Hyatt House Tampa Downtown (Photo via Hyatt)
Why would a travel advisor book a $150 a night hotel when the commission is barely worth the time? The answer in the case of many advisors is to service the client, to help customers maximize loyalty program points and to maintain comprehensive – and potentially rewarding – relationships with mega-hotel operators.
This is the age of the multi-brand operator with Marriott and Accor offering over 30 brands each while Hilton, IHG, and Hyatt all have almost as many. And all of these providers operate the kind of luxury brands that are most appealing to advisors – Hilton’s Conrad and Waldorf-Astoria, IHG’s Six Senses and InterContinental, Hyatt’s Park Hyatt and Andaz, Accor’s Fairmont and Raffles and Marriott’s Ritz-Carlton and St Regis.
And of course, they operate mid-scale and economy properties – Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, Hilton Garden Inn, Accor’s Ibis, Hyatt House and IHG’s Holiday Inn Express are just a few – with the latest addition Hilton’s premium economy entry Spark.
Advisors asked about booking the lower-priced options say they do so for specific occasions – sometimes in markets where luxury was not available or for a business trip when clients are paying for themselves. However, hotel companies contacted by TravelPulse were encouraging and even eager to see advisors book all their brands in the interest of their clients, to maximize loyalty program earnings and to foster mutually beneficial relationships.
Monica Maslia, an advisor with SmartFlyer, said her network is a preferred partner of all of the mega-operators; as a result, clients benefit from upgrades and perks like complimentary breakfast and resort credits – as well as loyalty points – when they book through her.
Most travelers at one point or another, said Maslia, will require room nights where a luxury property isn’t what they need for that particular occasion, or perhaps isn’t even available in a market. For example, when clients are going to a college town for football games or to visit for a family weekend, she said, they might not have access to luxury accommodations.
When it’s time to decide on which mid-priced hotel to choose, said Maslia, the loyalty program plays a big part. “If they usually stay at Andaz when on vacation,” she said, “they will most likely look to Hyatt Place for this stay occasion to keep it in the family and earn points.”
Darryl Jenkins, owner of Boxley Enterprise Travel, an InteleTravel affiliate, said that he does sell mid-priced and economy properties as well as luxury after properly qualifying clients to have a better understanding of their travel specifications.
For instance, said Jenkins, if a client is going on a long-haul road trip, he might suggest a property like the Courtyard by Marriott or Hampton by Hilton which are perfect for short stays along the way. If they are traveling for short-term business travel and looking for comfortable accommodations with a reasonable price, he will look at Hilton Garden Inn or similar property.
For families traveling for vacation and requiring space, said Jenkins, he would offer Staybridge Suites (IHG) or Embassy Suites (Hilton), with complimentary breakfast always a good selling point. The decision on where to stay “would largely depend on the type of travel desired,” Jenkins said.
Cali Stein, an advisor with Embark Beyond, said she does a lot of business with the luxury brands of the multi-brand operators and is a preferred partner with Marriot STARS and Luminous, advisor programs that offer exclusive benefits for clients booking luxury brands like Ritz-Carlton and upscale brands like W Hotels. On occasion, said Stein, she will sell non-luxury hotels but that is typically when a client needs an overnight stay at an airport. If it’s a quick business trip and the client would prefer not to stay at an expensive hotel, said Stein, she will book a room at a mid-priced property.
Jack Ezon, managing partner of Embark Beyond, said that about 55% of the company’s business goes to luxury brands like those operated by the mega-operators; the remainder goes to unbranded luxury hotels. Advisors might occasionally book a mid-scale brand as a “fill in” when necessary –for example to provide accommodations for staff, backup security or pilots accompanying a client.
It is fortunate, said Michelle Shrader, an InteleTravel advisor and owner of Adventures Tours & Travel, that the lower-priced brands provide options when there are no luxury alternatives. Amenities like free breakfast can make these choices a determining factor.
PHOTO: Man holding loyalty program card. (Photo via AlexandrBognat / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Looping into Loyalty
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Most advisors will at least encourage clients to provide a loyalty program membership number so they can accrue points when possible. Some will try to help customers achieve higher tiers in the programs they belong to.
If a client can get a free night through a loyalty program, said Stein, they can spend more on an excursion or a private transfer booked through her. Also, she said, “it makes me look like a rockstar to help them navigate and save money when possible.”
Jenkins said he “absolutely” works with clients on their loyalty programs. He said he loves seeing clients promoted to higher tier levels. When they achieve those higher levels, said Jenkins, they enjoy many benefits like discounts at their favorite stores, free night stays, amenity coupons and exclusive events just for loyalty members.
Loyalty points don’t usually factor into the options she provides to clients, said Shrader. Once the best fit is found, she said, then she can advise them on whether they will or won’t earn points. Although clients may not be earning points because the booking is with a tour operator, she said, she always makes sure to have loyalty numbers added to reservations so the client’s status with the brand will be recognized during their stay in case there is a possibility of upgrades, complimentary breakfast and so forth.
When clients want to use points to book a room, the advisor is left out of the transaction, said David Ourisman, founder of Ourisman Travel, a Virtuoso agency. However, he added, if they want to stay at a luxury property and have enough points for one night but want to book three additional paid nights, the agency will do that. “That’s a service advisors can provide,” said Ourisman.
As with every issue, advisors have different takes on loyalty. Ezon said there is a big divide between accumulating and redeeming points in the hotel and air segments. His clients, he said, rarely make a decision to stay in a hotel because they can redeem points or get extra points. The complete opposite, he said, is true with air. About 88% of clients, he said, use their frequent flyer points to redeem for business or first class.
Holiday Inn Houston Downtown. (photo courtesy of IHG)
Hotel Operators: Advisors Can Gain Satisfied Clients by Booking Luxury and Non-Luxury Brands
Betty Wilson, vice president, global accounts, IHG Hotels & Resorts, said the company encourages advisors to sell whichever of the company’s 18 brands brand meets the needs of individual clients on specific stays. If an advisor primarily sells luxury brands to a client, there may be types of trips that are suited to other IHG brands for a business trip to a secondary or tertiary market, as an example.
Many advisors, said Wilson, work with IHG’s Essentials brands (Holiday Inn, etc.) and Suites brands (Staybridge Suites, etc.) and that these bookings are an important portion of overall business with travel advisors.
Advisors, said Wilson, should engage personally with IHG One Rewards so they can advise clients on its benefits and structures. A new tier recently added for guests staying more than 70 nights a year, said Wilson, is a “game changer” especially for those who are looking to earn while on business travel and then burn for a leisure stay.
At Hilton, said Jody Mattice, director, global travel industry relations, the frequency in which a luxury travel advisor may sell mid-priced or economy service accommodations varies by region, she said. A few scenarios that might require them to do so, said Mattice, include when no luxury hotel option exists in a market; the convenience of the alternative hotel location; limited hotel options (or if a luxury property is sold out); group budget constraints (i.e., those accompanying the client require lower cost options or the trip is for business and being reimbursed by the client).
Advisors, said Mattice, should definitely work with clients on maximizing points. She said that according to Hilton’s 2023 trends report, 42% of global travelers indicated that loyalty perks – such as earning and redeeming points and loyalty benefits – will matter to them when traveling in 2023.
To ensure customers maximize their benefits, said Mattice, the travel advisor can assist by clearly outlining and articulating the opportunities a customer has to engage in the program – including how to earn and redeem points, benefits of utilizing the Hilton Honors app on-property and how to achieve Elite (Gold or Diamond) status.
Advisors with a specialty in high-end corporate travel, said Marcie Hawley, vice president global sales, travel industry-Accor North & South America, will frequently book mid-scale and economy properties – as well as luxury, with the buying decision primarily driven by office locations in either primary, secondary or tertiary city locations.
Tammy Routh, senior vice president, global sales for Marriott International, said the company’s Hotel Excellence! training program helps advisors navigate the ever-changing hotel industry landscape. Qualified graduates of the program, she said, also gain access to Marriott’s lowest industry rates – while earning Marriott Bonvoy points – so they can experience all Marriott brands firsthand.
The booking of mid-scale and economy hotels, said Routh, varies by agency and by advisor. For those who identify as luxury travel advisors, she said, the majority of the business is in luxury brands. However, she added, there are some advisors who have clients who might book different brands based on trip purpose. For example, said Routh, many parents follow their children’s sports teams and that often takes them to places where Marriott’s select-service hotels are appropriate.
Advisors, said Routh, play a key part in helping their clients understand the benefits of loyalty programs. The Hotel Excellence! Program, she said, offers a robust micro-learning module for advisors to learn more about Marriott Rewards.