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Hotels.com adds FIVESTAR Benefits

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Hotels.com adds FIVESTAR Benefits
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Arranging business travel can be like doing Plyometrics – it seems you’re jumping from foot to foot with little time to rest as you navigate multiple web sites to schedule needed logistics for your next business meeting. As a business owner, I have been in self-service mode for several years and only recently made the decision to engage a travel agent to help with multi-city and international travel.

To meet simpler needs, I still make some of my own reservations and I’ve found Hotels.com to be a useful source to get a last minute hotel room when I’m on the road. While it would be nice to just book another Marriott, Hilton, or Starwood property through their frequent guest website, the business owner in me notices the difference in room rates. Even though I don’t feel quite as spiffy booking rooms through Hotels.com, it works.

The user experience at the Hotels.com website is good and the prices are right. Recently, stuck in Vancouver for an unplanned night, I was able to find a perfectly acceptable room near the airport at a Westin property at big discount from another big brand hotel where I had stayed the night before. The availability of last minute inventory from first class hotels at good rates is a winning combination for any cost-conscious business person (shouldn’t we all be?).

Then there’s the double dipping…..

About 18 months ago, I became aware of Welcome Rewards, the straightforward rewards program from Hotels.com. It’s simple, stay 10 nights and earn 1 free. It’s the hospitality version of the punch card. The program structure would be easy to criticize as too simple, but when the benefits come as a bonus to the core reasons I use Hotels.com in the first place AND I’m allowed to get my hotel points upon check-in at a chain where I’m a member of the frequent guest program, only a real loyalty snob would object.

Now, with the introduction of FIVESTAR and FIVESTAR PLUS last week, I am feeling even better about my Hotels.com user experience. FIVESTAR provides additional benefits to “most valued customers”, and has two levels:

  • FIVESTAR – for those staying between 10-24 nights per year
  • FIVESTAR PLUS for those staying over 25 nights per year

Hotels.com identifies customers who qualify, and sends an invitation email with membership number and special telephone numbers for customer service as a principle means of engagement. There is no membership fee, but members must re-qualify each year based on their booking frequency.

The benefits of each tier are described in more detail here, and focus on easing the complications of travel as well as offering better access to resolve travel issues. Some key benefits include:

  • Dedicated members only phone number and email
  • Premium price match guarantee
  • Early access to the best deals and promotions
  • Help to change reservations for any reason without cancellation or change fees

The only head-scratcher here is that FIVESTAR is not positioned as an extension of the Welcome Rewards program. Maybe Hotels.com noticed that it had as many high-frequency customers in its database who were not members of Welcome Rewards as those who were.

If so, it makes sense to cast a wider net to retain these high value customers, but it would also be beneficial to test Welcome Rewards enrollment as a condition of receiving FIVESTAR benefits. Then again, maybe I received a different welcome package since I was already enrolled in Welcome Rewards.

Hotels.com offers a good example of how a company offering a commodity service can position a loyalty program to break from the pack. It also hints at how smart loyalty marketers pay attention to their data to develop program enhancements.

If Hotels.com takes the next step by linking FIVESTAR more explicitly with Welcome Rewards, they’ll really be able to sleep well at night knowing they’ve done their best to engage and retain their most valued customers.

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