Tale of the Tape – Part 3

Tale of the Tape – Part 3

While many travelers fund their leisure vacations with the points they rack up from hotel stays during business trips, we’ve heard from many business travelers that the last thing they want to do during their time off is to spend it in a hotel.

They’d much rather relax at home and enjoy their time off the road. We continue our Tale of the Tape story by looking at some of the merchandise awards offered by hotel programs.

Loyalty programs are responding to increasing customer demand for merchandise and experiential awards and offer a wide array of non-travel options for members. With many hotel programs, members can spend their points on anything from coffee makers to digital cameras to golf clubs and bottles of wine, and a few programs offer members the option to redeem their points for just about anything they desire. Marriott Rewards offers a customizable award — if you can dream it, they can probably find it for you — and IHG Priority Club Rewards offers a personal shopper program, where a customer care representative will help you find a specific award that isn’t listed in their catalog of awards. Goldpoints plus offers a versatile Visa prepaid card that can be used anywhere Visa is accepted.

Hyatt Gold Passport, Starwood Preferred Guest and IHG Priority Club Rewards all offer online auctions where you can place bids with your points on unique events and one-of-a-kind offers, like concert tickets and exclusive behind-the-scenes backstage passes. Hilton HHonors, Choice Privileges and IHG Priority Club offer experiential awards, where you can redeem points for thrilling, relaxing or educational experiences such as a hot air balloon ride, a day at the spa or cooking lessons. Goldpoints plus and SPG offer in-hotel awards, such as an in-room movie or massage, offers which vary by hotel and are only available at check-in.

And most programs offer members the option to redeem points for gift cards and merchandise. When it comes to exchanging points for merchandise, which program is the most rewarding?

Because the programs offer different products and partner with different merchants, we weren’t able to compare identical awards, but we found comparable merchandise. In last month’s issue, we looked at travelers planning a Spring Break family vacation, a wedding and an anniversary. For this month’s merchandise comparison, we looked at items a member might want to bring on those particular trips. We compared how many points were required for an Apple iPod Classic 80 GB (valued at around $250) for the trip to the beach, a $50 gift card to a home furnishing store for the wedding and a $100 restaurant gift card to spend on an anniversary dinner.

The low-spend traveler

The low-spend traveler who spends 19 nights a year at hotels and spends a total of $2,052 would not earn enough points with any of the programs to use their points to get the iPod and only Wyndham Rewards members would have enough points for a $100 gift certificate.

Members of all of the programs except for Marriott Rewards would earn enough points for a $50 merchandise gift card. The only $50 gift card offered by Marriott is an iTunes gift card for 26,000 points and low-spend travelers would be around 1,000 points short of this award. Alternatively, Marriott Rewards members could redeem 18,000 points for a $50 Marriott gift certificate which can be spent at any Marriott branded hotel.

Hyatt Gold Passport members can redeem points for hotel stays, car rentals, Make-A-Wish Foundation donations and can convert points to miles, but redeeming points for merchandise or gift cards is not an option.

The moderate-spend traveler

The moderate-spend traveler who spends 38 nights a year and $5,928 would earn enough points for the Apple iPod with only two programs — Best Western Rewards and Wyndham Rewards. While Wyndham Rewards doesn’t specifically offer an iPod as an award option, members can redeem 51,500 points for a $250 Amazon.com gift certificate, which can be used to purchase the iPod.

Best Western Rewards members will be able to purchase the most number of $50 gift cards — six — followed by goldpoints plus and Wyndham Rewards at five gift cards. Choice Privileges and Hilton HHonors members will earn enough points to redeem for four $50 gift cards, Marriott Rewards members will have enough points for two $100 merchandise gift cards, while SPG and Priority Club members will be able to obtain three $50 cards with their points.

The high-spend traveler

The high-spend traveler who spends $19,532 and 76 nights per year in hotels will earn enough points for at least two iPods with every program. Marriott Rewards, Best Western Rewards, Wyndham Rewards, Choice Privileges and goldpoints plus can deliver three iPods to high-spend travelers who choose to spend all of their points on the compact musical device.

Best Western Rewards is the most rewarding program overall when it comes to gift cards. High-spend travelers will earn enough points for 20 $50 gift cards or 10 $100 gift cards at this level, the equivalent of $1,000 worth of goods, which represents around a five percent return on their almost $20,000 investment in hotel stays. Wyndham Rewards comes in second at 18 $50 gift cards, followed by Choice Privileges, goldpoints plus, Hilton HHonors and IHG Priority Club Rewards. High spenders at Marriott Rewards will have enough points for seven $100 gift cards (or four $200 gift cards) and SPG members will be able to redeem for 11 $50 gift cards.

Number of merchandise awards earned
Best Western Gold Crown Club Int Choice Privileges goldpoints plus Hilton HHonors Hyatt Gold Passport IHG Priority Club Rewards Marriott Rewards Starwood Preferred Guest Wyndham Rewards
Apple iPod Classic 80GB
Low-spend 0 0 0 0 n/a 0 0 0 0
Moderate-spend 1 0 0 0 n/a 0 0 0 1
High-spend 3 3 3 2 n/a 2 3 2 3
$50 Gift Card
Low-spend 1 1 1 1 n/a 1 0 1 1
Moderate-spend 6 4 5 4 n/a 3 2 3 5
High-spend 20 17 16 15 n/a 14 9 11 18
$100 Gift Card
Low-spend 0 0 0 0 n/a 0 0 0 1
Moderate-spend 3 2 2 2 n/a 7 7 6 9
High-spend 10 8 9 7 n/a 7 7 6 9

A word in closing

In our three-part story (InsideFlyer June, July and August 2008), we looked at how many points and miles a low-spend, moderate-spend and high-spend traveler would earn, how many nights those points could be redeemed for at three different destinations and how far those points would go when redeeming for gift cards and merchandise. Looking at all of the factors, how do you decide which loyalty program is the best for you? A program’s value depends in part on how you choose to redeem your points.

If you are a high-spend traveler and primarily redeem your points on hotel rooms at higher-end properties, then you can’t go wrong with Hilton HHonors. However, if you are willing to be flexible with your hotel property type and location and simply want to stretch your hotel points as far as they will go, InterContinental Priority Club is a good choice because of its PointBreaks offer. If you want to redeem points for gift cards instead of hotel stays, Best Western Rewards is the clear winner. But if you don’t care about hotel program points and choose to earn miles, Wyndham Rewards and goldpoints plus are both programs moderate- to high-spend travelers should consider.

In determining the value of a loyalty program, questions to ask yourself include: how many nights do you spend in hotels and how many points do you earn each year? Do you take advantage of point promotions or own and use a co-branded credit card? How do you want to spend your points — on miles, merchandise, hotel stays or other items? And when you do choose to spend your points on hotel stays — do you want to spend your points at an exotic luxury property or are you more interested in another day or two added on for free at the hotels you normally visit? Each program has strengths and weaknesses and it’s up to each traveler to choose a program that is most rewarding based on their individual earning and burning style.

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