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In an effort to compete head to head with larger chains, small hotel brands and individual boutiques have begun joining together to create their own loyalty programs with perks that reflect the personalized service and local flair that independent hotels tend to offer.

In March, Global Hotel Alliance, a collection of 12 luxury brands with more than 300 hotels, rolled out a loyalty program, GHA Discovery, that rewards frequent guests with insider experiences instead of points. (Examples include wine tastings at a local vineyard with the hotel’s sommelier and a hot air balloon ride over Egyptian ruins.)Stash Hotel Rewards, which began last spring, allows guests to earn points for free nights at nearly 150 independent hotels across the country. And Voilà Hotel Rewards, a similar points-based program for upscale independent hotels that started three years ago now has about 235 hotels in its network.

At the same time, some major chains are tweaking their loyalty programs and introducing new rewards. In a campaign that started in March, Hilton has been de-emphasizing points and focusing on vacation experiences in an effort to rebrand its loyalty program, HHonors. The tag line: “Turn points into experiences worth sharing.” And last year InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, which includes Indigo and Holiday Inn brands, began allowing members of its loyalty program, Priority Club, to use points in combination with cash to pay for any hotel — even those of competitors.

The new programs reflect two different perspectives on loyalty programs. Hoteliers in one camp believe travelers are burned out on points and that what they really want from a loyalty program is access to special perks and experiences they wouldn’t be able to get on their own. In the other camp, hoteliers believe travelers still want points but are frustrated by the redemption process, which often involves complex reward charts or blackout dates.


Member Hotels: Nearly 300 hotels in 48 countries; some properties are represented by smaller brands like Omni Hotels & Resorts in the United States, Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas in Asia and Kempinski Hotels in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

What You Get: Instead of points, members of this program receive perks and insider experiences designed by individual hotels. After one stay at any hotel in the group, guests are automatically enrolled as Gold members and are entitled to free Internet access, bottled water and other special activities upon their next stay, like a personalized brewery tour in Boston or olive picking in Turkey. Those who stay more than 10 nights in member hotels over the course of a year qualify for Platinum status, which includes a delayed checkout time (3 p.m. instead of midday), automatic room upgrades and additional activities. Those who stay more than 30 nights earn Black status, which comes with earlier check-in times (9 a.m. instead of 3 p.m.), a 6 p.m. checkout time, and perks like laundry service, access to the executive lounge and so-called exclusive experiences like a private tours.


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Article by MICHELLE HIGGINS, The New York Times TRAVEL | Read full article here