1st Annual Frequent Traveler Awards Commentary by the Less-than-Frequent Loyalty Traveler

First of all, my congratulations to all involved in pulling this massive Frequent Traveler Awards endeavor together. They announced at the awards that more than one million votes were cast and tallied. Management from many airlines, hotel programs and loyalty credit cards showed up for the November 4, 2010 event in Houston to pick up awards.

When one of the presenters asked if any FlyerTalkers were in the room –  there was loud applause!

As for the Hotel Loyalty Program Results

Cut up all your loyalty cards, except for Marriott Rewards and perhaps hold on to Hyatt Gold Passport for some suite upgrades. Frequent travelers have spoken and one million people can’t be wrong.

Or can they?

Four million voters in California decided for 3.44 million voters what is best.

I am just another one in a million loyalty travelers interested in hotel loyalty program comparisons.

My difference in opinion with the FT Awards is not so much about the hotel loyalty program winners.  The selections I saw among the finalists in several hotel loyalty categories in the 2010 Frequent Traveler Awards are what have me puzzled.

Marriott my Heart

Marriott Rewards is a great hotel loyalty program and probably deserves many of the awards it received (11 wins), but as someone who compares hotel loyalty programs daily, I have a different take on the matter of who had the best loyalty program offers in 2009 as denoted by the Frequent Traveler Awards Hotel Categories.

Then again, I don’t spend 200+ nights away from home traveling.

I’ll call my Inaugural Frequent Traveler Awards commentary the “less-than-frequent Loyalty Traveler” rebuttal.

And no disrespect meant to the hardworking organizers who made the inaugural Frequent Traveler Awards a successful event.

Loyalty Traveler Commentary on the Frequent Traveler Awards Hotel Categories

Award Category: Best Hotel Redemption Promotion

The finalists for the Americas Region:

  • Marriott PointSavers Plus (FTA 2010 winner)
  • Hilton HHonors PointStretchers (2nd)
  • Priority Club PointBreaks (3rd)
  • SPG Cash & Points (4th)


Loyalty Traveler commentary:  

Marriott PointSavers Plus was actually a “promotion” from September 2009 through January 2010 offering a rebate to Marriott Rewards members redeeming PointSavers discount reward nights.  The PointSavers discount is one category lower points needed for a free night.

For example, a Marriott Rewards hotel category-6 is normally 30,000 points per night redeeming points. A category-6 hotel offering PointSavers lets the member redeem free nights at the category-5 level for 25,000 points each night.

You can also get the 5th night free reward applied to a PointSavers, so five nights at a category 6 is 100,000 points (4 x 25,000 + free night) with a PointSavers Reward rather than 120,000 points using a standard 5th night free reward.

Another great feature of Marriott is the option to spend 5,000 or 10,000 points per night or even cash at many hotels for a hotel reward stay room upgrade!

PointSavers Plus promotion gave Gold and Platinum elites a 15% rebate on the cost of reward nights. All other Marriott Rewards members received 10% rebate for reward night redemptions.

An example of the value of this award is a general Marriott Rewards member had the potential to get a high market segment category-6 PointSavers hotel reward for 100,000 points and receive a 10,000 points 10% rebate. 90,000 points total reward cost is a 25% discount on the 120,000 points standard reward cost. Gold and Platinum elites got even bigger 15% rebate on 100,000 points for 85,000 total reward cost.

Loyalty Traveler Sep 9, 2009 post on Marriott PointSavers Plus Promotion Sep 9-Jan 15, 2010.

This was an incredibly consumer friendly promotion and Marriott earned this reward.


Hilton HHonors – Are you kidding me?

How the hell did Hilton HHonors even qualify in this award category?

And to rank in 2nd place is a total mockery of the award category.

Here is my December 19, 2008 Loyalty Traveler post lamenting the lack of Hilton HHonors hotels offering PointStretcher dates for the first half of 2009. And here is my Loyalty Traveler August 3, 2009 post regarding the rumor that Hilton HHonors would not offer any PointStretcher dates for the second half of 2009. And the rumor was true. PointStretchers were not available for most of 2009.

And Hilton HHonors took second place for Best Hotel Redemption Promotion with HHonors PointStretchers?

My other criticism is the selections for this Award Category.

I do not consider SPG Cash & Points, Priority Club PointBreaks, HHonors PointStretchers or Marriott PointSavers promotions. These are regular redemption features of their loyalty program. The hotels change regularly and these are limited time offers, but they are almost always running throughout the year, every year.

HHonors PointStretchers have been around for more than a decade and ironically 2009 was probably the lowest PointStretcher reward night availability of the past decade.


Priority Club PointBreaks ranking 3rd place in the Frequent Traveler Awards for Americas are in my opinion certainly the best deal around at 5,000 points for a hotel night if you find yourself in a location where one is available. I lucked out with two locations in the past month.


SPG Cash & Points came in 4th for Best Hotel Redemption Promotion

There are a much higher proportion of Starwood Hotels available on nights throughout the year using SPG Cash & Points over the other three program offers of Hilton PointStretchers, Marriott PointSavers and Priority Club PointBreaks. I do not have data to back up this claim, but I stand by it until someone can show me I am wrong.

9 of 21 Starwood Hotels in San Francisco Bay Area are available tonight with Cash & Points. I have far more options of hotels for tonight through SPG Cash & Points than I do with discount rewards from the other three programs combined.  And SPG Cash & Points is the only program that will put me right into downtown San Francisco tonight on the cheap.

Award Category: Best Hotel Earning Promotion (Americas)

  • Marriott Rewards Elite Rollover Nights (FTA 2010 winner)
  • Hilton HHonors 1,000 bonus points per night with no earning limit (April 13-June 30, 2009) (2nd place)
  • IHG Priority Club – Up to 4 free nights (May 4-Aug 15, 2009) (3rd place)
  • Choice Hotels Privileges – Triple Miles or Triple Points (Aug 26-Nov 3, 2009) (4th place)


Loyalty Traveler commentary: The two best promotions of 2009 are not even finalists in this category.

I’d toss Choice Hotels in the consideration for a 2009 Best Hotel Earning award. Choice Privileges Triple Points is a good offer at 30 points per dollar for midscale hotels, but so what?

I spend $1,000 and I end up with 20,000 bonus Choice Privileges points. That might buy one hotel night at one of the Monterey Comfort Inns or Quality Inns.

Triple miles with Choice Privileges when the base rate is 250 miles per Choice Hotel stay is 750 miles per stay. Hyatt was giving United1K flyers 5,000 miles per hotel stay in a 2009 promotion.

Hilton 1,000 points per night is the second best earning promotion of 2009?

Wait a minute! Let me calculate this:

40 nights at Hilton brand hotels, spending perhaps US$5,000+, and I earned enough points for one Category-6 hotel night in 2009. Here was Lucky’s post on One Mile at a Time when this offer came out in April 2009. Here is the FlyerTalk thread on the promotion from April 7, 2009.

Priority Club and Starwood Preferred Guest offered free nights during this same 2009 period. 

Priority Club offered a free night at any hotel in the system for every two nights stayed from May 4 through August 15, 2009. There was a promotion limit at four free nights earned after eight nights stayed. Loyalty Traveler post April 27, 2009. Priority Club extended the offer for an additional six weeks in peak summer season. LT post 7-16-2009.


Loyalty Traveler’s Top Hotel Earning Promotions of 2009

First Half 2009: Starwood Preferred Guest offered a free weekend night for two stays during the full three months from May-July 2009. Free nights were good for SPG category-6 hotels. LT post 4-14-10

This was the first time ever that a general SPG member had the opportunity to earn free reward nights for SPG category-6 hotels.

I posted an analysis of my Starwood promotion May 2009 activity with tables showing what I actually paid and what I received from hotel stays with this promotion. I calculated $1,500 in hotel spend and $6,700 in hotel value through this promotion. And those numbers were created just half-way through the promotion and two months before I actually used nights at the St. Regis San Francisco, even being upgraded to the $1,500 per night rack rate Metropolitan Suite, the Westin Verasa Napa and St. Regis Monarch Beach.

Second Half 2009

Hyatt “The Next Big Thing” promotion

Hyatt gave members a free night at any Hyatt brand hotel after every two stays plus all hotel stays counted for double elite credit from October 1, 2009 through January 31, 2010. This promotion could be used to earn free nights and secure elite status through February 2012 in the first month of 2010. Some members also earned big airline miles bonuses concurrently during this promotion.

Free nights were available for redemption from October 15 through March 31, 2010. Hyatt Gold Passport even extended the redemption period to April 30 for general members, May 31 for Platinum members and June 30 for Diamond members.

Hyatt Gold Passport The Next Big ThingLoyalty Traveler post Sep 17, 2009

SPG also gave its elite members elite rollover nights for stays in late 2009. Loyalty Traveler post – Sep 9, 2009

Award Category: Best Hotel Earning Promotion (Europe and Africa)

  • Marriott Rewards Elite Rollover Nights (FTA 2010 winner)
  • Hilton HHonors 1,000 bonus points per night with no earning limit (April 13-June 30, 2009) (2nd place)
  • IHG Priority Club – Up to 4 free nights (May 4-Aug 15, 2009) (3rd place)
  • Carlson Goldpoints Plus – 50,000 points for 5 stays (Jan 1- Feb 28, 2010) (4th place)

Europe regional award finalists for the Top Earning Hotel Promotion were the same promotions as the Americas with the exception of Carlson Goldpoints Plus replacing Choice.

My main criticism is I would like to see different awards for elite promotions and points, miles or free night promotions.

Marriott elite rollover offered nothing to the Marriott Rewards member not seeking elite status. The general member is looking for free hotel nights and the other three promotion finalists offer bonuses for the goal of free hotel nights.

Frequent travelers are looking for both elite and bonuses. Not-so-frequent travelers favor bonus promotions since a free night or two is more valued than elite.


Award Category: Best Hotel Earning Promotion (Asia-Oceania-Middle East)

  • Marriott Rewards Elite Rollover Nights (FTA 2010 winner)
  • IHG Priority Club – Up to 4 free nights (May 4-Aug 15, 2009) (2nd place)
  • Hyatt Gold Passport – The Next Big Thing (Oct 1, 2009 – Jan 31, 2010) (3rd place)
  • Hilton HHonors 1,000 bonus points per night with no earning limit (April 13-June 30, 2009) (4th place)


Award Category: Best Hotel Redemption Ability (Americas)

  • Marriott Rewards (FTA 2010 Winner)
  • Hilton HHonors (2nd)
  • IHG Priority Club (3rd)
  • Choice Privileges (4th)

My Loyalty Traveler vote goes to Priority Club for ease of redeeming points with a variety of options. SPG is good too as I noted previously. This category is about the ability to redeem rewards which I differentiate from the value of reward redemptions.

Marriott and Hyatt consistently rank highest in several analyses I have done over the past year looking at the cost of a hotel reward night compared to the room rate for that same hotel night.

Hilton typically comes out at or near the bottom in USA hotel comparisons for the top nine hotel loyalty programs of Best Western Rewards, Carlson goldpoints, Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors, Hyatt Gold Passport, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) Priority Club, Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Wyndham Rewards.


Award Category: Best Hotel Redemption Ability (Europe and Africa)

  • Marriott Rewards (FTA 2010 Winner)
  • IHG Priority Club (2nd)
  • Hilton HHonors (3rd)
  • Carlson Goldpoints Plus (4th)


Award Category: Best Hotel Redemption Ability (Middle East-Asia-Oceania)

  • Marriott Rewards (FTA 2010 Winner)
  • Taj Inner Circle (2nd)
  • IHG Priority (3rd)
  • Hyatt Gold Passport (4th)


Best Hotel Elite (Americas)

  • Hyatt Gold Passport (FTA 2010 winner)
  • Marriott Rewards (2nd)
  • Hilton HHonors (3rd)
  • IHG Priority Club (4th)

LT comment: I would toss Priority Club in favor of Starwood Preferred Guest. Compare SPG Gold with 50% elite bonus points, free internet, and upgrades to Priority Club Gold and a 10% elite bonus. SPG Platinum has always been a high-value status.  InterContinental Ambassador is another story, but is that membership program being considered here with Priority Club?


Best Hotel Elite Program (Europe – Africa)

  • Starwood Preferred Guest (FTA 2010 winner)
  • Marriott Rewards (2nd)
  • IHG Priority Club (3rd)
  • Hilton HHonors (4th)


Best Hotel Elite Program (Middle East-Asia-Oceania)

  • Hyatt Gold Passport (FTA 2010 winner)
  • Marriott Rewards (2nd)
  • Taj Inner Circle (3rd)
  • IHG Priority Club (4th)


The Hyatt Grand Finale Loyalty Leadership Award

The highlight of the evening awards for me (and I actually cooked catfish and cauliflower while listening to the broadcast) was the Loyalty Leadership Award given to Hyatt Gold Passport for their April 2009 industry leading loyalty program enhancement of four confirmed suite upgrades for Gold Passport Diamond members. Loyalty Traveler April 2, 2009 post – Hyatt Gold Passport 2009 Enhancements

This benefit is potentially an incredible high value bonus for Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond members who receive four annual confirmed suite upgrade e-certificates.  Each certificate is valid for a confirmed suite upgrade at time of booking for up to seven nights on a single stay. Hypothetically a Gold Passport Diamond member can confirm 28 nights a year in suites when paying the lowest published rate available. That is potentially a $5,000 to $10,000 annual value-added benefit. Even using the suite upgrades for four 1-night stays per year can be $500+ in added value to your hotel stays.

I am looking forward to 2011 Frequent Traveler Awards in April 2011.

I think Starwood Preferred Guest is going to need some good offers to get running in this race.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined in 2008.

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  1. My thoughts:

    2009? Seriously? Were are approaching the end of 2010 and here they hand awards out for 2009 promos? And worse, expect the voters to remember details sufficiently to vote appropriately?

    I’d think that most people simply cannot afford (time wise and money wise) to be intimately familiar with all these programs and promotions. If I had voted, I would likely have been heavily biased towards the programs I actively participate in.

    Lessons learned for me? (after all, it’s the Frequent Traveller Education Foundation) Not clear what conclusions I can draw from the results for my own travel. Should I sign up for the Alaska Airlines credit card? Switch my loyalty to Marriott, where I likely would reach no elite level?

    Where the absolute number of votes for each entry published?

    I am sure it was a fun event and congratulations to the organizers for pulling it off.

  2. Reading Gary’s post, it seems next year’s awards ceremony (and voting) comes earlier in the year. So probably just a case of being a bit late this year.

  3. Gary has mentioned previously that this year’s awards was to ensure no gap with the Freddies, and the April awarding for the previous year is going to be the norm

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