Most Loyalty Rewards Programs Are Really Only for Road Warriors

Hyatt resort near Fort Myers

Hyatt resort near Fort Myers

A recent travel trade article on airline and hotel reward loyalty rewards programs pointed out a clear trend: for most of us, these programs are getting worse. While the road warriors at the top elite levels are getting showered with perks – those who stay 75 nights a year out of 365 with Marriott for instance – the rest of us are getting less and less for our flights or hotels stays.

As U.S. airlines moved from a distance-based to revenue-based model, the only loyal members with something to gain were those who bought expensive business class tickets. Those at the top of the elite pyramid. Everyone else started finding that their 6,000-mile flight was earning them 1,000 “miles” now because it was based on ticket price. At that rate it can take 25 flights to earn even the lowest domestic ticket.

That model has already spread to one major hotel chain. Hyatt gave its loyalty program a new name, World of Hyatt, and promptly made it more difficult for all but the most frequent biz traveler guests. The new system awards 5 points per dollar instead of a set amount per stay, though you’ll need to spend at least 10 nights at Hyatt properties in a year to get to the lowest of three elite levels. The head of the program, who is now gone, made it clear in interviews announcing the change that the program was aimed at one tier of guests: the most loyal ones, those spending the most money each year.

If You’re Not First, You’re Last

As we’ve seen in the airline industry, this kind of program quickly leads to a two-tiered system. The highest elite level members get most of the freebies, get the best rooms, and earn the most points for every stay. The rest of us get stuck with what’s left, whether it’s a cramped middle seat or the smallest room with no view.

Like a well-trained magician performing a sleight of hand, the bad changes for consumers are usually buried within news of big “improvements” the loyalty rewards program will bring. With the hotel programs, they’re usually touting your ability to combine points and dollars (a dubious win at best) or buy merchandise with your hard-earned points.

The dirty little secret of the latter is that your points value plummets if you do a merchandise buy instead of cashing in points on a hotel. Here’s what Skift noted in their article:

While these new tools are a boon for airlines and hotel mileage programs, their value to consumers is still somewhat mixed. When United launched its pay-with-miles Wi-Fi service, Maphappy took a look at the value of the purchase in cash or in miles. Its conclusion? ‘The premium on paying in mileage was about 117 percent higher than the cash price,’ Maphappy found.

If you purchase a pair of headphones or get a Best Buy gift card, it can be even worse. Often these transactions can degrade the point value to a small fraction of what it was in hotel or airline value. Here’s what you’ll have to pay for a $30 item via IHG’s program:

$180 of rewards for $30 item

Where You Can Earn More and Not Lose Value

With Bonwi Rewards points, you have a lot of advantages over these programs from the airlines and hotels:

1) You can use your rewards on any hotel, not just one company. When you cash them in for a hotel, you can get 20%, 25%, or 30% return on your spend. With the average direct loyalty program you’re lucky to rise above 10%. (In other words, you have to spend $10,000 to get $1,000 in value–even if you do everything right.)

2) You don’t have to be loyal to one company. You can choose any hotel in any location at any price and earn Bonwi Rewards, even picking which one has the highest payoff to maximize your return. When it’s time to cash them in, you have just as many choices.

Bonwi points payoff
3 nights at either earns you a plane ticket or a night’s hotel stay.

3) Points earned on hotel stays can be redeemed for flights. Forget about blackout dates, restrictions, or the lack of seats at lower tiers. With your Bonwi points you can book on any airline at any time, based on a simple 1-cent per dollar redemption figure. If you have 30,000 points, you have $300 for a flight, and no, you won’t have to still pay for the taxes if they’re included in the fare, as you would with the U.S. airlines.

4) You aren’t penalized for choosing a rental car or gift cards. That 1-cent per mile redemption figure that’s so easy to understand applies to rental cars and gift card purchases too. You won’t see your rewards value decrease just because you made one spending choice rather than another. Your Bonwi points have a clear intrinsic value.

So book your next hotel stay with Bonwi and see how easy it is to be on Easy Street, instead of feeling like your loyalty is only getting you kicked to the curb.

Article by Tim Leffel, editor of the Cheapest Destinations Blog and author of the book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune.

Can We Really Keep Up With All These Hotel Brands?

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

Quick – if you have 30,000 Starwood or Marriott points, at which of their brands can you probably stay one night for free?

If you have 50,000 points with IHG, what does that really mean for which hotels you can stay in as a reward?

What do you get if you have points with Wyndham, Choice, Carlson, or Hilton?

Well, that picture at the top of this post will give you a clue about how hard this is to answer. As hotel chains have merged, spun off, been acquired, and split up, it’s hard to keep up with who’s who. It’s hard to know one big hotel company is owned by the Chinese, while another is owned by the French. One big conglomerate is Spanish and the Four Seasons is majority-owned by Arabs. Do you know which of the ever-expanding brands you can get into with your loyalty points?

The Head-Spinning Hotel Brands Game

The problem isn’t that you aren’t aware of who’s who. The problem is that only the most dedicated lodging geek could possibly keep up. Ritz-Carlton wasn’t always part of Marriott. Kimpton wasn’t always part of Intercontinental Hotel Group. Fairmont wasn’t always part of Accor – home to Sofitel and Mercure. Motel 6 was part of that chain, then it wasn’t.

Then just when you think you have a brand pegged, it shifts again. Orient-Express Hotels become Belmond. Andaz is launched as a hipper Hyatt. The roadside motel chain Best Western starts launching nice beach resorts right on the sand. Radisson hotels are usually dated and second-tier in the USA, but it Asia if you put “Blu” on the end it might be the nicest property in town. In Stockholm I stayed at a Clarion and it looked like this:

Clarion Amaranten in Central Stockholm restaurant

The problem comes in when you’re limited to a specific set of brands by your hotel loyalty program. Looking at that Marriott list at the top, do you have any idea what you’ll end up with if you cash in points for Delta, Tribute, Protea, AC, or Moxy? If you have Hilton Honors points saved up, do you feel comfortable trading them for a stay with Canopy, Tapestry, or Tru?

Sure, it’s nice to be able to trade Wyndham Rewards points in for a free stay, but there may not be a Wyndham Grand where you’re headed. Your only choice may be Super8, Days Inn, or Howard Johnson’s.

Points for Any Hotel, Anytime, Anywhere

If you book your stay with Bonwi, you won’t have to worry about any of this. Your points build up with any hotel brands, so there’s no need to compromise and pick an inferior choice. You can choose the hotel that earns the most reward points or just choose the hotel – from any brand – that is closest to your meetings or convention. You will usually earn more points than you would have with the corporate program, but your choices of what to do with them aren’t limited. You can book an independent hotel not part of any chain and still earn points that are worth real money.

You can earn points from a Hilton stay that you then apply to a Holiday Inn Express. Points from a stay at an Econolodge can top off your point balance to get you into a Four Seasons. You can rack up points with a Banyan Tree resort in Asia and take your family to any all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean you’d like.  No restrictions, no redemption tiers, no reward chart to memorize. Just earn points, cash them in, get free stays.

See how it all works here.

Reward Points Battle: IHG Rewards Club vs. Bonwi

IHG Hotel Willard Intercontinental in DC

IHG Hotel Willard Intercontinental in DC

We say that Bonwi gives you a better loyalty points payback than any hotel booking site out there, but what about individual hotel chains? Could you earn a free night faster by booking direct?

From our research, we haven’t found any program that allows you to get to a free stay faster. Let’s look at one of them in detail: the IHG Rewards program that includes 12 brands across 5,000 hotels and resorts.

How the IHG Rewards Program Works

In some ways the IHG Rewards Club is the best of the direct booking ones. They have the most properties to choose from in a whole lot of markets, the point earning levels are transparent, and most of the redemption levels are in the range of 10,000 to 35,000 points. (With Marriott, Hyatt, or Hilton you can easily be looking at twice that much.) Their brands range from good-value suite hotels to Holiday Inn Express to Intercontinental. When they finally consolidate their program with the Kimpton chain they bought, that will be another option for redemption.

To earn points, you stay at any of their properties. You earn 10 points per dollar at most of them for your stay, but 5 points per dollar at Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites. If you have their credit card you earn many more by paying with that and IHG frequently runs promotions that give you bonus miles. (It takes a while to hit elite status normally, but the credit card ups you to Platinum automatically.)

With 10 or 5 points per stay, that means you would earn 1,500 points for spending $150 for most of their properties, but 750 points at Staybridge or Candlewood. The lowest possible redemption is 5,000 in their “Points Breaks” promotions, but those are usually hotels that nobody is booking, in obscure locations. Think Gadsden, AL; Anderson, SC; or Silao in Mexico. The more common minimum is 10,000, for a Holiday Inn Express. So it would normally require at least $1,000 in spending at their properties before earning an award, or $2,000 if staying at the bottom category ones. At $100 a night that’s 10 or 20 nights. At $150 a night it’s 7 or 14 nights.

How the Bonwi Rewards Program Works

With Bonwi.com, it’s less simple on the earnings side, but that’s because the points you earn are variable. You will often earn far more than 1,500 points for a $150 room charge. You could earn enough for a free stay after just two or three nights.

There’s also upside on the redemption part since the payout is not an average of the price paid. Your points may be worth more in some markets than others, so you can cash in faster just by choosing a hotel requiring fewer points.

Comparison of Earnings in Two Markets

Let’s say you’ve got two business trips coming up in California. One is in San Francisco and one is in San Diego. How would your earnings differ between IHG and Bonwi?

Bonwi points back San Francisco

If you booked your San Francisco stay at the Holiday Inn Civic Center for two nights, you would pay $449 with tax either way. If you booked direct through the IHG site, that would translate to 4,490 points. If you booked it at Bonwi, you would earn 12,220 points.

A month later you need to spend two nights in San Diego. You pull up the IHG site and see the Crowne Plaza Hanalei is a pretty good deal at $166 per night before taxes. The total tab for two nights is $366. If you go ahead and book it through the IHG site, you will earn $366 X 10, or 3,666 points. If you book it through Bonwi instead, you will earn 10,289 points. Another big difference.

Bonwi vs. IHG points in San DIego

Cashing in Your Loyalty Points

Now that you’ve earned some points, what can you get if you take your kid to Orlando for a weekend getaway in March?

If you wanted to redeem what you’ve earned from these two stays, you wouldn’t have enough points with IHG Rewards. From those four nights, you only earned 8,156 points. Only a Points Break promotion would be available. Let’s assume you already had a couple thousand in the account though or you got past 10K with credit card spending.

From Bonwi you have a total of 22,509 points.

For weekends in March, with 10K IHG points from IHG, you’re going to come up empty. There is nothing available on a Friday or Saturday night in March for under 20,000 points, the amount that three of the four hotels below would require. The Holiday Inn Orlando Suites Waterpark hotel would require 35,000. So you would have to use their “points and cash” option and pay at least $70 on top of the 10,000 points.

IHG Rewards points in Orlando

For the same weekends in March with the 22,509 Bonwi points earned from four nights paid, you have lots of choices for a free night’s stay at IHG properties. These are just a few of them, including taxes:
– Holiday Inn Resort Orlando – Lake Buena Vista – 17,663
– Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites Waterpark – 20,273
– Holiday Inn Orlando SW – Celebration Area – 15,139
– Holiday Inn Express & Suites Orlando at Seaworld -20,412

If you want to use your points for something else, you’re much better off with Bonwi. With us you can use your points for any flight of $225 or less with those 22,509 points, or you can get two $100 gift cards from major retailers and still have some left over. The points are valued at a penny a mile. If you want to cash in for a reward card with IHG, you usually pay 20,000 points for just a $50 gift card. That’s one-fourth the value, on points that required more spending to start with.

So which program offers you a faster payoff? This one is a no-brainer.