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Best rate guarantee? Read the fine print for hotel loyalty programs

Juergen T. Steinmetz, eTN  Sep 13, 2016

Starwood Preferred Guests, Marriott Rewards, Hilton Hhonors Hyatt Gold Passport, and Accor are among the largest hotel reward systems in place.

Loyalty programs are key for many major and not so major hotel groups or airline alliances to get guests to come back again and again. Really?

Guests participating can earn room upgrades, free nights, merchandise, free breakfast or Internet, and points can often be converted to airline reward programs.

One of the rules is for guests to never use a third-party booking source when making a hotel reservation.

This is a clear discrimination against travel agents, or online booking companies. For a travel agency client, having the agent book a hotel most likely means no points.

Hotel companies justify this with negotiated package rates, and they often claim they would not know what a guest actually pays. According to the hotels, their response would be: "We could not calculate the number of points, because we don't know what the third-party agency charged the customer."

Understood. When asked what about status nights, the response is a no response. Status nights are not based on any amount of money spent, and status nights never generate any points. However, status nights are even more important, because they are needed to reach or maintain an elite status in a hotel loyalty program.

For example: To maintain Diamond Status on a Hyatt Gold Passport, a guest has to spend 50 nights a calendar year or book 25 stays at a Hyatt hotel worldwide.

50 nights, however, would only count if a guest always uses to book.

The hotels may not be concerned about the enormous potential of MICE business. If a business traveler attends a conference and books with a meeting planner or conference organizer, there may not be any points. If booking through an airline vacation program - no points; if booking on Expedia, if using a tour package or a travel agency - no points.

Again, this is understood, but why no status nights? Regardless of where a guest decides to book, this guest still puts their head on a hotel pillow.

Isn't the idea behind a loyalty program to build loyalty for a brand? Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, and IHG all don't seem to really get this.

Airline loyalty programs work the same way. Booking many airfares within an alliance group doesn't earn miles, and they don't earn status. It makes it often irrelevant to be loyal to a specific airline or a specific airline group. Often booking the lowest airfare on a website means you are most likely booked using a fare class unable to earn miles. Often, airline passengers select an airline to maintain a status, and not because they love the lousy service of that airline so much.

Read the fine print before booking on a hotel website.

Hotel groups want consumers to believe they will always find the lowest rate on their site.

Hotels sound so convincing - so many hotel groups developed a "Best Rate Guarantee." Taking Hyatt Hotels and Resorts as an example, the group tells customers in large print, they would match any rate found on a third-party website and give an additional 20% discount after matching the lower rate.

Sounds good? Not really.

Hyatt Gold Passport advertises:

If you find a publicly-available and immediately-bookable room-only rate on the Internet for a Hyatt hotel (“Competing Rate”) that is lower than the room rate available for the same reservation and booked by you on (i.e., same hotel, same type of room, same number of guests, same dates of stay, same length of stay, and same booking conditions), you can submit your claim request online via our online claim form.

But, here comes the small print you probably won’t notice:

Rates require a membership, regardless of whether the membership is free or not. Examples of these types of sites include but are not limited to,,, and

It means once you sign into you are a member of Expedia and the Hyatt Best Rate Guarantee no longer applies to you.

This almost covers every incident, because most third-party websites want shoppers to establish a username and password, which is considered a membership. There is hardly ever a charge for this "membership," but it doesn't make any difference. Have you seen private sales pages on Expedia? You get to see these pages only after signing in.

The answer should be for a consumer to continue shopping around, as loyalty can become expensive to maintain. A consumer has to decide if advantages of a loyalty status and benefits associated with this status are more important compared to getting the best rate for a room.

In a case studied for this article, offered a rate at the Hyatt Regency Duesseldorf for 25% less.

Shopping around pays. In this case, the Hyatt Regency, when contacted by a Diamond Member Guest, did agree reluctantly to make a one-time exception adjusting a EUR 160.00 per night rate to the EUR 111.00 offered by

Here are some more rules disclosed in fine print one should know about hotels excluding many scenarios in their best rate guarantee promise.

· Opaque or auction sites are where the hotel brand and/or the specific hotel is not known until booking is finalized. Examples of these types of sites include, but are not limited to, Priceline and Hotwire.

· Web sites often “package” travel, entertainment, hotel and/or food components, such as airfare and hotel stay, hotel stay and car rental, hotel stay and restaurant voucher, etc. Examples of package websites include, but are not limited to Delta Vacations.

· Packaged rates include service charges, meals, coupons, parking, services, and other amenities or charges.

· Qualified discount rates include, but are not limited to, Government, AAA, and Senior Citizen Discounts.

· Unpublished, negotiated rates with corporations, travel agencies, groups, associations, and other rates are specifically agreed upon by Hyatt (or a Hyatt hotel) and a specified and limited group, and are not publicly available.

· Rates are only available with a coupon, discount code, or other similar special offer.

· Hyatt Residence Club properties, Hyatt Vacation Club properties, or any residential or extended-stay apartment properties (e.g., The Galleria Residences in Dubai) are not included.

Best rate guarantee?  Read the fine print for hotel loyalty programs

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