Not all hotel loyalty member rates are created equal, and it pays to read the fine print.
While all the major hotel chains are trying to drive direct bookings by offering discounted loyalty rates, there are differences in their strategies and benefits to guests.
With Choice Hotels beginning to offer discounted member rates on July 20, it joined its peers Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Wyndham, InterContinental Hotels Group, and Wyndham, among others, in launching special room rates just for loyalty members.
The chains believe the logic behind these rates is theoretically sound. By offering a cheaper rate to guests who are a part of their loyalty programs and who choose to book direct instead of booking with an online travel agency like Expedia or Booking.com, hotels lower their distribution costs and could strengthen their loyalty relationships with customers. And if a customer isn’t yet a member, these cheaper rates should incentivize them to join the loyalty program.
There are several issues, however: If no one knows about the rates, how helpful will they be for a hotel’s bottom line? Are they simply dilutive, in the long run? As the online travel agencies retaliate and the chains’ market share on Expedia or Booking.com diminish, will the tradeoffs be worth it?
“I’ve heard owners say they want to lower their room rates to stimulate business during softer periods, but how much money are you going to spend to promote it?,” asked David Kong, CEO of Best Western. “If no one knows about it, you’re discounting the business you’re going to get anyway. If you don’t promote it, it doesn’t mean anything.”
That’s why some brands, Hilton in particular, have launched substantial marketing campaigns to get customers to “stop clicking around.” It’s also why some brands are sweetening their member rates and direct booking pushes with additional benefits for guests, like steeper discounts, lowest rate matches, free Wi-Fi and more.
What’s clear from the rates is that for some hotels, there’s much more fine print involved than is being advertised. When it comes to offering the most generous discount, Wyndham is tops, thanks to its new summer sale promotion, but that only lasts through September. The smallest discount goes to Marriott, which only offers one ranging from 2 to 5 percent. Almost all of the companies also offer a best price guarantee and will match a lower rate.
Here’s a breakdown of what each hotel company offers with its member room rates.
Choice Privileges Rate
Discount: Up to 7 percent off a hotel’s best available rate when you book at ChoiceHotels.com or via the Choice mobile app only.
Extra Perks: If you find a lower online rate, Choice will match it and give you a $50 Visa gift card. By being a loyalty member, guests who stay for at least a night on Sundays to Thursdays can earn Instant Rewards like Uber trip discounts or Amazon.com credits.
Restrictions: The rate doesn’t apply to bookings made through travel agents or by phone.
Hilton HHonors Rate
Discount: Up to 10 percent off published rates for weekend stays at about 98 percent of Hilton’s global portfolio when you book via Hilton websites, the Hilton HHonors mobile app, call centers, preferred corporate travel partners, and approved travel agents. Weekend stays are considered Friday and Saturday nights, except in the Middle East where a weekend stay is Thursday and Friday nights. The discount is 3 percent off the best available rate for Sunday through Thursday stays if booked 15 days or more in advance. Direct bookings made within 14 days of a reservation receive 2 percent off the best available rate for any day of the week. Hilton HHonors members booking the Hilton HHonors Advance Purchase Rate receive 2 percent off the non-refundable Advance Purchase Rate. A summer promotion available through Sept. 2 increases the Hilton HHonors member discount to 20 percent on select brands in the Americas; 15 to 30 percent off on weekends on select brands in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and 15 to 25 percent in Asia Pacific, excluding China.
Extra Perks: Loyalty members get free Wi-Fi, digital check-in with room selections, and Digital Key where available.
Restrictions: The 10-percent rate applies to almost all of Hilton’s brands and properties, while the summer promotion rates are limited to particular brands and regions. The member room rate discount also depends on how far in advance you book and what days of the week you plan to stay. Hilton properties in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau are excluded from the member rates, but Hilton HHonors members still receive the extra perks listed above.
Hyatt Gold Passport Rate
Discount: Up to 10 percent off for bookings made through Hyatt.com, the Hyatt mobile app, call centers, and travel agents who book on behalf of loyalty members on Hyatt.com.
Extra Perks: If a guest finds a qualifying lower rate elsewhere online within 24 hours of booking, Hyatt will match it and discount it by 20 percent for their entire stay. All guests, whether they are Gold Passport members or not, enjoy free Wi-Fi at Hyatt hotels. But Hyatt Gold Passport members who make direct bookings and earn enough loyalty points toward elite tier status, receive free premium Wi-Fi and complimentary suite upgrades.
Restrictions: For now, this rate only applies to hotels in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
Your Rate by IHG Rewards Club
Discount: In the Americas (North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean), the discount is between 2 to 6 percent. In Europe, the rate varies by market. For example, in some markets (United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and France) it takes the form of a ‘Lowest Price Promise,’ which is the lowest price offered across IHG direct channels. In all other markets it takes the form of a discounted rate of between 3 and 10 percent. The rate applies to members who book direct on IHG-branded sites, the IHG app, or by calling IHG’s global call centers. An IHG spokesperson said, “Over the coming weeks, we are working to ensure that Your Rate by IHG Rewards Club is available in the GDS as we know this is a critical booking channel for our travel partners. These rates will also be commissionable for travel agents.”
Extra Perks: All members of IHG’s loyalty program get free Wi-Fi during their stays. IHG also offers a Best Price Guarantee to all guests. If a guest finds a lower rate elsewhere, her first night’s room price is free, subject to certain terms and conditions. Free Wi-Fi is available to all guests at most of IHG’s brands, including Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, EVEN, Holiday Inn, Staybridge Suites, and Candlewood Suites. To access free Wi-Fi at InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, you must be a loyalty member.
Restrictions: For now, it only applies to select hotels in the Americas and Europe but IHG plans to roll this out to Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and China later this year. In the Americas, the rate doesn’t apply to Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, IHG Army Hotels, and The Venetian Palazzo. In Europe, the rate excludes InterContinental Hotels & Resorts.
Marriott Rewards Member Rate
Discount: At least 2 percent off on weekdays and up to 5 percent on weekends for the lowest applicable available public rate for non-premium rooms. Rate applies to bookings made via Marriott.com, the Marriott mobile app, call centers, or through select corporate travel professionals and travel agents.
Extra Perks: Loyalty members get free Wi-Fi, and mobile check-in/check-out. If a guest finds a lower rate online within 24 hours of booking, Marriott will match it and give him/her and additional 25 percent discount.
Restrictions: Hotels in Mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas are excluded. The rate does not apply to Delta Hotels, Protea Hotels, The Ritz-Carlton Montreal, The Ritz London, Hotel Ritz Madrid, and Ritz-Carlton Residences. This rate can’t be used to book rooms for groups of 10 or more.
Wyndham Rewards Rate
Discount: From 15 to 25 percent off the best available rate at participating hotels for bookings made on WyndhamRewards.com or any of its brand.com sites, the Wyndham Rewards mobile app, or by phone through Sept. 6.
Extra Perks: Members who stay at a Wyndham hotel for two qualified stays through Sept. 6 also get a $100 Wyndham Rewards gift card.
Restrictions: Available at most hotels, but not all. Travel agents can’t book the discounted rate for loyalty members, but they can book clients for qualified stays that apply to the $100 Wyndham Rewards gift card.
Photo credit: A still from Marriott's 'It Pays to Book Direct' campaign from 2015. Marriott and its peers have debuted exclusive discounted room rates for loyalty members who book direct. YouTube / Marriott International