4 Hotel Loyalty Program Changes to Watch in 2018

 Lyn Mettler
  31st-Dec-2017

In the new year, hotel loyalty programs will continue to evolve to attract new customers and meet guests' demands. From major mergers to new loyalty perks and redemption options, major hotel rewards programs are becoming increasingly guest-friendly. Read on to discover top hotel loyalty program changes on the horizon for 2018.

Major Mergers

Love to stay in Kimpton properties? In early 2018, Kimpton Karma Rewards will become part of the InterContinental Hotels Group's IHG Rewards Club. Known for its fun and quirky benefits such as a raid the minibar credit and a $30 in-room spa credit, Kimpton Karma will offer members the chance to receive those same perks, but they will now be able to use their points to book free stays at more than 5,000 hotels within the IHG portfolio, including Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, InterContinental and Even Hotels. IHG Rewards members will also be able to use their points to book stays at Kimpton properties.

Marriott's purchase of Starwoods in 2016 has also left many loyalists wondering if the rewards programs for Marriott, Starwood and Ritz-Carlton (also owned by Marriott) will merge. The companies have announced the merger will happen, but have yet to provide a specific date other than to say all three will move to a single technology platform in late 2018.

Innovative Perks and Privileges

Hotel rewards programs continue to add valuable benefits for members. While most loyalty programs now offer free Wi-Fi, many are increasing the number of unusual loyalty perks. For example, Hilton Honors allows guests to pool points with up to 10 family members and friends to earn an award night. Meanwhile, IHG Rewards now provides its members with access to Fuel Rewards to help save on gas at select stations. What's more, IHG Rewards program members can enjoy a free digital Kindle single or Kindle book from Amazon.

Meanwhile, Best Western Rewards began offering members gift cards in 2017 as part of limited-time promotions based on completing a specific activity, such as a $25 gift card for checking a bag on an airline or a $10 gift card for each Best Western stay.

Increasing Reward Redemption Options Beyond Free Nights

It's no secret that travelers are looking for more ways to redeem their points than award hotel stays. Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards have continued to expand the special event and experience opportunities offered to their guests through SPG Moments and Marriott Rewards Moments. Among other game-changing perks, members can throw out the first pitch at a World Series game, score Super Bowl suite seats, take master classes with top chefs and snag Broadway tickets with backstage passes.

In November, Best Western launched Experiences by Best Western Rewards, enabling guests to purchase adventure packages with points. These experiences include a two-night stay at a Best Western along with activities in destinations such as Walt Disney World, the Grand Canyon, Paris and New York City. The experiences require 85,000 to 190,000 points.

Meanwhile, Hilton offers the option to bid on experiences. In 2018, Hilton is planning to evolve their Music Happens Here program, a partnership with top musicians, the Grammys and Live Nation to inspire travel to top music destinations by granting travelers access to live events. They will announce their concert tour lineup in February. Members of Hilton Honors can also now use their points to make purchases on Amazon.com.

Similarly, Marriott rolled out a new app and desktop extension called More in October that allows members to purchase items from retailers, including Apple, Amazon, Nike and Saks Fifth Avenue. Red Roof Inn also has a shopping portal where visitors can redeem points for gift cards from popular retailers and buy products from Red Roof's online catalog.

New Credit Card Options

There are new cobranded credit cards rolling out in 2018 offering lucrative sign-up bonuses upon reaching the minimum spend requirement within a few months of opening an account.

Starwood and Marriott will add new JPMorgan Chase and American Express credit cards associated with their loyalty programs in 2018 to give members more opportunities to earn points. What's more, in January, American Express will become the exclusive issuer of Hilton Honors cobranded credit cards with four new consumer and small business cards launching. The options include a card with no annual fee and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, which earns 14 bonus points per dollar spent at Hilton properties.

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