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What You Need to Know About Hotel Loyalty in 2017

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Photo courtesy Le Meridien Philadelphia

We’re here to make sure you maximize your points and perks.

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Loyalty program allegiance seems to be getting quite the overhaul in the airline industry these days, but, thankfully, there have been fewer negative changes when it comes to your favorite hotel brands. For some time, hotels have awarded points based on how much someone spends, a change that frequent fliers are grappling with these days. Aside from changing the number of points needed to redeem for a free night, hotel programs rarely downgrade their benefits in the same way that airlines seem to do.

In the coming year, plot your hotel stays carefully to enjoy maximum benefits. Here are some important news items to factor into your strategy for the coming year.

1. Marriott-Starwood join forces . . . partially.
The world’s largest network of hotels offers incredible reach both geographically and in the breadth of its brands. The merger between Marriott and Starwood means great value for its loyalty program. What’s important to know for frequent guests, however, is that Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest will continue to operate separately in the coming year. While you can combine points across programs to earn and burn points at any of the brands, elite status earning is not combining. This means you must choose one program in which to earn points and elite status; combining elite night or stay credits is not an option.

Sticking with Marriott in the new year could be really exciting thanks to innovative things happening within its brands. Flagship Marriott, for example, has created its Innovation Lab hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, designed to test rotating features that appeal to Gen X travelers: things like on-demand workout videos in the gym and locally sourced retail and food selections on offer. Guests can also access free TED Talks content on in-room TVs and online to draw inspiration during their stay.

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TownePlace Suites, Marriott's extended-stay brand favored by frequent business travelers, is introducing a program where guests can borrow everything from cooking equipment to space-saving storage pieces from the Container Store. Le Meridien is launching new, high-end toiletries in bathrooms from Malin+Goetz; brands like Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, Westin, and Le Meridien are growing the worldwide rollout of keyless room entry (via mobile phone Bluetooth capability instead of traditional key); and design-focused W Hotels is adding hotels in Amman, Dubai, Goa, Panama City, Suzhou, and Shanghai.

2. Fairmont President’s Club sticks around
Accor Hotels purchased FRHI Hotels & Resorts this year, but has announced that the Fairmont President’s Club program will continue to operate through 2017 (instead of being merged into Accor’s program). While travelers do not accrue points for free stays under Fairmont’s program, it has always been a traveler favorite, giving guests the chance to earn free nights and upgrade certificates after a certain number of stays. Plus, there are free perks just for joining, like free high-speed wireless Internet and the Fairmont Fit program, which delivers workout attire and equipment to guest rooms free of charge.

Still, Platinum members of Fairmont’s program were given the chance to match to Platinum status in Accor’s Le Club program, giving members hundreds of new hotels at which to enjoy their elite status. As with Marriott and Starwood, the combined program will take a while to create, but in the meantime, members can still take advantage of benefits.

3. World of Hyatt launches
Hyatt is winding down its existing Gold Passport program and replacing it with World of Hyatt in March. Existing elite members can continue to enjoy their status through 2017, including some new benefits that are in the cards. Currently, the loyalty program has two elite levels, but it will soon grow to three.

World of Hyatt has some exceptional benefits for those who stay more than 60 nights a year, with bonuses like confirmed suite upgrades (including on award stays) and a private concierge to handle all of your Hyatt reservations or account requests. Anyone who qualified for Diamond status for the coming year under Gold Passport will automatically become Globalist, which is the new program’s top level. On top of that, when the new program launches, anyone with Globalist status will automatically get a free award night—just because.

If you qualified for Platinum for the coming year, you will get a boost to Explorer status (the new program’s midlevel tier). This comes with the option for club level upgrade certificates, room upgrades, and a free hotel night when requalifying for status.

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4. Double dip with Hilton HHonors
The Hilton family of brands has long had an ace up its sleeve when it comes to the loyalty program. Guests get the chance to double dip earning both airline miles and hotel points on a single stay (other loyalty programs give the option for just one of those). Hilton HHonors also lets you decide to earn double hotel points instead of also earning airline miles (perhaps the best value). If you’re on the hunt for a new loyalty program, Hilton HHonors helps you to rack up points quickly.

Hilton’s family of hotels has great plans for the new year, too. For example, Doubletree, famous for its free (and warm) cookies given to guests as a welcome gift, is working with bartenders to create specific cookie and cocktail pairings.

The new Curio Collection consists of independent boutique hotels that reflect the regional style of their city and is adding properties to its portfolio at a rapid clip. This is an appealing option for those who value points but don’t want to give up individuality. Curio properties are opening in cities like Kansas City and New York and internationally in China, Honduras, Italy, and Qatar.

5. Go rogue
There are lots of great loyalty programs out there, but depending upon your travel patterns, it is important to not limit your experience based upon the choice of hotels at the destination. This is a theme for many air travelers, too—they are considering ditching loyalty programs and picking the flight that is cheapest or works best for their schedule.

For many, this plan works for hotel stays, too. Don’t forget you can still earn rich rewards by booking hotels through mileage-earning hotel sites such as Rocketmiles, or credit card travel services like American Express Travel, where you can earn bonus points, dining or spa credits, and potential room upgrades. Citi Prestige even comps the fourth night of a stay when paid with its card. For many, these benefits are far more valuable than loyalty programs.

Even Airbnb stays are eligible for earning airline miles these days; both Delta and Virgin America award miles for booking home stays through their dedicated links. Study your earning options and decide what works best for you to score big in 2017.

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