Loyalty Program

Most hotel loyalty programs are knotty, forcing you to keep track of points and blackout dates – not to mention their limitations. Some companies cross brands within a hotel family, while some restrict you to a single brand. Tracking points and constraints can make guests feel like clerks in a cage.

There is a new breed of loyalty programs that is simple and has removed some of the stumbling blocks like blackout dates, making properties available anytime, anywhere. The big question is, why aren’t more hotel companies putting loyalty programs together that are a win for both the traveler and the hotelier?

Travel Trend: loyalty programs geared toward the visionary traveler with cash to spend, not cash to burn.

InnDependent InnCentives, one of the new-generation loyalty programs, is attached to the InnDependent Boutique Hotel Collection. The program, which links some 3,000 independent boutique hotels aims to make it easy for guests to access a worldwide network of attractive, singular hotels where you can stay without breaking the bank.

Stash Hotel Rewards, a three-year-old program serving about 200 independent hotels, is also doing a great job, offering incentives to repeat customers. So are similar programs from Leading Hotels of the World and Preferred Hotel Group, like Stash networks of independent, boutique hotels. But these cater primarily to high-end hotel properties.

As this trend of independent hotel collections grows, guests have more options and flexibility when it comes to their travel budgets. Now the intrepid traveler eager to stay at a distinctive, stand alone boutique that isn’t four-, five-star or luxury, and doesn’t want to pay a king’s ransom, has programs that are accessible and user-friendly.

Let’s take a closer look at the workings of these new entrants to the hotel loyalty scene. Our test subject will be InnDependent InnCentives, the loyalty program from IBC Hotels. The only thing guests need to join is their email address. The perk: a free night after staying 12 nights. That’s as straight forward as it gets.

The only other detail applies to the rate of the freebie. Say the average rate of the hotels you stay at over 12 nights is $100, but you want to redeem your free 13th night in Hawaii, where a room costs $300. No problem: the first $100 is yours for free. All you pay is the difference.

In comparison, the traditional hotel loyalty programs tracking points seem like a chore to stay on top of. Toting up points can be hard work, and it shifts the focus from pleasure to drudgery: loyalty addicts feel like they’re spending all their time thinking about points and how to accumulate them rather than enjoying their trip. And other things begin to blur, too; after all, a branded hotel, unlike an independent, is pretty similar no matter the locale.

The question of the viability of hotel brands starts to come into play. How valuable will they be in the future? Companies like Stash and IBC Hotels are networks, after all – loose affiliations of independent properties. If there’s any commonality to them, it is their loyalty programs, trademarked, proprietary programs aimed at the independent traveler with an appetite for the unusual.

Independent loyalty programs are perfect for the ground swell of people who prefer non-branded boutique hotels, which by their nature are different and distinctive. More and more people value staying in a place that isn’t predictable – and they prize surprise.

International travelers, who are unaware of the big American brands, will also find value in loyalty programs from independent hotel collections. Banking on the fact that the U.S. will see a sharp rise in tourism from China’s growing affluent class in the next few years, these new programs have a lot of legs and will give the established hotel brands a run for their money.

– by Carlo Wolff