Travel Talk

Travel Talk

BalticMiles surprised a lot of people this past April when the loyalty program for airBaltic took home two Freddie Awards. The chief executive officer, Gabi Kool, plays a large part in the program’s success. He says the aim of the company is to create the most successful loyalty management company in Northern and Eastern Europe, supporting leading airlines, retailers and financial institutions.

Prior to Mr. Kool’s current position, he spent 15 years in finance, loyalty marketing and general management, focusing on the aviation, retail and hospitality industry. He worked with Carlson Marketing and successfully launched and managed VOILA Hotel Rewards, the first global loyalty program for independent hotels.

BalticMiles currently has 500,000 members but Kool says that they have, “the ambition to grow to three million members by 2015.” We recently caught up with Kool via email to ask a few questions.

InsideFlyer Congratulations on your recent Freddie Award wins–Best Elite Program and Best Redemption Ability in the Europe/Africa region. Were you surprised?

Gabi Kool We were pleasantly surprised. It is quite unique for a young loyalty program such as BalticMiles to win global awards among such formidable competition and it is great recognition by the members and frequent flyer community to see such a positive response to the program development.

IF Why do you think you won for Best Elite?
Kool We have worked hard in the past year to introduce a much more personalized approach in our offers and communication and I think that helped to create a program in which our most loyal members are recognized with great offers at airBaltic and at our other 150 partners. We will also launch in the coming months a new tier level in our program which will address those members who are not frequent flyers per se, but who are true program ambassadors and use many different partners within the coalition. We will use our new crowd-sourcing platform (to be launched in 30 days) in our Facebook page, called BalticMiles Brainstorm, to get help from our members to create this new tier level, the qualification criteria and the corresponding benefits.

IF And why do you think you won a Freddie for Best Redemption Ability?
Kool One of the key starting points for the program has been to ensure we offer the richest rewards portfolio in our region, varying from free flights and upgrades to all kinds of popular merchandise, music, experiences, donations and auctions, so it was very good to see that this element of the program is well recognized. In many of our redemption items we also offer any combination of points plus cash, so this also makes it easier for members to use their points in the way they prefer.

IF How did you let members know to vote in the Freddies?
Kool Like most other programs, we alerted our members via our e-newsletter and asked them to show their support if they felt we were deserving to be recognized.

IF Did you receive any interesting reactions to winning?
Kool We did. Of course we celebrated it with all our existing partners during our annual partner event in Riga last week, but perhaps the most eye catching ones were a personal tweet by the Latvian Prime Minister, Mr. Dombrovskis, to congratulate us as well as a personal message from the Minister of Transport, Aivis Ronis in Latvia.

IF Why did airBaltic decide to split off from EuroBonus with its own FFP?
Kool The launch of BalticMiles in 2009 allowed airBaltic to build a much closer relationship with its most important customers. airBaltic sees BalticMiles as one of its strategic developments. It helps the airline to compete and drive revenue, differentiating it from regional competition, against low-cost carriers as well as full service carriers. It is also seen as a potential good investment to build the leading loyalty marketing company in Northern and Eastern Europe. With the launch of the crowd-sourcing platform, it will also support our initiatives to get further customer-driven innovation ideas, which are aimed at helping to build on airBaltic’s innovation efforts. airBaltic was recently recognized as one of the world’s top 10 most innovative airlines and our loyalty program plays an integral role in these strategic developments.

IF What do you think you’re able to do that a larger program might not?
Kool Our program is supported by the latest technology platforms, so by definition it is much easier for us to implement new ideas and partners in a very fast way. Just last year we added 100 new partners to our program and we have many new program developments planned for later this year. We took a good look at many of the other leading programs around the world, both in the airline and hospitality space, but also in many of the leading retailer programs and we try to bring best practices to our market in a fast way. As an example, I can mention our partner locator which is based on some of the structures in Aeroplan’s locator, while our relaunched e-newsletter has incorporated some nice features from the Qantas’ frequent flyer program. Implementing global best practices, plus some industry firsts, like a crowd-sourced new tier level, will ensure that our members feel the program aims to improve all the time for the benefit of the participants.

IF How is BalticMiles different from most other frequent flyer programs?
Kool We are aiming to build a hybrid between a retailer coalition program like Payback or Nectar on one hand and a traditional frequent flyer program like Miles & More or BA’s Executive Club on the other hand. Combined with smart technology, a high level of personalization for members and with a sense of innovation and trendiness, we are trying to carve out our area in the European loyalty landscape. BalticMiles is a separate organization from the airline, just like Aimia-Air Canada or Multiplus-TAM and with airBaltic as a strong supporting shareholder we are able to move fast in building program improvements for the benefit of our members and partners.

IF How do you keep your members engaged in the program?
Kool Great partners, great offers, great recognition when flying on airBaltic, customer collaboration via crowd-sourcing to give members a real stake in helping to build and further improve the program and simply just caring about every element of the program.

IF airBaltic doesn’t participate in a global airline alliance. Have you considered joining one?
Kool airBaltic operates from Riga, capital of Latvia, that sits in a unique geographical location on the Northeastern edge of the European Union. airBaltic connects 60 destinations in Europe, Middle East, Russia/CIS via its Riga hub. airBaltic’s specific geographic location and business model defines the strategy of partnerships–airBaltic is currently cherry picking partners from all global alliances, if cooperation is mutually beneficial. This allows us to have a wider pool of partners that are not bound by limitations and exclusivity of alliances. However, airBaltic is also evaluating joining a specific alliance.

IF What else can BalticMiles members expect to see in the near future?
Kool The launch of our crowd-sourcing platform in the next month, many new partners across the Baltics, Finland and Russia, plus some large global new partners, the launch of a ‘My Personal Promotions’ section on the website of just to name a few of the planned developments.

Capital One launched the Venture card in 2010 and has introduced lucrative promotions to draw attention to the card and acquire new customers. Capital One awarded one billion miles in 28 days this year through the “Double Miles Challenge” promotion and the billion miles offered in last year’s “Match My Miles” promotion were distributed just as quickly. The Capital One Venture card offers two miles per dollar spent on all purchases and cardholders can redeem miles for any travel expense, such as a hotel stay, flight and ground transportation costs. For example, you can redeem 10,000 miles for a $100 hotel stay. We spoke with Shane Holdaway about the Venture card.

Holdaway is the MVP of US Card at Capital One, with responsibility for leading the Upmarket Segment, Card Association Management, Customer Experience and Underwriting Operations. Before stepping into his current role, Holdaway held several leadership positions within the card business at Capital One. Prior to joining Capital One, Holdaway was a consultant with McKinsey & Company and worked for Authorize.Net, an Internet startup.

InsideFlyer Why did Capital One offer the Match My Miles and Double Miles promotions and did the response meet your expectations?
Shane Holdaway The fundamental premise behind both of these promotions is that we wanted to create a lot of noise around a phenomenal product. We wanted to shine a really bright spotlight on the Venture card and give customers the opportunity to try it and realize that switching to Venture is a no-brainer. Both promotions exceeded our expectations. It was pretty phenomenal that we gave the miles away in a few weeks and we’ve been pleased with that outcome.

IF Were you concerned that consumers would sign up for the credit card just for the bonus and then cancel?
Holdaway Any time you give away 100,000 miles and shout it from the housetops of network television you’re going to attract some people whose sole motive is to take the miles and leave. But we were really confident in our underlying product and that the vast majority of people would actually try the card and see the benefits and stick around. We’ve been really pleased this has been the case.

IF Why and when did Capital One first launch the Venture card?
Holdaway We launched it in March 2010. We looked across the market and saw there were many travel credit cards out there that created a lot of frustration for consumers. We felt there was an opportunity to create something that was very much in line with our No Hassle brand, a product that would not only allow customers to earn travel quickly through the double miles that Venture offers but also have a lot of flexibility built into the usage of those miles. You can use the miles and book travel anywhere with the Venture card. You don’t have to book through our website or a particular airline. You can book your travel with any website where you find the best deal. You can use your miles to pay for travel upfront or you can book travel with your Venture card and then redeem after the fact using your miles. And you can redeem for airfare, hotels, rental cars, etc., which adds to the flexibility. On top of that, we made it so there were no earn caps or mileage expiration. We feel the card is a great product for anyone who travels.

IF How is the Capital One Venture card different from more traditional mileage cards offered by the airlines and hotels? And is it a replacement for those cards or an addition?
Holdaway Absolutely a replacement. One of the big differences is the amount you earn. You get double miles, two miles for every dollar that you spend from day one on all purchases, and there’s no tiering. For example, with other products you earn a certain amount for the first $10,000 you spend and another amount for the next $10,000 and so on. With the Venture card, from day one you earn two miles for every dollar you spend. Also, there are no category differences. With some cards, you’ll earn different amounts for travel and dining and lesser amounts for other purchases. With Venture it’s double miles on everything.

The other difference is the flexibility of using those miles. When you get a traditional airline credit card, you can use those miles for that specific airline and you have to operate within the restrictions they have for booking travel using rewards points. For example, there are often dates that are blacked out or seats that are restricted, but because of the way we structure the Venture card, you can go out and get whatever seat on whatever airline at whatever time you want and the miles can be used to pay for those purchases. That flexibility is the big thing consumers love about the product. Lastly, the card is priced lower in terms of the fees and there are no foreign transaction fees–these are important considerations for our customers as well.

IF What is the average number of Capital One Venture miles members redeem for a flight?
Holdaway We typically don’t share specifics like that, but I can give you an idea of the general mechanism. We find that our cardholders typically will go to one of the major online travel sites and find the best deal they can get. Say you’re flying from D.C. to L.A. and the best ticket you can find is $350. What our customers will do is purchase that flight with their Venture card and then they go back to our online or mobile portal and pay for the ticket using their Venture miles. The simple math is to add two zeros to the price of the ticket and that’s how many miles you’ll need. There’s no complex tiering on the redemption side either. So for that $350 ticket from D.C. to L.A. you’ll need 35,000 miles to wipe that purchase right off your statement.

IF Can members redeem Venture miles for flights on any airline?
Holdaway Yes, as well as any hotels, car rentals and any other travel-related expense, such as baggage fees.

IF Can you give our readers tips on making the most of owning the card?
Holdaway My first tip is to put all of your spend on this card. Because you earn more miles per dollar spent on this card than any other, and there is no limit to the number of miles you can earn so you’re going to be able to really rack up the miles. The second tip is to shop around for the best travel deal you can get. We have a site that customers can use and we have pretty good deals there, but we encourage our customers to shop around and find the absolute best deal they can and then use their miles to pay for the travel. The last thing to make the most of the product is to sign up for the online servicing and download the Capital One banking app to your smartphone. We’ve really obsessed about our digital servicing experience. Our customers tell us they got the card because of the double miles and flexibility of redemption, but they also love it because of how easy it is to go through the Internet or on their smartphones and actually use the miles. We make redeeming miles as hassle free as possible.

IF Can you tell us of any new promotions coming soon? Or new benefits?
Holdaway We’re always looking for opportunities to promote this card. It’s a great product. We’re constantly looking for new ways to shine a bright spotlight on the card so you will see things over the next year that will continue to accomplish this objective. In addition, we’re always looking for new ways to improve the product and we listen closely to what our customers are telling us. We fully intend to continue to do so.

Mommy Pointsis a married, 30ish-year-old mom of a toddler and a BoardingArea blogger at Her two favorite blog topics to read include being a mom to a young kiddo and traveling. She started her blog to bring these two topics together and share with others how to travel without spending a dime by using points and miles. She is a self-professed “pointaholic” and is obsessed with both maximizing point earning and usage for her own family and helping others learn about points and miles.

InsideFlyer When and how did you first become interested in miles and points?
Mommy Points I first got interested in miles and points when I did some travel right after high school, but realized the real potential when I was at grad school in New York and flew back and forth to Texas to visit friends and family. I ended grad school with elite status and enough miles for a vacation for two to Hawaii. It was a nice graduation present to myself for travel that I was going to do anyway.

IF Why did you start blogging and how is your blog different from other travel blogs?
Mommy Points Basically, I started blogging because I ran out of people to convert to the world of miles and points in the “real world”. My husband loves computers and setting up websites, so he told me one day that he set up a blog for me to write about miles and points. I told him “thank you, but no thank you” as I had no desire to blog. (Truthfully, I barely even knew what having a blog meant.) A few weeks went by and I decided to write a post, mostly to show him that I tried it but didn’t like it. Well, after I wrote one post I wrote another, and another, and another and I was hooked. I quickly grew to love the idea of sharing miles and points info on a larger scale. When I started my site I had a 11/2-year-old child, and the main goal of almost all of our travel centered around her. Naturally, that was the goal of my site. At the time my site launched, I was not aware of another miles and points blogger who was blogging primarily from the point of view of family travel. I think that there are lots of folks in the world who want to find ways to show their kids more of the world, and stay connected with family members who are geographically separated, and they don’t care if they are sitting in Seat 1A or 33B while they are in transit. They just want to find a way to afford to get from Point A to Point B and I am here to help them do just that.

IF Do you have a favorite airline and hotel loyalty program?
Mommy Points My favorite airline by default is United. I grew up in Houston as a Continental girl, so was not thrilled with the idea of the merger, but primarily due to convenience issues, United is likely to remain in my #1 spot. I do also like that they have some good benefits for non-elite travelers who have their co-branded credit cards and they have pretty good award availability when it comes time to redeem. On the hotel front, Hyatt is my #1, followed closely by Starwood. I very much like the family-friendly benefits that come with Hyatt Diamond status such as confirmed suite upgrades and full breakfast for everyone in the room on award and paid stays. I also really enjoy the SPG loyalty program and the tremendous value that can be obtained from their cash and points stays.

IF A topic of debate that comes up frequently is whether bloggers are responsible for ruining deals by publicizing them. What is your take on that?
Mommy Points It’s clearly an entirely different context than the Hippocratic Oath, but ideally I think that as a blogger I should first and foremost “do no harm”. What that means will likely vary from person to person, but I do know that it is possible for some things to be ruined due to too much publicity. I think that for the most part, the things that would be ruined by publicity that bloggers can bring are loopholes that people have found in programs or promotions. For the most part, I don’t write about those sorts of things because doing so would bring no good to the people who are currently maximizing the loophole, as it may get shut down. I also don’t want to be a part of encouraging anyone to do something that is against the rules or intent of a program or promotion.

However, I do write about things that may be in limited supply. I feel that busy parents (or busy non-parents) shouldn’t be excluded from travel deals just because they aren’t able to be on their computer researching in miles and points forums for hours a day. I know that is a position that not everyone agrees with, but sharing those sorts of legitimate deals is something that I have done, and will continue to do. I don’t feel that is bringing harm to the promotion or resulting in the deal being ruined–it is just ensuring that my readers are informed about what is out there.

IF Along those same lines, have you ever not written about a promotion because you wanted fewer people to know about it (and therefore have less competition)?
Mommy Points Ha ha. My husband actually thought I was crazy when I wrote about one of the recent Daily Getaway Deals. We really wanted a package at the Mirage Hotel and Casino and there were only five available. When he saw the post I had written, he asked if I was really going to publish it as doing so would likely just increase the amount of competition for the already insanely low number of packages. I told him of course I was going to publish it–it was a publicly available deal, and I wasn’t going to not write about it just because I wanted it for myself. I decided that whatever was going to happen would happen, and in the end I was able to purchase one of the five packages. So, to answer the question, I don’t take my own wants or needs related to promotions into account when deciding what to publish or not publish. While I may miss out on a deal here or there, I certainly get more than my fair share of benefit from miles and points and am happy to spread the wealth around a bit.

IF Have you been able to convince your family and friends to collect miles and points? What do you say to the naysayers who don’t see the point of loyalty programs?
Mommy Points Yes, miles and points aren’t actually a hard sell. The harder sell is to get people to take it a step further and make earning rewards a part of everyday life. I have had mixed success with that, but those who have tried it have gotten hooked. To the naysayers, I say nothing in this world is for everyone. However, I can say with certainty that my family has gone on many trips that would not be possible without loyalty programs. In this day of fairly large credit card sign-up bonuses, you can travel the world for free even if you have never before set foot on an airplane or in a hotel room. So, people can naysay about loyalty programs, but the reality is that there is free travel out there just waiting for someone to take it.

IF Unlike many bloggers, you primarily redeem miles for coach. Why did you decide to splurge on US Airways Envoy Suites for an upcoming trip? Had you ever redeemed miles for business or first class before?
Mommy Points I redeem miles for coach, not because I don’t want to sit in first or business class, but because it’s just not feasible for me to always afford the mileage cost of a premium seat times three. I earn a fair number of miles and points–but not that many. My husband and I are taking a trip to Europe in early 2013 using the miles we earned from the 2011 US Airways Gland Slam. For 55,000 miles each (normally 60,000 but we got a 5,000-mile discount due to having the US Airways credit card), we were able to secure Envoy Suite seats during the off-peak season to Europe. We had earned the miles with that goal in mind, and are excited to enjoy our first international business class experience. We also have some domestic first class tickets booked for the three of us later this year for when we go to New York City to take our daughter to see all the Christmas splendor that it has to offer.

So, our travel will be a mix of domestic and premium cabin redemptions. For practical reasons, there will be more domestic trips than premium cabin trips, but for special vacations or long haul trips, we will try to avoid economy when we can afford to. In fact, our next “big” goal is Australia and New Zealand for the three of us in business class. I’m hoping to see the US Airways Grand Slam return in 2012 as that would push us over the threshold we need to start searching for those tickets.

IF You work, are married and have a toddler to care for. How do you find the time to blog?
Mommy Points For the first year that I ran Mommy Points, I did have a full-time job in addition to an active toddler, a husband and a house to try to keep running in an orderly fashion. It was very hard to find time to keep all the balls juggling in the air. Blogging took way more time than I ever imagined. It was normal for me to sneak a couple hours during the day to work on the blog, in addition to many hours after I put my kiddo down for bed in the evenings. It was a very rewarding experience, but it certainly took its toll on all of us. However, I recently left my full-time job to focus on my family and Mommy Points. It was a scary decision, but one that I think was the right call for my family.

IF What is one of the best trips you’ve taken with miles and points?
Mommy Points One of the more complicated and rewarding trips was actually getting many extended family members to Disney World at the same time. It was a combination of award redemptions and taking advantage of good paid deals, but having my daughter at Disney World with her four grandparents, two parents, aunts and uncles and two cousins was amazing. I never was able to have all four of my grandparents in the same place at the same time, so even though it was a domestic redemption in coach, it was still one of the best trips we have taken.

One day, the Maldives will be a fantastic redemption, but for now, getting to enjoy the magic of Disney and being with family is as good as it gets.

Wyndham Rewards has seven million active members who have access to over 7,000 hotels in 36 countries worldwide with which to earn and burn points. We recently spoke with Robin Korman from her office in New Jersey. Robin was appointed Senior Vice President, Loyalty Marketing in September 2009, overseeing Wyndham Rewards. Previously, she was Senior Vice President and General Manager at Chase Card Services where she was responsible for overseeing the company’s multi-billion dollar partner credit card portfolio. Prior to Chase, Korman spent seven years with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, serving first as Vice President, Global Loyalty Marketing leader, and later as Vice President, Brand Marketing Leader for Aloft Hotels and Element Hotels.

InsideFlyer Can you explain the difference between Wyndham ByRequest and Wyndham Rewards?
Robin Korman Wyndham ByRequest is a legacy program that began when Wyndham Hotels and Resorts was not part of the current hotel network. The idea was that you could provide a profile of the kinds of personalization that you wanted in your room, like the type of pillow you wanted, or for your room to be on a particular floor, whatever it might be, and they would ensure that your room and stay were personalized based on the profile you provided. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts became part of the larger hotel group in ’06 or ’07 and at that time, Wyndham Rewards was called TripRewards, if you remember, so the two programs were complementary because TripRewards was a point-based loyalty program and Wyndham byRequest was a hotel-based personalization program. Currently, we are working to integrate the two. Having two programs has not been the clearest communication to our customers so we are working to integrate the best of the two programs into one better program.

IF Wyndham has two concierge members on the FlyerTalk online community. What else is Wyndham doing in social media?
Korman We have a very active Facebook community and have used Facebook pretty extensively in the last year. We put up two online contests in 2011 that got a lot of traction and we are now using our Facebook page for our big Marvel Avengers promotion. There are a lot of different activities we have on our Facebook page including a launch pad into our micro site where customers can play Avengers-related games and answer trivia quizzes and sign up for our sweepstakes, which includes a package for a family of four to the Iron Man 3 red carpet premiere next year. We also do giveaways on Facebook and take content from Facebook and repurpose it for Twitter. Probably the most unique thing that we’re doing is in late November, we started to embrace TripAdvisor review and rating systems on the site. I believe we are the only U.S. based company currently that has TripAdvisor ratings and reviews directly on their site. So if a customer searches hotels in the Orlando area, they’ll get a list of our 35 hotels in Orlando and next to each hotel property listing, will be TripAdvisor ratings and the most recent customer reviews. It creates a really seamless and integrated experience because we know that 85 percent of people booking a room go to TripAdvisor to see the review there. So we’ve created a one-stop-shop. We’ll be rolling out those TripAdvisor ratings and reviews on our brand sites in the near future.

IF Along those same lines, how do you stay in touch with members and keep them engaged?
Korman We do a variety of different lifecycle-based promotions. When you’re a new member, you’ll get a welcome series of emails that introduce you to ways you can earn and redeem and information about our various partners. And then, we use a lot of promotional incentives to get people engaged. We also have initiatives around retention–we’ll go out with special offers to those who haven’t stayed with us as much as in the past to try to re-engage those customers. We also relaunched our credit card two years ago in July and we think the credit card is a great way for customers who might not stay as often to stay engaged in the program. So, there is a variety of different things that we do. We have a monthly e-newsletter which recaps the points that the customer has accrued and we have a rate email that goes out monthly that features our best rate offers. We are moving into the mobile and social media spaces as well.

IF According to the Wyndham Rewards 2, a concierge on FlyerTalk, “We do periodically change redemption levels, but they are not common. Unfortunately it is done without prior knowledge.” Why does Wyndham not warn members in advance that a redemption amount is changing? Why is this the policy?
Korman I wasn’t aware that we had a policy that we don’t warn members. I will say this, many hotel programs change their redemption tier levels once a year and will move hotels up and down on an annual basis. Wyndham Rewards has only really moved categories one time since 2004, when we moved a significant number of hotels up or down. So generally, our hotels stay pretty stable and stay within the same tier year after year. We have not really experienced any dramatic moves up or down for our hotels so we think that is something very helpful for consumers when they’re striving to stay at a particular hotel. We’re really proud of the fact that we keep very stable tier levels for our hotels. And when we have made a change, it’s often because a hotel wants more redemptions, and we’ve moved them down a tier. Should we decide in the future to do any kind of dramatic change, we would certainly let our members know that the change was taking place and we would honor the redemption level for any booked redemptions we had.

IF What are some of the “stars” in your award chart?
Korman The most redemptions are for free nights and that’s not surprising. And again, we’ve kept stable redemption tiering so people can plan and feel comfortable that the hotel will be at the same tier level as they anticipated. We also see a big appetite for gift cards and generally what you see, especially in recessionary times, people tend to drift more towards gift cards because they are very utilitarian and they tend to be a good value. Our best sellers tend to be those that are very utilitarian for people–Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowes, Target, Shell Gas–those are the ones with the most appeal for our customers.

We added a lot of different options to our redemption chart about a year and a half ago so now you can redeem for merchandise and events and things like sports, concert, theme park and movie tickets–all kinds of things like that. But we still see that the predominant redemption patterns seem to be free nights and gift cards.

IF With all the talk of revenue-based programs recently, do you think hotels will go that direction with free night hotel awards–tying the points needed into the cost of the room?
Korman It’s funny because that was a question that Randy asked at a panel after the Freddies recently. My answer is similar to the same answer I gave then, and that is that hotel program awards are based on revenue. Basically, hotel redemptions are put into tiers based on their average daily rate. So, if you are looking at a Tier 3 hotel, it’s in the Tier 3 because the average daily rate is the driver for where it sits. As you probably know, we reimburse, as do our competitors, based on the average daily rate. So, as an industry, we are already basing the number of points needed on the average daily rate that that hotel commands. And for us to actually get to the point where we are literally paying on a given night what that hotel room costs would present a technology difficulty that right now, I don’t think any hotel would want to take on. But as an example, our Ramada New Yorker commands more points than our Ramada in Orlando, even though it’s the same brand, we need to reimburse the owner of the New York property a certain amount, so that’s why we have to charge that many points to the consumer. So, it really is a revenue-based model, it just isn’t literally based on a nightly basis. Most hotel programs have six to eight tiers, and if you look at airlines, it’s basically a domestic ticket for 25,000 miles whether you’re flying from here to Boston or here to California.

IF Any news from the program?
Korman We’ve been expanding internationally and we’ve added a couple of new partners; we just added Qatar and Turkish Airlines. We just sent out a press release about the addition of boutique hotels to the Wyndham Rewards program. We have three boutique-like hotels that have joined the Wyndham hotels group, and those are Dream, Night and TRYP by Wyndham. TRYP has about 90 hotels, typically in Latin America and Europe, although we just opened one up in New York a few months ago and there is one in Quebec City. Dream and Night are small boutique-like hotels in major cities and now you can earn and redeem at those additional properties. We also just added a charity partner called Hotels for Heroes. It’s being developed by the Department of Defense and the idea is very similar to the Miles for Heroes program that was launched a few years ago. Hotel program members can donate their points to the fund and then those points are distributed by the Department of Defense to families of veterans or active duty military who need hotel rooms. We are one of the launch partners and have donated 10 million points, which is equivalent to at least 1,000 room nights, to jump start the fund. So those points can be used by military families, and our members can donate their points for a very, very worthy cause. We are currently running our promotion with Marvel, The Avengers, and that promotion is essentially stay two times between March 29th and July 8th and earn two movie tickets. We also offer double points or miles for booking online. We’ll be following this up with a rich summer promotion in the third week of July once the Avengers promotion expires that will run into the fall timeframe.

IF What does Wyndham offer frequent travelers that some of the larger hotel companies do not offer?
Korman Well, I would say that we probably are the largest hotel company. We have 7,000 hotels and we have 15 brands, so I would say that there’s nobody who has more hotels or more brands in their line up than we do. I think the things that we uniquely bring to the frequent traveler, the member, is basically free WiFi at every one of our hotels for members. I don’t know if there’s another program that actually can say that they give free WiFi across every brand if they are a member of the program. Recent research showed that free WiFi is now the benefit that people are most looking for when they go to a hotel; it’s actually surmounted free breakfast as the most desired benefit. So we’re happy to be able to provide that to all of our members. Most of our hotels provide free breakfast. And Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Wingate brands also provide snacks at check-in for members of the program. That’s a recognition piece that I think allows our hotels to really differentiate, especially at the higher end, where we’re competing with brands that have extensive full-service features.

IF Which is your favorite Wyndham property or a couple of favorites?
Korman We just opened an amazing property in Orlando called Wyndham Grand Bonnet Creek. It’s on the Disney property–an easy, free shuttle ride away from all the Disney parks and is an amazingly beautiful property. And then I would say, our Dream properties, a brand that just came on recently, are amazing.

IF Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Korman We find that our members don’t always seem to know the breadth of our portfolio and when they find out about all of the brands that they can stay in to collect points, they are amazed. They really are taken aback by how many ways they can earn points and aggregate those up to some pretty amazing stays. We have something for everyone, all the way from the very budget-minded, off-the-road kind of traveler all the way up to some amazing, beautiful resorts with our Wyndham Grand collection.

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