic decision that we wanted to get that right so we waited.”

The extra time, Lesnick said, gave Wyndham the opportunity to add what he referred to as “experience-enhanced redemption.” Now, guests at every level not only have access to basic perks like free Wi-Fi, but they can also get discounted or free access to local experiences in 25 top markets, eventually expanding to 50.

The experiences include a street food tour in Mexico City, a desert safari in Dubai, a pizza walking tour of New York City, a cooking class in Shanghai, and an indoor skydiving experience in Orlando, for example. Each experience is operated by a local tour operator. Depending on what member level a guest is in, he or she receives a discount on those local tours or a complimentary tour experience worth up to $150 per award night, without having to spend any points.

Lesnick said, unlike other programs, the member levels for Wyndham Rewards were purposefully designed to be “very attainable,” making it more of an “elite” program for the masses.

Blue level membership, which all members have as soon as they enroll, includes free Wi-Fi and rollover nights that never expire, and a $5 credit per award night toward a local experience in one of the select 25 destinations. Gold level membership (earned after 5 nights) includes dedicated member services, preferred rooms, late check-out, early check-in, and $10 toward a local experience when you redeem a free night in one of those top destinations. Platinum (15 nights) and Diamond (40 nights) levels include annual points bonuses and car rental upgrades with Avis and Budget.

“You don’t have to be a super heavy stayer to take advantage of all of these benefits,” Lesnick said. “We’ve got really valuable benefits at every level. We’ve tried to not make it too difficult to earn, and give every level some extra value.”

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Tags: loyalty, wyndham, wyndham rewards

Photo credit: When Wyndham Rewards members redeem their points to stay at the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek in Orlando, Florida, they can receive a free or discounted local tour experience. Wyndham Hotel Group

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