Skift Take

If travel really is all about the experiences, travel companies — with or without loyalty programs — better do all they can to make sure our experiences aren’t just good, but great.

Editor’s Note: Skift’s Business Traveler newsletter is now the Business of Loyalty newsletter.

In this weekly missive, we’ll bring you the same insight into what matters most to the people who travel for a living, but now with an added focus on how airlines, hotels, and credit card programs battle for their attention and their business — a points geek with a Ph.D. of sorts. 

While we are still looking at how these moves impact the consumer, the focus is on what the industry is doing to win their loyalty. The newsletter is being written by Grant Martin, who you’ve come to know as the author of our Business Traveler newsletter over the last three years. He’ll be able to take advantage of contributions from Skift editors including Brian Sumers (airlines) and Deanna Ting (hotels) to better explain what’s happening with loyalty right now. We hope you’ll stick with it, and we promise to never devalue your reading experience.

Today we’re taking a look at one of the biggest pillars of modern hotel loyalty programs: experiences.

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) pioneered the concept years ago when it launched SPG Moments, which gave its SPG members exclusive access to one-of-a-kind and, in some cases, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that were only possible by being an elite member of the SPG program.

Today, nearly every hotel loyalty program out there also focuses on offering these special experiences for their members. And now that Marriott International owns Starwood and, therefore, SPG, we’re already seeing that influence play out in Marriott Rewards as well. Just recently, Marriott Rewards and SPG announced they would be launching Master Classes, special learning experiences that members can have with celebrities and leaders in the realms of sports, food, and entertainment. Earlier this year, the company also invested in PlacePass, a sort of metasearch for tours and activities, and last year, Marriott Rewards launched its own version of SPG Moments, called the Marriott Experiences Marketplace.

Why is everyone so focused on experiences these days? In a lot of ways, loyalty programs and hotel brands aren’t just preoccupied with the guest experience on site. They want to be more involved and play a larger role in the travel experience overall.

“Loyalty has always been about more than just spending nights in our hotels,” David Flueck, senior vice president of global loyalty for Marriott International, told Skift. “It’s about creating incredible travel experiences for our guests. There’s no better place to experience the world than within our portfolio. There’s no limit to the places our members can see and the experiences they can have. Travel, more broadly, has always been about enriching the soul, meeting new people, seeing new places, and learning on your travels. To tie into their experiences has always been core to our program.”

And a big part of being able to offer these kinds of once-in-a-lifetime experiences has a lot to do with the establishment of formal loyalty and rewards programs.  Without those programs, it would no doubt be very difficult for a hotel company like Marriott, Hilton, or InterContinental Hotels Group to reach those guests and market the right kinds of experiences to them — not to mention know exactly what kind of pillow they prefer.

But what about travel companies that don’t have a formal loyalty or rewards program? Think Airbnb, Uber, or Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. How do they keep customers loyal to their brands and personalize the experiences for their customers without those programs? We talked to some loyalty experts about that as well.

Whether or not a hotel or travel company has a formal loyalty program, the bottom line is that any business, regardless of industry, needs loyal customers.

— Deanna Ting, Hospitality Editor

Skift Stories and More Expert Insight

Why Not Having a Formal Travel Loyalty Program Works — For Some 

Not every travel business needs to have a formal loyalty or rewards program to have loyal customers. But if you’re going to go that route, you better know what you’re getting into. And for some companies, it might be time to reconsider doing without.

Many Airline Passengers Still Prefer Interacting With Employees Instead of Technology

It’s 2017. According to SITA, 98 percent of airline passengers fly with at least one mobile device. It’s amazing that so many passengers still prefer to the face-to-face experience at airports. It’s a lot slower than self-service, and often less effective.

Upper House Luxury Hotel Experience Aims for Custom Approach to Tech and Personalization

Upper House’s general manager details how the Hong Kong-based hotel finds the balance between tech, customer relationship management, and frontline service.

The Points Guy: Alaska Airlines Is Unable to Book Many Emirates Awards

Another popular program has started running into issues booking award tickets on a key partner airline over the last several weeks: Alaska Airlines is currently having issues booking most awards on Emirates, especially for those in premium classes.

Business Travel Startups and Services for Those In-Between Moments

A series of innovators are trying to address the moments between arrival and check-in, work and play, and other found moments.

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Tags: hotels, loyalty

Photo credit: Whale watching in Akureyri Fjord, Iceland is just one of thousands of tours and activities people can find via PlacePass, a metasearch platform for tours and activities. Marriott has invested in the company as part of its larger effort to deliver memorable experiences to loyalty members. Zeb Goodman / PlacePass

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