It’s time to rethink loyalty tiers
It’s time to rethink loyalty tiers
23 AUGUST 2019 7:00 AM

Hotel brand loyalty schemes are built around amassing nights to reach ever loftier tiers of benefits, but in a world where guests crave instant gratification, why hold all those benefits in big bundles slightly out of reach?

I began this year with high hopes of reaching the next tier in my top hotel brand loyalty program. As the year has gone on and travel plans have shifted, I’ve come to the realization that I’ll probably fall just short of that goal.

Well not “just short,” I guess. If I were a night or two away, I’d definitely find an excuse to squeak out an extra stay somewhere to get the next level of elite benefits. But I’m closer to the range of four or five nights away in my best case scenario, and finding contrived reasons to get that number of extra nights seems less worth the added hassle and cost.

This is a bit frustrating given that I spent noticeably more time at this particular hotel brand family than last year, and had made a concerted effort in travel planning to get most out of that particular loyalty membership. As a (definitely older) millennial, I often take note at brand conferences when people say my generation isn’t truly loyal in the sense brands would like them to be and how we’re all members of every loyalty program, so we’re not actually loyal to any of them.

While it is true that I’ve at least signed up for most of the programs, I bristle at that characterization because I clearly have the one program I focus on given how I get a disproportionate benefit from it compared to the others.

But the fact that the next tier is seemingly just out of reach has disinclined me through the rest of the year for prioritizing that family of brands over others, and in fact has given me reason to explore other brands to see if there’s something out there I might like more.

I spent a little bit of time thinking about this over the last couple of days, and I’ve come to the conclusion that if I were given control over one of these massive hotel loyalty schemes for a day, the first change I would make would be to make them less driven by reaching more and more difficult tiers and more about unlocking smaller, accumulating benefits from each stay.

Another cliché I often hear about young people’s travel and booking behaviors is more and more they crave instant gratification for their simulacrum of loyalty. But unlocking some new level of loyalty perk, no matter how small, is more satisfying in that regard than getting an extra free bottle of water (but also keep giving me free bottled water).

For example: Marriott Bonvoy, the largest of the hotel loyalty programs, unlocks “Silver Elite” benefits at 10 nights and “Gold Elite” benefits at 25 nights. The improvements you get as a loyal guest for staying those extra 15 nights include room upgrades, better points accumulation, better late checkouts, welcome gifts (in the form of additional points). Then the jump from Gold to “Platinum Elite” (which is an extra 25 days for a total of 50) gives you a similar points boost along with things like lounge access and better welcome gifts.

But why do all of these individual benefits have to be tiered off at the same level? If you gave people better upgrades at say 15 nights, then late checkout at 20 with a small “gift” (points or otherwise) at some stay in between those two, wouldn’t you be incentivizing more travelers to look to your brand first in situations like mine where they otherwise wouldn’t need or want to?

You could even make it so incremental that every single night stayed at your brand accrued some extra benefit, however small it may be. And instead of awarding tiers like silver, gold, etc., you could just give them an elite score and gamify the entire process.

Admittedly, these changes would be more likely to appease the lower-level loyalty members than the super elites, but there’s no reason you couldn’t run enhancements at that end of the spectrum in tandem. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see some of the heaviest of travelers getting competitive about those elite scores, or wearing them as a badge of honor. Not all of those 100 night-plus guests are equal, after all.

What do you think? Let me know via email or on Twitter.

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