The Declining Appeal of Traditional Hotel Loyalty Programs

Is your loyalty program paying off with a vacation?

What is your loyalty to a specific company or brand worth? Are you getting enough benefits from a traditional hotel loyalty program to make it worth them having deep insight into your habits and your travels? Does less privacy equate to better service?

It’s looking like many consumers are saying no. They’re joining brand loyalty programs when they’re forced to, like when a big hotel conglomerate won’t give them WiFi access otherwise, but increasingly they’re leaving it at that and not really participating.

That’s the conclusion of a study mentioned in an article in Skift on “brand loyalty in the era of the empowered traveler.” More people than ever are signing up for branded loyalty programs, but fewer are actually loyal in any real sense of the word.

According to loyalty insights firm Colloquy, the number of memberships in travel and hospitality loyalty programs grew by 20 percent between 2014 and 2016, surpassing more than a billion members. Yet during this same period, more than half (54 percent) of these travel loyalty memberships were inactive, and more than one quarter (28 percent) were abandoned without ever being used.

There are a lot of reasons for this that any traveler who is not a business road warrior could tell you.

Brand Loyalty Is More Pain Than Gain

1) It takes too long to earn any rewards.
We sign up for a traditional hotel loyalty program through Hyatt, IHG, or Marriott because we can’t get free internet access otherwise (except at their lower-priced brands, ironically), or we may even pay more money when booking direct without a membership number. So we grudgingly give our details, but then that’s often the end of it. It takes another year or two before we spend a night with that brand again and the earnings are never enough to get a free stay. The account is inactive and eventually the points expire. It was all an empty exercise. This is especially frustrating to younger travelers who want quicker rewards.

2) We can’t tell the difference between the hotel brands.
It has become impossible to keep up with all the hotel brands out there. After Marriott and Starwood merged, that sprawling beast has 30+ brands. Wyndham has 18. And most of these conglomerates are planning new brands! Do you really know which company oversees Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, or Cambria Suites? Do you like any one of them enough to always stay with them instead of the competition, just to earn a couple thousand points?

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

3) We are getting tired of giving up so much privacy.
The Skift article linked above seems to think the solution is spying on us more in order “to serve us better.” If only they could dig up more info on our personal preferences, that would make us more loyal.

This is a seriously flawed premise. Just because someone answers in the affirmative that they like booking preferences saved in an app doesn’t mean they want everything they do in a hotel room to reside in a big data database.

Again, ask anyone who is not in a hotel every week if they want lodging corporations to know more about them and you’ll usually get a flat, “No way!” It’s one thing for a hotel chain to acknowledge our elite status and address us by our name. It’s quite another to know what we drank at the bar our last three stays and try to use that to predict what kind of services we require. It doesn’t take long for “personalized service” to cross over to, “You are seriously creeping me out here guys.”

What's Marriott doing with your personal data?

4) We’re worried about our data being stolen.
The more data we give these sprawling corporations, the more of our information is subject to hacking. Marriott just learned that the hard way when hackers stole the information for 500 million Starwood guests. How do you feel knowing all that data they gathered on you may be in the hands of the Chinese government now? Or for sale to the highest bidder on the dark web?

This was not an isolated incident either—it was just the largest. Smaller breaches have hit Hyatt, IHG, Kimpton, Trump Hotels, Radisson, and others.

A Low-key Loyalty Program With the Fastest Payback

There’s a way to get something out of every booking, no matter which brand you stay with, and earn free rewards faster. You won’t have a company spying on all your personal habits either. Just sign up with Bonwi and book your hotel stays through them.

You’ll see up front how many points you are earning for your stay:

Points back for Los Cabos Resorts

Just try getting a payoff that big from any traditional hotel loyalty program. Then it’s easy to figure out what you can get for your points when you cash in:

use Bonwi points for free hotel stays

If you want, you can even book a flight with your points on a simple 1-cent per mile redemption formula. Or you can book a rental car with those points. The system is transparent, simple to figure out, and doesn’t come with short expiration windows.

With Bonwi you only have to be loyal to yourself. You don’t have to stay with the same brand and you don’t have to give up a mountain of personal data. You just earn, cash in, and enjoy your travels.