By Nicole Di Tomasso
Since their debut in 1983 by Holiday Inn and Marriott, hotel loyalty programs have evolved from simple point-based systems to sophisticated platforms. The initial goal was straightforward — entice guests to return by rewarding points for each stay, which could then be redeemed for free rooms or airfares. While rudimentary by today’s standards, these early programs laid the foundation for a new era in customer-retention strategies.
Now, hotel operators are constantly seeking innovative ways to enhance customer loyalty and set themselves apart in a crowded market. Modern loyalty programs have expanded through partnerships with credit-card payment processers, airlines, car-rental services and entertainment venues, offering a more comprehensive selection of lifestyle rewards. This versatility enhances the perceived value of the loyalty program and encourages members to engage with a brand across various touchpoints.
“Loyalty programs need to respond to this growing desire among consumers for a more personalized experience or risk becoming irrelevant,” says Danielle Brown, Chief Marketing Officer at Montreal-based Plusgrade, a provider of ancillary revenue solutions for the global travel industry. “Consumers’ attitudes towards brands have changed, and they expect the companies they transact with to take the time to understand their needs. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t a sustainable model anymore.”
Plusgrade recently launched multiple loyalty solutions for the leading hotels of the world (LWH), the largest collection of independent luxury hotels. Plusgrade’s loyalty business unit, points, provides several benefits for LWH’s tiered guest-loyalty program, Leaders Club, where members now have the opportunity to make an immediate lump-sum purchase of rewards through the Purchase Points feature, allowing members to access hotel stays and experiences sooner.
Additionally, Leaders Club members also have access to the Gift Points feature to offer greater flexibility in how points are redeemed, allowing them to buy points for friends and family. Points partners include Choice Privileges Rewards, Hilton Honors, IHG One Rewards, World of Hyatt, Marriott Bonvoy, Radisson Rewards and more.
“Our ability to leverage data and analytics to deliver innovative promotional constructs and greater personalization has resulted in strong results for our partners,” says Brown. “We work closely with them to dive deeply into extensive member data and apply sophisticated modelling to deduce the best products and offers to put in front of special groups or members at a given time. It’s this level of relevancy that helps nurture true loyalty.”
The Hilton Honors mobile app was launched nearly a decade ago, “and since then, it has been an evolving benefit that [the company] continuously updates and customizes based on member and guest feedback,” says Jenn Chick, Global Head, SVP, Hilton Honors, Customer Engagement & Partnership, Hilton.
The app allows guests to book their stay, select their room, check-in and check-out from their mobile device. Additionally, guests can use the Digital Key feature to unlock their guestroom door and access other areas of the hotel that require a key, as well as the Digital Key Share feature, which allows one guest to share their room key with up to four additional people or devices. Chick says the background elevator unlock feature “is one of the newest innovations of Digital Key, allowing guests to automatically connect to and unlock elevators if their Hilton Honors app is open in the background of their iOS device.”
Other loyalty app enhancements include personalizing in-room technology with Hilton’s Connected Room Experience, allowing guests to select their favourite TV stations and streaming apps; selecting any combination of points and money to pay for a stay; and notifying guests of complimentary room upgrades before check-in through an automated upgrades program.
Most recently, the company introduced new benefits for its Hilton Honors American Express Surpass and Aspire Cards to provide more ways to earn points on everyday spending. New perks for the surpass card include 4x Hilton Honors bonus points on U.S. online retail purchases; up to $200 back in statement credits annually for eligible Hilton purchases made directly at participating properties; and complimentary National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive status, while the Aspire card now offers up to $400 in statement credits annually for eligible purchases at participating Hilton Resorts; up to $200 in statement credits annually on eligible flight purchases; $189 in statement credits per calendar year after members sign up and pay for a CLEAR Plus membership; One Free Night Reward after spending $30,000 in purchases in a calendar year; complimentary national car rental emerald club executive status; and cell phone protection, among other improvements.
This year, chick says the company “will be launching Hilton for Business, which aims to transform the business-travel experience and expand [the company’s] events booking capabilities. Hilton for Business will feature a new booking website designed especially for small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as targeted benefits and more opportunities for businesses to earn Hilton Honors bonus points upon program registration and travel milestones.”
Chick continues, “the intersection of digitalization and travel is propelling the industry forward as we collectively look for ways to improve the stay experience. as a result, we’re focused on understanding how data can enable us to meet the specific needs of our guests and take considerable measures to ensure we’re leveraging valuable customer insight to help us improve our loyalty program. Our priority is to quickly address travellers’ evolving preferences, passions and pain points by tracking trends, alleviating challenges and delivering improved products and services.”
Furthermore, Marriott Bonvoy, Marriott International’s loyalty program, recently revealed a multi-year agreement with Live Nation Canada, granting members access to exclusive concert and stay experiences at hundreds of live nation-promoted shows across Canada. Loyalty members can also earn points when booking hotel stays directly, offering a more personalized experience and opportunities to earn free nights and other benefits.
“According to a recent Live Nation study, [more than] 30 per cent of Canadians have travelled at least 100 kilometers to attend a concert or festival, and [more than] 70 per cent of concertgoers who stay overnight for a live event choose to stay at a hotel,” says Beatriz Fuentes, Area Director of Marketing, Canada, Marriott International in a company release.
in Canada, Marriott Bonvoy members can redeem points for other experiences through partnerships with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the Montreal Canadiens, among others. As the industry continues to evolve, the role of loyalty programs in shaping the future of hospitality remains indispensable.