The Riddle of Travel Loyalty
By Mark Murphy
January 23, 2013 11:45 PM
What has happened to travel loyalty? It seems that it no longer exists for more than 90 percent of the population, according to a new Deloitte survey. That’s right, 90 percent of the traveling public has no travel loyalty! Can you believe those ungrateful #$@%!!!!
Before you get all worked up, understand that this pertains to loyalty to supplier programs, and in particular to hotel and airline loyalty programs. Over the years, suppliers have invested heavily in these programs and have incentivized customers, in some cases, to move away from travel agents to get more perks. For instance, book your own airline ticket on their website and you get 500 bonus miles.
While these travel loyalty programs were adding new ways to potentially reward consumers, they were also doing something else -- making it more and more difficult to actually get those rewards. I fly well over 100,000 miles per year and stay in plenty of hotels while earning lots of those miles. When I try to use them, in almost every case, it’s during a time frame where they stick me with a premium, eating up double the normal amount. They then tack on fees, in the case of airlines, on top of the miles. This can add up to hundreds of dollars in additional costs on that reward redemption when I use them for family getaways. For me, as well as many consumers, it just doesn’t add up.
What does add up is the actual value I get when booking a particular airline or hotel. Is this a business trip or vacation, and how long will I be there? One night? Get me a comfortable bed, free Internet and an included breakfast and you have my business. Miles and points be damned! Am I traveling for a longer stretch? What kind of workout facilities or spa facility does the property have? Are you going to whack me for one of those resort fees to use them? If so, no amount of points or miles will make up for it.
I tend to jump around from brand to brand based on hotel location, amenities, and most importantly value. Indeed, in the case of hotels it’s the rare exception when I actually care about even providing my rewards number or loyalty program number. I’ll gladly pay a higher rate when all of other components are factored in, such as the fitness center, in-room coffee, breakfast credit and, in many cases, a food and beverage credit.
When someone provides a great experience and great value, I tend to stick with that brand or product. Here’s an example of a recent stay in Chicago at the Peninsula Hotel. It’s a great hotel in a great location and a great value despite the almost $500 price tag for a single night. That’s because the room becomes a suite based on an upgrade at time of check in.
Breakfast in the restaurant, a $40-plus value gets included. Dinner for two during my stay, a $150 value, is included as well. By taking advantage of all of these benefits, my effective rate was somewhere in the neighborhood of $300, a great value for a five-star property like the Peninsula. My stay didn’t come with points or miles, but in this scenario who cares? The value I get on every stay at this property keeps me coming back on every trip I take to the Windy City.
In my book, loyalty is defined by value, not by convoluted rewards programs. And if you can provide value in the process of booking travel, you will be rewarded!
Mark Murphy is president and CEO of travAlliancemedia, parent of TravelPulse.com, Agent@Home magazine, Vacation Agent magazine, Travel Agent Academy, Virtual Travel Events and Agent Studio.