Opening Remarks – August, 14 2002

Opening Remarks – August, 14 2002

When Choice Hotels recently announced its “Thanks A Million” promotion, I have to admit that it piqued my interest. On offer was a million-mile sweepstakes and the opportunity for guests to earn triple miles for stays at the various brand names that Choice Hotels operates. I’ve stayed at a few of their hotels in the past, but I hadn’t been active with Choice Privileges over the past 12 months. So, with professional interest in mind, off I went to three different properties – a Rodeway Inn, a Comfort Suites and a Quality Inn. What I found was one of the best-merchandised promotions I’ve ever seen.

Walking into the foyer of my first hotel, my attention was immediately caught by a bright sticker on the front door that declared I was “entering a Triple Mile Zone.” At the front desk I was greeted by a brightly colored mobile, again reminding me of the triple miles promotion. And I was even more amazed when, at the check-in counter, I spotted a promotional desk pad highlighting the details of the promotion. There is absolutely no way that I, as an arriving guest, could fail to get caught up in this promotion. The details of all the items that caught my attention were fabulous.

After visiting hotel number one, I was intrigued enough to visit two other properties and found them all to live up to the first when it came to presentation. In fact, the prevalence and high quality of the promotional materials exceeded all of my expectations. And the offer itself isn’t shabby either. Triple miles — that’s 750 miles — at the Comfort Suites, Clarion and other Choice Hotels properties. If I were to stay at a Starwood property, earning two points per dollar spent, I’d have to spend $375 to earn 750 miles. At Marriott I’d have to spend about the same amount, and at Hilton it would vary because of its Double Dip.

By contrast, I made a reservation at a Quality Hotel for only $69. Now, if it’s miles you’re interested in, this may be one of the best deals going.

So, let me say that, while we spend much of our time reporting on the Marriott and Hilton frequent traveler programs, it’s really only fair to acknowledge some of the other guys who are doing a great job.

Switching gears now. As early as a year ago I mentioned the possibility that the AOL/AAdvantage program was in trouble. Looking back, the program was clumsy from the start. AOL was unwilling to part company with its brand and it left members feeling as though it was a separate program from AAdvantage. And the members weren’t the only ones who were confused. The program’s partners were often asked to create separate offers — one for the standard AAdvantage member and another, more lucrative, offer for the AOL member. AOL no doubt felt that its brand recognition would carry the day and turn this into the idea of the century. Now, after a reported couple of hundred million dollars has been invested by both sides, the program hardly exists at all.

Maybe we have just been too saturated with new “loyalty” programs. Witness the pulling of the plug on the highly anticipated U.S. launch of the Air Miles program, which has been so successful in Canada, the U.K. and other countries. This is the second time that this program has failed to generate either the interest of customers or the commitment of partners. This time the sticking point seems to be the program’s inability to secure a major grocery partner. Blame United Mileage Plus. Its GroceryMiles program has done well to block out the competition since it seems only Safeway “gets it.” I’m one of the many Mileage Plus members who shop at Safeway for the miles and let me tell you, I always look at the bottom of my register tape after loading up the groceries just to see how many more miles I have earned.

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