GHA Discovery is probably the biggest hotel loyalty program you may never have heard of. They cover 37 brands which is more than Marriott and they’ll soon hit 20 million members.
GHA – the Global Hotel Alliance – covers numerous smaller chains that skew towards luxury. The Discovery program is relaunching to become much more rewarding. Against the trend in the industry, the new program actually costs hotel owners more in order to give customers more. Elite status is becoming easier to earn, and benefits will become more consistent. And word is they’re even an easy status match.
Some of the brands that are part of GHA Discovery include Viceroy, The Sukhothai, Parkroyal, Rydges, Outrigger, Pan Pacific, Kempinski, Marco Polo and Anantara Hotels. In a real coup, NH Hotels will be joining in a few months. (Three years ago Hyatt unsuccessfully tried to buy NH Hotels in a deal that at the time would have grown its footprint by about 50%.)
I spoke with Kristi Gole, GHA’s Vice President and Head of Transformation, about the new program and what it means for members.
What Is GHA Discovery?
GHA Discovery is the loyalty program for about three dozen smaller hotel brands, with a strong presence in Europe and Asia. The program currently has 11 million members – after recently losing 7 million members when OMNI hotels left the program July 1st.
While GHA is based in Dubai, they have only 14 hotels in the U.S., mostly Viceroy and Outrigger. Omni took its 44 hotels out of the program, and now concentrates on its own Select Guest. Participating in two parallel loyalty programs was always confusing.
Currently there are nearly 500 hotels participating in GHA Discovery. Elite World is coming on in Europe. Sun International Resorts joins next week. In the second quarter of 2022 when NH hotels goes live they’ll be adding 360 properties. That gets GHA up to nearly 900 hotels, which is close in size to Hyatt. And adding NH Hotels will bring Discovery to 20 million members.
GHA Discovery always focused on experiences. Members received elite benefits based on the frequency of their stays across brands in the program, and earned ‘local experiences’ which were sometimes epic and other times pedestrian depending on the property at which they were redeemed.
They didn’t have a points program, but in a sense these experiences were the rebate component of the program. The problem was not every member wants or has time for an experience when staying at a hotel. They may be on their own, working all day. It’s better to be able to use the rebate for a free stay or for an experience when they want it – giving the member more control over the rebate means that the rebate has more value to that member.
What GHA Discovery is doing is,
- Introducing points to the program. Members will no longer have to give up earning and redeeming points in order to engage with Discovery.
- Improving elite status. They’re introducing a new status tier, and generally making it easier to earn status and enjoy benefits.
- Engaging members at hotels when not staying as a guest. Hotels have facilities and services they can market to members any time they’re nearby, not just when they’re staying on property.
Starting December 7, the new program and branding launches. Everything should be more consistent and less confusing. Members can book through any direct channel – the GHA website, individual brand websites, corporate booking tools – and earn elite credit and receive benefits. Nearly all rates qualify – some deep discount wholesaler rates in Asia are excluded.
GHA Discovery Introduces Award Redemption
GHA will still have Local Experience Awards but these will be things you can buy with cash or with points. Instead of earning local experiences, you’ll earn Discovery Dollars which can be used to buy these experiences or most other things on property including against room rates.
For a program that didn’t have a points program before, they’re being quite generous, and this program will cost hotel owners more in order to give more to customers.
Customers will receive rebates of 4% – 7% back on their stays depending on status, and will be able to redeem as few as 10 Discovery Dollars at a time.
A low redemption threshold is important for a small program because it means that even the occasional guest won’t strand points. They can earn 10 dollars on one stay, and use it on the next if they want. Since there’s no award chart or ‘hunt for value’ there’s also no reason to save up points for bigger value redemptions in the future.
Discovery Dollars expire, with expiration depending on elite status and note that this is based on when each dollar is earned, not how long you have to keep points in your account active.
- Base (silver) members: 6 months
- Gold: 18 months
- Platinum: 18 months
- Titanium (and Red): 24 months
A Platinum member earning Discovery Dollars on January 1 has until the end of June the next year to spend those dollars, regardless of any activity they have in their account after that.
Points-earning is available on most things charged to the room, including spa and golf usage fees (but charging a golf membership to a room is excluded, and also excluded are limo transfers and valet parking). There’s currently no points earn or burn for activity when not staying as a guest, since the technology is tied to guest folios.
New Elite Tiers
Introducing a new elite tier and making status easier to obtain means they expect to go from having 4% of members with elite status up to 20% of members having status.
They changed the name of their current top elite tier from Black to Titanium and added a new lowest-tier (Gold).
Here’s how status is earned:
- Silver: Base level
- Gold: 2 stays or $1000 spend
- Platinum: 10 nights or $5000 spend or stays at 2 brands
- Titanium: 30 nights or $15,000 spend or 3 brands
You can actually earn top tier elite status after just 3 nights if you did it at 3 different brands in the chain. You could, for instance, bounce across 3 properties in different brands over 3 nights in Bangkok to do this. And it’s intentional. If you’re sampling their brands they want to reward you, because if they have a challenge it’s getting customers to identify what their brands are and see them as a unified program.
Overall GHA Discovery is more generous as it really gears up to become competitive. Working with hotels on delivering elite benefits, they reduced the requirement for properties to guarantee room availability 72 hours prior but still offer it, just not as close to check-in. And they’ve amended early check-in benefit hours to make it easier for hotels to deliver. But otherwise benefits remain the same or better. And how many programs promote early check-in, anyway, and not just late check out?
Here are key elite benefits:
- Bonus points-earning: Discovery Dollars earning is 4% / 5% / 6% / 7% based on status level.
- Late checkout/Early check-in: Titaniums get 11 a.m. early check-in. Platinums get 3 p.m. checkout and Titaniums get 4 p.m. checkout.
- Upgrades: Platinums get a single category upgrade and Titaniums get a double upgrade (subject to availability).
- Amenity: Platinums and Titaniums receive a welcome amenity
- Brand-specific benefits: Titaniums also receive additional benefits that vary by brand such as breakfast, airport transfer, or complimentary laundry
Breakfast isn’t guaranteed at all chains, and neither is club lounge access. Suites aren’t guaranteed or confirmed in advance like Hyatt. But they promise consistent benefit delivery, and early check-in is amazing for morning arrivals in Europe or Asia. And, overall, many will find the elite benefits to exceed what Hilton and IHG promise.
Unpublished Invitation-Only Red Status
Marriott has Cobalt, Hyatt has Courtesy Card, and MGM has Noir. There are a handful of guests with unpublished status in GHA Discovery, too. There’s a page on the GHA website for Red Level but the page is blank.
I asked Kristi about Red and she was somewhat coy, however I understand it comes with an upgrade to a suite, 10 a.m. check-in and 6 p.m. check-out, and more elaborate amenities refreshed in room daily. At one point I think the late check-out benefit was 9 p.m., and there was butler service and “personalized chef services” according to materials I’ve seen in the past but I don’t think those are current.
If there are any Red Level members among readers I’d love to hear the experiences.
Visit GHA Hotels Even When You’re Not Staying As A Guest
GHA Discovery is launching “Love Local” to offer push notifications through their app and offers on their website for available hotel amenities when members aren’t staying as a guest. Kristi Gole describes this as “inviting members to get a drink at hotel bar..[or offering] complimentary access to the pool, beach club, or gym” or offering discounts like “two for one for dinner.”
Their goal is to increase engagement with their hotels and the program and to drive incremental revenue to properties.
Status Match Opportunity
GHA Discovery reportedly is pretty good about offering status matches on request, usually providing a copy of current elite membership card or details from current elite status on a competitor’s website. My sense is that they’re more generous, even, that the StatusMatcher.com site suggests. Email requests to discovery -at- gha.com or call customer service and ask about a status match.