A new concept that took flight this year was the airline-hotel loyalty program partnership.
Hotel programs have long offered the ability to earn airline miles for stays. Hotel programs have also pitched airline elites with complimentary status in the hopes of luring business. There have been points transfer bonuses, and other tie-ups like even the ability to earn Delta elite qualifying miles through Hilton stays.
But what was new year this was the closer relationship — both points-earning and elite-recognizing — in exclusive one-on-one partnership between airlines and hotels.
Delta and Starwood introduced Crossover Rewards at the beginning of the year and then added it to in the late summer with complimentary upgrades at the gate on Delta for Starwood Platinums.
United and Marriott hooked up with RewardsPlus, Marriott Platinums getting United Silver and United Golds and above getting Marriott Gold.
Now the game changes to musical chairs. In an industry where one program tries to copycat the other, and quickly mimics the plays of any first-mover, the question becomes — which airline and hotel chain will hook up next? And which one will be left without a partner when the music stops?
They’re definitely thinking about it.
Russell D. passes along the following from a survey he took this week from IHG Rewards (formerly Priority Club).
IHG Rewards Club airline loyalty partnership
Elite members earn miles with airline partner when you stay at the hotel, in addition to earning hotel points
Elite members earn points with hotel partner when you fly, in addition to earning the airline miles
With elite status in the hotel program, earn higher status with the airline loyalty program
With elite status in the hotel program, get benefits with the airline, (e.g., priority check-in, early boarding, free checked bag), regardless of your airline program status
With elite status in the airline program, earn higher status with the hotel program
With elite status in the airline program, get benefits when staying in the hotel (e.g., priority check-in, late check out, free internet), regardless of your hotel program status
But whom could they partner with?
Since Starwood and Marriott, United and Delta, appear ‘off the board’ the possible partners are somewhat limited.
There’s been speculation about an American-Hilton tie-up. It hasn’t happened, and that could be telling, but it could also be one of the many things seemingly endlessly delayed by American’s bankruptcy and merger uncertainty. I’d expect to see plenty of activity over at American and AAdvantage in the coming months.
It’s hard to see where else American could go. For instance, Hyatt Gold Passport is a great program and might be my pick if I were running AAdvantage, but is the Hyatt footprint big enough for what’s becoming the world’s largest airline?
On the other hand, does a full service airline and a program concept linking up primarily at the elite levels make any sense with IHG? Their Platinum level really doesn’t come with meaningful benefits to offer. They’ve got a separate Ambassador program for their small subset of Intercontinental hotels, but for the larger worldwide portfolio there isn’t a ton on offer.
There aren’t enough full service Radissons to make Club Carlson a logical choice, either.
For IHG, with the number of mid-scale and limited-service properties they offer, a relationship with Southwest Rapid Rewards could make more sense… although obviously that’s limited in scope as Southwest doesn’t operate on the worldwide scale that IHG brands like Holiday Inn do.
If I had to guess – based on no inside knowledge of discussions – I’d predict IHG and Southwest best match to become partners.
There aren’t a ton of full service large-scale hotel options left now that Marriott and Starwood are out of play. And American is the lone big dish global US airline sans a partnership. It will be interesting to see who does a deal next.
And it will be similarly interesting to see whether these deals ultimately last for reasons other than inertia, and they are no doubt costly to offer — and are an open question as to whether or not they effectively sway high spending frequent traveler business.