2016 Winter Hotel Promotions: Starwood, Hilton, IHG

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While hotel companies offer several small promotions throughout the year, most have a big “achievement-based” bonus every three or four months, and we’re at the point when they are starting to announce winter offers. One thing I like about this set of promotions: Every hotel in each company below is participating. In the past, there has always been a long list of non-participating hotels, but that trend seems to be slowing. So far, we have gotten promotions from Starwood, Hilton and InterContinental (IHG), with Marriott still at the end of its four-month MegaBonus promotion and Hyatt still in a holding pattern.

Starwood: SPG Take Two

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Starwood is offering double points at all hotels on stays of two nights or more. The two-night requirement is obviously a limiting factor on earning points and compares unfavorably with the Hilton promotion below, which has double points on all stays. Other than that, though, there are very few restrictions on this one. As an added bonus, stays of any length at participating properties will earn an additional 250 SPG points. Not exactly what I would call heroic, but I’ll take my points where I can get them.

Other Notes

You must register for the promotion by April 10 and it runs from January 11, 2016 through April 30. Only the two base points you earn per dollar spent get doubled; bonuses you get for elite status are not. And remember to make your purchase through a Starwood site or a GDS-equipped travel agent. Those made at third party agencies, such as Expedia or Travelocity, will not only earn no bonus but will also cost you your regular points and elite benefits.

Hilton: Double Your HHonors

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A straight double, so to speak. Double points or double miles from January 1-April 30, 2016 through Double Your HHonors. If you have a Hilton American Express Card or a Hilton American Express Surpass Card, you’ll also receive 1,000 HHonors points after your first stay during the promotional period (when you pay with your card, of course).

For those who are less familiar with the Hilton program, it offers a unique “double-dip” earnings style. If you want only Hilton HHonors (HH) points, you will earn a base of 10 points per dollar spent (five at Home2 Suites) plus a “double-dip” bonus of five points per dollar spent (2.5 at Home2 Suites). If you want a mix of points or miles, you’ll still get the 10 HH base points per dollar spent, but you’ll get one mile per dollar spent on most airlines as your double-dip (up to 100 miles at Home2 Suites). A few of the brands only offer points on room rate, but most will include everything on your final bill (except taxes, of course).

This promotion will double either your base points or your miles for the duration of the promotion. If you choose miles, make sure your HH earnings style is set to “Points with Miles.” If you need to change your earnings style, sign into your account and go to your account page. On the left, under “My Profile,” click on “Preferences,” where you will be able to update your choice. Yes, this process is unnecessarily complicated. Since only the base points are doubled, those who have chosen points as their double-dip will receive 25 points (2*10 plus the 5 double dip) per dollar, not 30.

Other Notes

The best thing about this promotion is that there are no complications. No excluded properties, no minimum stays. Yes, you do have to book through an eligible channel (like Starwood above) and only base points are doubled, but otherwise, it looks like a pretty good promotion.

IHG: Accelerate

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I think the brown and orange color scheme really adds something.

 

 

I’ve never liked the term “loyalty program.” I may be splitting hairs, but I think a better name would be “Influence Your Future Behavior (IYFB) program.” Granted, that’s harder to say and doesn’t sound quite as benevolent as the former, but that’s really what they’re doing, offering you points in exchange for your future bookings.* If they could get the same amount (or more) revenue by offering you fewer points, they would do so.

No promotion is more indicative of an IYFB program than IHG’s Accelerate (or similar ones that it has offered over the past). Every member is given a different set of “challenges,” such as staying a certain amount of nights, visiting a certain number of brands, getting a credit card (or using it to pay your bill), etc. during the first four months of 2016.

But here’s where it gets interesting: The more “loyal” you’ve been to IHG, the more difficult your individualized offer. For example, I almost never stay at an IHG brand so, in the “Big Win” promotion that took place earlier this year, I got a promotion that was so easy to complete that I was able to finish it with one stay. Here was my offer for the fall promo:

*Stay once and get 5,000 points
*Stay five nights and get 6,800 points
*Earn 2,000 points when booking a “Bonus Points Package”
*Book and pay for your stay with your IHG Rewards Club Credit Card
*Complete 3 of the above 4 and earn an additional 34,700 points

I had a credit card from a previous promotion (Activity 4) and used it to pay for one room (Activity 1) at a Bonus Points rate (Activity 3, at a rate that cost me $4 more than the base rate and gave me additional points for the stay.). Since I only had to complete three of four to get the Achievement Bonus of 34,700 points, I got a total of 43,200 points, enough for a stay at almost any property they have, for under $100.

Of course, this time around it wasn’t so easy. They had already given me the “gateway drug offer.” Now, they’re going to see if I’m hooked. Here’s my current offer for Accelerate:

*5,000 points to stay once in January
*5,000 points for one stay (combinable with the January stay)
*6,000 points to stay 3 nights
*3,000 points to stay 3 more nights
*3,000 points to stay 3 more nights
*3,000 points to stay 3 more nights
*15,000 points to stay 3 more nights

Ugh. Now, I have to stay 16 nights total and max out at 40,000 points. And that one night that got me 43,200 points in the last iteration of this promotion? Now it will only get me 10,000. Sorry, IHG, I think I’m going to pass.

But my target was nothing compared to others that I’ve seen. If you’ve had a lot of stays with them over the past year, your target might be as high as 40 or 50 nights during the promo period for the “big” bonus (Obviously, your potential earnings will be higher.). If you travel internationally, you may get asked to stay in a certain number outside of your home country while, if they think you travel a lot for business, they make ask for a certain amount of spend on food and beverage (I corresponded with one person who got a $2,000 F&B requirement for one of their targets. Hope they plan a lot of parties.). The fact that you’ve been “loyal” to them by staying with them frequently will just get you a harder promotion, as they look to push your incremental business even higher. Usually, they will give you targets at least tangentially related to your previous behavior, so someone with a credit card, for instance, who hasn’t used it in a while, might get a card-related offer.

But don’t worry, if you “backslide” with them, they may make your offers easier again in the future. The last time they ran this promotion back-to-back, my offers went from easy to hard. And then, when I failed to complete the hard one, they made it easy again. Sometimes the best way to earn points is not to be loyal at all.

Other Notes

This promotion has a history of being, well, an administrative nightmare, and IHG doesn’t help. Categories are often poorly defined. People are often given impossible or illogical tasks (e.g., use an IHG credit card when you don’t have one, stay three nights in a foreign country when you’ve never traveled internationally, stay on a corporate rate even if you don’t have one, etc.). They forget how to count (They’ll give you five activities and tell you that you will get your bonus when you complete 3 out of 4.) or, my personal favorite, change the requirements a few weeks into the promotion period, which happened to many people in the fall. Helpful hint: As soon as your promotion comes out, save it with a screen shot.

 

 

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*I have no problem with that, by the way. Hotel and transportation companies are businesses and if awarding points is a way to generate more business, then everyone wins. Ultimately, they report to their shareholders.

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