Do hotel loyalty programs irritate the management?
July 12, 2010 9:59 AM   Subscribe

You: hotel manager. Me: regular stayer racking up hotel loyalty points. Do you think I'm a freeloader or a loyal customer?

Some of the comments on this question have gotten me thinking. There were a couple of references to hotel loyalty points users as being "freeloaders". I'm just about to start life as a regular hotel-stayer (3 nights a week, 32 weeks a year) and I've joined a loyalty program. Soon the points (goldpoints) will start racking up; I'll get gold status blah blah blah and be able to book rooms for points plus cash. I've always assumed that having "gold status" would mean I was treated *better* because I'm a regular return customer - but am I going to be filed under "freeloader" instead? (I'm not talking about suite upgrades etc, I'm talking about hotel staff muttering about me under their breath and "forgetting" to clean stuff) And no, I'm not one of those people who steals the free breakfasts ;-)
posted by media_itoku to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That makes no sense. How is it the employees' business how your stay is paid for, as long as it's considered paid? I suppose some people might think that since tips are usually proportionate to the amount they paid, they can give less in tips if they're paying less for the stay. I would imagine that as long as you continue to provide healthy tips, it shouldn't matter.
posted by amethysts at 10:06 AM on July 12, 2010

There's nothing 'freeloading' about taking advantage of the services that are deliberately put in place to entice customers into spending rather huge amounts of money at their hotel - 96 nights in a hotel over a year is a rather massive chunk of change, no matter how sparse the room. These 'gold points' are put in place specifically to provide an incentive for you to spend more and more time at their hotel specifically. That's radically different than saying "could I get 700 packets of cream cheese, in a 'to-go' cooler, please?"
posted by FatherDagon at 10:06 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

My read of that in the original thread was that the people who use points to stay for free are also likely to be the ones who take half a loaf of bread from the free breakfast. Not that one is a freeloader simply by cashing in their points. Though I'll admit I didn't read the entire thread. Got a little pedantic for me.

I don't work in the industry, but as a travel writer I've seen lots and lots (and lots and lots!) of blog entries and articles about how to most efficiently use such programs to score freebies. Those programs exist for a reason - because hotel chains want to reward their repeat customers. If the management looks poorly on someone who chooses to do so and otherwise behaves reasonably, they should perhaps look into not being affiliated with the chain in question. It seems to me to be a necessary tradeoff in order to reap the benefits of associating with a particular brand.

And I highly doubt that people at the level of cleaners, etc even care (or even know who are the point-casher-inners and who are the full-pricers).

If you want to check out a site that frequently runs pieces about business travel and maximizing your rewards points, check out gadling.
posted by Sara C. at 10:08 AM on July 12, 2010

Having worked front desk at a franchise of a major up-market hotel chain I'd say you'd be looked at as a valued customer, not a freeloader.

The hotel I worked for was located near a fairly significant regional tourist attraction. hotel prices were about 100% higher in my town than twenty miles away, and they were about 100% more expensive in the summer than the winter. The vast majority of our profits came from June, July, August, and the beginning of September.

But if I understood our financials correctly, a huge chunk of hotel revenue comes from business travelers. Taking them away, especially regular ones, would not only have wiped out our profits but put us fairly into the red.

One regular who spends two nights a week at the hotel at $75 a night, a significant discount from our retail price, 45 weeks a year means $6750 of annual revenue. Even though we charged tourists $300 a night during the summer, that's still three weeks of room-nights, the same as renting out almost a quarter of the hotel for an evening. Just from one guy. We had about six people who did that, plus about a dozen businesses that would send us all of their custom.

So again, if my understanding is accurate, if you took away our tourist season we'd have just barely scratched out a profit, but if you took away our business travelers we couldn't have kept the lights on between October and April.

And that's the other thing that makes business travelers important: they travel all year, not just during the summer, which means revenue during otherwise empty months. Other than the summer, business travelers constituted the majority of our business.

So no, our regulars were never looked down on, at least not by the desk staff, i.e. the employees mostly likely to interact with guests.* Quite the contrary, management emphasized that regulars were to get what passed for the royal treatment at our non-full-service hotel.

I doubt our housekeepers actually knew who any of our guests were. They didn't even have the ability to check the system to see who was checked in, I don't think, only whether the room had been checked out yet.
posted by valkyryn at 10:16 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I work in a retail store that has a points system to reward repeat customers. They get to spend the points like cash off their purchases.

Personally speaking, I care more about the fact that someone gives me their points card before the transaction is finished than I do about the fact that they're using it. Which is to say, I don't care very much at all. It makes little difference to me as a lowly cashier, because I don't get paid any more or less by someone using it or not. I can't see Head Office being anything other than pleased, because repeat sales (which these points offers are designed to induce) are much better for business.

I think the problem in the previous thread was that the hotel owners weren't in complete control of the business. They got stiffed both ways.
posted by Solomon at 10:19 AM on July 12, 2010

I commuted across the country (SF to NY) for 4 months Sunday night thru Wed night. I racked up lots of points. I was treated like gold (pun intended). I was doing it so long, I would leave my clothes and the hotel would dry clean them and have them hanging in my room when I got there. Sometimes no charge and sometimes much reduced from hotel list prices. When I used my points at other hotels or simply used my card at check in to get more points, I was treated as a great loyal customer. I never once got the stink eye for freeloading. I think what may be relevant is the quality and level of hotel. Four Seasons/Ritz hotel loyalists are much different than Comfort Inn. There are all sorts of levels in between. I have not traveled for business for several years now and I still get treated great. I was never considered a free loader, but I did also always remember to tip especially well when I was not paying.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:25 AM on July 12, 2010

Having worked front desk at a franchise of a major up-market hotel chain I'd say you'd be looked at as a valued customer, not a freeloader.

What kind of compensation does the franchise get on behalf of customer who pays via "points"? Does the corporate HQ pay the franchise owner in cash when a "points" transaction is entered, or does the franchise owner have to "eat" the cost of housing that customer as part of his obligations as a franchise-owner?
posted by deanc at 10:29 AM on July 12, 2010

I also work for a major hotel chain, and our regulars, and those that pay in points, are actually treated BETTER than the run of the mill guests you may never see again. Sure, we make our best effort to treat every guest like they're special, but the fact that the guy who comes every week and pays about 50 dollars less than RACK rate knows who I am, and I recognize his voice when he calls on the phone affords him a better experience than some stranger.

In fact, we're actually trained to recognize the fact that a guest is paying with points and THANK them for their dedication to our brand. We're also trained to congratulate guests when they reach upgrade status.

The one downside is that we rarely upgrade points stays, unless it's an upper tier regular or someone who has specifically requested an upgrade either in person or over the phone.

Valkyryn is right on the money about a regular bringing in WAY more money in the long run than a transient traveler. At our chain, we can actually bring up a report that shows how much revenue has been generated by a given guest at our property, at our chain, and at our hotel family as a whole. It's pretty staggering when you see guys who spend 300 days a year at a hotel. These are the guests we bend over backwards to please.

If you haven't seen "Up in the Air" yet, that movie is 100% on the money when it comes to business travelers.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 11:43 AM on July 12, 2010

I think the OP in the other post was saying he'd noticed a correlation between people staying on points and people taking too much food and THAT'S why he thought they were freeloaders. But unless he was actually keeping accurate records of how much food each customer was taking and then doing some data analysis, that could just be confirmation bias talking. Further complicating that situation is that hotel chain is in the budget market and thus attracts a cheaper clientele. If the chain you're staying with is more upscale, then you probably don't have to worry as much about the perception being left by your fellow loyalty club members' behavior.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:53 PM on July 12, 2010

Second-hand experience, but I have a number of friends in the hotel biz.

Yes, there is a flavor of cheapskate jerk who is of COURSE a loyalty points customer and expects to be a jerk and get treated like a king.

And then there's the vast majority of points-users who are non-jerky people who can't even dream up the jerky cheapskate stuff that the jerky cheapsakes pull.

Moral: Unless you think in capital letters of outrage, are consumed with "getting your fair share!" and tend toward paranoia, and are so massively insecure that you proactively sneer at the staff, you're a valued points-accumulating regular customer and are regarded as such.
posted by desuetude at 9:33 PM on July 12, 2010

Best answer: I work in guest relations. It is my job to bring you back, again and again. Reading over that breakfast post, I actually think the OP was disparaging not just rewards programs but 3rd party booking sites like Expedia. Those can be tough to love if you work in the industry. Expedia and its ilk fill my rooms, but they do so at minimal profit, cause a fair amount of hassle, and send a lot of aggravating, freeloading guests our way. Those would be the types of guests I think the Comfort Inn owner was railing about; whenever I'm chewed out because someone couldn't park their massive 4x4 with trailer, I can just see piddling profit margins dancing over their head, and I wonder if it's at all worth it. But the booking sites have made themselves part of the industry, like it or not; without TripAdvisor, no one would ever hear about us, and we'd have dreaded empty rooms.

Rewards programs, on the other hand, I love. They are magical for guest relations; when a regular calls, I can have them checked into their favorite room type, place out their favorite magazines or papers (Mr. Smith loves the Chicago Tribune, so I stop by a stand for it in the morning), send up a wine they fancy, or just set the thermostat to 62 because that's where they always leave it. My job is to make people feel welcome and cared for, and rewards programs give me the familiarity I need to do that. It's good for the hotel, because they get the benefit of repeat business (and 50 discounted nights a year is far more profitable than 20 rack rates), and it's good for you, because you'll be staying there anyway, and you might as well reap the rewards, so to speak.

With that said, be good to the staff. It's not even a question of tipping (though we love that, and depend on it income-wise). I smile when I see a regular's name on my arrival list, if I know that they are friendly, understanding of small issues, and appreciative of the extra distance we go for them. I frown when I see a regular who is well known for making issues, making the staff uncomfortable (female desk agents and housekeepers have some really, really uncomfortable interactions with creepy guests), getting hammered and belligerent, etc. Once in a great while, we'll blacklist someone who costs us more than they are paying, or who simply make us feel unsafe. Work on making a good impression (which doesn't have to mean dropping huge tips, but just being nice at check-in even if you've had a long trip, remembering names, not trashing rooms, etc), and you really will be a valued customer, honestly.
posted by unique_id at 3:50 AM on July 13, 2010

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