Getting Our “Just Rewards” in Airline and Hotel Loyalty Programs

If you think your airline or hotel rewards program is “merely mediocre” … you’re likely not alone.

Rewards ProgramsU.S. News & World Report’s just-published annual listing of the best and worst rewards programs in the airline and hotel industries is confirming what many people already suspect: some of America’s biggest loyalty programs are also some of the least liked.

Let’s start with the airlines. USN&WR ranked the ten largest programs on a variety of attributes including the ease of redeeming points for free flights and hotel stays.

Best Airline RewardsThe three best performing airline rewards programs do include two with high participation rates — American and Southwest:

  • #1: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • #2: American Airlines AAdvantage
  • #3: Southwest Rapids Rewards

But three other programs, including two of the biggest ones — United and Delta — bring up the rear:

  • #8: United MileagePlus
  • #9: Delta SkyMiles
  • #10: FREE SPIRIT

Ranked in between are four other airline rewards programs, generally ones with fewer participants because of the smaller size and narrower geographic reach of the airlines involved:

  • #4: JetBlue TrueBlue
  • #5: HawaiianMiles
  • #6: Virgin America Elevate
  • #7: Frontier EarlyReturns

As for which airline rewards programs experienced significant changes in their rankings between this report and last year’s, the biggest shift was JetBlue, which fell from the top-ranked position in 2014 to fourth place in the latest ranking.

Hotel Rewards Programs

Best Hotels RewardsUSN&WR took the same approach with hotel rewards programs, but evaluated a larger group of 18 programs. The five best-ranked hotel programs are the following ones:

  • #1: Marriott Rewards
  • #2: Wyndham Rewards
  • #3 (tie): Best Western Rewards and Club Carlson
  • #5: IHG Rewards Club

Marriott’s top ranking is a repeat from the 2014 USN&WR rankings, and it’s due to maintaining high strength in the three-legged stool of critical factors: having an extensive hotel network; a relatively lower requirement for earning and redeeming free hotel stays; and generous “extras” as part of its membership perks.

Also noteworthy was Wyndham Rewards ascent to the #2 position from #7 a year earlier.  Its dramatic improvement was attributable to changing its program policies to allow members to redeem a night’s hotel stay for a flat rate of 15,000 points across the board.

At the other end of the scale were these low-ranked rewards programs:

  • #14:  Kimpton Karma Rewards
  • #15: Le Club Accorhotels
  • #16: Fairmont President’s Club
  • #17: iPrefer
  • #18: Loews YouFirst

The worst programs score that way because in comparative terms, they lack easy ways to earn points.  Also, in many cases their geographic coverage and/or property diversity is lacking.

[Perhaps the bottom-ranked program will need to change its name to Loews YouLast …]

For the record, the hotel rewards programs that came in the middle of the pack are these:

  • #6: Leaders Club
  • #7: La Quinta Returns
  • #8: Starwood Preferred Guest
  • #9: Hilton HHonors
  • #10: Hyatt Gold Passport
  • #11: Choice Privileges
  • #12: Stash Hotel Rewards
  • #13: Omni Select Guest

More information about the USN&WR rewards program rankings for both industries can be found here.

What about your personal experience with various airline and hotel programs? Do you have one or two particular favorites? Or ones you’ve decided to stay away from at all costs? Please share your perspectives with other readers.

Hotel brands and social media: Leading and following at the same time?

If you want to see an industry that’s using social media to best advantage, you needn’t look any further than the hotel trade.

hotels on FBMore than any other industry segment, hotel brands seem to have gotten a very good handle on the whole “local/global” concept.

Hotel properties that are part of a large chain or group originate from the main brand, of course.  And yet, the nature of the business means that they are individual entities as well, across the country and around the world.

For this reason, many local hotels that are part of larger chains have established their own individual social profiles.  That’s turned out to be a great way to attract more consumer engagement compared to social pages that are focused on global hotel branding.

Moreover, the social profiles of hotel properties are the perfect vehicle for promoting programs aimed at generating more bookings via local special offers, vacation deals and the like.

Recently, social media analytics firm Socialbakers researched some of the world’s largest hotel brand groups to determine the extent of their social media presence by looking at the seven most important platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest and LinkedIn).

hilton logoAs it turns out, seven hotel brand groups have at least 1,000 separate social profiles on these platforms.  In the case of Hilton, it’s nearly 2,000:

  • Hilton Worldwide: ~1,850 separate profiles across the top seven social networks
  • InterContinental Hotels Group:  ~1,550 profiles
  • Marriott International:  ~1,300
  • Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide: ~1,250
  • Wyndham Hotel Group: ~1,250
  • Accor: ~1,200
  • Best Western International:  ~1,000

In looking deeper at the extent of the social profiles these giant brands, Socialbakers found some interesting details that may point to certain individual strategic differences.  Among the findings were these:

.  Facebook is the most popular social platform for everyone – no question – with at least 50% of each brands’ social profiles housed there.

.  Twitter is the next most popular network, with profiles there representing between 20% and 40% of all social profiles for each brand.

.  Starwood Hotels and Accor are somewhat less Facebook-centric than the others – and they also have a more significant presence on Instagram and LinkedIn than the other brands.

.  Pinterest appears to be the least attractive major social platform for individual hotel profiles.

.  Hilton and Marriott have the largest number of social profiles in North America. 

It would seem that the big hotel brands are both leading and following when it comes to their social media presence.

While they may be ahead of the curve compared to many other industries, they are also following the lead of their own consumers – so many of whom rely on conducting their own online research and consulting user reviews to determine where they want to stay – not to mention the best room rates and deals they can find in order to do so.

How about you?  Like me, do you follow certain individual hotel properties on social media, or instead do you focus on hotel brands more broadly?  Please share your perspectives with other readers here.